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Best Anime Movies Of All Time: 25 Essentials

Updated: Apr 18, 2021

The anime world can be tough to tackle, especially for newcomers, beginners, and sometimes even veterans. When thinking of anime many only consider the popular manga and TV series we've all grown accustomed to hearing about, such as Naruto, One Piece, and Death Note. However, the film side of anime has a ton if not more to offer, and has inspired some of the most common themes and tropes sprinkled throughout many popular anime series. Think about it this way, the typical show has about 25-500 episodes to tell an unforgettable story and build characters that viewers fall in love with, well movies only get about an hour and a half sometimes two hours to really lure you in and accomplish the same goal. Trust me many of the films listed below overachieve and may even have you begging that they were shows instead.

With that being said, this list WILL NOT INCLUDE MOVIES FROM ANIME SERIES. In order to pay proper respect to these classic films, negating movies derived from anime series takes away the bond that audiences felt prior to viewing. Each of these movies has its own characters, stories, and layouts, that need to be appreciated individually and isolated. And as a side note, this may surprise many but even if anime series were included only a handful would be added to the list, including but not limited to Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, End of Evangelion, and Naruto: Bonds. This list is also NOT RANKED, but an introduction to these must-watch anime films.

So if you're stuck trying to find something new to watch, a movie savant, or have been on the series side of anime for too long, here's a list of 25 essential anime movies to watch!

Akira (1988)

Director: Katsuhiro Otomo

Genre: Sci-Fi + Action

Released in 1988, Akira set the bar for what an iconic anime film/series had the potential to be, and has held that standard for the last 33 years. Even if you haven't seen Akira, you've definitely caught glimpses of this movie throughout music videos, song lyrics, and as an inspiration to films and series that have come after it. This cult classic introduced a wider audience to anime as a genre and has been deemed one of the best anime movies of all time.

Plot: In 2019, 31 years after the Japanese government drops an atomic bomb on Tokyo, Kaneda and his cyberpunk biker gang come across a secret military project. One of the gang's friends, Tetsuo, gets wrapped up in the experiments and becomes a raging psychopath with supernatural abilities and a thirst for blood. The themes and metaphors sprinkled within the film become a powerful statement about the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War 2, and fear of what the future holds.

Akira has been more than influential to not only other films like Looper, Ghost In The Shell, and Neon Genesis Evangelion, but also on Hip-Hop. Kanye West has named this as one of his 2 favorite movies of all time and uses a clip from Akira in the "Stronger" music video. Other artists like Kid Cudi and Playboi Carti have mentioned the film as inspirations, and it can be seen in early Tekashi 6ix9ine videos way before he became the polarizing figure we know today.

With beautiful animation, a great story, and intense character development, this movie is must watch for anime lovers. Definitely go check this one out!

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Genre: Action

The first of many Ghibli films on the list, though I honestly tried my best to limit them this guy Miyazaki is like the Michael Jordan of anime, here is Princess Mononoke 🐺. In comparison to many other Miyazaki films, there's a violent tone within this movie that sets it apart from the typical childlike fantasies that he's usually known for.

Plot: Princess Mononoke captures a battle between spirituality and humanity, with a young boy, Ashitaka, trying to bring peace and harmony between the two. After being infected by a demon he seeks a cure from a god-like spirit that poses as a Deer and rules over an enchanted forest. However, the protectors of the enchanted forest, Princess Mononoke and the wolf god Moro, see humans as destroyers who will only hurt this sacred environment, and she vows to destroy the nearby village that constantly threatens her and the forest. On the other hand, Ashitaka only wants the two sides to come to an understanding.

Miyazaki uses Princess Mononoke as a way to stress the pain he feels seeing sacred environments and forests destroyed and being replaced with skyscrapers and cities. There's also a big emphasis on the connection of the inner self with the outer world, and how important the harmony between those two are.

Your Name (2016)

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Genre: Romance

One of the most recent films on the list, Your Name, was deemed a classic before it even released. Though with a small budget, this movie has broken worldwide and historic records grossing $358 million dollars, ranking as the 10th highest-grossing animated film of all time, and it is the first anime not directed by Miyazaki to earn more than $100 million dollars at the Japanese box office.

Plot: Your Name follows a high-school girl, Mitsuha, who has been having weird dreams of living another life. In reality, she's been switching bodies with a boy named Taki. When they find out, they begin communicating through a school notebook and texts on their phones and use it as a way to guide each other through this complicated situation.

With beautiful animation, a romantic plot, and thug tear scenes that most guys would even enjoy, this movie ushers in a modern production style that may go on to take the torch from Miyazaki.

Ninja Scroll (1993)

Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri

Genre: Action

Along with Akira and Ghost In The Shell, Ninja Scroll is apart of a trio of movies that have shaped the anime world. Though the lesser-known of the three, Ninja Scroll is a direct influencer for one of the most popular anime series of all-time: Naruto. From the style of fighting to the throwing of kunai and even jumping from tree to tree many aspects of this movie have been stripped and thrown into various shows.

Plot: After saving a woman from an evil monster, an ex-ninja named Jubei, has to face off against the 8 Devils of Kimon. Honestly, the plot is really just a way to incite violence, but it's definitely worth a watch if not only to see a lot of great fighting scenes. Also, be prepared, this movie is extremely explicit, especially in comparison to the amount of Miyazaki movies that are also on this list. Can't forget to mention my guy old man Dakuan.


Overall, Ninja Scroll is a must-watch movie if not to only pay homage to the classic 90s anime that shaped what we have come to know as modern-day anime.

Tekkonkinkreet (2006)

Director: Michael Arias

Genre: Coming-Of-Age

Adapted from a series of 3 manga written between 1999 and 2000, Tekkonkinkreet shunned all previous visual queues for the average anime flick. To say the least, it's very raw, and not in a bad way, but if you're a fan of Ghibli (the Disney of anime), it'll be a tough transition. However, the story more than makes up for this visual whirlpool, which by the end of the movie you come to love.

Plot: The movie follows two orphans, Black & White (not a race thing, at least that's what I keep telling myself), who are fighting to protect their city from Yakuza thugs. The brothers themselves are known as local hoodlums, who survive by committing mischievous deeds, however, the older of the two also has an obsession with being the king of his city and will spill blood in order to accomplish that feat. Mind you these boys are both younger than 13, which puts an emotional spin on this coming-of-age story.

Tekkonkinkreet is a great watch and relatable story for anyone who has lived in less fortunate neighborhoods, and seen dynamics like these impact a community.

Perfect Blue (1997)

Director: Satoshi Kon

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Along with Akira and Spirited Away, Perfect Blue is another film that many anime critics place at the top of the mountain. If this is your first time hearing of director Satoshi Kon he can be considered another pioneer of anime movies, along with the legendary Miyazaki and Ghibli studios, and the soon to be discussed Mamoru Hosoda. Perfect Blue was originally supposed to be a live movie but due to a decrease in the budget after the Kobe earthquake of 1995, it was transitioned into an anime film and a great one at that.

Plot: Mima is an ex pop-star transitioning into a new life as an actress, but a stalker is making it hard to move on from her past. Her first acting role is as a detective, which Kon uses to mirror and play on the themes and problems she's having in the plot of the actual film. It can be very trippy and basically feel like a huge mind-fuck, but if you pay close attention this movie has way more to offer than on the surface.

Many outsiders associate anime with action and adventure, but intense psychological thrillers like Perfect Blue have really helped propel anime into new spaces.

Castle In The Sky (1986)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Genre: Adventure

The second Miyazaki movie on the list, Castle In The Sky, fits the warm child-like aesthetic that we've grown to associate with Ghibli production studios.

Plot: This story follows a girl named Sheeta who owns a mysterious amulet that has the attention of the government and criminals that are attempting to kidnap her. She goes on to meet Pazu, a boy who's obsessed with reaching the floating city of Laputa. Side note, floating cities actually grow to be a common theme in other animes including One Piece and The Seven Deadly Sins. Long story short the city and the amulet are correlated, but the real appeal of this movie is the animation as with all Ghibli films.

Google "Castle In The Sky 123 Movies", get a bag of popcorn, and enjoy!

Wolf Children (2012)

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Genre: Family

We finally have the first Mamoru Hosoda movie in Wolf Children🐺👼. This heartwarming film is for all the werewolf fans who are interested in what happens after the love story ends.

Plot: Hana is a college student who falls in love with a man that happens to be a werewolf. After his tragic death, she goes on to raise their two kids alone and struggles to keep normalcy in their young lives. Though a pretty simple introduction, there's a lot more to the story that I haven't revealed and you'll just have to watch to truly get the full picture.

Since its release, Wolf Children has created a legacy of its own and was inspired by Mamoru seeing his own friends start to flourish as parents. This was also the 5th highest-grossing movie Japanese film of 2012.

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Director: Satoshi Kon

Genre: Comedy

Tokyo Godfathers is a tragic comedy, which is a different tone in comparison to the other Kon movies featured on this list. This is also the second movie he fully wrote and directed, although loosely based on Peter B. Kyne's novel Three Godfathers.

Plot: On Christmas Eve, three homeless people who can be seen as a dysfunctional family are trying to enjoy the holiday festivities as best as they can. While going through trash they find an abandoned baby and go on an adventure to bring the baby back to their parents. Throughout the story, you learn more about each character's previous life and what has brought them to where they are now.

Tokyo Godfathers is definitely an underdog on this list of iconic films but can stand it's own with each and every one of them.

Ghost In The Shell (1995)

Director: Mamoru Oshii

Genre: Sci-Fi + Action

The last of the iconic anime movie trio (along with Akira and Ninja Scroll) that has come to define the 90s and influenced everything following it is Ghost In The Shell. Based on the manga of the same name, this movie has been one of the many catalysts for the cyborg generation that ruled the early 2000s. More specifically, it's one of the main influences for the cult classic Matrix and the Animatrix as a result.

Plot: In the movie, a woman, Major Motoko, is tracking a mysterious hacker who's been controlling bots in order to commit crimes. Along with her partner, Motoko uncovers more than she bargains for when finally capturing this criminal. The movie goes on to open up the discussion of man vs machine, questioning what a human really is and also bringing up the idea that technology has the ability to one day take over humanity. It takes place in 2029, a year in the near distance so maybe Oshii and his team, have cooked something that may be similar to our actual reality.

This is as must-watch as it gets, so, if you need the link hit my DMs 😎🤙

Porco Rosso (1992)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Genre: Adventure

This third Miyazaki film is one of my personal favorites, Porco Rosso (The Crimson Pig). This movie was actually out for 13 years before being officially converted to English by Disney and resold on DVD in the U.S. and Canada.

Plot: Porco Rosso follows a former Italian WW1 pilot who's freelancing as a bounty hunter, after mysteriously being turned into a pig during his war days. He's an outlaw in his own country and travels the world looking for exciting adventures, and hanging out on a stranded island that he's claimed as his own. The only tension in the plot really surrounds an aerial competition between him and an American pilot vying for a woman who is actually in love with Porco, and other than that beautiful animation and interesting character development fill the spaces in between.

The ironic metaphor that I think many don't realize until they watch the movie is that in a Miyazaki film, pigs can actually fly! 🐷✈

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Genre: Sci-Fi + Romace

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is the most popular Mamoru Hosoda movie, and blends a hint of romance with a lot of what did she just do? It can be considered a follow-up to the 1967 novel of the same name and follows a time loop scenario that we've seen play out in many stories in western films.

Plot: Makoto is a high school girl who stumbles across the ability to time travel, right before she gets hit by a train. After realizing her new superpower she relives the days she chooses and fixed anything that doesn't go right. As with most of these movies, it comes to a point where she can't fix everything and something is always bound to go wrong.

Though a typical plot and scenario, Hosoda does a good job of keeping this film engaging and pretty emotional at the same time. Definitely, a good movie to watch during quarantine with your bae 😘

Metropolis (2001)

Director: Rintaro

Genre: Sci-Fi

Rintaro's 2001 remake of the classic 1927 film Metropolis, revisits the battle between man and machine and fears of what society may grow to become. In just under two hours, Rintaro was capable of capturing the themes of the original film while also blending the manga version of the story that was developed in 1949 by Osamu Tezuka.

Plot: In a futuristic city, Metropolis, the ruler is using technology to recreate his deceased daughter. His stepson finds out about the project and gets jealous, causing him to kill the inventor but after it's already too late. The main character, Kenichi, befriends the cyborg daughter before she realizes she's a robot or even gets to her "father". The story shows the struggle of this girl thinking she's human, but when she realizes she's just another robot she turns technology against mankind.

Definitely reminiscent of Will Smith's iRobot, and the story of Metropolis has a legendary influence on the man vs machine trope that has been ingrained in Western culture.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Genre: Adventure

The fourth Miyazaki is the classic and heartwarming tale, My Neighbor Totoro. Personally, this movie in my opinion is way more popular than some of Ghibli's other films simply because of the iconic figure that Totoro has become.

Plot: This movie finds two sisters who move to a new home with their dad, while their mom is at the hospital sick. The house is apparently haunted, but in fact, has this enchanted way about it that the girls come to fall in love with. The house also is infested with the black sot creatures that we see in Spirited Away. To cut the point, Totoro becomes an outlet for the girls to distract them from their mother being sick and also helps guide them through this transition into a new space and lifestyle.

This film has gone on to gross over $40 million dollars worldwide at the box office, and along with merch and home videos has brought in about $1.42 billion during its lifetime. It's definitely a children's movie, but I know yall still be watching Disney Plus, so give this movie a shot. Trust me!

Grave Of The Fireflies (1995)

Director: Isao Takahata

Genre: War + Drama

Takahata's Grave Of The Fireflies is easily one of the saddest animated films ever. It does a great job of portraying the pains of war, how it impacts youth, and is probably the most popular Ghibli film not directed or written by Miyazaki.

Plot: A teenage boy, Seita, has to take care of his sister during WW2 after a firebombing destroys their home and kills their mother. The story really shines in the duo's ability to adapt to change and find pleasure in the little things in life amongst all the peril and death surrounding them. After moving out of one home into a small bunker, the two use fireflies one night to keep their new home lit. Without giving away too much, I will say that this movie is definitely a lot emotional so be prepared to cry and feel some heavy emotions throughout.

The Boy & The Beast (2015)

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Genre: Adventure

Another Hosoda film means another classic and though extremely underrated in my personal opinion, The Boy and the Beast actually replaced Avengers: Age Of Ultron in the Japanese box office during its first week.

Plot: After losing his mother, a small boy living in the streets of Shibuya, slips into an alternate reality where he meets a Bear. The Bear goes on to become his sensei and teaches him the ways of life. The story is slightly reminiscent of the relationship between Mowgli and Baloo from the Jungle Book. The boy is eventually torn between staying in this new world he comes to love, and his actual reality as a human.

The Boy and the Beast is still a fairly new movie, just releasing in 2015, but I have high hopes that it'll age well.

Royal Space Force (1987)

Director: Hiroyuki Yamaga

Genre: Sci-Fi

At first sight, Royal Space Force seems like a regular Western film and honestly, if you're watching the dubbed version it seems even more so. This movie was the debut of production company Gainax, who later went on to create the critically acclaimed anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Plot: After failing to make the cut for the Navy, Shiro, joins the Royal Space Force. The caveat is that in order to receive more funding the government is forcing the agency to make Shiro the first man in space🚀. During his training, he falls in love with a woman, and the time apart impacts both of them. There's romance. Adventure. And a great soundtrack. What more can you ask for?

Royal Space Force is actually one of the lesser-known anime flicks on the list. A great one to put your friends on to.

Lupin The Third: The Castle Of Cagliostro (1979)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Genre: Adventure

Remember that Lupe Fiasco line from Kanye's classic record "Touch The Sky": "Lupe still like Lupin the 3rd". Meet the infamous Lupin The Third! This pretty well-known anime film is actually pre-Ghibli Miyazaki at his best. This Western crossover did really well in the USA during the 90s after having its time in Japan in the 80s.

Plot: The movie opens with a world-wide known thief, Lupin The Third, climbing down the side of a building with bags of money after robbing the Monte Carlo Casino. Sadly everything is counterfeit, and when he finds out Lupin is not happy. So, he and his partner go on a journey to figure out exactly who robbed them and how to get their money back but instead find a castle with a beautiful princess trapped inside.

Lupin is literally the anime version of Ocean's with Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and the rest of the gang. If you enjoy a good throwback, with a James Bond theme this is the one for you. Also one of the rare movies on the list that you can find right on Netflix 🍿🎬.

Millennium Actress (2001)

Director: Satoshi Kon

Genre: Drama

Satoshi Kon's Millenium Actress is great for anyone who enjoyed Perfect Blue. Although it didn't do well in the box office, this movie has enjoyed a lot of critical acclaims and therefore success amongst anime savants.

Plot: Going along with his theme of breaking the fourth wall, Millenium Actress is actually about a documentary on former actress Chiyoko Fujiwara. During the camera crew's interview of the famous actress, she retells the stories of her past roles which Kon then animates as part of the film. It's kind of like a bunch of small movies within a documentary within a movie. I know it's a lot, but you'd have to watch to truly understand.

Kon's ability to step away from the typical themes of action and adventure continues with this lowkey gem, and he deserves to be recognized for continuously taking this risk.

Redline (2009)

Director: Takeshi Koike

Genre: Action

Redline is a racing anime movie, which may not fit the taste of most average anime fans but the actual production alone might be enough to turn heads. It was also developed by Madhouse, which holds a good chunk of the movies on the list including the Satoshi Kon films and Ninja Scroll.

Plot: Honestly, it's a pretty simple movie. There's an intergalactic race that happens every five years and the main character, JP, is one of the many competitors vying for the trophy. On the way to glory, he has a terrible crash, falls in love with a girl, and is sabotaged by one of his opponents. Typical Fast & Furious type of movie, but a mentioned before the allure really comes from the anime style, which we've actually never seen before.

Further then anime, Redline is really just a dope racing flick 🏍

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Genre: Adventure

The fifth Miyazaki movie on the list is Howl's Moving Castle, which is definitely one of his more well-known films. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 78th Academy Awards, and the English dub has a star-studded cast including Christain Bale, Jean Simmons, and Billy Crystal.

Plot: After being saved by a mysterious wizard named Howl, Sophie is put under a spell by an evil witch. The spell turns her into an elderly woman, and she seeks Howl's help in order to break it. As with most spells, it's broken through love and the two eventually meet that requirement.

The plot is pretty simple, but the critical acclaim comes from the unforgettable imagery and thorough dialogue.

Summer Wars (2009)

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Genre: Sci-Fi + Adventure

If you've seen the Netflix series Sword Art Online then this movie is definitely for you. Summer Wars blends gaming and the real world perfectly showing how the two can impact one another. It also has a slightly romantic vibe that reminds me of Love Don't Cost A Thing.

Plot: A high school boy and his best friend work on the maintenance team of a worldwide game, OZ, that has a similar influence to Facebook or WeChat, but is still a video game. One afternoon a girl in his class asks him to accompany her on a family visit and pose as her boyfriend. The day after the two arrive and hang with the fam, he's accused of hacking OZ and destroying. He's arrested and once proven innocent goes on a race against time to bring everything back into balance.

Kind of cool that this virtual world is called OZ, like the Wizard of Oz, but there's a lot about this movie that I haven't revealed you'll just have to get your shit together and give it a shot.

Paprika (2006)

Director: Satoshi Kon

Genre: Adventure

The final Kon movie on this list, Paprika, was actually the inspiration for the critically acclaimed Christopher Nolan movie, Inception. In some ways, it's kind of a precursor to everything that happens in Inception and if you're a fan of that movie, you should definitely watch Paprika.

Plot: A scientist by day and a dream detective by night, Paprika, follows a doctor who utilizes a dream device to help her patients. When one of the prototypes is stolen the doctor turns into her dream self in order to find out where it is, and how it's being taken advantage of. Like with all Kon movies, this one takes a lot of mental capacity to keep up with but worth it in the long run.

Further than just the dream machine, there are a ton of direct connections to Inception, and I would even recommend watching the two movies simultaneously as one whole concept.

Mind Game (2004)

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Genre: Experimental

Mindgame is definitely an outlier in comparison to the other movies on the list, especially since there's no English version of it, which is a reason why I waited till the end to review this one. It's also considered an experimental anime and has this trippy animation that switches throughout.

Plot: Nishi is a young adult with aspirations of becoming a famous comic book creator, and struggling to confess his love to a childhood crush. He gets into an altercation with a Yakuza thug while the two are at a restaurant and dies, but is given a second chance at life which takes viewers on a crazy trip. While in a highway chase running away from the thugs, Nishi, the girl, and one of their friends, fly off of the road into the mouth of a whale. They enjoy life inside the whale and learn more about themselves and each other, as they try to figure out how to escape.

I know... Mindgame's sounds weird as fuck. But this movie beat Howl's Moving Castle at the Japan Media Arts Festival in 2004. Take a psychedelic. Throw this on. And then tell me what you think.

Spirited Away (2001)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Genre: Adventure

The sixth Miyazaki movie and the final film on this list is considered the GOAT of anime movies: Spirited Away. I mean what more can I say? For many kids who grew up during the early 2000s, this movie was everywhere when it first came out, and you could even catch it some nights on Cartoon Network.

It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards, it was the highest grossing Japanese film of al time until Demon Slayer beat it in 2020,it was named the second best movie of the 21st century by the New York Times, and ranks in IMDB's top 30 movies of all time. Correction, Spirited Away may not only be the GOAT of anime movies but the greatest animated motion picture created thus far. I'm still here for my Lion King fans don't worry.

Plot: 10 year old, Chihiro, is heading to a new home with her family when they find a beautiful abandoned village. All of a sudden, the village turns into the spirit world and her parents are turned into pigs. Chihiro, then needs the help of Haku to figure out how to save her parents and get back home.

There's a lot more to this story, but if you haven't seen it definitely go watch it. Like now!

Spirited Away, is further than just an animated film it's a well thoughout piece of art, and deserves to be the last movie on this list.

Hope you guys enjoyed! There's a small list of honorable mentions below.


The Garden Of Words (2013)

Barefoot Gen (1983)

Nausicaa Of The Valley Of Wind (1984) > The First Ghibli Movie

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