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I’m not a huge anime fan, but I do appreciate that there’s a lot of great anime out there. I personally loved both Naruto and Naruto Shippuden and I was impressed by the first season of My Hero Academia. So I hate it when people say that anime is just for kids or imply that anime is a lesser artform. It’s not, and I’m about to prove it to you.
If you’re one who thinks that anime is dull and shallow and can’t hold a candle to books or live-action TV shows and films, I recommend giving these anime films a shot. Unlike anime series, these films won’t require a huge time investment—a few hours tops—but you’ll be blown away nonetheless. Seriously, if these don’t feel anything when watching these, you may want to check if you have a heart at all!
1. Howl’s Moving Castle
The title kind of sounds like a children’s story, but don’t be fooled. Howl’s Moving Castle is a deeply emotional film about a cursed woman who seeks out the wizard named Howl to hopefully undo the hex. Along the way, several themes are explored amidst character growth and plenty of humorous moments. Animated by Studio Ghibli, it also happens to be one of the most beautiful anime films ever made.
2. Princess Mononoke
A true classic as far as anime films are concerned. If you haven’t seen Princess Mononoke, do yourself a favor and move it to the top of your watchlist! The animation is gorgeous, the epic narrative is sweeping, the themes are ever relevant—it’s the complete package and one of Hayao Miyazaki’s best creations. Not just an exquisite anime film, but an excellent film, period.
3. Sword of the Stranger
Sword of the Stranger is a lovely film that’s surprisingly intimate despite the epic backdrop. Taking place during the Sengoku period, Sword of the Stranger centers on a young fugitive boy who’s inadvertently saved by a wandering swordsman turned bodyguard. At heart, this film is about the deepening relationship between this boy and his bodyguard, and it’s a wonderful tale worth experiencing.
4. Spirited Away
Spirited Away may just be Hayao Miyazaki’s most well-known and most recognizable film, and for good reason. Mixing elements of Japanese folklore with modern themes and narrative archetypes, Spirited Away successfully presents itself as a deep and engaging fairy tale for all ages. There’s so much to love about it, and it’ll leave you in tears if you have anything resembling a heart.
Remember when Inception came out in 2010 and awed everyone with its reality-defying dreamscapes? What if I told you that another film—an anime film, no less—did it first in 2006? Paprika is a science fiction thriller about a psychologist who helps her patients using a device that lets her enter their dreams. It’s wild, mind-bending, and just plain fun.
6. Your Name
Anime is no stranger to romantic fantasy, but Your Name is one of the best examples of how effective it can be when done well. Not convinced? Let’s just say that Your Name sat at the top of Japan’s box office on a dozen separate weekends. You watch it, you love it, and you want to watch it again. It’s that simple.
7. Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell (not to be confused with the 2017 live-action remake) was a pioneer in many ways: its combination of traditional animation with CGI animation; its thoughtful exploration of themes relating to philosophy and technology; its popularization of cyberpunk as a genre; and its influence on science fiction as a whole, particular films like The Matrix.
8. Expelled From Paradise
Expelled From Paradise is a post-apocalyptic science fiction film about a future where humans have escaped a rotting Earth to live out their futures aboard a space station as digital consciousnesses in virtual reality. The main story, however, follows an agent who needs to return to the dying Earth to track down a hacker who keeps interfering with the space station’s systems. The end result is a flawed but beautiful and satisfying film with more layers than you may have expected.
If you’ve decided to watch any of these anime films, I personally recommend watching them in their original language with English subtitles, however it’s ultimately up to you. Learn more about subbed versus dubbed anime and which one is better.