Best Anime Movies
In addition to the piles of anime series that air each year, a number of movies captivate audiences and cash in at the box office – and even air in other countries. But with so many movies to choose from and potential hours at stake, this list is here to help you jump into any movie and enjoy yourself. There are no sequels in this list, nothing currently airing in exclusive Japanese cinemas and no movie that requires you to have seen any show in a franchise – just stand-alone nuggets of animation gold.
Of course a Ghibli film sits at the number one spot – it would be insane to think of any better movie than from the studio that creates touching, highly detailed films every year that always manage to captivate audiences. Of course, the huge challenge is deciding which movie is more deserving than the rest, but everything seems to come together in Mononoke Hime.
People, being the usual Greater Evil that they are, regularly fight against nature, destroying forests and angering ancient gods. Ashitaka crosses paths with one such angered god and is cursed, forcing him to flee his village and seek a cure. On the way he discovers that more advanced villages are mining the earth for resources, and that a savage girl called San is leading animal clans in a counter attack.
Mononoke Hime is one of the few Ghibli films that dares to take a stance in an important discussion, and if you’ve seen any other Ghibli movie you can probably guess it’s strong on environmental themes. Characters, rather than blossoming into better people, are more like symbols for arguments, making the whole film a very interesting thing to watch and think about.
Why it made the list: You could probably start a war by discussing why one Ghibli film deserves to be number one, but let’s enjoy Mononoke Hime for its darker edge to the usual Ghibli fare, bringing a stronger theme to the film. It has everything a Ghbili film offers and just a bit more commentary, tying together the always great art, music and direction.
Watch if you like: Studio Ghibli; the environment; gods; wolves; guns; animals in general; war; adventure stories; fantasy; thinking.
Endless crying is the game and you’re the winner when watching Grave of the Fireflies. The entire film is depressing in a compelling way and a real experience from start to finish, whether you’re prepared or not.
Seita and Setsuko, brother and sister, are left orphaned after a bombing during WWII. As they escape to the Japanese countryside to try and survive, they find that not even their extended family care for them and are forced to live by stealing and gathering what they can. The two siblings face more challenges than most anyone can bear and try to pull through with love and sheer willpower.
There’s nothing upbeat about children struggling to live and there’s nothing hopeful about Grave of the Fireflies. Go into it knowing that your soul will be crushed by these children not even in their teens. And bring tissues.
Why it made the list: How could this movie not make the list, really? Grave of the Fireflies is probably Ghibli’s most depressing, soul-crushing movie and doesn’t glorify war in any way. The film gives you a feel of what it must have been like to live through WWII and doesn’t let up, giving an honest presentation of the time. There’s nothing quite like it.
Watch if you like: Crying endlessly; World War II; brother and sister relationships; surviving; wartime; shitty families; fireflies; Studio Ghibli; semi-autobiographical stories; depressing movies.
Among our final boss-like list of top 25 anime movies sits Akira, the slightly confusing movie that blows you away with an action-packed story with a more thoughtful plot than most. At twenty-six years old you’d think it’d show some kind of wear, but like the ugly psychic children in the movie, it barely shows a few wrinkles with age.
When a slightly ugly child escapes from a laboratory and flees to the streets of post-WWIII Tokyo, it runs into a bike gang and triggers psychic powers in one of its members. Now able to blow shit up like a badass, biker Tetsuo needs to keep his powers under control while he’s snatched up by the military to be experimented on. And we all know how successful experiments usually end up.
Akira is anime’s largest game of “Marco Polo” (which should be renamed to “Tetsuo Kaneda” for the new age) but also one of anime’s most lasting achievements in animation. The movie still looks spectacular decades on and doesn’t show signs of dying any time soon. This movie truly spoils you for detailed action sequences.
Why it made the list: Akira is a classic movie and more than deserving of its title. Even after twenty-six years, it still looks fantastic in detail and execution. The story doesn’t disappoint either, but may need another watch to take in the more confusing moments, or just to enjoy the action again.
Watch if you like: Motorcycles; psychic powers; science fiction; ugly children; futuristic settings; older anime movies; detailed and fluid animation; action.
It’s not uncommon for movies to feel like they take a sad concept and ram it down your throat so hard you start to shit forced tears. With Colorful, what seems like a story that wallows in excessive drama is actually really touching and realistic, and of course it is – it’s number four on this top 25 movies list.
When an unknown soul lines up to be judged, the last thing it expects is to be the winner of some weird afterlife lottery where the prize is going back to Earth to live through life’s anguishes again. He’s sent back to the recently deceased body of a 14-year-old boy who committed suicide and, by acting as a kind of sick puppet master, must amend the boy’s life while trying to fix the mistakes of his own past.
The movie’s synopsis gives you all you can hope for but the movie really excels in drama, portraying very realistic struggles in a nicely artistic way. It’s another movie for the thinkers, but not too deep that you get lost in its wanderings.
Why it made the list: Colourful is an excellently presented look into what the afterlife could hold, and most certainly what life holds currently. With a realistic frame and some touching moments, it experiments slightly with artstyles and tackles the big themes in life.
Watch if you like: Thoughts about the afterlife; correcting past actions; drama; movies with a message; choices in life; healing; drama.
As we make our way to the top of this 25 best movies list, all the war movies start to come out like tiny factions battling for dominance. One of these is Jin-Roh, the Little Red Riding Hood meets WWII film.
Kazuki Fuse, a constable, is scarred for life when he witnesses a girl blow herself up. Constantly haunted by her image, he is taken in to be retrained as a police officer but unwittingly becomes a political pawn between police force factions as he involves himself more and more with the sister of the deceased girl.
Jin-Roh brings detailed animation and heavy themes to its WWII plot and doesn’t shy away from the heavy-hitting topics. What possibly tops its mature approach to WWII issues is its stunning animation that has stood the test of time.
Why it made the list: Jin-Roh is a serious and heavy artistic approach to the very serious themes brought up by World War II. Just like the art, there’s nothing bright about this movie. Revisiting this older piece is a breath of heavy but refreshing air as it approaches its topics with respect and courage, without resorting to making characters cartoonish or elevating the movie to a weird mesh of genres.
Watch if you like: War; psychological exploration; heavy atmosphere; artistic expression; politics; solid animation.
Ghibli movies are always a beacon of anime movie quality and choosing two of their long line-up is a task in itself. While many opinions differ as to which movie deserves the most praise, Howl’s Moving Castle rises to sixth place on my list for being a magic-filled adaption of a novel.
Sophie is a young girl with an old spirit, preferring to make hats for her family business than chase after boys or clothes. One day, she crosses paths with the Witch of the Waste, cursing her to become the old lady she is inside. This sets off wizard Howl’s granny radar and the young wizard whisks Sophie away to his magical decrepit castle where she lives as a cleaner and fusses over the handsome wizard.
Howl’s Moving Castle is an anime for the romantics and the granny-chasers with magic and fantastical lands to boot. There’s a lot to enjoy in the movie and the characters are so charming that you can’t help but love them to death – even the ‘bad’ characters.
Why it made the list: Out of the long line of great Ghibli movies, Howl’s Moving Castle is a favourite that you can watch time and time again. While romance isn’t for everyone, the movie’s world is mystical and inviting as well as richly detailed and not without its charm. It’s hard not to fall for the movie as the characters do for each other.
Watch if you like: Fantasy; romance; mechanical houses; magic; handsome men; much older women; fantasy lands; travel; Studio Ghibli; movies based on a book.
I’m sure there are plenty of things wrong with furries, but Ookami Kodomo isn’t one of them. Even if it’s about the love between a woman and a wolf, all that takes a back seat for much of the movie as it focuses on the furry children.
Hana is just an average college student who has a slight leaning towards beastiality. When she meets wolf man Ookami (literally “Wolf”), they shack up and have little wolf children. Bestiality then turns to maternal love when Ookami dies, leaving Hana alone with two children that she doesn’t know whether she should take to the vet or the hospital. After moving to the countryside to hide their powers, the children start to grow up and must decide their path in life: to pee in the bushes or pee on a toilet.
Regardless of the overly strong animal-love tones in the beginning of the movie, Ookami Kodomo has such a maternal tone that you could grow an ovary just watching it. The movie tries to trick you with which child takes which life path but ultimately keeps no secrets, preferring to deal with the drama as it arises.
Why it made the list: Even if you’re not a parent or hate the thought of the pitter patter of little feet, you can’t help but feel connected to Hana and her children, and concern for how they’ll survive being such a “different” family. Certainly there’s a real “family movie” air around the whole thing, but when it gets serious, it gets sad.
Watch if you like: Parenthood stories; wolves; animal shapeshifters; growing up; family; choosing paths in life; hiding secrets; raising children.
Those asking for the thinking man’s anime have a lot to choose from, but Ghost in the Shell always pops up as a huge favourite for its thoughtful approach to a possible future of our world.
In the future, the line between human and machine is blurry and humans are susceptible to their machine parts being compromised. When an entity called the Puppetmaster hacks into the brains of vulnerable humans and interferes with politics, a specialist group called Section 9 is called in to stop it. Then everyone starts asking the big questions.
Ghost in the Shell is rich in almost every way, inviting you into its complex world to look at its detailed animation and sink your teeth into its many questions about what it means to be human. It may be hard to get into because it requires you to put on your thinking hat, but if you enjoy thinking in movies, this is right up your alley.
Why it made the list: Ghost in the Shell is a pretty big favourite and for good reason. It combines the depth and complexity of a great science fiction world and fills it with questions and psychological themes. It’s a good movie to think about and an even greater movie to devour the inner workings of its world.
Watch if you like: Science fiction; the cyberpunk genre; psychological stories; stories about what makes us human; thinking; controlling; cybernetics; politics; large worlds; detailed animation.
You might be thinking there are too many happy romance movies. “What about painful romance?” you may ask, or “what about long distance relationships?”. Well, director Makoto Shinkai gives you the masochistic answer in the form of the painful love story about separation – 5 Centimeters per Second.
Takaki and Akari are close friends and classmates who begin a deep and loving relationship. But because films need to have a bit of drama, Akari’s family moves away, separating the two and forcing them into a long-distance relationship. Although they keep in touch via mail, the two grow further apart and can only remember the good times while wondering if they’ll ever meet again.
The film is a bit more than the average love story, preferring that bitter-sweet feeling you get with distance and making you suffer through the pain of separation. The characters handle things incredibly realistically, all adding to the high amount of detail in the film and giving it all a very artistic feel.
Why it made the list: 5 Centimeters is probably the modern romance anime, perfectly capturing both the joy and sorrow of falling in love. The director mentioned this film was all about the feeling of “yearning” and by god do we get a movie that perfectly defines that word.
Watch if you like: Your heart being broken; romance; long-distance relationships; scenery porn; Makoto Shinkai; growing up and stories about the stages of life; short movies; soundtracks.
If you ever wondered what western movies would look like as Japanese anime, Parprika offers you the answer with its “oh Japan, you’re so crazy” approach to popular movie Inception (even though it was made before it).
The similarities between Paprika and Inception are so strong that a story summary is rather pointless. Both movies involve a person entering dreams through technology in order to stop something from happening, only to have things go wrong and threaten lives. Paprika diverges in that it’s Inception on LSD and has its dreams spill over into the real world where everything becomes one bad drug trip.
Despite its similarities with the western movie, Paprika is an experience more than a thing to see. Director Satoshi Kon practically gives you a problem free experience of LSD, with a plot thrown in for free. Paprika’s world is vibrant and full of life, giving you an experience not many other anime movies can give.
Why it made the list: Paprika was Inception before Inception but even when it’s considered now it manages to stay a strong movie. It weaves together a world of incredible reality and imagination and pours in a liberal amount of absurdity to turn it from a captivating movie into an artwork.
Watch if you like: Inception; dreams; the absurd; alternate personalities; Satoshi Kon; realistic character designs; hallucinations; detailed animation.
Making a pitstop before our number ten movie on this list is Redline, the fast-paced racing anime that puts all others to shame. With a development cycle of seven years, Redline delivers on incredibly detailed and fluid animation that makes the whole movie a ten-out-of-ten watch every time.
Redline is the largest and deadliest race in the universe, and the perfect place for JP and his racing buddy to make some money. After racing his way through rigged competitions to pay off an old debt, JP is thrown into the redline competition and must prepare to race against the universe’s elite… while trying to avoid large-scale biological weapons, landmines, weapons of mass destructions and the other racers.
The movie puts anime crazy up the tailpipe of a souped-up car and lets it burn down the street unmanned. Everything about the plot is made simple so that you can fully enjoy the detail of the animation while watching the most insane anime car race ever made.
Why it made the list: Seven years of animation really adds up when you take a closer look at Redline. Even though the story is fairly straightforward, the enjoyment is in the sheer detail put into every frame of the movie. Animation fans get their fix and racing fans get an animated masterpiece.
Watch if you like: Racing; aspirations; large-scale fighting; explosions; a variety of characters; animation quality; Madhouse.
Roaming around the Japanese countryside with a bunch of weird demonic creatures is all part of a regular childhood if anime has anything to say about it. Letter to Momo is no exception, bringing a slightly more ugly touch to the usual cute creatures that follow children around.
Momo lives in perpetual self-imposed hell because the last words to her father were angry shouts. After she moves to the country to live with her relatives, she accidentally summons a fart demon, a gross gremlin and a giant-headed creature who pull her into various adventures in the countryside. As she deals with her grief and the new nuisance of forever-hungry demons, she begins to understand her new home and what her father wanted to say to her.
There’s no shortage of dead anime parents, but Letter to Momo plucks out the intense sadness and angst of death to make it more light-hearted yet tinged with quiet sorrow. Momo’s adventures with old Japanese demons make everything a little funny but the movie doesn’t forget its real goal.
Why it made the list: Letter to Momo combines the sorrow at the death of a family member with the light-heartedness of youth and adventure. Comedy transitions carefully into drama but everything is a comfortable memory rather than a screaming tantrum of tears and regret.
Watch if you like: Japanese folklore; grieving; adventures; the countryside; childhood; family.
It doesn’t seem like anime is quick to take up the “quirky family” form like so many sitcoms and western shows do, or maybe it’s harder to find under the heaps of schoolgirl anime and fantasy action titles. But Tokyo Godfathers rises from this pile as the quirky family done anime style and leaves you laughing while pulling a few heartstrings.
A runaway girl, a trans woman and an alcoholic walk into a trash pile and find an abandoned baby. That’s the joke. What follows is a vague football game of passing the baby back and forth, trying to find its home. On the way, each of these homeless characters must climb over the obstacles of their past, working through their anguish to come out as better people.
Tokyo Godfathers sprinkles pellets of truth on this slice of life comedy, never letting things get too out of hand and reminding you that homeless people probably don’t have a life with a quirky found family. At the same time, it’s truly entertaining and has humour for everyone.
Why it made the list: Tokyo Godfathers is one of the few “quirky family” anime out there and does a great job mixing the humour of the quirky group with the bitter sting of their past lives. The movie is a perfect mix of comedic slice of life and drama that delivers an entertaining but thought-provoking story with an expressive art style.
Watch if you like: Homeless people; backstory; quirky comedy; slice of life; Satoshi Kon; doing the right thing.
Time travel anime tend to stick to dramatic plots where whoever can travel back in time is stuck in an infinite loop of despair. This movie, however, takes a slightly different approach, having more fun with the concept before using it to think about the future.
Average high schooler Makoto literally stumbles over a seed that grants its holder the ability to travel back in time. Finally grasping the ability to eat pudding over and over again, she has fun with her ability, not knowing that even the smallest of her actions impact more than just the supply of sweet food.
Even though the movie has something of your usual time travel plot, it mixes it together with nostalgic high school days and a laid back summer setting. Romance is a little more prominent, but there’s still a fair bit of science fiction for those keen on it.
Why it made the list: While The Girl Who Leapt Through Time could easily wallow in the usual dramatic time travel story, it gives more focus to school life and growing up, ultimately being about the future than the time travel twist. It sits quite well with teenage viewers but is always a good movie to look back on.
Watch if you like: High school settings; time travel; science fiction; romance; happy endings; summer; baseball; coming of age stories.
Anime has given us the ultimate gift when we can watch a movie about two head figures of large religions who live together in an apartment and act as tourists. Truly, anime is the pinnacle of entertainment.
Jesus and Buddha are best friends and decide to take a vacation in Japan. Cultural misunderstandings ensue. As the two go about their daily lives, trying to act as normal as possible, they try to keep their god status hidden, even if it means hiding Jesus’s thorn crown roses or putting a bag on Buddha’s head to hide his aura of selflessness.
While the premise is hilarious, Saint Young Men is much like other slice of life movies but with the addition of religious jokes and adorable men instead of cute girls. Both Jesus and Buddha are lovingly given the spotlight and it’s hard to be offended when they try so hard to act like regular foreigners in Japan.
Why it made the list: It’s an anime movie about the adventures of Buddha and Jesus – the concept sells itself! While anything including religious figures can tend to get preachy, Saint Young Men is always about the comedy and comes out on top because of it. It’s great to laugh at the misunderstandings and happenings of two popular religious figures and it gives a comfortably human light to the two deities.
Watch if you like: Religion; anime versions of popular historical figures; slice of life; male best friends; tourism in Japan; shrines; gay undertones.
Don’t jump on me just yet – even though Kara no Kyoukai is an established series of slightly confusing movies, Remix is a little different and combines the best parts of the series into a bite-sized movie that is not only concise but also coherent.
Shiki is a young girl who is cursed with the ability to see the “lines of death” that tie the world together. Like anyone with a murderous alter ego, she uses her powers to take on supernatural oddities and works for a mage because even monsters need money to live. Although most of the time she’s cutting down ghosts or slicing through deadbeats like butter, Shiki also talks with a man called Kokutou who is about the only normal person she doesn’t kill.
Kara no Kyoukai Remix is the clip show to end all clip shows, sewing together a series of seven movies into something that actually makes sense. It condenses the previous hours and hours of movies into a nice introduction that may abridge the happenings a bit but still comes out a complete and well done piece, especially with its fluidity of animation and its stellar soundtrack.
Why it made the list: The Kara no Kyoukai series of movies can vary from action-packed to deeply psychological, and Remix does a solid job of combining the key parts of the huge series into the first movie to make sense in one viewing. While it definitely leaves out a few details, first-time viewers don’t need to know anything going into it and leave knowing everything they need to know, which is rare for a compilation movie.
Watch if you like: Type-Moon; supernatural powers; snow and rain; fluid animation; Ufotable; action; alternate personalities; magic; Yuki Kajiura.
Anime has made ‘Japanese countryside’ synonymous with ‘summer adventures’ as much as it’s made ‘tentacles’ synonymous with… an entire genre of anime I’m not mentioning here. While a lot of it is childhood adventures and fantastical journeys, there’s still room for summer romance and growing up stories, which is where Hotarubi no Mori e comes in.
Hotaru is only a little girl when she gets lost in a forest in the Japanese countryside. But fortunately she meets Gin, a god-like figure who doesn’t want to devour her soul and who takes her back to the path home. Gin can’t touch Hotaru though, so the two form a distanced but warm friendship. Each summer, the girl returns to the shrine to spend time with the mysterious man, not knowing that being the protagonist of a romantic drama means nothing will end very well.
Sometimes movies just have to be short to be effective. Seemingly to combat long-winded movies that don’t go anywhere, Hotarubi no Mori e is compact and goes everywhere in its short time. If you’re strapped for time but want something bitter-sweet that doesn’t mess around, this movie is waiting for you.
Why it made the list: Hotarubi no Mori e is short and simple but wastes no time, building up a meaningful romantic story and dangling your emotions in front of you like a cruel mistress. Just like about any anime set in summer, it’s got its share of shrines and summer festivals with a warm atmosphere to surround the impending heart-breaking drama.
Watch if you like: Shrines; summer festivals; fireflies; gods; masks; growing up stories; romance; shoujo anime.
Those looking for a touching movie about the friendship between man and his dog can consider The Dog of Flanders and then walk away, because this movie is damn depressing. You need to prepare yourself for this one.
The Dog of Flanders adapts the Ouida novel of the same name in which a boy and his dog become inseparable friends who struggle with being poor and ultimately get kicked in the gut at every turn. While their friendship is beautiful, and the countryside of the movie even moreso, their story is depressing and both the boy and his dog just can’t get a break, not with their adopted family, and not in romance.
This anime movie version of a classic story doesn’t disappoint, or it does if you expect it to be a fluffy and cute story of a boy and his dog. The story has been lovingly adapted and keeps things short for the viewer who wants to cry on the run.
Why it made the list: The Dog of Flanders anime movie brings the story to film like live action films can’t and abridges the story to make it more accessible to audiences, if not just as depressing.
Watch if you like: Dogs; friendship; older literature; Europe; rural settings; money; crying; paintings; family.
With the progression of technology giving us more realistic breast jiggling and more hardcore action sequences, it also gives animators the ability to bring the beauty of the real world to the shiny, glossed over form of anime. Next on the list we have the best scenery porn this decade has seen in the form of The Garden of Words.
When life gives you rain, you skip school to draw shoes all day. Or go to the park and drink alcohol while eating chocolate. That’s the option Takao and Yukino take, a student and mysterious older woman who meet by chance on one rainy day. As people in the audience quietly whisper “I love age gap romance”, the two spend rainy days together and grow closer, only to realise that their future as a couple isn’t as simple as rainy day rendezvous.
No matter the qualms anyone may have about romances that can’t really work out, The Garden of Words is a visual masterpiece and may dry out your eyes with how much you want to stare at it. It has a perfect blend of sound effects, music and detail to immerse you in its animated world like no other, drawing you in like a monkey to a shiny object.
Why it made the list: The Garden of Word’s animation can leave you breathless in a moment, and that’s truly something. The amount of detail and shine in the setting rivals Studio Ghibli and the film is pure luxury from start to finish. The Garden of Words sits low on this list for an ending that can leave you wanting and for being way too short for something so amazing.
Watch if you like: Highly detailed animation; making shoes; drawing; literature teachers; sad endings; rain; greenery; Makoto Shinkai.
Robot café shenanigans instead of the usual robot/human war? Sign me up. While Time of Eve still has the usual humans against robots theme, the setting allows everything to be a little more casual, easing off the angst and piling on the more sensitive emotions.
When checking the activity of his household android, Rikuo discovers that she has been taking regular detours. Deciding that stalking is the best way to handle everything, he follows the android to a hidden café where the laws of the human world don’t apply and everyone is equal. The temporary paradise begins to dull his innate discrimination against robots, and as he brings his friends there to have tea with seven-year-old robots, the café becomes the target of anti-robot plans.
As annoying as recycled themes can be, Time of Eve is a touching story about relationships with man-made objects, be they human-like androids or talking buckets of metal. It brings a refreshing side to movies about robots and is very enjoyable when it’s in slice of life mode.
Why it made the list: Time of Eve isn’t your average movie about how humans interact with robots. Its more casual café atmosphere lets it play out slice of life-like events where the emphasis isn’t so much on the action as it is on the development of relationships and the emotion that comes with these relationships.
Watch if you like: Robots; human–robot relationships; cafés; government plots; girls; children; science fiction.
Adventure and steampunk go hand and hand, seemingly culminating in Steamboy, a 2004 film about a boy and his steam. The idealistic and heroic lead character takes you on an action-packed journey that doesn’t hit the brakes until the end.
Ray, our “steam boy” and young inventor, is sent a box from his grandfather who mustn’t really care about his safety. Inside is a miraculous invention – a steam ball – which holds a great amount of power and has a certain organisation after it. Ray just takes the ball and runs, sending him on a long journey and fight against the organisation after him. Because why not, really.
Steamboy is about as straightforward as its protagonist and isn’t something you need to think about a great deal. Just sit back and enjoy the action in the steampunk version of Victorian-era England.
Why it made the list: Steamboy is a feat with action visuals blending CGI and traditional animation to make something special. Even though it’s your standard adventure story, its style blows you away and the animation delivers on fight scenes from start to finish. If you’re up for a runaway adventure story that doesn’t lose momentum, Steamboy has got it.
Watch if you like: Adventure; steam; inventing; action; CGI effects; Victorian-era England; steampunk in general.
Blue. Blue everywhere. With blue oceans, blue skies and blue hair, there’s no shortage of love for huge fans of the colour blue, but that’s not what we’re here for. Rather, The Princess and the Pilot is all about cool aerial dogfights with some romance thrown in and barrel rolled about.
During the war between large forces, the prince of an empire declares that he will end the ongoing conflict by marrying a young princess. Knowing that this declaration will call forth assassins to kill the princess, the empire entrusts a boy of mixed blood and high flying prowess to escort the princess on a deadly flying mission. Apparently nobody thinks that the two will fall in love, being completely alone between war zones and such.
The Princess and the Pilot truly shines in animation, presenting an endlessly beautiful blue world with great fight scenes and a steady romantic plot. Not everything ends as it usually does, but you can jump in safely knowing that most of your expectations will be met.
Why it made the list: The Princess and the Pilot is pretty standard fare as far as forbidden romance plots go (even considering its ending), yet somehow manages to be interesting in how the two lead characters are torn between their growing emotions and their incredibly important duty. They forget the forbidden aspect and instead struggle with their roles, daring to be fresh with a romance story set in wartime.
Watch if you like: Airplanes; fancy flying; princesses; racism; adventure; forbidden love; armies; the sky; short hair; the colour blue.
When it comes to anime, sometimes the stupidest of names can hide the best of shows. Mai Mai Miracle is another anime like this, with a title that makes no real sense. But the movie still takes you around the imaginative life of a little girl in the country, simultaneously adding a dash of childhood drama and slice of life to the pot.
Shinko, born and raised in the Japanese countryside, enjoys passing time by imagining what her hometown looked like a thousand years ago, which can’t be hard in a slow-paced country area. When transfer student Kiiko moves in from Tokyo, Shinko and her become fast friends, exploring the land and sharing stories about times long past. The two then get involved with many of the happenings in the sleepy country town, including trapping small animals and fighting the yakuza.
Mai Mai Miracle has enough mini plots to keep the attention of a person with ADD. While it’s slow enough to be somewhat relaxing, there’s always something going on and can seem like many stories woven and knotted together like some kind of wonky basket.
Why it made the list: Mai Mai Miracle is like a Studio Ghibli movie that wants to be a little more dramatic and have a number of stories that are connected by a set of main characters. Like an imaginative child, it shows you a world of fantasy and fun, then runs off to play a different game halfway through.
Watch if you like: Slice of life; childhood; the countryside; imaginative stories; children; older Japan; sudden deaths; multiple stories.
Anyone who rushed to the cinema or video store as a child probably picked up a copy of the first Digimon movie, or at least listened to other kids blab endlessly about it. Summer Wars carries much of the same feeling as the first Digimon movie, which is really odd for an original film until you realize they both have the same director.
Summer Wars sees Kenji, a timid math genius, and Natsuki, a popular girl with a big family, team up when they visit a family house over the summer. While Natsuki wants nothing more than Kenji to pretend to be her boyfriend and appease her family of literally hundreds of people, Kenji is thrust into a battle to save the World Wide Web from being destroyed through the power of maths, martial arts and a Japanese card game.
The movie is much more about Natsumi’s family than the plot summary gives it credit for. The atmosphere of their summer house and the whole resolution to the movie is brought about by hundreds of family members acting together, giving you that warm and fuzzy – if not slightly sweaty – feeling of connectedness.
Why it made the list: Summer Wars manages to capture the same frantic summer break atmosphere as the first Digimon movie, adding a level of nostalgia for whoever watched the series as a child. For those that didn’t, Summer War’s atmosphere is a huge strong point and very enjoyable when you want to sit back and watch a family movie.
Watch if you like: Summer; the first Digimon movie; the internet; martial arts; hanafuda; gigantic enemies; world-saving teenagers; big families.
Based on a children’s book, Brave Story would have been a tale about a young boy traumatised by the separation of his parents and the attempted suicide of his mother. But because children can’t handle the truths of the world just yet, the movie makes things more child-friendly by shielding its corners with bubble wrap and focusing on cute animals and friendship.
Eleven-year-old Wataru becomes distressed when his parents very suddenly up and leave him, so instead of cursing fate, he acts to change it by diving into an imaginary world to collect stones. On his journey with warriors, cute animals and a catgirl, Wataru discovers that another boy like him is collecting stones and realises he needs to fight this boy for the power to change his past.
Fortunately, the childproofing in Brave Story isn’t as heavy-handed as anything 4Kids have touched, keeping the movie enjoyable and kid-friendly. Wataru’s journey is colourful and filled with fantastical creatures and people, which is always a delight to see. Of course, it delivers on epic fantasy battles and has enough backstory and moral dilemma to keep older viewers’ attention.
Why it made the list: Brave Story may have made its original plot more child-friendly but it still has the air of a journey through a fantasy world while looking cool to kids and asking questions about morality for teens or adults.
Watch if you like: Movies based on a book; fantasy; growing up; magic; fights with good against evil; grand adventures; dramatic childhoods.