The perfect way to introduce you to the magical world of Japanese animation.
Are you new to the world of anime, thinking of giving it a chance, but you don't know where to start? Below is a list of 13 anime movies that are equally great to get your start in the world of Japanese animation. The goal of this list is to shine some light on a wide variety of genres and tones that will also give you a good base for how to choose what kind of anime you want to explore more of in the future. If you watch all of these movies and maybe check out some other works by these directors then you will have a pretty solid grasp on the world of anime movies.
During their move to the countryside, Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi) and her parents, Akio (Takashi Naito) and Yuko (Yasuko Sawaguchi) get lost and find themselves at an abandoned amusement park. As the family makes their way through the park, they find enough food for a feast and since no one is around, the parents decide to dig in against Chirio's protests. While eating the food both of her parents turn into pigs. Afterward, Chiro quickly finds herself in a world of spirits and is forced to work at a bathhouse to train and gain the favor of the witch Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette/ Mari Natsuki), so she can turn her parents back to normal.
Spirited Away comes from legendary anime director Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. SpiritedAway captures the wonder of western animation from studios, like Disney and Dreamworks, but adds a darker flair. Miyazaki creates a vibrant world full of unsettling spirits, giant talking babies, and old witches. SpiritedAway is also the only Japanese film to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. If you enjoy this anime classic, then make sure to check out Miyazaki's other works like Princess Mononokeand Kiki's Delivery Service.
Akira takes place in 2015's Neo Tokyo, a cyberpunk future where gangs and crime run rampant in the streets. Our main character, Kaneda (Mitsuo Iwata), the leader of a teenage biker gang, gets wrapped up with the government after his friend Tetsuo (Nozomu Sasaki) gains supernatural abilities. The movie changes between biker gang brawls, governmental drug conspiracies, and full-blown world-threatening action sequences. Taking us back to 1988 Akira is a classic that would make any anime list invalid without it. Akira drips with style, and big ideas and has been a large contributor to anime's increasing popularity in the west.
Mitsusha (Mone Kamishiraishi), a girl living in rural Japan, makes a wish that she was a boy living in Tokyo. Shortly after, she wakes up in Taki's (Ryûnosuke Kamiki) body – a school boy living in Tokyo. Periodically, the two of them switch places and learn to communicate with one another by leaving messages in a wide variety of ways. Both of them are forced to live as the other for the day while they slowly start to fall in love with each other. Compared to the other entries on this list, Your Name provides a nice break for wholesomeness and romance. Directed by one of the legends of anime movies, Makoto Shinkai, Your Name resembles the style and feel of modern anime more than any other title on the list. It's a heartfelt story that will likely leave you with tears in your eyes.
In futuristic Japan, the human body can now be replaced with cybernetic parts; even the human brain can be turned cyber with what they call "ghosts." Major Kusanagi Motoko (Atsuko Tanaka), an assault team leader, is sent on a mission to hunt down the mysterious Puppet Master who has been messing with the memories of individuals through their ghosts. Ghost in the Shell is essential for an introduction to anime movies in large part due to its influence on modern cinema. Ghost in the Shell is cyberpunk to its roots and explores what it means to have an identity in the modern world. It is also the only movie on this list to have a Hollywood live-action adaptation. If anything can illustrate why anime movies are great, just compare the 1995 Ghost in the Shell to Hollywood's shallow remake in 2017.
Pop idol Mima Kirigoe (Junko Iwao) wants to become an actress. However, the only roles she can get force her to portray acts of sexual violence, running the risk of scorning Mima's public image. While Mima struggles with her career change, an obsessed fan begins to stalk her. Eventually, the hardships of her performances and the paranoia of the stalker start to affect the way Mima perceives reality. Perfect Blue explores the horrors that women can face in the entertainment industry. This is certainly one of the darker titles on this list and has a few scenes that can be difficult to watch. Perfect Blue is directed by legendary anime director Satoshi Kon, whose work has influenced Hollywood.
In middle school, Shoya (Miyu Irino) bullied his deaf classmate, Shoko (Saori Hayami), because he felt she was an easy target. Shortly after, Shoko transfers schools because of Shoya's bullying. Years later, Shoya is disconnected from everyone around him and after deciding against taking his own life, he seeks out Shoya to try and make things right. A Silent Voice is a unique look into mental health and provides a nuanced view into how bullying can form within school. A Silent Voice, directed by Naoko Yamada, is brought to life with stunning animation to match the nuance that the story brings.
A new technology called "DC Mini" allows people to look into the dreams of another person. The "DC Mini" is still in its early stages of development and so, only a few people have access to it. After a "DC Mini" gets stolen, Dr. Chiba Atsuko (Megumi Hayashibara) is forced to track it down before more lives get taken by the mysterious person controlling dreams. This is the second Satoshi Kon movie on this list and another whose influence can be seen in Hollywood. Paprika has many similarities to Christopher Nolan's Inception, as they both tackle the layers that come with dreams. However, while Nolan constructs a heist scenario, Kon explores how dreams would actually look on screen. Paprika's mystifying editing blurs the line between real life and dreams, while pushing the boundaries of animation as a whole.
The most popular and dangerous race in the world is the Redline. A race where people across the galaxy participate and watch. Our main character, JP (Takuya Kimura), loves racing more than anything, and he will do whatever it takes to get onto the Redline. After failing to qualify for the Yellowline race, JP is given another opportunity to compete when the location of the Redline is revealed as a military robot planet, where its leaders want to kill every racer who participates. No movie will get your blood pumping like Redline. Anything goes in this racing epic. Director Takeshi Koike uses the stretching technique of animation to warp the perspectives of the cars racing, creating an experience that is very much unique to only animation. A perfect blending of an off-the-wall story and animation style makes Redline a ride that you will never want to end.
Suzu (Kaho Nakamura) is a high school girl who wishes things could return to the way they used to be. As of late, she has refused to sing out loud. However, Suzu joins a virtual world called "U" where her avatar, Belle, becomes a hit singer. After she quickly becomes a sensation, Belle gets ready to sing for a massive audience in "U" when a beast shows up to ruin the show. Belle then seeks out the beast to help uncover the trauma he has gone through. Belle is the newest entry on this list, coming out in 2021. It tells a complex story about how the internet can help us deal with trauma. Belle is a brilliant representation of how we can use the internet to make connections with all kinds of people and how we can use those connections to solve issues in our real lives.
Ren (Shota Sometani) is the boy, and Kumatetsu (John Swasey/ Koji Yakusho) is the beast. In The Boy and the Beast, Ren runs away from home after the passing of his mother. Alone in Tokyo, Ren meets Kumatetsu, a beast from a magic land, who asks if Ren will be his first apprentice. After reluctantly accepting the role, Ren wishes to become strong like Kumatetsu even though he is a human and not a beast. The rest of the film explores the growing relationship between Ren and Kumatetsu as Ren discovers what he wants to do with his life in a different world and Kumatetsu prepares for his fight to become the lord of the land. The Boy and the Beast is a fantastic found family narrative that shows how our relationships with others will make us grow. The dynamic between Ren and Kumatetsu is always hilarious but also strikes serious notes as the driving core behind the movie. Anime is known for having some of the greatest found family narratives and The Boy and the Beast is a prime example of that.
Grave of the Fireflies tells the story of a brother and sister, Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi) and Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi), as they try to survive war bombings in 1945's rural Japan. Directed by Isao Takahata at Studio Ghibli, this movie is like watching an accident in slow motion, you know what the outcome will be right from the start of the movie and even so, it doesn't make the end any easier to watch. Grave of the Fireflies is a grounded view into the horrors of war that uses just enough charm to make you almost forget at times that you are even watching a war film.
Only Yesterday tells the story of the 27-year-old Taeko (Miki Imai, Yoko Honna), who makes the peculiar choice to spend her vacation from her office job in Tokyo…farming. On her trip to the farmlands, Taeko recalls the events of her life from when she was in fifth grade. As a child, Taeko dealt with struggles in school, her first crush, and difficult family relationships, all of which inform who she is almost 20 years later. As Taeko reminisces over her time in fifth grade, it helps her decide if she should stay at her office in Tokyo or become a farmer out in rural Japan. Only Yesterday is a tonal flip for director Isao Takahata, shifting from the grim Grave of the Fireflies to this mostly lighthearted watch. This is the closest film on the list to that of a slice of life anime genre. Only Yesterday will get you thinking back to your own childhood in the best way possible.
Wolf Children tells the story of Hana (Aoi Miyazaki), a single mother who is forced to raise her two children, Yuki (Haru Kuroki) and Ame (Yukito Nishii), alone after the death of her partner. The catch – just like their father, Yuki and Ame are half human half wolf. Wolf Children dives into the complicated home life of a single parent and the difficulty in letting children grow up into who they want to be. Will her children choose to be more human or more wolf? Wolf Children results in a story that is equally inspiring as it is heartbreaking.
Nick Weaver is a movie feature writer with Collider and a fiction author. He is passionate about movies, anime, and storytelling in all forms.
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Best Anime Movies For Beginners, From Spirited Away to Belle – Collider
The perfect way to introduce you to the magical world of Japanese animation.