Studio Ghibli is an easy contender for most prestigious name in animation. Even those who don't watch anime have probably seen at least one Studio Ghibli film (the most likely one being Spirited Away).
And it's no wonder why the company has been so successful. Their films beautifully mix the joys, questions, and traumas of childhood with delicate balance. Their movies hit deeply and in ways that make us feel emotions that most movies could never manage.
But Studio Ghibli isn't the only studio producing iconic anime movies. If you're looking for an excellent anime movie that's different from the usual Ghibli fare, here are some of our top picks!
8. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time from director Mamoru Hosoda injects some much-needed whimsy and lighthearted fun into the animated viewing experience.
This film follows the story of Makoto, who—as the title suggests—gains the ability to jump back through time. She promptly abuses this power to help her in school, with relationships, and everything else.
Of course, this all comes at a cost! There's a touch of maturity to the film, but it's largely about exploring what you would do if you could fix your past mistakes, which is something we can all relate to.
7. Paprika (2006)
If you enjoyed Inception, you’ll love Paprika. It features a lot of the same strange, otherworldly visuals and the anxiety that comes from not knowing what's real and what's a dream.
All of that is mixed together with an anime aesthetic that's undeniably effective at presenting its surreal concept with the greatest punch.
Paprika is about a group trying to stop a terrorist from unleashing the chaos of dreams onto the streets of Tokyo. It's a wild ride with brilliant animation that will make you question what reality truly is.
6. Perfect Blue (1997)
When Mima Kirigoe made the transition from pop star to actress, she didn't expect her life to become about balancing death threats from jaded fans with agents arguing over her next big career move.
What unfolded was one of the best murder mystery plots in anime movie history, with Mima slowly losing her grip on reality, complete with gorgeously over-the-top visuals that perfectly balanced the beauty of the characters with the gruesomeness of the on-screen murders.
5. A Silent Voice (2016)
Not every great anime film is a thrilling, sci-fi, mind-bending, reality-shifting experience packed with chaotic visuals. A Silent Voice is a quieter kind of anime film about a reformed bully who's trying to make amends for the harm he's inflicted on others.
He reaches out to Shoko, a deaf girl who was once forced to move to another school just to get away from his bullying. Through the two of them, we explore the nature of forgiveness, disability, and whether people can truly change from their nasty ways.
A Silent Voice is perfect for a quiet night in when you need to have a good cry. Just make sure to have those tissues at the ready!
4. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Many people would argue that the Ghost in the Shell film surpassed the manga it was originally based on, which is certainly a fair assessment. Cut down to feature film length, the plot of Ghost in the Shell became much tighter and the message more effective.
This anime film is a cyberpunk thriller about a mysterious hacker called the Puppet Master who wreaks havoc on a near-future, tech-advanced society. It has characters wrestling with questions about the nature of humanity and the blurring lines between humans and machines.
The animation in Ghost in the Shell holds up, even three decades since it was first released. Of the multitude of sequels and spin-offs that this movie spawned, none have managed to eclipse the original.
3. Redline (2009)
Sometimes you just want to watch fast cars go fast. For that, Redline is a visual spectacle that never lets up until the closing credits.
Set in a future where illegal car racing is the biggest thing around, Redline is an anime movie that's all about its aesthetics. Every frame is gorgeous, every motion is perfectly fluid.
There's an incredible amount of artistic skill needed to design action scenes that are as over-the-top as the ones featured in this film but in a way that doesn't lose coherence or structure. In pushing the envelope to the absolute extreme, Redline becomes an iconic anime movie.
2. Your Name (2016)
When Your Name burst onto the scene in 2016, it shattered cinema records around the world. To this day, it's the third highest-grossing Japanese movie worldwide having raked in $380 million.
Your Name manages to be soft and intimate while also having plenty of visual treats for fans of anime films. It centers on two high school students—a boy in the city and a girl in the countryside—who randomly swap bodies when they go to sleep.
The film starts as an exploration of the differences between city life and countryside life, but evolves into an examination of fate and love. It's a mind-bending experience that's beautiful, fun, and tragic all at once.
1. Akira (1988)
No other anime film has stood the test of time like Akira.
More than three decades after its release, this movie remains the standard against which all other anime films are judged. The action, the animation, and the music all hold up to this day, and seeing it in full glory on the big screen is still the only way to truly experience it.
Akira also features one of the most iconic shots in cinema: Kaneda sliding to a stop on his bike. It's a sequence that has been copied and referenced in countless movies and shows ever since.
Without a doubt, Akira isn't just the best anime film of all time—it's one of the greatest movies ever made, animated or otherwise.