Studio Ghibli has created some of the greatest anime movies of all time. Commonly referred to as the East's answer to Disney, Ghibli is the creation of animators Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, as well as producers Toshio Suzuki and Yasuyoshi Tokuma. Add in thousands of hours of work, beautiful music (most often by Joe Hisaishi) They started with a simple mission: tell the stories they wanted to make. Ghibli films are mature tales that speak to children and adults alike.
When watching them, it becomes tempting to rank them all. However, even among the great body of Ghibli's work, a few films stand out. Some films are just too enchanting, too beautifully animated, and two magical to ignore. The greatest Studio Ghibli films stand apart, even in a catalog of great films.
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13 From Up On Poppy Hill
This is the second film directed by Hayao Miyazaki's son, Goro. Goro Miyazaki's first film, Tales from Earthsea, is often regarded as among Studio Ghibli's weakest films, so in many ways, From Up on Poppy Hill exists as the ultimate redemption story.
Beyond what it represents, however, the film itself is an often overlooked gem. Most people come to Ghibli for its fantasy stories, but From Up on Poppy Hill is a slice-of-life melodrama. The story is a little larger than life, which strikes some as sappy. But it tells a tale of human drama quite well.
12 Howl's Moving Castle
Howl's Moving Castle is undeniably messy. It is a hodgepodge of ideas, from critiques of war to time-spanning romance to atonement, and none of them quite fit together. The second half of the film is hard to follow at times.
What makes the film enchanting, however, is its main heroine, Sophie. Sophie is one of Miyazaki's greatest characters, and far more memorable than even the larger-than-life Howl. Sophie's journey is a fairy tale straight out of a child's wildest dream.
Watch the film. But also be sure to read the novel the film is based on. They're two very different experiences, but both are one of a kind.
11 The Cat Returns
This spin-off of Yoshifumi Kondo's Whisper of the Heart was directed by Hiroyuki Morita, who, while he worked on many Studio Ghibli movies, only directed The Cat Returns before going on to work at other companies. For this reason, this enchanting fairy tale of a movie is often overlooked.
The film is a short fairy tale featuring a gaggle of felines and a human girl transforming slowly into a cat. It shares some elements in common with Howl's Moving Castle, but, due to its simplicity, never loses its audience or feels too complicated for its own good.
10 My Neighbors The Yamadas
Isao Takahata is often overshadowed by his partner Hayao Miyazaki, but his films are among the greatest Studio Ghibli movies around. Many, on first impression, don't give My Neighbors the Yamadas credit. They look at its scratchy animation and silly social comedy, and write it off immediately.
While its episodic vignettes never truly come together as a cohesive plot, Takahata successfully shows us a family we come to adore. It's an intimate, personal film.
9 My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro is one of the fluffier films in Studio Ghibli's library. Released as part of a double-feature with Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbor Totoro quickly took on a life of its own. On the outside, it might be hard to tell. There isn't much of a plot, the conflict only comes into play in the last half hour, and there isn't --
Oh, right. The giant spirits creatures. The Totoros. The Cat-Bus. The numerous little miscellaneous spirits, brought to beautiful life by some of the best animation ever put to screen. Totoro remains one of Miyazaki's most iconic creatures. You know Appa from Avatar: The Last Airbender? Totally inspired by Totoro.
On its own, the film is beautiful. Like a sweet dream worth watching.
8 The Tale Of Princess Kaguya
Isao Takahata's final film before his passing proved to be one of his best. And, reportedly, one of Studio Ghibli's final great films.
The movie is itself a retelling of the story of Kaguya. The myth is lovingly retold, but the story is not what people remember about it: it's the incredible animation. This animation is unique. It feels alive and fluid, unpolished yet incredibly stylized. It creates an atmosphere that cannot really be replicated by anyone.
Isao Takahata's swansong just serves to remind the world what they lost when he passed in 2018.
7 Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind
Hayao Miyazaki created Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind before officially starting Studio Ghibli, but this anime film is often categorized as part of the Studio Ghibli canon, so it counts.
Based on the first part of Miyazaki's manga of the same name, Nausicaa is a post-apocalyptic nightmare, featuring a world overrun by fungus and insects, with humanity either reduced to a medieval form or rising up with great steampunk weaponry. Some attempt to fight the Toxic Jungle overtaking the world, while others seek to find harmony.
Several of Miyazaki's common tropes are seen here in a powerful, albeit unpolished, form. It's a terrific epic full of ideas that would be perfected in later years. Still, it's truly a masterpiece.
6 Kiki's Delivery Service
Another film by Hayao Miyazaki, Kiki's Delivery Service follows a witch named Kiki who works at a bakery, delivering bread, and... that's it. That's the film. Those interested in Studio Ghibli movies for their sense of adventure or action may be left underwhelmed, but Kiki's Delivery Service isn't that sort of film.
What the film delivers on is some of the best easy viewing in anime history. It features some of the best flying sequences ever. It features an adorable protagonist in Kiki, a girl confronted by very real problems. It stands as one of Miyazaki's most simple but poignant coming of age stories.
5 Whisper Of The Heart
Admit it: you'd never expect an emotionally powerful film centered around John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" either. Or a simple, powerful romance interspersed with incredible dream sequences featuring a talking cat. Or a film ranked among the Top Five Best Studio Ghibli movies not made by either Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata.
But regardless, Yoshifumi Kondo's simple but poignant coming-of-age movie Whisper of the Heart tells a story that is at once about the creative process, the boundaries between people, and the balance between fantasy and reality, all in an apparently simple story of puppy love.
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4 Castle In The Sky
The first film created after Studio Ghibli's inception, Castle in the Sky is everything you'd expect from Ghibli. High-stakes adventure. Ancient technology. Flying machines. A message of environmentalism. Young children facing the adventure of a lifetime while basking in the beauty of life.
Castle in the Sky is the Ghibli-est Studio Ghibli movie to ever come out of the studio. But on top of that, it's a beautiful adventure story. It features some of the best music in the entire Ghibli saga -- in particularly the re-orchestrated version released years after the fact -- one of the few times a creature returning to touch up an older work actually improved it. Castle in the Sky is a masterpiece. Plain and simple.
3 Grave Of The Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies may be the best Studio Ghibli movie no one ever wants to watch.
Isao Takahata's greatest film tells the almost-true story of two siblings left orphaned after a WWII air raid. They struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy and childlike innocence even as all hope dies around them.
What makes Grave of the Fireflies such a powerful film is its integration of pure hopelessness and fading childhood. It is a profound tragedy, made all the more tragic by the realization that, should a few decisions been made, maybe this horrible outcome could've been averted. It's Studio Ghibli's most disturbing film.
2 Spirited Away
The film that won Hayao Miyazaki an Oscar, Spirited Away is his fable. It tells the tale of Chihiro, a girl forced to save her parents from spirits by delving deeper into the supernatural. She is taken on an absurd, fantastic adventure.
The animation is beautiful. The music is beautiful. The story is beautiful. It is arguably a perfect film. It is at once funny, heart-breaking, inspiring, heart-warming, and even a little scary. Many regard it as Hayao Miyazaki's magnum opus.
But people who say that are forgetting about...
1 Princess Mononoke
Many regard Princess Mononoke as one of the greatest animated films of all time. Not just the best Studio Ghibli movie. One of the best movies. Period.
It tells the tale of Ashitaka, a boy cursed by a demon who seeks to meet his fate at the crossing of the worlds of man and nature. It tells a story of the division between technology and life, and how the two threaten to destroy one another. It features a war story without bad guys, but with people driven to mutually destructive ends. It features incredible creatures, a stirring romance, epic war scenes, and all while beautifully animated with beautiful music and a beautiful story.
Princess Mononoke is a perfect film. No other film could rank as the best Studio Ghibli movie.