If you watch movies, you’re probably familiar with the wholesome and heartwarming movies from animation studio Studio Ghibli. From the beloved family film My Neighbor Totoro with gravelly and environmental allegory Princess Mononokethere’s a Ghibli movie for everyone.
The Japanese production house blasted its way to international fame with filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s coming-of-age tale in 2001 Taken away as if by magic. It was Japan’s highest-grossing film for nearly two decades, the first hand-drawn film to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and arguably opened film critics’ eyes to the magic of Japanese animation.
But there’s more to anime than just Studio Ghibli. Beyond the warm, fuzzy tales that often appeal to younger audiences, other big-name filmmakers have used animation to explore adult themes, ask philosophical questions, and push the visual boundaries of cinema. without the limitations of live action.
So, for the uninitiated, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most iconic non-Studio Ghibli animated films to binge on. This list isn’t exhaustive, and we’ve narrowed it down to movies that somehow influenced mainstream pop culture, gained international fame, or just made tons of money.
If you’re a fan of Japanese movies, this list isn’t for you, but you can check out other fan recommendations in this thread. For everyone else, here’s a chance to go through some great anime.
So You Want To Watch… A Sci-Fi Animated Movie
The most iconic sci-fi movie would have to be director Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 cyberpunk action flick Akira, which is a cult classic for a reason. Set in a dystopian Neo-Tokyo, the film features a young biker gang who stumbles upon a shady government scheme involving telekinetic children.
If this sounds familiar to you, you are not imagining anything. Eleven from the nostalgia-filled sci-fi Netflix series stranger things was directly inspired by Akira. Other mainstream films, including Midnight Special, the Chronicleand Creation are also inspired by the classic cinema. Meanwhile, Kanye West repeatedly said he loved Akirawith his music video for “Stronger” even heavily referencing the film.
Akira was arguably the first animated film to engage with Western audiences on a large scale, paving the way for shows like Pokemon, narutoand dragonball become their own cultural phenomenon. The famous “motorcycle slide” has been referenced many times in various western animations and movies. And 34 years after its release, it remains a relevant piece of pop culture.
Watch this if you are… fed up with greed, corruption and government secrets; in psychic battles.
You’ll dig this if you like: blade runner, Creation, Mad Max: Fury Road Nausicaä: Valley of the Wind
Watchlist: Metropolis, Steamboy, Reverse Patema, The Girl Who Crossed Time, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
So you want to watch… a puzzle
Satoshi Kon’s 1997 psychological thriller perfect blue is what you are looking for. It breaks away from our traditional view of anime – fun, family-oriented, packed with adventure – and explores distinctly adult themes. It’s also a great case study of Kon’s fast and disorienting editing that leaves you slightly unsettled.
This film follows Mima, a retired singer who “sheds her ‘good girl’ image to advance her career”. Harassment, murder and deception are involved as Mima tries to deal with the pressure and anxiety that comes with being a “perfect idol”, switching between how her fans see her and how she sees. This leads to a terrifying plot that will have you, the viewer, staring into the mirror asking, “Who are you?”
Many people compare perfect blue at Darren Aronofsky Black Swan, which involves a ballerina whose mental state declines under the pressure of her own ambition. While Aronofsky deliberately refuses to be inspired by perfect bluehe recreates the bathtub scene from the anime almost frame by frame in his 2000 film Requiem for a dream.
Watch this if you are… in the mood to feel slightly paranoid, definitely deranged and empty at the end.
You’ll dig this if you like: Black Swan, fight club, Old boy, Death threat, Code Geass
Watchlist: Paprika, millennial actress, mind game, genius party
So You Want To Watch… An Incarnate Existential Crisis
1995 film by director Mamoru Oshii ghost in the shell follows cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi as she tracks down a mysterious and powerful hacker called “the puppeteer”. Along the way, she begins to question her own makeup and identity, being a robot body with a human mind.
Some fans claim that ghost in the shell is “not only one of the greatest animated films ever made”, but also “one of the best science fiction films of all time”. It explores the concept of artificial intelligence and asks philosophical questions about the nature of existence and humanity’s evolving relationship with technology.
He influenced major motion pictures, including The Wachowskis’ The matrix. Its sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, is the first anime to compete for the Cannes Palme d’Or, the highest honor awarded at the film festival. (Of course, there’s also the live-action adaptation starring Scarlett Johansson, but let’s not talk about that.)
Watch this if you are… fear of cyborgs invading the world; fear of cyborgs taking over your work; afraid of becoming a cyborg for your job.
You’ll dig this if you like: Matrix, Ex Machina, Elle, Metropolis, Tron
Watchlist: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion, Psycho-Pass: The Movie
So you want to watch… a feel-good romance with a twist
Director Makoto Shinkai is a veteran in this category. His films generally share a few common themes. Many of them are love stories between couples separated by insurmountable obstacles and distances. There is usually some kind of fantasy element. And more often than not, love wins out.
But among his film repertoire, his 2016 film Kimi no Na waWhere Your name, is probably his biggest hit to date. It was the first animated film to surpass the classic Taken away as if by magic in box office receipts (for a time), and it has also won several international awards.
Kimi no Na wa follows the lives of Mitsuha and Taki in modern Japan, as their fates are mysteriously intertwined, literally. The two swap bodies regularly, discovering more about each other as they go through each other’s daily routines and cultivating feelings somewhere along the way. But one day, the exchange stops.
We follow Taki’s journey to find Mitsuha despite how unlikely it all is, only to discover a jaw-dropping plot twist.
Watch this if you are… looking for a not ordinary love story, but a cool love story.
You’ll dig this if you like: The Time Traveler’s Wife, Whisper of the heart, Taken away as if by magic
Watchlist: grow old with you, 5 centimeters per second, Voice from a distant star, I want to eat your pancreas, Its blue sky, The words are bubbling like sodas
So you want to watch… a proven shonen movie
Demon Slayer—Kimetsu no Yaiba—The Movie: Mugen Train could be just the thing.
Whether Kimi no Na Wa broke box office records in 2017, demon slayer went even further in 2021 by becoming the highest-grossing animated film in the world with over $440 million in gross sales. The film also did well locally, raking in over 10 billion yen ($100 million) in just 10 days after its release.
demon slayer is not a standalone film. It is a continuation of demon slayer First season of 26 episodes of the television series. The series follows teenager Tanjiro Kamado who returns home to find his family has been slaughtered by a demon. The film centers on Tanjiro’s efforts to save the lives of passengers aboard the Mugen train.
Watch this if you are… a fan of the demon slayer series. Or not.
You’ll dig this if you like: Train to Busan, snowdrops
Watchlist: Jujutsu Kaisen 0, My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising, The boy and the beast, a silent voice
So you want to watch…something family oriented
Director Mamoru Hosada is no stranger to wholesome family-oriented or coming-of-age movies with a magical twist. The girl who crossed time, for example, depicts a high school girl going through adolescence while going back and forth in time. Wolf children is about half-human, half-wolf children coming to terms with their mixed identities. His 2018 movie Mirai is no different.
Whereas Mirai is not the highest-grossing Hosada film, it is the sixth anime and only non-Ghibli animated film to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature. The film follows 4-year-old Kun, who has to reckon with the arrival of his new baby sister, meeting the future version of her. It’s a heartwarming family tale that savors the innocence and mischief of youth.
Watch this if you are… not an only child, but you wish you were.
You’ll dig this if you like: Hugo, Charlie and the chocolate factory, My Neighbor Totoro, When Marnie Was Here
Watchlist: Wolf children, summer wars, The children who hunt the lost voices, A letter to Momo, the godfathers of Tokyo
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