Anime series tend to hog the limelight, but there are plenty of great films out there too. What are the best anime movies ever?
Anime never sleeps. Each season brings with it a few dozen shows, be it new properties or returning franchises. There is always something to look forward to or watch, and anime series are not too difficult to gain access to outside of Japan.
On the other hand, anime movies are a rarer occurrence, and they tend to take far longer to make their way to the West. For example, My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission debuted on August 6, 2021 in Japan, but the movie was not released until October 29 in the United States. And that was quite a quick turnaround due to MHA's international popularity.
Tempting as it might be to just stick to series, that would mean missing out on some of the greatest anime of all time. So, while waiting for episodes to drop, why not check out some of the best anime movies of all time?
If the movie is available as part of a streaming subscription, the service will be mentioned.
Some movies seek to tell multi-layered narratives with complex characters, ambitious themes, and dense plots; meanwhile, others set their sights on being visual epics. Redline falls into the latter category. Revolving around a dangerous race that attracts the most acclaimed drivers from across the universe, this great anime movie sprints by at a million miles a second.
Boasting some of the most striking animation put to film, Redline is a thrill ride from beginning to end. The story might be a bit superficial, but there is nothing underdeveloped about the movie's presentation.
Hideaki Anno's Neon Genesis Evangelion's legacy is beyond question. The '90s anime series holds up well due to its visceral action and character-focused psychological drama, while The End of Evangelion is a movie that, once seen, will not be forgotten.
Rebuild of Evangelion reframes the original NGE story, providing an alternate take to both its events and characters. The first two films stick relatively close to the original series, but things divert quite substantially following that point. Rebuild of Evangelion improves with each new movie, with 2021's Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time serving as a worthy conclusion to the entire franchise.
Makoto Shinkai's 2016 fantasy film made a huge splash upon its release, earning glowing reviews across the board. Your Name sees a boy from Tokyo and a girl from a rural town swap bodies, a supernatural occurrence that allows them to grow an appreciation for each other and their ways of life. However, the anime throws out an effective twist halfway through its story, sending the film in a very different direction.
Your Name has gorgeous animation, an impeccable soundtrack, and a fun story that blends romance, comedy, and action quite well. A crowd-pleaser in every sense of the word, Your Name is a great place to start if looking to introduce someone to the magic of anime.
The Monogatari series is an acquired taste. Based on Nisio Isin's light novels, the anime revolves around Koyomi Araragi's encounters with girls plagued by supernatural forces; however, that description does not do justice to the show's intelligent writing, unusual but engrossing pacing, stylish visual presentation, and quirky sense of humor.
Kizumonogatari serves as a prequel to the franchise and establishes how Araragi came into contact with Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade. For better or worse, these movies distill every facet of the series into three digestible parts, all the while boasting perhaps the easiest-to-follow narrative of the franchise.
2016 was just a fantastic year for anime movies. A Silent Voice is a difficult but rewarding watch. Dealing with bullying, depression, and isolation, the film revolves around Shoya Ishida's relationship with Shoko Nishimiya. As children, Shoya targeted Shoko due to her deafness, and this bullying led to the entire class mocking the girl.
Eventually, Shoko left the school and everyone turned on Shoya. A Silent Voice chronicles Shoya's journey towards self-forgiveness, a path that leads him back into Shoko's life. Bullying is not an easy theme to tackle, but this movie handles it fantastically as it humanizes both the victim and the perpetrator.
In recent years, it has become more common for an anime movie to not only receive a wide theatrical release in North America but to also rank among the top box office earners of its month. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 continued this trend, further proving that the days when a feature needs to be associated with Studio Ghibli to gain Western traction are long gone.
A prequel to the main show, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 focuses on Yuta Okkotsu, a high school student who cannot seem to shake the spirit of a deceased friend. Similar to the series, the movie is packed to the brim with action and fun characters; in fact, an argument can be made that Yuta is a stronger lead than Yuji, although that mostly comes down to personal preference. Although it certainly would not hurt to watch the show prior to the movie, the latter can be used as an entry point in Jujutsu Kaisen.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is among the most important anime series of all time, particularly when it comes to slice of life comedies. The 2006 season combines memorable characters with philosophical musings and an intriguing sense of mystery stemming from the unique circumstances that define this universe. However, a polarizing arc in the second season hurt the anime's momentum, and the overall show would be difficult to recommend if it were not for the fact that it concludes with one of the best anime films ever in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya.
Kyon finds himself in a world without Haruhi, or at least the version he knows. Despite all the grief the SOS Brigade brings to his life, the level-headed protagonist finds himself struggling to decide whether he wants to live in a world free of Haruhi's brand of chaos.
Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms takes place in a fantasy world where humans exist separate from a race known as Iorph, whose members live for hundreds of years. After her Iorph village is slaughtered, Maquia stumbles upon a left-for-dead human baby and decides to raise him, giving him the name of Ariel. P.A. Works' anime movie focuses primarily on Maquia and Ariel's relationship, and the impact their wildly different lifespans have on both of them. Ariel is given just as much development as his mother, and both characters are fleshed out and complex.
Maquia has quite a few other things going on as well, including a coerced marriage and a war involving various nations. All of these threads have potential, but the movie is stretched too thin to do justice to all of them. This film could benefit from a series spin-off or adaptation.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica ended on a pitch-perfect note for the story it told, and a sequel was unwarranted. Rebellion does not really change that perspective, however, the film justifies its existence by simply being brilliant. That's not to say nothing of significance happens in Shaft's follow-up as that could not be further from the case.
Rebellion upends Madoka Magica's world and characters, twisting an already twisted tale to reach unprecedented levels of discomfort. Despite being an unnecessary extension to the series, Rebellion is almost anti-fan service in the sense that it never seeks to be a crowd pleaser. That is a positive.
Ufotable's adaptation of Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon's The Garden of Sinners light novel should not be anybody's introduction to anime. However, it is a captivating and rewarding watch for those willing to embrace (or stomach) its non-linear storytelling, philosophical musings, discomforting themes, and graphic violence. The movies largely revolve around an agency that investigates supernatural cases, although a significant amount of time is dedicated to exploring the psyches of the main characters, particularly Shiki Ryougi.
Although some movies stand somewhat on their own, The Garden of Sinners needs to be viewed as a single experience, with later entries providing crucial context and depth to earlier releases. Paradox Spiral is the best movie in the series and contains a surprise for fans of Fate/stay night.
After their worlds unexpectedly collide, Tsuneo accepts a job as Josee's caretaker, a girl who has been wheelchair-bound since her birth. Although initially resilient to his presence, Josee eventually bonds with Tsuneo through their shared interest in the ocean.
Josee, the Tiger and the Fish tells a beautiful story about friendship, dreams, and drive. Both Josee and Tsuneo's desired futures encounter serious challenges, and the movie stresses the importance of facing these obstacles if the opportunity arises. Although not an especially original story, this anime movie tells it well.
Steins;Gate is a ridiculously consistent franchise. The visual novels are all fantastic, and the anime launched with one of the best stories of all time and followed it up admirably with a direct movie sequel and an alternate reality spin-off. On the surface, Load Region of Déjà Vu might feel a bit unnecessary since the original show ends on a satisfying note, but the movie succeeds in expanding upon its predecessor while setting itself apart by pushing Kurisu Makise to the forefront.
When Rintarou Okabe disappears, Kurisu is the only person who retains her memories of him. Fully aware of the danger of time travel, the scientist must decide whether she is willing to risk everything to save Okabe.
A samurai epic, Sword of the Stranger has fluid action sequences and likable characters. Set during the Sengoku period, the story follows a boy, Kotaro, who is on the run from the Ming dynasty that wants to use his blood to achieve immortality. Along the way, Kotaro runs into a swordsman, Nanashi, and convinces him to tag along until they reach a specific temple. The road to get there proves to be a bloody and complicated one.
Bones' film is predominantly hailed for its fight scenes, which are not only universally fantastic but largely improve as things move along. As great as these moments are, Sword of the Stranger does not rely solely on its animation to impress; narratively, this anime movie is well-paced and engrossing. While over-the-top at times, the story is still relatively grounded, at least more so than something like Ninja Scroll.
A contender for the most iconic anime movie of all time, Akira helped establish Japanese animation as an international phenomenon. Any person who believes that anime is just for kids should give Akira a watch as the movie will quickly dispel these notions. Set in a dystopian future (or, as the film takes place in 2019, the past), Akira presents a world defined by powerful military forces and gangs. This cyberpunk world beats down anyone deemed weak, a role Tetsuo Shima falls under.
Tackling themes of human experimentation and government abuse, Akira blends action, horror, and exquisite visuals to create a timeless sci-fi classic and one of the greatest anime movies ever.
A continuation of the Made in Abyss series, Dawn of the Deep Soul delivers exactly what fans of the anime have been thought to expect: lovable characters, hints of whimsy, and soul-crushing twists that are too cruel. Made in Abyss is a dark fantasy anime that follows a child and a robot as they descend the titular realm in search of the former's mother.
What starts as a fun adventure quickly becomes "real," and Dawn of the Deep Soul might be even better than the stellar season one. That said, do not watch this fantastic anime movie before sitting through the series.
The sequel to Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, this movie focuses on Sakuta's former crush, a girl who seems to exist at two ages. Similar to the series, Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl blends drama and humor, although the focus is definitely on the former rather than the latter.
The film tells a more personal story for Sakuta than most of the arcs from the series, putting him in the center of proceedings rather than someone who happens to attract girls going through significant challenges. People who did not enjoy the show have no reason to check out this sequel, however, fans of Bunny Girl Senpai have not experienced the full story until they watch Dreaming Girl.
Be it a live-action version starring Scarlett Johansson, video games, or a number of anime series, Masamune Shirow's Ghost in the Shell manga has received its share of adaptations. The most iconic is undoubtedly 1995's Ghost in the Shell, an aesthetic and auditory masterpiece that is predominantly concerned with ideas rather than plot or characters.
Set in a future defined by technology, Ghost in the Shell envisions a world where self-identity has become fluid and vaguely defined courtesy of the advancement of cybernetics. As part of Public Security Section 9, Major Motoko Kusanagi investigates a hacker called the Puppet Master.
A cult classic, Ninja Scroll was one of the few non-Ghibli movies to cross over prior to the 2000s. Although not as influential or popular as Ghost in the Shell or Akira, this 1993 film still has an important place in anime history, and it is a must-watch for fans of action-fantasy properties that cater to an adult audience.
A wandering swordsman, Jubei Kibagami is dragged into a conflict involving ninjas, plagues, and villains with devilish powers. Gory and frantically paced, Ninja Scroll is a thrill ride from beginning to end.
Mushi-Shi is a powerful anime with precious few peers, both in terms of quality and content. The series envisions a world where nature manifests as mushi, beings that live alongside the (usually) oblivious humans. Mushishi are people who seek to understand these spirits, and Ginko is one such traveler. Bell Droplets sends this fantastic anime off with an emotionally heavy story about loss, nature, and frailty.
A girl is born to be the lord of the mountain, a fate rarely bestowed on humans. Her family cannot understand what this means, and they naturally oppose this destiny out of love. Like many of Mushi-Shi's tales, this film touches upon spirituality in a way that is deeply profound.
As the worldwide highest-grossing anime film, Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train is undoubtedly popular, but how does it measure up in terms of quality? Well, the shonen anime sequel is a spectacular demonstration of ufotable's unbeatable animation, especially when it comes to action set pieces. The series, which is currently on its second season, is one of the best-animated series of all time, and Mugen Train elevates that standard to an even higher level.
As a sequel, Mugen Train is not for the uninitiated and expects viewers to be familiar with what came before. Consequently, this movie mostly only attracts people who have already decided they are along for the ride. Mugen Train just makes extra sure to not lose them along the way.
Gintama's features are all highly regarded by the shonen anime's fan base, even if the series as a whole is not quite as well known as something like Demon Slayer or Dragon Ball. Gintama: The Very Final is the conclusive chapter in the Odd Jobs' story, serving as a culmination of everything that came before and highlighting the anime's penchant for visceral action and painfully hilarious comedy.
This movie is solely for people who have followed Gintoki, Kagura, and Shinpachi since 2006, and newcomers will find themselves utterly lost as they watch the over-the-top awesomeness unfold on screen. As great as all the fight sequences are, the film arguably shines the brightest when it throws out a laugh, including a surreal five-minute stretch that involves Gintoki, Sadaharu, and a few old men.
Studio Ghibli's Grave of the Fireflies is a completely different beast from the studio's typically fantasy-oriented masterpieces. Directed by Isao Takahata, this WWII anime revolves around a brother and sister who are trying to survive on their own, a situation that highlights the ugliness of war by focusing on the victims that are often forgotten about.
Grave of the Fireflies tells a profoundly personal storyline filled with regret and tragedy. Among the best war movies of all time, this anime is one of those experiences that sticks with the viewer long after the credits roll.
The final chapter in Kyoto Animation's Violet Evergarden franchise, this 2020 movie condenses the brilliance of the show into two hours. Violet Evergarden has a reputation for tugging at the heartstrings, and that certainly holds true for this feature.
Essentially split into three arcs, the movie reflects upon Violet's growth throughout the overarching narrative and also provides closure for her relationship with Gilbert. Unsurprisingly, Violet Evergarden: The Movie's animation is practically flawless. Ultimately, anyone who enjoyed the series will likely love this follow-up.
Dragon Ball has delivered more than a dozen movies spread across four decades. While the '80s and '90s delivered a few fun adventures like Fusion Reborn and Cooler's Revenge, these non-canon stories are more like glorified specials than proper cinematic features. That changed with 2013's Battle of Gods, a movie that revived the anime following almost 20 years of inactivity.
Since its big return, Dragon Ball has released four canon movies, with 2018's Broly being the pick of the bunch. Packed to the brim with over-the-top fights and transformations, Toei's movie condenses everything great about Dragon Ball into 90 minutes, and it is a delight. Compared to Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan, the 2018 movie presents a more three-dimensional version of its eponymous character. Broly is a sympathetic figure who has been molded by a parental figure fueled by revenge. The movie wisely positions Broly as its first act's protagonist, before transitioning him into the role of antagonist.
There is a lot of Fate content to consume; Fate/Zero and Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works set a high standard for action anime in general, and the Heaven's Feel trilogy might just be better than both.
Covering the final route of Type-Moon's Fate/stay night visual novel, Heaven's Feel centers around Shirou Emiya's relationship with Sakura Matou, along with the 5th Holy Grail War. These movies explore Shirou's character in a more satisfying way than the TV series, so the trilogy is important for those looking to get the complete experience.
If there is one anime movie director who needs no introduction, it is Hayao Miyazaki. Spirited Away is the only anime film to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, an accolade it more than earned. Like most of Miyazaki's movies, Spirited Away expertly walks the line between fantasy and reality, presenting whimsical worlds alongside relatable ideas and mature themes.
Spirited Away finds the young Chihiro in a bathhouse for spirits, a situation that is far from safe for a human. Studio Ghibli's animation is unsurprisingly spectacular, as is everything else about this movie.
Isekai anime have been inescapable for the best part of a decade, so it was only a matter of time before a parody of the genre found its way onto screens. KonoSuba is that show, and the series proved popular enough to spawn a movie. KonoSuba: God's Blessing on This Wonderful World!: Legend of Crimson revolves around Kazuma and Megumin, arguably the two most popular characters of the anime.
Along with the same type of humor found in the show, the movie also incorporates a fair amount of heart as it explores Megumin's roots. The film even ends with a spectacular battle that puts to shame anything from the series (although action is hardly the point of KonoSuba).
I Want to Eat Your Pancreas hits so many of the tragic romance tropes: antisocial protagonist, charming girl, deadly illness, and tears…so many tears. The anime movie does not attempt to shake up the conventions of this formula all that significantly, but it does an incredible job of crafting something beautiful from this familiar puzzle.
Haruki Shiga and Sakura Yamauchi are the film's main strengths, as the central couple strike a dynamic that allows both of their personalities to shine rather than one being used to prop up the other. I Want to Eat Your Pancreas earns its heartfelt moments by dedicating a substantial portion of its runtime to firmly establishing the two leads as flawed and realistic people.
From Digimon Adventure: Our War Game! to Mirai, Mamoru Hosoda's entire filmography is worth seeking out. Out of all his creations, Wolf Children is arguably the best, courtesy of its heartfelt narrative and grounded tone. Hana falls in love with a Wolfman, they have two children, and then the father dies. Suddenly, Hana has to raise two kids who are half-wolf on her own.
Wolf Children covers more than a decade of Hana's life, showcasing the highs and lows of parenthood. It is a beautiful film in more ways than just visually. Hosoda's next film, Belle, releases in 2022 in the U.S.
Perfect Blue is a stand-in for Satoshi Kon's filmography, as Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika are all fantastic anime movies. Perfect Blue put Kon on the map as a feature director with a unique voice, and it is by far his most terrifying project.
Mima Kirigoe leaves her idol group to start acting, a decision that fragments the woman's public and subconscious identity. Perfect Blue steadily blurs the line between fact and fiction, not making it clear what is real or just Mima's tortured imagination.
Spirited Away is Miyazaki's most famous film, but Princess Mononoke is also a contender for his best anime movie. A common theme found throughout the director's stories is the conflict between nature and human progress, and this is the most apparent in Princess Mononoke.
The anime finds a forest's gods trying to repel the advancements of a human settlement; in the meantime, an outsider – Ashitaka – interacts with both sides. Princess Mononoke doesn't preach or talk down to its audience; it grants a neutral look at the characters' actions, presenting neither side as evil.
MORE: Highly Anticipated Anime Sequels Coming In 2022
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Best Anime Movies (October 2022) – GameRant
Anime series tend to hog the limelight, but there are plenty of great films out there too. What are the best anime movies ever?