The Studio Ghibli name is synonymous with original, quirky, and brilliantly hand-drawn feature films, with a huge back catalogue of work. Founded in 1985, the Japanese animation house has produced some stunning movies in its time – as well as one or two missed steps. Nevertheless, many are timeless classics everyone can enjoy, But which Studio Ghibli movies are the best?
Over the years they’ve become easier and easier to view outside of Japan as they have made it to Blu-Ray. Recently, many of these movies have found a home on streaming platforms like Netflix and HBO Max, giving a new generation instant access to a world of colourful anime.
Here are our favourite Studio Ghibli movies from the mind of celebrated director Hayao Miyazaki, in no particular order.
Kiki’s Delivery Service
If you’re a fan of magical adventures like Harry Potter, then give Kiki’s Delivery Service a look. It might be a little thin where the plot is concerned but this bright, coming-of-age tale centre’s around 13-year-old trainee witch Kiki and her sarcastic black kitten Jiji. Heading to the big city, she utilises her flying abilities to find work. Like all the best anime, don’t mistake Kiki’s Delivery Service for being just a simple children’s story. There are deeper themes at play here, from confidence and loneliness to the complexities of growing up. It’s why Kiki has become a favourite of Studio Ghibli lovers.
My Neighbor Totoro
Quite possibly Studio Ghibli’s most iconic character, My Neighbour Totoro is continuously at the top of lists and referred to as a masterpiece of animation. Released all way back in 1988, the film revolves around two young sisters who move with their dad to a new home in the countryside. There, they encounter a trio of forest spirits called Totoro, one small, one medium and one that’s huge. My Neighbour Totoro is a movie filled with charm and depth, a story of hope and fun that’s just perfect for watching on a Sunday afternoon with all the family.
Some of these movies you might not have heard of, but it’s likely you’ve come across Spirited Away before. Released in 2001, Spirited Away put the studio on the international map, winning Oscars and making millions. An enchanting story revolving around 10-year-old Chihiro, she steps into a magical bathhouse where she finds herself in a netherworld full of gods and monsters. She must navigate this spirit realm and escape or become trapped forever. Full of breathtaking visuals and characters, this is one animated ride you don’t want to miss.
You’ll notice that Miyazaki has several favourite themes that crop up throughout his movies, from his love of aviation to the balance between technology and nature. Princess Mononoke falls into the latter category. One of the directors’ more graphic projects, the film is a mythical tale set in 13th-century Japan. Times are changing, with humanity becoming more and more mechanised. This puts them at odds with the ancient animal gods who protect the forest. That leads to plenty of action as the two sides collide.
Howl’s Moving Castle
One of Miyazaki’s darkest films, Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) was adapted from a novel by Diana Wynne Jones. Featuring a strong anti-war message, the story follows Sophie, a young milliner cursed with old age by a vengeful witch. Looking for a way to reverse the curse, she encounters the only person capable of helping, a wizard called Howl and his titular castle. Racing against time, Howl tries to save Sophie as war rages around them. Stunning visuals, charming characters and the unmistakable air of Miyazaki’s storytelling make this an engrossing watch.
Grave of the Fireflies
Another Studio Ghibli gem with an anti-war message, Grave of the Fireflies arrived much earlier, released in 1988. That may have been the same year as My Neighbor Totoro these are very different movies. Adapting an Akiyuki Nosaka short story, Grave of the Fireflies is set during the end of World War 2, just after Japan’s surrender. A narrative from the Japanese viewpoint, the sombre film focuses on 14-year-old Seita and his 4-year-old sister Setsuke as they try to survive the aftermath of war. Orphaned, homeless and hungry, the siblings’ tale is of innocence lost, suffering and hope. Beautiful, powerful and overwhelmingly tragic is a perfect example of powerful animation.
For a nice light, vibrant Studio Ghibli film look no further than Ponyo. Taking influences from The Little Mermaid, this is the cute story of a young boy who finds a goldfish princess called Ponyo. She wants to live on land and become human, a tale that won’t have too many surprises for older viewers. Ponyo is far more geared towards younger viewers but there’s still a magical adventure to enjoy and that luscious animation to watch.
Were these the best Studio Ghibli movies? Did we miss any of your favourites? Let us know in the comments below. Or take a look at Quentin Tarantino‘s favourite movies if you’re after something different.