My Favourite Studio Ghibli Movies: A List
Updated: Apr 21
ORIGINALLY POSTED JANUARY 2017 – UPDATED APRIL 2020
These days, you’ll be hard pressed to find an animation fan who doesn’t have a favourite Studio Ghibli film. For those who are new to the world of Ghibli, here’s the run down. Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation studio based in Tokyo, it was founded by animation veterans: Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki. The trio would then go on to direct and write several award winning animated films from the likes of My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away. The later of which would earn them an Academy Award in 2003.
In this post, I have compiled a list of my top 15 favourite Studio Ghibli works. With their entire back catalogue being added to Netflix this year (2020); you can use this list to decide what to watch first! Along with my Studio Ghibli Cheat Sheet post.
15. The Cat Returns (2002)
This film is either your dream – if you’re a cat person – or your worst nightmare. Teenager Haru does a selfless act by saving a random cat in the street from being hit by a truck. Little did she know though that this selfless act would result in her almost marrying into the Cat Kingdom. Haru spends the rest of the film trying to resist being taken hostage by the subjects of the Cat Kingdom and finding a way to escape thereafter. This film is much more lighthearted than I make it sound, it is also rather funny and has a beautiful, unique art direction that is slightly different from other Ghibli works at the time.
14. Only Yesterday (1991)
Next, a more mature film. This is still a Studio Ghibli film though so when I say mature – I just mean there’s no talking cats or wizards in this film. In Only Yesterday, we are introduced to Taeko – a 27 year old office worker in Tokyo. Taeko decides to visit her home of Yamagata in the Japanese countryside. Whilst travelling there, Taeko becomes nostalgic and begins recounting her life in the town as a schoolgirl in 1966. Which we see in a series of flashbacks. This film is very sweet and occasionally quite moving too. It is definitely one further appreciated if watched alone to allow you to take everything in and to reflect on your own childhood.
13. Ocean Waves (1993)
This is another Ghibli film that is more on the mature side. Mostly, due to the fact that I think this is one of the only Ghibli films left that is yet to receive an English dub. Ocean Waves is a ‘slice of life’ film meaning it mostly focuses on the mundanity of life. Nothing particularly fantastic happens, it’s just the story of boy meets girl. The boy in question is Taku who at the start of the film is an adult who sees said girl; Rikako in passing at the train station. This prompts Taku to recount his memories of Rikako during their school years. Like I said, this can come across a slightly boring film to younger viewers but for those who are a fan of slice of life, it’s an entertaining watch.
12. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)
Derived from the ancient Japanese prose The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, The Tale of Princess Kaguya tells the story of a humble bamboo cutter who one day finds a small girl growing inside of the bamboo. He decides to take her home and raise her with his wife, giving her the name Princess as they believe she is a divine presence. After finding other signs in the forest of her royal status, the pair decide to raise Princess as an actual princess and uproot the family, causing Princess to leave the life she knew behind and to struggle adjusting to her new status. As you can see from the trailer this film has a BEAUTIFUL art style and is a joy to watch just for that!
11. The Wind Rises (2013)
This was supposed to be Miyazaki’s final feature film for the studio but in true Miyazaki fashion, he has since come out of feature film retirement and is working on How Do You Live? which is expected 2020/2021. Back to The Wind Rises, this 2013 film is a fictional biopic of famed aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi. The film follows the life of Jiro through his childhood where he dreamed to be a pilot however is unable to be due to his poor eyesight, his time studying engineering at University and how he meets his future wife. I won’t lie, this film can be a tearjerker at times, bare that in mind when you decide who to watch this with!
10. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Now for another more family friendly flick, Kiki’s Delivery service is based on the 1985 novel of the same name. Young Witch Kiki is in the midst of her Witch training when she must spend time away from home to complete her training. She lands in a port town called Koriko and manages to secure somewhere to stay by helping heavily pregnant bakery owner Osono with deliveries in exchange for a room. She then starts her own Witch Delivery Service and becomes a welcome member of the community. This is definitely a feel good film for all ages and a crowd favourite for many Ghibli fans.
9. Howl’s Moving Castle
Howl’s Moving Castle is an enchanting story based on the children’s novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones. The story starts with a young woman named Sophie who is rather quiet and usually keeps herself to herself,, this is because she is rather insecure. One day, her world is turned upside down when the Wicked Witch of the Waste puts a curse on Sophie turning her into a 90 something year old woman. Sophie then sets off on a journey to break the curse and accidentally ends up staying in Howl’s moving castle. That description probably doesn’t do it justice but I don’t want to spoil anything. As always, worth a watch!
I recommend Ponyo to pretty much everyone who asks as it’s just so accessible! It has some silly moments for the kids, sweet moments for the adults and an easy enough plot to follow whatever your age! Ponyo is kind of similar to The Little Mermaid; Fish-girl washes up on the shore, meets a boy and then wishes to join him on the surface. Just take out the sea witch part, add in a questionable mother figure and that’s Ponyo! A really fun and adorable take on a classic boy-meets-girl story. It even has quite the star studded cast too including Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Noah Cyrus and more!
7. The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
Another one of many Ghibli films to take influence from a British author’s work is The Secret World of Arrietty which is based on The Borrowers by Mary Norton. In the film, Borrower Arrietty – a tiny girl that lives in the walls of an old house and “borrows” things from the house’s human inhabitants – is taken on her very first borrowing mission with her father. This is when she is accidentally spotted by Shō, a young boy who is staying at the house. Shō then tries to communicate with Arrietty however the family are not trusting of Arrietty’s new friend. This is one of the best films to use as an example to showcase the beauty of Ghibli’s artwork. Everything is crafted with so much detail.
6. Spirited Away (2001)
Now for the film that put Studio Ghibli on the map for the rest of the world. The Academy Award winning Spirited Away. In the film, 10 year old Chihiro is moving house, she isn’t happy about it though so is being a little difficult. On their way to the new house, her family stop by what appears to be an abandoned amusement park. Chihiro’s parents explore it; despite her protests and end up in the middle of a spirit festival. After eating food that was not meant for them, Chihiro’s parents become cursed and turn into pigs. It is then Chihiro’s job to get them back by getting a job at a Bath House run by spirits. This film is full of references to Japanese folklore so it can be hard to understand with just one watch. Good thing it is good enough to watch again and again!
5. Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)
Laputa Castle in the Sky has a special place in my heart but with so many great films, it only managed to get as high as number 5 on this list! The film features Sheeta, a princess who at the start of the film has just been abducted by a sinister government agent Muska. Not only has she got that to worry about but she also has a band of air-pirates after her too! Not wanting to end up in either of their clutches, Sheeta climbs out of an airship window and falls to the earth, luckily her magical pendant saves her and she drifts slowly into young orphan Pazu’s arms. The two become fast friends and attempt to get Sheeta back home to the castle in the sky.
4. My Neighbor Totoro (1986)
Instantly recognisable as the studio’s mascot, My Neighbor Totoro may be Studio Ghibli’s most iconic production. Young siblings Mei and Satsuki have just moved to a large house in the countryside with their father, while their mother is recovering from an illness in hospital. After exploring the house for themselves, the sisters realise that their house might be haunted. Not by the usual ghosts though but by forest spirits such as adorable soot sprites and Totoro himself. This is kind of like another slice of life film but with a little more magic and fantasy to it. A MUST SEE if you want to call yourself a Ghibli fan.
3. From Up on Poppy Hill (2013)
This sweet film is often forgotten about as I never seem to see anyone talking about it! But it’s good enough to make my top 3 so as always, worth a watch! From Up on Poppy Hill is set in 1963 in the port town of Yokohama, Japan. 16 year old Umi lives in a boarding house with her grandmother, siblings and lodgers. Her mother is studying in the US so Umi is in charge of the house and does most of the chores. One day, high school boy Shun is bought to Umi’s attention and the pair begin working together on the school newspaper. This again has some slice of life elements to it but also touches upon parts of Japanese history like the Tokyo Olympics and the aftermath of the second world war. It’s generally a lighthearted film though!
2. Whisper of the Heart (1995)
This is the closest I believe Ghibli have come to producing a romance movie. Whisper of the Heart features high school sweet hearts Shizuku and Seiji who start off not liking each other very much. Once Shizuku accidentally makes friends with Seiji’s grandfather who owns an antique store though, the pair grow close and begin to hit it off. Mainly though, the film focuses on Shizuku’s lack of understanding of what she wants to do with her life. She enjoys writing but doesn’t quite have the confidence to put all her energy into it. This relateable and heartfelt movie was my number one favourite until the next entry came along…
1. When Marnie Was There (2014)
Technically speaking, this is the most recent Studio Ghibli film to date. Yet another film based on an English authors works, When Marnie Was There was originally by Joan G. Robinson. Set in Sapporo, teenager Anna is sent to stay with relatives in the seaside town of Hokkaido as she is having trouble with her asthma and is finding it hard to socialise with others her age. Whilst in Hokkaido, Anna notices a large abandoned house on the Marsh and is drawn to it. When visiting the house one day, Anna runs into Marnie, a mysterious girl who poses more questions than answers and decides to get to know her.
That’s it! That’s my full (updated) list. I decided to update this post as I felt my writing had improved since I originally posted it and I wanted every post on this blog regardless of its age to reflect work that I am proud of. As mentioned above, all the films in this list are now on Netflix for most of the world and so are now easier to access than ever before! Have a watch of some and see what your new favourite Studio Ghibli film is!
For more Ghibli/anime posts from me, see what else I have to offer here as well as my content on nerdoutwordout.com!