Anime movies have earned their special place in cinema with their distinctive style, storytelling, and creative plots. Over the years, anime has become a global phenomenon, winning over the audiences’ attention with its unique blend of art, stories, and brilliant animation.
Anime movies have provided an enchanting realm of Japanese animation where we get to experience so much more than we do in live-action movies. From the fantastical Studio Ghibli to the cyberpunk dystopias of Neo-Tokyo, anime movies have transcended cultural boundaries, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of cinema.
In this article, we are taking you on an enthralling journey through the enchanting world of anime, unveiling the best anime movies of all time—so far! These cinematic gems will teleport you to a whole new world of boundless imagination, where heroes embark on epic quests, love knows no time and space, and the boundaries between reality and fantasy blur.
What are the Best Anime Movies of all Time?
Well, the “best” can be subjective, varying widely among fans and critics, but there are several anime movies that have achieved critical acclaim, international recognition, and cult status among audiences.
However, in case you are a newcomer to this mesmerising genre and need an idea of what to watch first, here is our selection of anime movies that have been widely recognised for their artistic excellence, innovative storytelling, and cultural impact.
Spirited Away (2001)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli, Spirited Away is often hailed as one of the greatest anime movies ever made.
The film tells the story of Chihiro Ogino, a sullen ten-year-old girl who, while moving to a new neighbourhood, enters the world of spirits. After her parents are turned into pigs by the witch Yubaba, Chihiro takes a job working in Yubaba’s bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world.
Spirited Away was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $300 million worldwide and becoming the highest-grossing anime film of all time outside of the country of Japan. What makes Spirited Away such a special movie is its rich storytelling, intricate animation, and how it masterfully explores the themes of greed, pollution, and identity.
The movie has received numerous accolades and honours; among those is the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2003, becoming the first (and only to update) anime film to win the award.
Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira is a landmark film in the cyberpunk genre and a seminal work in the anime world. Set in a dystopian 2019 Neo-Tokyo, the film’s plot centres around Kaneda, a biker gang leader, and his childhood friend Tetsuo, who acquires telekinetic abilities (being able to move things with his mind) after a motorcycle accident.
Akira is celebrated for its detailed animation, intense action sequences, and its complex exploration of themes such as power, corruption, and revolution. The film’s impact on the global popular culture is immense, influencing numerous works in animation, comics, film, and art. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest anime movies of all time, and it has significantly influenced the genre.
One of the most striking aspects of Akira is its animation. The film was one of the first anime films to use computer-generated animation (CGI), and it helped to popularise the use of CGI in anime. The animation in Akira is fluid, dynamic, and detailed, and it helps to create a visually stunning and immersive world.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Another masterpiece anime movie from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, My Neighbor Totoro, is a heartwarming story that captures the innocence and adventures of childhood. The film revolves around two young sisters, Satsuki and Mei, who encounter a magical creature named Totoro in post-war rural Japan.
With its charming narrative, endearing characters, and picturesque animation, the film has become a beloved classic, appealing to both children and adults. Totoro himself has become an iconic character, representing the whimsical and imaginative nature of Miyazaki’s work.
The animation done in My Neighbor Totoro is one of the most beautiful ever seen in an anime film. The backgrounds are lush and colourful, and the characters are well-written. The film’s animation style is simple yet elegant, and it perfectly captures the magic of childhood.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
The Japanese animated fantasy film Princess Mononoke was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli. The film tells the story of Ashitaka, a young prince who is cursed with a powerful demon arm.
After being banished from his village, Ashitaka journeys to the Iron Town, where he becomes embroiled in a conflict between the humans who live in the town and the forest spirits who protect it. Ashitaka falls in love with San, the Wolf Princess, and he must find a way to bring peace between the two sides so he can have his happy ending.
Princess Mononoke is a visually stunning and thought-provoking film that explores themes of environmentalism, harmony, and the balance between nature and technology. The film is praised for its brilliant animation, complex characters, and epic story.
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
This haunting and emotional film from Studio Ghibli is often considered one of the most powerful war anime movies of all time. It tells the story of two siblings struggling to survive in Japan during World War II. Unlike many other anime movies, it eschews fantasy elements to deliver a stark, heartbreaking portrayal of the human cost of war.
Grave of the Fireflies is a poignant and heartbreaking anime movie that explores the themes of loss, resilience, and the enduring power of human connection. Besides its extremely beautifully done animation, the film is praised for its sensitive portrayal of young characters and its unflinching depiction of the horrors of war.
The animation in Grave of the Fireflies is simple yet powerful. The backgrounds are often watercolours, and the characters are drawn in a minimalist style, which helps to emphasise the film’s themes of loss and isolation. The animation is particularly effective in the scenes that depict the firebombing of Kobe, which are rendered in a stark and haunting style.
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
A seminal work in the cyberpunk genre, Ghost in the Shell explores themes of identity, consciousness, and technology. Ghost in the Shell is based on the manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow.
Set in a futuristic world where humans can enhance themselves with cybernetic parts, the film follows Major Motoko Kusanagi as she hunts for a mysterious hacker known as the Puppet Master.
The movie’s philosophical underpinnings and stunning visual style have left a mark in both anime and sci-fi genres.
It is a visually stunning and thought-provoking film that has received a lot of acclaim for its groundbreaking animation, its complex characters, and its philosophical exploration of the themes of technology, identity, and consciousness.
Your Name (2016)
Directed by Makoto Shinkai, Your Name weaves a tale of love and time travel. It tells the story of a boy and a girl from different parts of Japan who mysteriously start switching bodies, an incident that changes their lives forever. Your Name became a global phenomenon, lauded for its catchy animation, emotional storyline, and innovative narrative structure.
Your Name has captured the hearts of audiences worldwide. The movie’s animation is absolutely superb and is considered to be the best animation done in an anime movie. The backgrounds are richly drawn, the characters are expressive, and the action scenes are dynamic.
The film’s animation style is both traditional and modern, and it skilfully captures the beauty and fleeting nature of time. Makoto Shinkai’s masterpiece is a testament to the power of animation as a medium for profound storytelling and visual artistry.
Paprika is a mind-bending journey into the world of dreams. When a machine that allows therapists to enter their patient’s dreams is stolen, all hell breaks loose, and only a young therapist named Paprika can stop it. The film is a medley of stunning visuals and complex storytelling, reflecting director Satoshi Kon’s unique style and mastery of the anime genre.
The film is based on the 1999 novel of the same name by Yasutaka Tsutsui. Paprika was one of the early anime films to extensively use computer-generated imagery (CGI), and it helped to push the boundaries of what was possible in animation. The animation in Paprika is fluid, dynamic, and on-point, and it helps to create a visually immersive and dreamlike world.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (1997)
Serving as an alternative conclusion to the acclaimed Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series, this anime movie is a deep dive into several psychological and apocalyptic themes. The movie provides a more conclusive, albeit controversial, ending to the series.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion follows the story of Shinji Ikari, a young boy who pilots a giant mecha called an Evangelion to fight against monstrous beings known as Angels. The film’s animation is a blend of traditional hand-drawn and computer-generated imagery.
One of the most notable aspects of the film’s style is how the action sequences are intense and dynamic, while the quieter moments are filled with subtle details that reveal the inner turmoil of the characters. The film’s score, composed by Shirō Sagisu, is another plus, providing an evocative accompaniment to the narrative, adding another layer of emotional depth to the experience.
At its core, Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion is a psychological exploration of its characters, particularly Shinji Ikari, the protagonist. The film delves into Shinji’s deep-seated insecurities, self-doubt, and fear of abandonment as he grapples with the immense responsibility placed upon him as an Evangelion pilot. The film also explores the complex relationships between the characters, highlighting their struggles with communication, acceptance, and the desire for connection.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time combines the light-hearted elements of youth with the intricate challenges of time travel. It’s the story of a high school girl, Makoto, who unexpectedly acquires the ability to leap through time.
Makoto’s journey through time allows her to experience the consequences of her actions in real-time, helping her to grow as a person and learn the importance of responsibility. The film also explores themes of love, friendship, and family, and it captures the bittersweet emotions of adolescence.
The film is based on Yasutaka Tsutsui’s 1967 novel of the same name. The film’s animation is mesmerisingly expressive. The backgrounds are richly detailed, and the characters are drawn in a way that captures their emotions and personalities. The film’s action sequences are also fluid and dynamic, and the use of CGI is seamlessly integrated into traditional animation.
These ten anime movies represent just a fraction of the vast and ever-expanding world of anime cinema. With its rich history, diverse genres, and boundless creativity, anime movies continue to captivate audiences worldwide, offering a ticket to a thrilling world and leaving the audiences enchanted by the boundless power of imagination and storytelling that anime has to offer.