If you go back to the beginning, then anime films got their start in 1917 with The Story of the Concierge Mukuzo Imokawa. Created by Ōten Shimokawa, the film has been lost to modern audiences over time, but records of the daring project remain. Since then, anime has continued to grow as a beloved medium and become one of the biggest forms of Japanese entertainment to-date.
Over the years, anime features have started to draw in record-breaking crowds and even find themselves honored abroad with foreign awards. One such film known as Your Name is poised to perhaps win the Academy Award for Best Animated Film, but there have been plenty movies in the past who’ve earned similar nods. Here at ComicBook.com, we’ve gone back and made a list of the top five anime films to ever grace the big screen, so get some popcorn ready for one intense movie marathon.
First, we begin with honorable mentions. These three films are widely loved by fans from all over the world and will undoubtedly become classics with time. This year, Your Name hit theaters and caused a media frenzy in Japan due to its overwhelming success. The slice-of-life romance has been compared to lauded films by Studio Ghibli, and it is eyeing a possible Oscar win over giants like Pixar.
In 2007, the film 5 Centimeter Per Second also gained similar attention. The gorgeous film stunned audiences with its breathtaking and heart-wrenching storyline, and it won Best Animated Feature at the 2007 Asia Pacific Screen Awards. A year prior, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time enthralled fans with its dramatic time-traveling plot and complex heroine.
Next year, Princess Mononoke will celebrate its 20th anniversary, and the milestone is one which many will honor with an impromptu marathon. The Studio Ghibli film stands as one of the company’s darker affairs, but it tackles difficult themes like consumerism and naturalism with gravitas. The story is set in a distant Japan and follows a Emshi prince named Ashitaka as he protect his village from forest demons. After being cursed by one of his victims, the prince heads into the forest and meets a wolf pack raising a human girl named San. The latter sees all humans as a threat but agrees to help Ashitaka beat back the demons plaguing the area to protect her sacred home.
Ghost in the Shell
In 1996, Mamoru Oshii created a genre-busting film when he adapted the Ghost in the Shell manga into an anime feature. The cyberpunk story was paired with mind-bending animation which left fans gaping, and its subtle philosophical questions left audiences questioning what it was that made them human. The story takes place in a distant, post-apocalyptic world where technology reigns supreme. The conglomerate society is divided by wealth, and there are plenty of seedy criminals wanting to wreak havoc. That is where Major Motoko Kusangi enters the picture; The woman is the leader of an anti-terrorist sector and is gifted in combat thanks to her fully cybernetic body. However, her stoicism begins to fade when a criminal known as the Puppet Master begins hacking into citizens with cybernetic prosthetics, leaving Motoko to question whether her personality is organic or simply synthetic.
Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies is the kind of movie that punches you in the gut, and then you thank it for doing so. The emotionally turbulent film is considered one of the greatest films ever made and even Roger Ebert called it one of the most powerful war movies ever made. The Studio Ghibli production tells the story of two young siblings living in Tokyo during World War II. The film begins with the older brother’s dead and tells itself backwards as audiences watch the cruel, heartbreaking horrors which Seita and Setsuko lived through. The moving film will leave even the most dry-eyed viewers weeping by the end, and its introspect nature will make them feel hollow for a few good days.
1988’s Akira is widely considered to be a milestone in Japanese animation. The supernatural drama inspired countless of upcoming artists who have since nodded to Akira as their inspiration, and it is easy to see just why the film left such an impression. The gritty movie takes place in the year 2019 after Tokyo was destroyed by a psychic singularity which detonated World War III. A new city known as Neo-Tokyo has been built, but its government finds itself threatened by anarchists and gangs. The story primarily focuses on two boys named Shōtarō Kaneda and Tetsuo Shima. The former is a member of the Capsules gang with the latter, but their lives are thrown into chaos when they learn Tetsuo has psychic powers similar to those that destroyed Tokyo decades ago. Together, the boys become involved in an on-going rebellion against the national government and learn why psychic espers have their gifts.
Released in 2001, Spirited Away is arguably the most popular anime feature of all-time. The Studio Ghibli film is the most successful movie in Japanese history, and its culture reach extends to dozens of countries. The film’s charm lies in its unshakable characters and fantastical story. Spirited Away tells the story of Chihiro Ogino, a 10-year-old girl who finds herself in the spirit world when a witch named Yubaba turns her parents into pigs. Terrified, Chihiro works for the witch as she formulates a way to save herself and her family, and a boy boy named Haku agrees to help them escape the strange world they found themselves in.