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The Top 10 Studio Ghibli Films You Should Watch Right Now

People always think that animated films are aimed at children, but they are not!

When people ask me why I love anime all I say is “Go watch Spirited Away and then ask me that question again!”

I’ve adored animation all my life and in particular Japanese anime. It’s not something that ‘I’m going to grow out of’. People always think that animated films are aimed at children, but they are not! Just watch Akira, Urotsukidoji or Attack on Titan and you can see that the demographic for these films and series’ is not young children.

A lot of western animation of course is aimed at children. When you think of studios like Disney, you think of princesses, sugar-coated fairy tales with stories that only run for around 70 minutes and that are so sugar sweet that it hurts your teeth. Disney Pixar on the other hand make more family friendly movies that cater for everybody and that aren’t about a lost princesses looking for Prince Charming, but stories that are original and heartwarming like ‘Up’ and ‘Inside Out’. If we do get animation in the west that is aimed at adults then it’s usually some kind of comedy, which is a shame because it would be great to see a US adult animated crime series.

Anyway, let’s carry on with the post because one particular animation studio is my main focus today – Studio Ghibli.

One of the first anime films I ever saw was Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky and I’ve been hooked ever since. Ghibli make films that are magical and a place to escape to. If you’ve never seen any anime before, I recommend that you should choose any of masterpieces that this animation studio has produced over the last 30 years because it is a great place to break your anime virginity!

Who are Studio Ghibli?

Studio Ghibli, Inc. (株式会社スタジオジブリ, (Kabushiki-Kaisha Sutajio Jiburi) was founded in 1985 and is headed by Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki and Isao Takahata. Prior to the founding of the studio Miyazaki and Takahata already had established careers in Japanese film and TV animation. The studio was founded after the success of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind which was released in 1984 and written and directed by Miyazaki.

Several of Studio Ghibli features have won the Animage Anime Grand Prix award, these features include: Castle in the Sky, in 1986; My Neighbor Totoro, in 1988; and Kiki’s Delivery Service, in 1989. Spirited Away won an Oscar in 2002 for Best Animated Feature and it remains the only film made outside the English-speaking world to have done so and is the top grossing film in the history of Japanese cinema.

Studio Ghibli’s headquarters are located on Kogenei, Tokyo and their company logo is Totoro the lovable tree spirit character from the 1988 animated film My Neighbor Totoro.

The name Ghibli was given by Hayao Miyazaki with reference to the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli. The Italian noun “ghibli” is based on the Libyan-Arabic name for the sirocco, or Mediterranean wind, the idea being the studio would “blow a new wind through the anime industry”. Although the Italian word is pronounced with a hard ɡ, the Japanese pronunciation of the studio’s name is with a soft g, [dʑíbu͍ɾi].

Unfortunately on 3 August 2014, Studio Ghibli announced it was temporarily halting production following the retirement of director Hayao Miyazaki who pretty much directed all but one of the films in this list.

Let’s get on with it…


Grave of the Fireflies

(火垂るの墓, Hotaru no Haka)


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Director – Isao Takahata

Japanese Voices – Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara and Akemi Yamaguchi

English Voices – J. Robert Spencer, Rhoda Chrosite, Veronica Taylor and Amy Jones

This film is considered to be one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever made. This animated film Grave of the Fireflies is the tale of the relationship between two orphaned children, Seita and his young sister Setsuko and is set toward the end of World War II in Japan.

The story of this film is so powerful and so sad. This film is not a film I could watch over and over. It definitely deserves to be seen by any anime fan and anyone modern history student.



(崖の上のポニョ, Gake no Ue no Ponyo), “Ponyo on the Cliff”)

Initially titled in English as Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea


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Director – Hayao Miyazaki

Japanese Voices – Tomoko Yamaguchi, Kazushige Nagashima, Yūki Amami and George Tokoro

English Voices– Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Tina Fey, Noah Cyrus, Betty White and Matt Damon.

This is Studio Ghibli’s take on the Little Mermaid. The plot centres on a goldfish named Ponyo who befriends a five-year-old human boy, Sōsuke, and wants to become a human girl. Although the animation isn’t as polished as Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle it’s still a beautifully visual film. The English dub has some big names in there and who doesn’t like Liam Neeson’s voice?


Porco Rosso

Known in Japan as Crimson Pig (紅の豚, Kurenai no Buta)


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Director – Hayao Miyazaki

Japanese Voices – Shūichirō Moriyama, Tokiko Kato, Akemi Okamura and Akio Ōtsuka

English Voices – Michael Keaton, Susan Egan, Cary Elwes and Frank Welker.

Like I said earlier, this is one of those totally original storylines that you wouldn’t find in Disney.  It’s a beautiful film set in the mediterranean and the plot revolves around an Italian World War I ex-fighter ace, now living as a freelance bounty hunter chasing “air pirates” in the Adriatic Sea. However, an unusual curse has transformed him into an anthropomorphic pig. Once called Marco Pagot (Marco Rossolini in the American version), he is now known to the world as “Porco Rosso”, Italian for “Red Pig”.


Kiki’s Delivery Service

(魔女の宅急便, Majo no Takkyūbin) translated “Witch’s Delivery Service”)


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Director – Hayao Miyazaki

Japanese Voices – Minami Takayama,  Rei Sakuma and Kappei Yamaguchi

English Voices – Kirsten Dunst, Janeane Garofalo, Tress MacNeill, Matthew Lawrence and the late Phil Hartman

Kiki is an adaptation of the 1985 novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono. The film which also set in a European setting tells the story of a young witch, Kiki, who moves to a new town and uses her flying ability to earn a living. According to Miyazaki, the movie portrays the gulf between independence and reliance in teenage Japanese girls.


Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

(風の谷のナウシカ, Kaze no Tani no Naushika)


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Director – Hayao Miyazaki

Japanese Voices – Sumi Shimamoto, Gorō Naya, Yōji Matsuda,Yoshiko Sakakibara and Iemasa Kayumi

English Voices – Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Shia LaBeouf, Uma Thurman, Chris Sarandon, Frank Welker and Mark Hamill

The film was released in Japan in 1984 and its this film started it all. While created before Studio Ghibli was founded, the film is considered to be the beginning of the studio and is often included as part of the Studio’s works, including the Studio Ghibli Collection DVDs and Blu-rays.

Taking place in a post-apocalyptic world in the far future, the film tells the story of Nausicaä, the young princess of the Valley of the Wind. She becomes embroiled in a struggle with Tolmekia, a kingdom that tries to use an ancient weapon to eradicate a jungle of mutant giant insects, and attempts to stop the Tolmekians from enraging these creatures. This film also has a strong environmental message running throughout.


My Neighbor Totoro

(となりのトトロ, Tonari no Totoro)


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Director – Hayao Miyazaki

Japanese Voices – Chika Sakamoto, Noriko Hidaka and Hitoshi Takag

English Voices – Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly and Frank Welker.

Totoro tells the story of the two young daughters (Satsuki and Mei) of a professor and their interactions with friendly wood spirits in postwar rural Japan. Who could forget that adorable catbus?!

The film won the Animage Anime Grand Prix prize and the Mainichi Film Award and Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film in 1988. It also received the Special Award at the Blue Ribbon Awards in the same year.

The movie and its titular character, Totoro, have become cultural icons. My Neighbor Totoro ranked 41st in Empire magazine’s “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema” in 2010. A list of the greatest animated films compiled by Terry Gilliam in Time Out ranked the film number 1. A similar list compiled by the editors of Time Out ranked the film number 3.The character made multiple cameo appearances in a number of Studio Ghibli films and video games and is recognized as one of the most popular characters in Japanese animation. Totoro was ranked 24th on IGN’s top 25 anime characters. Totoro recently made an appearance has a cuddly toy in Pixar’s great Toy Story 3.


Laputa: Castle in the Sky

(天空の城ラピュタ, Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta)


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Director – Hayao Miyazaki

Japanese Voices – Keiko Yokozawa, Mayumi Tanaka, Kotoe Hatsui and Minori Terada

English Voices – Anna PAquin, Mark Hamill, James Van Der Beek, Jim Cummings and Cloris Leachman

Laputa is one of my all-time favourites from the studio. The story once again in a European setting follows Sheeta and Pazu pursued by Dola’s family of sky pirates and Colonel Muskas army as they try to find the floating city of Laputa.

In the film’s back story, human civilizations built flying cities, which were later destroyed by an unspecified catastrophe, forcing the survivors to live on the ground. The only remaining flying city, Laputa, still floats in the sky, concealed by a permanent powerful hurricane that surrounds it. Laputa: Castle in the Sky won the Animage Anime Grand Prix in 1986.


Princess Mononoke

(もののけ姫, Mononoke-hime)


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Director – Hayao Miyazaki

Japanese Voices – Yōji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yūko Tanaka, Kaoru Kobayashi, Masahiko Nishimura, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Akihiro Miwa,Mitsuko Mori and Hisaya Morishige

English Voices – Billy Crudup, Gillian Anderson, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, Keith David, John DiMaggio and Jada Pinkett Smith

Princess Mononoke is set in the late Muromachi period (approximately 1336 to 1573) of Japan with fantasy elements. The story follows the young Emishi warrior Ashitaka’s involvement in a struggle between forest gods and the humans who consume its resources. The term “Mononoke” (物の怪 or もののけ?) is not a name, but a Japanese word for a spirit or monster. Unlike Ghibli’s earlier films, Mononoke has a darker and more violent setting and tone. This is another Ghibli film which has an environmental message.

The film was released in 1997, and in the United States on 1999. It was a critical and commercial blockbuster, becoming the highest-grossing film in Japan of 1997, and the highest-grossing there of all time until Titanic was released later that year. This film greatly increased Ghibli’s popularity and influence outside of Japan.


Spirited Away

(千と千尋の神隠し, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi), literally, Sen and The Spiriting Away of Chihiro)


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Director – Hayao Miyazaki

Japanese Voices – Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takeshi Naito, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Tsunehiko Kamijō, Takehiko Ono and Bunta Sugawara

English Voices – Daviegh Chase, James Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette, David Ogden Stiers, Susan Egan and Pixar favourite John Ratzenberger

Absolutely magical. This is one of the best animated films you will ever see. The whole film is so surreal, but so brilliantly executed. It looks amazing and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that brilliant scene where they are travelling on the train. It’s really simple scene, but it’s my favourite part of the film. Respect goes out to No-face!

The film tells the story of Chihiro Ogino, a sullen ten-year-old girl who, while moving to a new town and school, enters the spirit world. On the way her family come across an old abandoned fun park which at night is transformed into a world of spirits and monsters where Sen becomes trapped in this fantasy where she cannot escape. After her parents are transformed into pigs by the witch Yubaba, Chihiro has to take a job working in Yubaba’s bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world.


Howl’s Moving Castle

(ハウルの動く城, Hauru no Ugoku Shiro)


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Director – Hayao Miyazaki

Japanese Voices – Chieko Baisho, Takuya Kimura and Akihiro Miwa

English Voices – Christian Bale, Billy Crystal, Emily Mortimer, Josh Hutcherson, Blythe Danner and the late Lauren Bacall

A true master-piece! I really love this film. A lot of people will disagree and say Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke are the best Studio Ghibli films. I just find everything about this film is perfect. The animation is stunning, the European setting once again and the story is so clever with a superb voice cast. It’s a true film to get lost in.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by British writer Diana Wynne Jones. The story is set in a fictional kingdom where both magic and 19th century technology are prevalent, against the backdrop of a war with another kingdom. The film tells the story of a young hatter named Sophie after she is turned into an old woman by a witch’s curse. She encounters a wizard named Howl, and gets caught up in his resistance to fighting for the king.

Influenced by Miyazaki’s opposition to the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003, the film contains strongly anti-war themes. Miyazaki stated that he “had a great deal of rage about [the Iraq war],” which led him to make a film which he felt would be poorly received in the US. It also explores the theme of old age, depicting age positively as something which grants the protagonist freedom. The film contains feminist elements as well, and carries messages about the value of compassion.

In 2013 Miyazaki said the film was his favorite creation, explaining “I wanted to convey the message that life is worth living, and I don’t think that’s changed.”The movie is thematically significantly different from the book; while the book focuses on challenging class and gender norms, the film focuses on love, and personal loyalty and the destructive effects of war.”

There you have it. My favourite Studio Ghibli films. Do you agree and where any of your favourites in there?

Written by Jay

A caffeine-based life form with a love of the 80s and pop culture.


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