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Top Ten Studio Ghibli Films

After watching each of the 21 animated feature films made by Studio Ghibli, a well-known Japanese anime studio, I decided to list my top ten favorite films from the studio and explain why I like each film. I didn’t take notes while I was watching the movies, so I’m just giving brief explanations of my honest thoughts. Every Ghibli film has to be at least one person’s favorite. In honor of the studio’s 35th anniversary, let’s begin with the list.

10 – The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

An image of Princess Kaguya from the film "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya"
© Studio Ghibli / GKIDS

Director: Isao Takahata
Writers: Isao Takahata, Riko Sakaguchi
Producers: Yoshiaki Nishimura, Seiichiro Ujiie

This visually and narratively beautiful film, the final one directed by Isao Takahata before his passing, is a retelling of an ancient Japanese fairy tale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. The story plays a huge role in Japanese heritage (Sailor Moon, a manga and anime famous across the world, takes influence from the tale.), but it is not very known outside of its origin country. The art style and character animation borrow from the visuals of traditional Japanese art rather than being animated in the Ghibli anime style. The look of this film is similar to pencil sketches and watercolor. The film takes a story that is of a simple folk tale and makes it interesting enough to follow for its runtime of over two hours. The protagonist, the Princess Kaguya, is a well-rounded enough character who emotionally goes through the experiences of living as a normal girl in the country and learning the hardships of becoming a noble princess.

Buy a copy of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya on Blu-Ray/DVD from Amazon.

9 – Only Yesterday (1991)

Image of adult and child Taeko with her childhood friends on a train from the film "Only Yesterday"
© Studio Ghibli / GKIDS

Director and Writer: Isao Takahta
Producer: Toshio Suzuki

This film is more of a serious type with some charming and funny moments. The story is a mature narrative that could have happened in real life. Regardless, I believe the animation tells this type of story well. This movie goes back and forth between the life of a grown woman named Taeko Okajima, the film’s protagonist, transitioning from her job in the city to the country and flashbacks from when she was a little girl dealing with growing up, school, and family life. The adult scenes have more realistic visuals and as a contrast, the childhood scenes have a look that can be compared to illustrations and cartoons. This film gives one the feeling of nostalgia and just taking a break from the hassles of everyday life.

Buy a copy of Only Yesterday on Blu-Ray from Amazon.

8 – Castle in the Sky (1986)

Sheeta and Pazu from the film "Castle in the Sky"
© Studio Ghibli / GKIDS

Director and Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Producer: Isao Takahata

This is the first film produced by Studio Ghibli. The story is full of adventure with lots of suspense and comedy thrown in. There is also a pretty solid environmental message. The film has stunning visuals, especially the look of the film’s many contraptions and various wonderful worlds. My favorite aspect of the film’s art is the flying machines which were designed with so much imagination. I also feel like the “steampunk” era atmosphere makes the film’s story more engaging. Sheeta and Pazu are two daring characters that work well with each other, and the band of air pirates is a lot of fun.

Buy a copy of Castle in the Sky on Blu-Ray/DVD on Amazon.

7 – Whisper of the Heart (1995)

An image of the Baron and Shizuku from the film "Whisper of the Heart"
© Studio Ghibli / GKIDS

Director: Yoshifumi Kondō
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Producer: Toshio Suzuki

This simple, quiet film, the only Ghibli production directed by Yoshifumi Kondō, is about a teenage girl named Shizuku Tsukishima who is creative and filled with wonder. I could easily follow along with the curious nature of the main character such as her willingness to follow a cat around the city and to be inspired to write a story by the amazing things found in an antique store. The story surrounding the Baron, an anthropomorphic feline figurine, is fascinating as well. (The figurine was the focus of a follow-up animated film, The Cat Returns (2000)). What else I love about the film are the renditions of the John Denver song Take Me Home, Country Roads which fit the narrative and feel of the film quite well.

Buy a copy of Whisper of the Heart on Blu-Ray/DVD from Amazon.

6 – Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

An image of Kiki on a broomstick from the film "Kik's Delivery Service"
© Studio Ghibli / GKIDS

Director, Writer, and Producer: Hayao Miyazaki

Watching this film was quite an adventure and the story is quite sweet. The film focuses on a young, kind-hearted witch in training, named Kiki who flies on a broomstick and has a talking cat for a companion. The main character has plenty of room for growth throughout the film as she makes new friends—including a boy named Tombo fascinated by flying and a young woman named Ursula who is a painter living alone in the middle of the forest—and starts her own business. The film has a lot of great overhead shots as Kiki flies in the sky and throughout the city. The atmosphere and visuals related to the middle of the 20th century have a nice feel. This film has a lot of great heart and magical wonder.

Buy a copy of Kiki’s Delivery Service on Blu-Ray/DVD from Amazon.

5 – The Wind Rises (2014)

An image of Giovanni Battista Caproni and Jiro Horikoshi from the film "The Wind Rises"
© Studio Ghibli / GKIDS

Director and Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Producer: Toshio Suzuki

The most recent film directed by Hayao Miyazaki, this film takes place in early 20th century Japan during the early days of aviation. The movie is about the life of aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who was a real person though this film is a work of fiction. The story is so engaging as it’s filled with innovation, passion, romance, and adventure. (It’s not too common to put so much of that in one film.) One could tell that Miyazaki’s passion for aviation was what influenced this film and that passion was a part of the main character. I also love how this movie is a period piece considering I am fascinated with historical events of the “Roaring Twenties.” As always, there are great visuals especially with the designs of early airplanes. (Those must be challenging to animate.)

Buy a copy of The Wind Rises on Blu-Ray/DVD from Amazon.

4 – My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

An image of Totoro, Satsuki, and Mei at a bus stop in the rain from "My Neighbor Totoro"
© Studio Ghibli / GKIDS

Director and Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Producer: Tōru Hara

This film has great visuals that range from realistic to fantastic, and the soundtrack of the film matches its whimsical, adventurous narrative. The film covers the lives of two young sisters who move to a new house in the middle of the forest while their mother is away in care with an illness. In a visually amazing natural setting, the sisters—who have a sweet relationship with each other—have so many possibilities. The story is simple yet wholesome, but there’s so much wonder with the adventures of the sisters and the forest spirits. This is the type of film that can inspire children to have their own adventures with Totoro and Catbus.

Buy a copy of My Neighbor Totoro on Blu-Ray/DVD from Amazon.

3 – Princess Mononoke (1997)

© Studio Ghibli / GKIDS

Director and Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Producer: Toshio Suzuki

This is one of the most violent films produced by Studio Ghibli, and it is also another mature story from the studio. This film, taking place primarily in a forest during feudal Japan, has an interesting narrative about the battle between nature’s traditions and human progress that can lead to deforestation. There are so many action-packed scenes with exciting and often beautiful animation. The characters match their environment well and they relate well to one another. This is one of Ghibli’s most daring, and exciting adventures.

Buy a copy of Princess Mononoke on Blu-Ray/DVD from Amazon.

2 – Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

An image of Seita and Setsuko from the film "Grave of the FIreflies"
© Studio Ghibli / Shinchosha / Sentai Filmworks

Director and Writer: Isao Takahata
Producer: Tōru Hara

This historic drama, the first Ghibli film directed by Isao Takahata, about two children living during World War II in Japan has to be one of the saddest films I ever watched. The film goes over a serious topic with characters experiencing real trauma related to death, war, and constant fear. The siblings share a loving bond and despite both being children, they both get by independently during a scary, difficult time. The visuals are beautiful and capture the period this movie takes place in well. The character animation captures the varying emotions of the main characters. This well-made film is a must-see and one could learn so much about going through a difficult time from watching this film.

Buy a copy of Grave of the Fireflies on Blu-Ray from Amazon.

1 – Spirited Away (2002)

An image of Haku and Chihiro from the film "Spirited Away"
© Studio Ghibli / GKIDS

Director and Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Producer: Toshio Suzuki

This film, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, was the first Studio Ghibli movie I watched. The general atmosphere seen in this film is highly creative and watching it again, I was able to experience the type of wonder and amazement I had while seeing it for the first time as a kid. The main character, a girl named Chihiro as well as her parents find their way at a mysterious entrance leading to an abandoned amusement park, which reveals itself to be a world inhabited by spirits at night. The world Chihiro explores and the spirits she interacts with is something she experiences along with the viewer. The main character does go through growth in scary, unfamiliar situations. The spirits and their environment were inspired by Japanese traditions and folklore. Overall, watching this film is not like anything else I have seen and viewers can find so much wonder with each viewing.

Buy a copy of Spirited Away on Blu-Ray/DVD from Amazon.

Which Studio Ghibli film is your favorite? How would you rank each film? Please let us know in the comments below.

Stream Studio Ghibli films on HBO Max. Stream Grave of the Fireflies on Hulu.

Studio Ghibli logo copyright Studio Ghibli / GKIDS. Images from Animation Screencaps and IMDb.

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