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.

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.

</