Top 5 Anime Films (Novice Edition)

Before getting to the list, I must give the disclaimer that I’m no expert on anime films. I’m seen the obvious choices but have yet to move beyond the basics. This Top 5 list is for novices who are looking for an entry point into the genre. Inspired by my enjoyment of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and these movies, I am planning to do an anime marathon in the future. I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments section to help with choosing the right entries at that point. Without further rambling, let’s get to the list!

5. Akira (1988)
Filled with action and ambition, this chaotic movie from Katsuhiro Ohtomo is one of the more over-the-top visual experiences that I've seen. The post-apocalyptic sci-fi story is definitely in my wheelhouse, and the mystery behind the secret project is intriguing for a while. I will say that the action devolves too much into characters screaming "Tetsuo!" and "Kaneda!" as everything goes nuts around them. That's the reason this film isn't higher on the list, despite its massive scope and premise.

4. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Since the other four films in this list come from two directors, it's nice that I was able to add a third filmmaker to the mix. This Mamoru Oshii picture was the first in the popular franchise of Ghost in the Shell releases, and it's the only one that I've seen so far. The complex plot involves cyborgs, artificial intelligence, and what it really means to be human. Along with the frequent nudity, the attractions of this film are the intriguing subject matter and some really cool action sequences, especially in the first half before it gets pretty heavy.

3. Steamboy (2004)
The second Ohtomo film on this list, this adventure movie offers easily the most pure fun of these choices. The first half includes a remarkable action sequence that ranks among the best that I've seen in any animated feature. I haven't delved nearly enough into the genre, but I'm a sucker for the crazy steampunk creations of this story. Unlike Akira, this story holds together much better and delivers something beyond the relentless action. It's probably the only choice on this list that didn't receive near-universal acclaim, but I enjoyed this film from start to finish.

2. Spirited Away (2001)
I'm guessing that I could just do a Hayao Miyazaki marathon and find plenty of great choices. Arguably his best-known film, this remarkable fantasy is consistently surprising while hitting all the right dramatic notes. Making a 10-year-old girl the lead is a tricky proposition, but Miyazaki avoids these obstacles and makes her journey intriguing. The scenery and various creates are both grotesque and beautiful, a combination that we rarely see in animated pictures. If you're looking to get into anime films, start your adventure here.

1. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Although I loved Spirited Away, it falls just short of its follow-up, which delivers even more spellbinding entertainment. The vision of the massive castle as it travels along the countryside is a marvel in itself. There's the evil Witch of the Waste, the shape-shifting hero Howl, and even an odd scarecrow who hops around and guides the lead girl. It's a remarkable experience and one of the great fantasy films, animated or not. Like many of Miyazaki's films, it could work as a silent film because the images are so perfectly composed.

Next week, I'll join Jake Gyllenhaal as we try to stop a terrorist attack and find out what the heck is going on with Source Code


  1. This is weird. Blogging must go through waves as I saw a similar but different list over on impassionedcinema. Max's was more about Ghibli films (is that right?)

    I am not very up on these types of film but they always intrigued me. I have seen the basic ones, Ghost and Akira so on.

    thanks for putting this together

  2. I'd also add to the list Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (which is fantastic), Paprika and Perfect Blue. all three show an appreciation of what the anime genre is capable of.

  3. I had the reverse order, putting Spirited away before the castle. But I think that was much due to the sweet taste of novelty. Spirited away was the first anime movie I watched and I was fascinated. It felt so fresh and new and entirely different from the standared story telling we're used to from the western hemisphere.

  4. Interesting that you have Howl's Moving Castle above Spirited Away. I like both a lot, but Spirited Away is a favorite. Both are good stuff and I think Howl's Moving Castle is one of Ghibli's most complex films.

  5. Thanks to everyone for the comments. I do feel that the general consensus is that Spirited Away is the better film, and I can't really argue too much against it. I just prefer Howl's slightly.

    desertofreel - I have seen Cowboy Bebop and remember enjoying it. Perfect Blue is on my list of movies to see too.

    Scott, Ghibli made Spirited Away and Howl's and pretty much all the Miyazaki films (and a few others). It's interesting that others are putting together similar-themed lists.

  6. I would see everything else from Studio Ghibli, but start with My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service and Porco Rosso.

    For newer stuff, check out Summer Wars, from the director of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

  7. Besides Cowboy Bebop and the others already listed, I would add Princess Mononoke (another Miyazaki film) and the super depressing but very good film, Grave of the Fireflies (another Studio Ghibli production).

  8. Joel, thanks for the recommendations. Summer Wars sounds really interesting.

    Gretchen! Great to hear from you. I've seen Princess Mononoke; I liked it but not as much as the other two that I've seen from Miyazaki. I definitely need to see Grave of the Fireflies, though pretty much everyone agrees it's super depressing.

  9. Interesting list. I love Spirited Away (it would have been #1) and I haven't seen Howl's Moving Castle yet. Looking forward to it now! Have you seen both Grave of the Fireflies and Princess Mononoke?

  10. Castor, I've seen Princess Mononoke. I enjoyed it, but it fell just outside this list. I haven't seen Grave of the Fireflies, though I know it's a must-see from this genre. It's definitely on the list for when I do an anime marathon.

  11. Have you ever tried watching Hayao Miyazaki's Summer Wars? That movie was actually good. The main concept of the movie is about what a whole family can do during times of crisis. In all honesty, I've never heard of Akira until I've played the game King of Fighters 2001. The character K9999 there was based from Tetsuo, including the voice and his fighting style.

  12. Lauryn, I haven't seen Summer Wars, though I did read up a bit on it when I watched The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I'll have to try and check it out. I also was fairly late to the game with Akira and just watched it a few years ago. Thanks for the comment!

  13. Before I saw that you had already written it I was going to comment that you could make a Top 5 just from Miyazaki. Like others, I would have had Spirited Away at the top, and I probably would have included My Neighbor Totoro, even though it skews younger.

    I've seen Grave of the Fireflies. Just a heads up - it's a really depressing film. It's a perfect counterargument to anyone who says animated movies are just fluff, though.


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