When someone asks a film buff about anime movies, they always recommend a movie by Studio Ghibli. No one denies that Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away are masterpieces. However, it can get a little exhausting getting the same recommendations over and over again. The world of anime has so many voices that demand to be heard. Why is one studio's voice prioritized over all others?
There are several other amazing anime films crafted by a myriad of creators over the years. Artistic, masterful films. The only qualification for this list is that they can't be a Studio Ghibli film. Other than that? All bets are off. Eager to dive into the world of anime? How about you check out one of these ten?
Let's begin with one of the most iconic anime films of all time. Akira is arguably the first anime to be taken seriously by American film buffs. Everyone has heard of it, though too few people have seen it.
While the plot may sound on the surface very simple, what makes this film feel alive is the incredible animation. So much of the story is told through background details. So much is told by how the characters move. Everything feels fluid and alive in a way that so few films do. It is truly a masterpiece.
Not to be confused with the classic silent German film, Metropolis is an adaptation of Osama Tezuka's manga of the same name. Tezuka is often regarded as the Father of Anime, as he created such icons as Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. As such, Metropolis may be the best adaptation of his manga works.
A stunningly haunting sci-fi story that addresses the issues of class and human experience. The robots are portrayed as soulful creatures with empathy and kindness. But what sells it, again, is the incredible animation, which, again, tells so much of the story alongside what is being said.
8 THE WINGS OF HONNEAMISE
A young studio named Gainax back in the late 80s produced what, for its time, was one of the highest budgeted animated films put to market. The Wings of Honneamise isn't what one traditionally what one expects of sci-fi films of this nature. The story centers around an unmotivated man coasting through life, being put in a space launch program...
Or, at least, that's what it appears. The whole story is about disappointment and pain. It's a tail where hopes are laughed at and where aspirations are twisted by the powers that be. There are so few stories like this, and, sadly, as time goes on this film falls further and further into obscurity -- in no small part because Gainax would go onto produce one of the biggest anime franchises of all time (Neon Genesis Evangelion).
7 JIN-ROH: THE WOLF BRIGADE
This grim alt-history anime film is one of the most atmospheric, grim anime ever made. Written by Mamoru Oshii (he will come up again later), this anime exists in an alternate 1950s where the fascists conquered Japan. We follow a member of an anti-terror unit who is forced to confront his humanity after a brutal experience with a child extremist.
The film focuses on savage terror plots, but the film is really about humanity. Do we have humanity? Do we waver on the knife's edge between love and savagery? It's a grim story that tackles heavy subjects.
6 TOKYO GODFATHERS
Satoshi Kon is often regarded as one of the greatest anime directors of all time. This entire list could have been occupied by Satoshi Kon anime films, and no one would complain. For the sake of variety, there are two of his films here. The first being one of the best Christmas films ever, Tokyo Godfathers.
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Three characters, who exist on the outside of society, find a baby in the trash. Over the course of one Christmas Eve, they learn to care for the child, understanding and learning about each other, forming a familial bond in the process.
5 THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME
Time travel stories are rarely as poignant as this tale is. The story follows a teen girl who learns she has the ability to "time leap," or travel through town. While she first uses her powers for frivolous, silly matters, she soon realizes that her actions have consequences far beyond what she understands.
The premise blends complex sci-fi with simple human drama. It blends the heart-breaking with the fantastic in a way that so few films do. It's short, brief, but powerful.
4 PERFECT BLUE
While anime films can be many things, scary is often not one of them. Anime can be spectacular, awe inspiring, but few anime can manage to scare people. Unless they're directed by Satoshi Kon. A pop idol, hoping to move into acting, finds herself stalked by an obsessive fan who seems to know everything that she does. There's a blog that, apparently, is being written by her. And...is that reflection moving?
Director Darren Aronofsky bought the film rights to Perfect Blue just so no one would sue him over how much his films drew inspiration from this anime. It is a masterful tale of paranoia and suspense that leaves you second guessing everything you see. Even if the ending is a little lame.
3 WOLF CHILDREN
Again, we have another repeat offender here. The director, Mamoru Hosoda, directed several incredible anime films, all of which could have flooded this list. But we narrowed it down to his two best: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Wolf Children.
Wolf Children tells the story of a woman who has an affair with a werewolf, and, as a result, has two children who can transform into wolves. The tale is an emotional story about the struggles of motherhood, with children who don't know what they are and a mother who just wants to protect them. So rarely are older women the main characters in an anime film, especially not mothers. While nothing spectacular or over-the-top happens, the whole story is just immediately emotional and powerful in a way so few films are. It's a must-watch.
2 Your Name
Your Name is the highest grossing anime film as of the time of this writing. It beat-out Studio Ghibli masterpieces like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. Many people refer to director Makoto Shinkai as the next Hayao Miyazaki, which is an unfair comparison. After all, Shinkai is a far different director than Miyazaki.
It is the grounded story of two young teens who find they have the ability to switch bodies with one another. They see the world through two different lenses. The two alter and affect one another's lives, even as things start to shift in a bewildering direction. It takes a very simple premise and plays with it for all its worth. To say any more would spoil what is, essentially, animated poetry.
1 GHOST IN THE SHELL
Few anime films have had the sheer success of Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell. The Matrix? Heavily inspired by this film. Many sci-fi fans regard it as one of the best cyberpunk films ever made.
This simple film -- it's not even 90 minutes long -- centers around Motoko Kusanagi, a Japanese officer investigating cyber-crime in a future where humanity has become so cybernetic that the very soul can be hacked into. It's a story that at once tells a narrative about a super-special hacker and government espionage, while also exploring the nature of humanity. When all other elements are stripped away -- flesh, individual memory, even a soul -- what makes a person human?