Whether it’s with their varied storytelling, memorable characters, or their distinct animation style, Studio Ghibli has created some of the most imaginative and beloved animated films over the decades. Making them one of the most celebrated and acclaimed animation studios out there.
Often described as Japan’s answer to Walt Disney, Studio Ghibli seems to be dedicated to capturing the unique sense of wonder, joy, and magic in the day-to-day life that words alone just can’t do. But like with all things, some of Studio Ghibli’s movies are more enjoyable than others.
So let’s look at our golden standard here for the best Studio Ghibli movies, ranked from the not-so-good, the best, and everything in between. Please note none of these movies are terrible, but we are just going to be very nitpicky.
Best Studio Ghibli Movies
Earwig and the Witch
- Title: Aya to Majo
- Aired: Dec 30, 2020
- Theme(s): Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Kids, Supernatural
When a mischievous orphan, Earwig is adopted. She discovers her new home is full of invisible rooms, potions, and spell books, with magic around every corner. Most children would be terrified, but not Earwig. Using her cleverness—with a lot of help from a talking cat—she shows her new magical family who’s boss.
This movie received a lot of backlash for the CGI animation and plot, but it was a fun movie, maybe not as good as the other Ghibli films on our list, but it was entertaining. Though the movie went by fast. Maybe too fast, especially towards the end, which was rather unsatisfying. It’s a very laid-back movie with minor drama, so don’t expect the thrill other Ghibli movies have.
Tales from Earthsea
- Title: Ged Senki
- Aired: Jul 29, 2006
- Theme(s): Adventure, Fantasy
When the balance of the world decays, an archmage and a fugitive prince journey to find the source of evil. It goes beyond the classical battle between the forces of good and evil and explores the inner battles of the heart.
Set in a magical world, with a more serious tone instead of the usual playfulness and humor that Studio Ghibli is known for, the story tries to do everything and nothing at the same time looking at how we treat each other, saving the earth, and the adventures of the characters which don’t always have much direction with the plot of saving the world that is on the verge of destruction.
- Title: Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko
- Aired: Jun 13, 1994
- Theme(s): Comedy, Drama, Kids
The Tanuki, according to Japanese folklore, are playful raccoons that have the power to shape-shift. The film focuses on a forest of Tanuki who have long since abandoned their shape-shifting ways. But when urban development threatens their forest home. The Tanukis’ begins re-learning shape-shifting, as taught by their forest’s elders, to prepare for the imminent showdown between man and them.
This film is the wild card of Studio Ghibli and a uniquely Japanese breath of fresh air for animation and storytelling and while I can never look at raccoons the same way again, the film’s environmental severe concerns shine in a largely comedy-filled film.
My Neighbors the Yamadas
- Title: Tonari no Yamada-kun
- Aired: Jul 17, 1999
- Theme(s): Comedy, Slice of Life
The Yamadas, is an intimate and fun look into the lives of a typical Japanese family, coping with the day-to-day situations that life throws at them while smiling and laughing through their otherwise dull and mundane lives.
Like any Studio Ghibli film, it is refreshing, warm and the perfect movie to watch with the whole family. This show has the potential of bringing families together with its relatability about family, being a spouse, being a parent, being a child, grandchild, and being a daughter or son-in-law.
The Ocean Waves
- Title: Umi ga Kikoeru
- Aired: May 5, 1993
- Theme(s): Drama, Romance, School, Slice of Life
Going to his high school reunion, Taku Morisaki recounts his memories of his school days, focusing in particular on a love triangle that developed between him and two of his friends. Coming to terms with his feelings and understanding of how a girl with a troubled past has had such a massive effect on his life.
The Ocean Waves is a more grounded, realistic telling of a romance between three people without all the supernatural elements you are used to seeing in a Studio Ghibli film. The story is just so charming. Watching relatable characters with all their issues slowly learning to understand themselves and those around them made me smile and wish for their happiness.
The Cat Returns
- Title: Neko no Ongaeshi
- Aired: Jul 20, 2002
- Theme(s): Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
When shy, Haru Yoshioka saves Prince Lune of the Cat Kingdom from being run over by a truck. She is whisked away to the Cat Kingdom to become Lune’s wife. Prevented from leaving, she will need the help of the cat bureau to get out of her union or become a cat.
The Cat Returns is a side story of the Studio Ghibli film Whisper of the Heart. The film is a comical and sweet tale about a shy girl who is carried off into another land, with touching morals about being oneself. Though let down by some missed opportunities, it remains Studio Ghibli’s funniest film and one with plenty of rewatch value.
When Marnie Was There
- Title: Omoide no Marnie
- Aired: Jul 19, 2014
- Theme(s): Drama, Mystery, Psychological
Anna Sasaki is sent to the countryside for health reasons, where she makes an unlikely friend in Marnie, a young girl with flowing blonde hair. As their friendship unravels, these two young girls’ journey of self-discovery and friendships will be a summer that both will remember forever.
This film is an absolutely beautiful movie thanks to its art quality, storytelling, and character development. Though It’s cute, heart-warming, and has a nice warm and fuzzy feel to it, some plot holes and pacing left some questions. It’s a relaxing film that by the climax has you sympathizing with its characters and wishing for their happiness.
The Secret World of Arrietty
- Title: Karigurashi no Arrietty
- Aired: Jul 17, 2010
- Theme(s): Fantasy
The Clock family are tiny people living under the house, another family’s residence borrowing from humans to survive. All is well until humans discover their daughter, Arrietty, and must flee.
One of the charming aspects of the movie is, without a doubt, the amount of attention paid to the little details that make the little people so believable. Though the plot is lacking and leaves a deep feeling for me, of wanting more, I would have loved to have followed the family to where a new adventure may await.
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From Up on Poppy Hill
- Title: Coquelicot-zaka kara
- Aired: Jul 16, 2011
- Theme(s): Historical, Romance, School
Umi Matsuzaki, a 16-year-old girl, provides for her siblings and grandmother, while her mother is away. The monotony of her life changes though after she meets Shun, and together with other students, they try to save their beloved school’s clubhouse. The two discover they may have a lot more in common than either of them think.
Unlike other Studio Ghibli films, From Up on Poppy Hill romanticizes living in this simple world in an oh-so-beautiful way. Making you see the beauty of the world in the typical mundane aspects. Though it would have been nice to have some dragons and other magical creatures. It’s not a bad movie, not by a long shot.
Whisper of the Heart
- Title: Mimi wo Sumaseba
- Aired: Jul 15, 1995
- Theme(s): Drama, Romance, Slice of Life
Shizuku Tsukishima is an energetic 14-year-old girl who enjoys reading and writing poetry in her free time. She becomes determined to work toward a goal after meeting Seiji, a boy who wants to become a master luthier. The two fall in love and work simultaneously towards achieving their independent goals. Guided by the whispers of their hearts.
Though the plot doesn’t go anywhere, so to speak, the strength of the movie is in its characters depicting a very detailed picture of them at different points which can be heartwarming, and heartbreaking, but at all times true to their personalities. Characters’ feelings are easily relatable, understood, and maybe slightly chuckled at by the reminisce of it all.
Castle in the Sky
- Title: Tenkuu no Shiro Laputa
- Aired: Aug 2, 1986
- Theme(s): Adventure, Fantasy, Romance, Sci-Fi
In a world filled with planes and airships, young orphans Sheeta and Pazu who have a mysterious crystal amulet, join forces to discover the mystical floating city of Laputa while pursued by the military and pirates, who want the city’s treasures, for their greedy purposes.
It’s a pretty straightforward story that has enough action, beautiful visuals, and mystery to keep almost anyone engaged. Though maybe because of its simplicity, it doesn’t tackle the same mature themes that other films from the studio usually tackle. It’s still a great movie with a heart-pounding adventure story about friendship, loyalty, greed, and people’s connection to nature.
- Title: Gake no Ue no Ponyo
- Aired: Jul 19, 2008
- Theme(s): Adventure, Fantasy
When Sosuke rescues a goldfish trapped in a bottle. The goldfish turns out to be the daughter of a wizard and goddess, using magic to turn herself into a young girl so that she can be with him. But to let her live on as a human and restore balance to the world, Sousuke must pass an ancient test.
An amazing movie, in terms of visuals, cast, story, and music, with spectacular ocean scenes but the series seems more geared towards children with no main source of villainy, drama, doom, or serious subjects being explored. But you know it’s a good movie when you leave it smiling.
- Title: Omoide Poroporo
- Aired: Jul 20, 1991
- Theme(s): Drama, Romance, Slice of Life
Independent career woman Taeko Okajima takes a break from the hustle and bustle of the city to visit her family during the annual safflower harvest. On the train, she recalls days from her childhood. And as her vacation progresses, Taeko comes to terms with her childhood dreams and the person she is today.
If the film has any weaknesses, it would be pacing, but apart from that, it is a perfect example of why I keep coming to anime. The movie deals with relatable complex themes we all wonder about as we grow older. It’s a mature and underrated anime film that never fails to draw a smile on my face the whole two hours, thanks to its inspiring and relatable story.
Kiki’s Delivery Service
- Title: Majo no Takkyuubin
- Aired: Jul 29, 1989
- Theme(s): Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
13-year-old Kiki moves to a seaside town with her talking cat, Jiji, to spend a year alone, under her village’s tradition for witches in training. She sets up a flying courier service and soon becomes a fixture in the community. But when the insecure young witch questions herself and loses her magic abilities, she must overcome her self-doubt to get her powers back.
The plot is very slice-of-life, our number ten spot on this list. The series is a relaxing watch, and its real magic is in giving its viewers the chance to reflect on the smallest moments in daily life and realize that those can be the most enchanting of all, shaping our thoughts and emotions.
Grave of the Fireflies
- Title: Hotaru no Haka
- Aired: Apr 16, 1988
- Theme(s): Drama, Historical
In the final days of World War II, 14-year-old Seita and his four-year-old sister Setsuko are orphaned after their mother is killed during an air raid by American forces in Kobe, Japan. After having a falling-out with their aunt, they move into an abandoned bomb shelter. With no surviving relatives and their emergency funds and rations depleted, Seita and Setsuko must struggle to survive their hardships as well as those of their country, which is on the losing end of the war.
Grave of the Fireflies gives you a lot to think about. It’s a film that is very antiwar depicting the struggles and perseverance of the human spirit in the nightmare that is war. Grave of the Fireflies is beautiful, yet at times brutal and horrifying.
- Title: Kurenai no Buta
- Aired: Jul 18, 1992
- Theme(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Historical, Military, Romance
In Italy in the 1930s, sky pirates in biplanes terrorize wealthy cruise ships as they sail the Adriatic Sea. The only pilot brave enough to stop the scourge is the mysterious Porco Rosso, a former World War I flying ace who has been cursed to have a pig’s head. As he prepares to battle the pirate crew’s American ace, Porco Rosso enlists the help of spunky girl mechanic Fio Piccolo and his longtime friend Madame Gina.
Porco Rosso is a comedy-drama with sprinkles of romance and slice-of-life. The movie plays with different themes during its runtime and though a great film, its styles, and themes seemed more geared to be accommodating regular moviegoers than just only for anime fans. But these negatives do not make it any less enjoyable, it makes it more easily accessible for people not familiar with Japanese culture.
My Neighbor Totoro
- Title: Tonari no Totoro
- Aired: Apr 16, 1988
- Theme(s): Adventure, Supernatural
When a family moves into an old vacant house in a rural area. Satsuki, the older, responsible girl who takes care of household responsibilities while her mother is sick, and little Mei, a veritable firecracker whose curiosity knows no limits get to go on magical adventures in nature and meet fantastical creatures of the woods.
It’s a heartwarming and whimsical series that every viewer who has watched it loves. The series has no action, is slow-paced, and isn’t full of drama being a movie made to accommodate kids. It has a very detailed world design and a lovable cast of characters.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
- Title: Kaze no Tani no Nausicaä
- Aired: Mar 11, 1984
- Theme(s): Adventure, Fantasy
Far in the future, after an apocalyptic conflict has devastated much of the world’s ecosystem, the few surviving humans live in scattered human settlements. Nausicaä is the princess of the Valley of Wind, one of the few untouched human settlements known for its peaceful inhabitants. However, when an airship from the kingdom of Tolmekia crashes in the Valley with its cargo. Nausicaä will have to work even harder to bring peace back to the ravaged planet.
The film has a great storyline with elements of fantasy, action, and imaginative creatures. Its runtime focuses a lot on its character’s growth and shows us more of its world, while also discussing some serious themes. Though if there are any negatives, it’s how convoluted the motives of each different kingdom or nation are.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
- Title: Kaguya-hime no Monogatari
- Aired: Nov 23, 2013
- Theme(s): Fantasy, Historical
A farmer and his wife find an extremely small girl named Kaguya, inside a bamboo shoot who magically grows up to become a beautiful lady. When the girl is courted by five men who have to face impossible tasks to win her hand. Kaguya’s origins and purpose slowly come to light.
Studio Ghibli’s film is a faithful adaptation of the legendary piece of Japanese literature, “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.” Though a touching coming-of-age story with delightful watercolor-like visuals and themes about life’s duality, materialism, and enlightenment, there were some characters I found redundant.
The Wind Rises
- Title: Kaze Tachinu
- Aired: Jul 20, 2013
- Theme(s): Drama, Romance, Historical
Unable to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot due to his nearsightedness, Jiro strives hard and draws inspiration from Giovanni Caproni, an Italian aircraft pioneer. But soon he realizes both the role of his creations in the war and the harsh realities of his personal life. Making him a question: At what cost does he chase his beautiful dream?
Though a controversial film, it may just be Miyazaki’s ultimate film, an accumulation of his life’s work pieced together into a masterpiece. Rather than read too much into the premise, enjoy the story for what it is: the life and love of a man who simply loved aircraft.
- Title: Mononoke Hime
- Aired: Jul 12, 1997
- Theme(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Ashitaka is cursed during an animal attack and seeks a cure from the deer-like god Shishigami. In his travels, he sees humans ravaging the earth, crumbling the harmony that humans, animals, and gods have enjoyed. Bring the wrath of wolf god Moro and his human companion Princess Mononoke. He attempts to bring back peace while battling the curse inside of him.
The story of Princess Mononoke is highly thematic, exploring humankind and the negative consequences of deforestation. It depicts the connection between technology and nature while showing the path to harmony that could be achieved by mutual acceptance. Though an amazing film it can be pointed out characters’ motives are not all explained living room to unresolved questions.
Howl’s Moving Castle
- Title: Howl no Ugoku Shiro
- Aired: Nov 20, 2004
- Theme(s): Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Romance
The story is about a girl named Sophie who gets turned into an old woman. In her attempt to return to normal, she ends up living with a wizard named Howl and a group of eccentric companions in his moving castle.
Howl’s Moving Castle is a great steampunk fairy-tale. It is a film that leaves the viewers in awe at the magical world that unfolds in front of us, filled with splendid surroundings, fantastic devices, and creatures. The world introduced here is amazing but that does not explain some plot holes and sudden changes in characters’ behavior.
- Title: Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi
- Aired: Jul 20, 2001
- Theme(s): Adventure, Drama, Supernatural
The story follows ten-year-old Chihiro’s journey through an unfamiliar world inhabited by supernatural beings. Meeting along the way a unique cast of characters that help her learn to live and work amongst spirits as she strives to save her parents and return home.
The spirit realm Studio Ghibli created feels like watching a dream with its colorful visuals and inhabitants that are cute to strange and weird. There is a lot to see in this beautifully animated world even if the cuisine is a No-No. The plot is paper-thin and characterization is weak, this is not a bad movie, not by a long shot.
The Night of Taneyamagahara
- Title: Taneyamagahara no Yoru
- Aired: Jul 7, 2006
- Theme(s): Fantasy, Slice of Life, Psychological
A Sumo Wrestler’s Tail
- Title: Chuuzumou
- Aired: Jan 3, 2010
- Theme(s): Comedy, Sports
The Day I Bought a Star
- Title: Hoshi wo Katta Hi
- Aired: Jan 3, 2006
- Theme(s): Sci-Fi, Kids
Boro the Caterpillar
- Title: Kemushi no Boro
- Aired: Mar 21, 2018
- Theme(s): Kids
Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess
- Title: Pandane to Tamago-hime
- Aired: Nov 20, 2010
- Theme(s): Adventure, Fantasy
- Title: Yadosagashi
- Aired: Jan 3, 2006
- Theme(s): Adventure, Fantasy, Kids, Slice of Life
- Aired: Apr 8, 2000 to Jul 19, 2002
- Theme(s): Comedy
I could spend hours and hours talking about Studio Ghibli movies and their many details, and how it’s a visual masterclass in showing what animation can do in terms of building a believable yet fantastic world, how it’s fascinating and so much more. But I know that everyone who has seen a Ghibli film has a fondness for a couple of them.
So let me know your favorites, what do you think of our list, or what would be yours? Talk to us in the comment section down below. If you’re not subscribed now’s the best time to do so. We upload brand new content every Saturday of the week. The best way to see them first is of course to subscribe.
Till next time… Always believe in yourself. Do this, and no matter where you are, you will have nothing to fear.
Thanks for reading!