The best animated films of all time

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It’s easy to overlook the profound impact anime has had on the film industry. From sci-fi phenoms to action-packed blockbusters, this form of Japanese animation has changed the meaning of entertainment in the decades since its inception some 100 years ago. For those who study cinema or those who just want to watch something interesting, here is a list of animated movies that will leave an indelible mark on you for years to come.

Best animated films: A silent voice

Image courtesy of Kyoto Animation

A silent voice depicts the story of a troubled teenager who must come to terms with his past in order to move on and lead a more fulfilling life. He attempts to reconnect with the deaf girl he bullied in elementary school, going so far as to learn sign language to communicate with her. A tumultuous story unfolds that will touch you more than once due to the brutality with which it could be told. It ultimately reminds viewers that human beings are complex beings capable of change and that very few of us are truly evil.

Best animated films: your name

Animated movies

Image courtesy of CoMix Wave Films

your name was an international sensation that captured the attention of critics around the world for good reason. A boy and a girl are mysteriously linked to each other after a comet begins to enter Earth’s atmosphere. They slowly take on each other’s lives, helping each other achieve their own personal goals without ever meeting in real life. These swapping episodes come to an abrupt end one day, and a much more dramatic goal for each protagonist arises. Although irrelevant, your nameThe romantic elements of will have you wishing a sequel was already in the works.

Best animated films: Wolf children

Animated movies

Image courtesy of Studio Chizu

Possibly the greatest animated film released in the past 10 years, Wolf childrenThe premise of is very silly on the surface. A diligent student studying at a university one day notices that a mysterious stranger walks into her class. She develops an interest in the silent man, gradually opening up and developing a relationship with him. The two fall in love, only for the woman to discover that the man is actually a shape-shifting werewolf.

Anyway, she decides to accept him as he is and they have a boy and a girl together. When tragedy strikes one day, this new family must work together to figure out how to move forward. This incredible story of loss and perseverance must be seen by everyone, whether or not they are in the anime.

Best animated films: Taken away as if by magic

Animated movies

Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli

Taken away as if by magic is a masterpiece that tells the story of a 10-year-old girl who must venture into the spirit world in order to save her parents from being pigs forever. Legendary Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki manages to conjure up so many themes over the course of the film while simultaneously delivering a cohesive plot that needs to be experienced multiple times to be fully understood. Considered one of the best animated films of all time, Taken away as if by magic has something in store for everyone who sees it, regardless of age.

Best animated films: Akira

Animated movies

Image courtesy of Tokyo Movie Shinsha

Akira is an iconic animated film that dares to accept the ramifications of war and the impact of nuclear technology. This reflects, in many ways, Japan’s own fears following its participation in World War II. In Akira, a futuristic version of Tokyo is threatened when a secret military project turns a member of a motorcycle gang into a serial killer. If you’re not interested in the parallels the film draws with the real world, its spellbinding visual style will certainly impress you.

Best animated films: the Grave of the Fireflies

Animated movies

Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli

the Grave of the Fireflies also explores the theme of war, though it admittedly makes its impact using a less stylistic but more grounded approach. Appealing to the viewer’s emotion, it tells the story of two brothers who must do their best to survive in a world torn apart by conflict. Perhaps one of the saddest animated films ever made, the Grave of the Fireflies will stay with you long after the credits roll as your humanity struggles to come to terms with the belligerent nature within all of us.

Best animated films: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Animated movies

Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind laid the foundations for the directorial career of Hayao Miyazaki, which was then present in almost all the films that the man made thereafter. Focusing heavily on environmental themes and humanity’s relationship to the world around it, Nausicaa presents audiences with a simple message through a powerful female protagonist, whose likes must do what she can to prevent a disastrous war from happening after her home is attacked by looters. While some aspects may feel dated, the film’s narrative and strong symbolism ring as true today as it did when Nausicaa was first released in 1984.

Best animated films: My Neighbor Totoro

Animated movies

Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli

My Neighbor Totoro captures the innocent essence of childhood and somehow distills it into a movie. It’s extremely charming in the precision with which it portrays what it’s like to be a child, complete with obnoxious screams, unreasonable demands and fanciful imagination. It’s almost impossible to leave your first viewing of My Neighbor Totoro without a smile on your face as you reminisce about your own childhood memories and the adventures you had with your own imaginary friends.

Best animated films: Princess Mononoke

Animated movies

Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli

Staying close to Miyazaki’s iconic themes of the environment and human exploitation, Princess Mononoke ambitiously blends spectacular visual flair with an inspired story that in some ways eschews audience expectations in favor of each character’s true desires.

As with many movies on this list, Mononoke appeals to an inexplicable aspect of our being as a sprawling fantasy epic set in Japan’s Muromachi era unfolds on screen. The brutality of the film only further underscores the points it tries to make without ever allowing it to feel indulgent or preachy. The result is something visceral and real, a feat considering it’s an animated medium.

Best animated films: ghost in the shell

Animated movies

Image courtesy of Production IG

The 1995 adaptation of shell ghost captures the thrill of the acclaimed manga series without sacrificing any of its modern symbolism. In a futuristic cyberpunk world riddled with crime, a policewoman is tasked with tracking down a criminal known as The Puppet Master. Along the way, she struggles to come to terms with the emotions that arise within her. ghost in the shell is surprisingly deep in that it dares to question who we are as human beings in a society awash with technology and fake personalities.

While some may take more pleasure in marathoning entire anime series, each film on this list deserves its own dedicated viewing, if only to see how their presence has affected the medium in posterity. Arguably, anime wouldn’t be treated with the respect it deserves today without the introduction of these films. At the very least, every anime fan should give them a watch as a thank you.


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