Anime broke down the doors of the global scene over the past couple of decades, rightfully earning its place as an entertainment powerhouse, captivating millions of viewers worldwide. Anime movies getting theatrical releases outside of Japan have become the norm, and otaku around the world couldn’t be happier.
From Studio Ghibli to modern classic shonen-slash hits, anime continues to dominate the box office year after year. The highest-grossing anime films of all time have cemented themselves as classics and must-see titles for new viewers, while others are fan-favorite hits that satisfy the series’ most dedicated viewers.
10/10 Princess Mononoke
Princess Mononoke takes place during Japan’s Muromachi period and stars Ashitaka, an Emishi prince caught in the middle of a power struggle between the forest gods and humans. The 1997 film received an 8.4 score on IMDb due to its intriguing historical setting, impressive attention to detail, and gorgeous cinematic touches that even the best live-action films couldn’t hope to replicate.
Packed with inspirational, thought-provoking quotes and set to a soundtrack performed by the Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra, Princess Mononoke is a timeless classic and an anime film that all new viewers should watch at least once.
9/10 Pokemon: The First Movie
Pokemon: The First Movie was released in the summer of 1998. It was many veteran anime fans’ first exposure to the medium and holds a special place in many fans’ hearts. The film made waves when it hit the West, and despite its controversies, it was the first Japanese animated film to steal attention from other films of the time.
However, the film’s legacy is far from stellar. Pokemon: The First Movie is criticized for its terrible pacing issues and a non-canonical plot that angered the franchise’s most dedicated fans. However, the numbers don’t lie. While the film may not have gone down in history the way its producers might have hoped, it will always be recognized as one of the first anime films to achieve mainstream status in the West.
8/10 Stand by me, Doraemon
Doraemon is a mascot for Japanese anime, and has even cemented himself as one of Japan’s most popular characters in a recent Goo Rankings poll. Stand by me, Doraemon is a standout hit among the other 40+ films in the franchise. Doraemon travels to the past and meets Nobita. He is a child with uncanny tragic luck, and Doraemon must save him from a terrible future.
The film is essentially an anthology of all Doraemon’s and Nobita’s adventures throughout the series. Released in 2014, the series is a poignant yet hilarious take on everyone’s favorite robot cat without ears.
7/10 Weathering with you
Weathering with you is a 2019 romantic film directed by the legendary Makoto Shinkai. Weathering with you became one of Shinkai’s most iconic films upon its release as it encapsulates everything related to his identity as a director. The film is a masterpiece from start to finish with a simplistic gorgeous art style, ethereal setting and a dreamlike soundtrack.
Weathering with you plays Hodaka, a high school freshman who ran away from home and moved to Tokyo. He struggles endlessly to make ends meet, eventually finding a job working for an occult magazine. His life changes after meeting Hina, a girl who can clear out the sad rain clouds and make it stop raining.
6/10 Jujutsu Kaisen 0
Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is the film adaptation of the prequel manga of the same title. The film takes place one year before the events of Jujutsu Kaisen. Although Yuji, Nobara, and Megumi are absent from the film, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 spotlights Tokyo Jujutsu High’s sophomores.
Yuta Okkotsu is haunted by a vengeful cursed spirit of a special character, Rika. Rika was once human, but died in a tragic car accident and has haunted Yuta ever since. Yuta enrolls at Tokyo Jujutsu High to atone for his past mistakes and uncover Rika’s curse. Animated by MAPPA, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is an exciting adventure from start to finish.
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Ponyo is a story about a young boy and his goldfish. All Ghibli films are family friendly, but Ponyo is a particularly heartwarming story tailored for children. Ponyo doesn’t cover as many complicated themes as other Ghibli films like Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle.
But, Ponyo is a classic Ghibli film with every element synonymous with the production studio’s identity. Miyazaki’s classic art style and poignant coming-of-age tone are on full display here, evoking childlike wonder and awe from audiences every time they rewatch Ponyo.
4/10 Howl’s Moving Castle
Released in 2004, Howl’s Moving Castle is another example of Hayao Miyazaki’s talent and brilliance as a director. Howl’s Moving Castle plays Sophie after a witch forces her to age drastically. She meets Howl, a wizard who can free her from the curse.
Howl’s Moving Castle may seem like a light-hearted romantic comedy film, but Miyazaki strategically sprinkled anti-war sentiments throughout the film as a reference to the events of the early 2000s. However, it also carries themes of self-acceptance and pushes back against romanticizing youth. It encourages viewers to look forward to the joys of adulthood.
3/10 Your name
Directed by Makoto Shinkai, Your name is a gripping romantic film starring Taki and Mitsuha. They are two high school students who live very different lives, but who have to step into the other’s shoes after they unexpectedly switch bodies.
Your name is chock full of immersive plot twists and it’s character driven story that wowed viewers. With dynamic dialogue, stunning visuals, a beautiful soundtrack and a legendary director, Your name became an instant cult classic anime film upon its late summer 2016 release.
2/10 Spirited Away
Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is the ultimate Studio Ghibli film. It even won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Even if someone hasn’t seen the movie, No-Face has become a mascot for Ghibli characters, so they will definitely recognize the yokai.
Released in 2001, Spirited Away follows Chihiro after she realizes she can see spirits. Many of the spirits were terrifying, but Hayao Miyazaki has a knack for painting everything through the lens of childlike innocence and pure curiosity that makes any viewer nostalgic for childhood.
1/10 Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train
Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train is an action-packed masterpiece. Animated by Ufotable, the film stayed true to Koyoharu Gotouge’s source material and ramped everything up to eleven with a booming soundtrack and impressive CGI work. Between Mugen trainits and Jujutsu Kaisen 0success, it’s clear that fans strongly prefer canon material being adapted into movies over non-canon filler plotlines.
Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train was hailed as a game-changer for anime films after its 2021 debut in US theaters. The film’s unprecedented success broke records and exceeded fans’ expectations. The film’s bloody fight scenes and darker tone also dismantled the outdated idea that anime is immature entertainment for children.
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