Anime fans adore the films of Studio Ghibli. Ranking them all is difficult and problematic because each one has a distinct charm and, overall, feels like it should be at the top. Here are my personal rankings of the best 23 Studio Ghibli movies.
You don't have to agree with my rankings because, at the end of the day, we all have different preferences. To solve this amusing quandary, some rank them based on visuals, subject, enjoyment, and narrative. Please bear with me as this will be a lengthy read! To each of their own!
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Earwig and the Witch (2020)
The story of Earwig and the Witch revolves around an orphaned young girl named Earwig who is adopted by Bella Yaga and Mandrake. Little does she realize that Bella Yaga is a witch who commands Earwig to be her extra pair of hands. They also claimed that Earwig was a witch.
Earwig agrees to Bella Yaga's wishes in exchange for her adoptive mother teaching her witchcraft.
However, as time passes, Earwig grows impatient because Bella Yaga fails to teach her anything! Furthermore, Mandrake has blocked every exit in the house, preventing Earwig from escaping.
Earwig, tired and lonely, stumbles across an old band called Earwig. She decides to play the tapes until she discovers that Thomas, Bella Yaga's familiar cat, can speak. While working on their magic spells to repel Bella Yaga and Mandrake's powers, the two of them began to bond.Advertisement
Tales from Earthsea (2006)
Fans consider Tales from Earthsea to be the worst Studio Ghibli film of all time. Regardless, the visuals in Tales from Earthsea are as stunning as ever, but the story falls short in terms of pacing and overall plot narrative.
Notably, one of the film's strongest points is its music.
The film follows the incredible exploits of Arren, the runaway prince, and Sparrowhawk, the powerful wizard.
Arren and Sparrowhawk fight alongside the priestess and her daughter to defeat the looming forces of evil and save Earthsea.
Ocean Waves (1993)
Ocean Waves is a Studio Ghibli movie that doesn't feel like one at all. Viewers may find the visuals to be very different from the norm. After all, interns handle production in order to develop new talent in the studio.
Regardless, Ocean Waves is a serene story about coming of age. It's simple and nostalgic, with a good soundtrack.
Ocean Waves follows Taku Morisaki's high school memories as he returns for a reunion. Taku's high school memories were featured along the way, which centered on a woman who changed his life in school, Rikako Muto.
In a nutshell, it is a story about nostalgia and coming-of-age romance.
My Neighbors, the Yamadas (1999)
My Neighbors, The Yamadas deviates from Studio Ghibli's usual art style. Regardless, the film is one of the best in terms of wholesomeness and honesty.
The movie as a whole explores the themes of family importance. Its humor is also a little whimsical, odd rather than funny.
The film depicts the Yamada family's daily lives. From Takashi, Takashi's mother, Matsuko, Shige, the 13-year-old son, Noboru, the five-year-old daughter, to Pochi, the family dog.
My Neighbors, The Yamadas differ from other Ghibli film plots in that they are not contiguous.Advertisement
Pom Poko (1994)
Pom Poko is one of Studio Ghibli's most bizarre films. If you are not Japanese, the main concept of the film may be difficult to grasp.
The movie delves into Japanese culture and religious symbolism, both of which are unfamiliar to most people. This film is not for those who are not fans of certain myths and legends.
Pom Poko is an environmental metaphor in which the main characters are tanuki or raccoon dogs. In Japan, they are thought to be harbingers of fortune with shape-shifting abilities.
Tanukis in Pom Poko use their supernatural and otherworldly abilities to protect their forest homes from the looming threat of urbanization.
When Marnie Was There (2014)
When Marnie Was There is one of Studio Ghibli's more serious films that deviate from the fun and enjoyable experience. It takes a realistic approach to introversion and personal trauma.
You will be able to connect with the characters on a deeper level. You will feel sympathetic, and your emotions will take advantage of you.
Overall, When Marnie Was There has a powerful ending reveal that will take your breath away.
The film follows Anna Sasaki and Marnie as they form a friendship. Anna has been sent to the countryside for health reasons. She comes across an abandoned mansion one day and meets the mysterious Marnie.
As time passes, the two of them bond over their personal secrets from that one summer.
Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
Up on Poppy Hill has been dubbed a Studio Ghibli film with a shaky underlying message. Is it necessary, however, to have a strong message in order to be recognized as a good Studio Ghibli movie?
Up on Poppy Hill is a well-animated film with graceful music that has the ideal setting, location, and time period. It is reminiscent of slice-of-life anime shows, but it is otherwise a very genuine film.
The story revolves around Umi Matsuzaki and Shun Kazama. Set in Yokohama, Japan in 1963, the two of them agree to clean up the school's clubhouse, Latin Quarter.
They work together with Shiro Mizunuma to prevent Tokumaru from demolishing the building.Advertisement
Arriety is another Studio Ghibli movie with a happy ending in which characters are separated. It lacks the wow factor that other films have, leaving you wanting more.
It is based on a British story, which explains why Arriety feels more foreign than typical Japanese background films.
Regardless, Arriety is beautifully animated, as one would expect from Studio Ghibli movies. It's also slow-paced, but despite an abrupt ending, it has an interesting story.
The film follows Arriety, a tiny teenager who lives in the comforts of a suburban home. Along the way, she meets 12-year-old Shawn and develops a secret friendship that threatens Arriety's family.
The Cat Returns (2002)
One of the funniest Studio Ghibli movies of all time is The Cat Returns. It spawned an entire generation of felines who left an indelible impression on viewers.
Despite the lack of a strong underlying message, watching The Cat Returns is always a fun experience. If you're feeling down, this film will quickly lift your spirits.
The film follows Lune, a cat prince who is rescued by Haru, a high schooler. As a token of gratitude, the cat King proposes marriage to Haru and his son.
Haru soon develops feline characteristics after being transported to the Cat Kingdom. Haru wishes to return to her home in the midst of the chaos with the assistance of Baron and Toto.
Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Whisper of the Heart is one of the best Studio Ghibli movies about human relationships and coming-of-age stories. It's the kind of film that will touch your heart and make you believe in humanity again.
Shizuku, an aspiring writer who enjoys reading, is the protagonist of the film. One fateful day, she discovers that all the books she's currently reading have the records of Seiji Amasawa.
Maybe he's her soul mate? After all, they have similar reading preferences. Shizuku meets Seiji for the first time through a chance encounter with an enigmatic cat.Advertisement
Porco Rosso (1992)
Porco Rosso is one of Studio Ghibli's most underrated anime movies. It not only shows the beauty of flying, but it also contains a lot of relevant commentaries disguised as an adult film.
The plot is profound, the aerial fights are purely aesthetic, and the small moments in between are what make Porco Rosso so beautiful.
Porco Rosso is transformed into a pig in the midst of chaos in the film. Set in 1930s Italy, the former World War I flying ace prepares to take on the pirate crew's American ace.
Porco, along with the fiery girl mechanic Fio Piccolo and his longtime friend Madame Gina, set out to put an end to the Sky Pirates' terror.
Ponyo is one of Studio Ghibli's most uplifting and spirited films. It's a pleasant film geared toward children rather than adults.
Watching Ponyo will always be a wonderful time, even at this age. It is very innocent and wholesome, and it will make you want to be a better person than you were before.
Ponyo is the first Miyazaki film to receive a wide theatrical release from The Walt Disney Company. If this doesn't mean much, I don't know what does.
The film follows the goldfish princess who encounters a human boy named Sosuke. The goldfish princess was soon named Ponyo after the both of them developed a friendship over the course of time.
Ponyo wishes to become human, but her father wants to keep her in the Ocean Kingdom. Ponyo becomes more humanlike as he grows closer to Sosuke, much to the King's chagrin.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
One of the most well-known films by Studio Ghibli is Howl's Moving Castle. However, it does not have the same impact as Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke.
This does not make Howl's Moving Castle any less enjoyable. I just felt like there was something missing in the premise that I couldn't quite put my finger on.
The film's visuals are stunning, the voice acting is flawless, and the sound is cleverly integrated. Not to mention that the film's whimsical world-building is one of its strongest points.
Overall, Howl's Moving Castle is a fun movie experience that is a little disjointed.
The film follows Sophie, a young girl who befriends Howl, a wizard who lives in a magical flying castle.
Everything was fine between them until the evil Witch of Waste cast a spell on Sophie. Sophie, much to Howl's chagrin, began to age prematurely over time.
So, Howl employs all of his sorcery knowledge to break the jealous witch's spell.
The Wind Rises (2013)
The Wind Rises is one of those films that can either inspire or bore you to tears. In any case, this film has one of the most profound underlying messages and has become a personal favorite of mine.
After all, the film is a metaphor. Because of its overall setting and tone, many people do not consider The Wind Rises to be a good Ghibli film.
Some believe that The Wind Rises reflects Miyazaki's life because of how he prioritized his dreams over his family. It is inspired by Jiro Hirokoshi, the creator of the zero-plane used by the Kamikaze during WWII. It is also loosely based on Tatsuo Hori's 1937 novel of the same name.
Jiro Hirokoshi, a Japanese aviation engineer with a lifelong passion for flight, is the protagonist of the anime. During WWII, he created and designed fighter planes.
It essentially depicts Jiro's life as well as historical events such as the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, the Great Depression, the Tuberculosis epidemic, and the Japanese War.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
My Neighbor Totoro, one of the most beloved Studio Ghibli movies of all time, follows the Kusakabe siblings, Satsuki and Mei. At first, they appear to be ordinary schoolgirls who have moved to the countryside.
As the story progresses, the two become entangled in their backyard with a massive tanuki-like spirit creature named Totoro and some other playful spirits.
My Neighbor Totoro has a simple but charming story. It is also very famous because of Totoro's presentation. It's a very heartwarming and wholesome story about childhood in general.
The entire film is very calming and relaxing, and it will transport you to new worlds. After watching My Neighbor Totoro, you might want to go back in time and be a child again.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Kiki's Delivery Service is a story about a young witch named Kiki that is both motivating and inspiring. If you ever find yourself losing interest in the things you enjoy, you should revisit Kiki's Delivery Service.
The film's takeaway will be beneficial to your personal endeavors in life. After all, Kiki is a self-sufficient witch who sets out on her own in a foreign place.
It is about maturing, hard work, and pursuing your dreams. The film is neither grand nor epic, but it is always satisfying to watch.
Only Yesterday (1991)
Only Yesterday is a Studio Ghibli film aimed primarily at female audiences. The film is very reflective in nature, as it follows a 27-year-old Japanese worker as she travels to the countryside and reminisces about her life.
Despite its simple plot, Only Yesterday manages to capture hearts with its realistic approach to growing up. A word of caution: there are many "what if" moments in the film that may elicit some of your personal emotions.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)
A timeless tale, Laputa: Castle in the Sky is a Studio Ghibli film you wish would never end. It is an amazing masterpiece that deserves a lot of credit. This is an adventure film, so you will never get bored along the way.
The director is brave enough to incorporate many controversial elements into the story and still see it through to the end. A fascinating fact is that Laputa: Castle in the Sky is frequently referred to as the fans' version of Star Wars.
The film follows Sheeta, an orphaned girl, and Pazu, a young boy, as they discover the whimsical city of Laputa floating in the sky. With Sheeta's kidnappers on their tail, the two decide to defend the city's treasures from Col. Muska and his unlikely pirate crew.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is without a doubt one of the best-animated movies I've ever seen. Although this is to be expected from Studio Ghibli, this film is stunning from start to finish and will leave you speechless.
It is essentially a grand life meditation that will move you and play with your emotions.
The film is a retelling of the folk tale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. It revolves around Princess Kaguya, a tiny nymph who lives in a bamboo stalk.
Kaguya develops into a very desirable woman as she grows older. As a result, she instructs her suitors to prove their love for her by completing near-impossible tasks.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is possibly Ghibli's most complex anime film to date.
There's a lot going on in the movie, from being a sci-fi film to having a medieval and post-apocalyptic setting. Not to mention that the film is an epic that combines everything into a single film.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is one of the easiest films to reach the top. There is no doubt that Nausicaa deserves to be at the top because of its stunning visuals, smooth pacing, thrilling sequences, and underlying message.
The film is set in the far future after the Seven Days of Fire event has corrupted the world's ecosystem.
Under the guidance of the warrior Lord Yupa, the charismatic princess of the Valley of the Wind named Nausicaa aims to restore peace to the planet.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Princess Mononoke is widely regarded as one of Studio Ghibli's best works. However, there are many people who dislike the film. It's understandable given the film's serious and complex tone, which deviates from Ghibli's usual tone.
This, in my opinion, is Princess Mononoke's strength. Aside from the film's underlying messages, each character has more depth than the others.
Overall, Princess Mononoke exemplifies humanity's duality. It's not just about humanity's greed versus nature's pride. There's a lot more to it than what meets the eye.
Spirited Away (2001)
Let's get right to it. Spirited Away is without a doubt one of the best Studio Ghibli movies.
I was torn between placing Spirited Away and Grave of the Fireflies at the top, but the latter film arguably hits the home run. In any case, Spirited Away is a timeless story that will not be forgotten. It is engrossing from beginning to end. Watch it right now!
Chihiro, a young girl who moves to the suburbs, becomes entangled in a fantastical world ruled by Gods, Witches, and Spirits. Not to mention that humans, including her own parents, transform into beasts!
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
There are no words to express how incredible and emotionally gripping The Grave of the Fireflies is.
It is, in my opinion, the best Studio Ghibli film ever made. Perhaps it's because the film managed to move me on a very personal level.
Since I first saw it, it has stayed with me. The more invested you become in the film, the more devastating the ending becomes.
In case you haven't seen it, The Grave of the Fireflies is a devastating film about the consequences of human war. It's a very sad movie, perhaps the saddest I've ever seen.
Whatever the case may be, it will always be at the top of my list of Studio Ghibli movies.
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