Studio Ghibli’s Finest: A Curated List of 10 Must-Watch Movies


Seasoned anime filmmakers Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and Toshio Suzuki formed what is known as Studio Ghibli. 

The studio is responsible for some of the most influential animated films of the 21st century, including the Academy Award-winning Spirited Away (2001), one of the only non-English speaking films to win the award.

Studio Ghibli is one of the most award-winning animated studios gaining notoriety as one of Japanese filmmaking’s most lucrative and creative works.

Honestly, a bad Studio Ghibli movie doesn’t exist, but if I had to pick… here’s my countdown on the best Studio Ghibli films of all time.

10. When Marnie Was There (2014)

  • GENRE: Psychological Drama
  • DIRECTOR: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
  • SCREENWRITER: Masashi Andō, Keiko Niwa, Hiromasa Yonebayashi
  • VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Sara Takatsuki, Kasumi Arimura, Hana Sugisaki, Hitomi Kuroki
  • VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Hailee Steinfeld, Kiernan Shipka, Ava Acres, Vanessa Williams

Why you should watch it:
It offers a deeply emotional and picturesque exploration of friendship and self-discovery. Its stunning animation and delicate storytelling exemplify Ghibli’s ability to blend the magical with the mundane, making it a must-watch for its artistic and narrative depth.

DESCRIPTION: Depressed foster child Anna Sasaki (Sara Takatsuki, Hailee Steinfeld) stays with relatives in the wetlands of Hokkaido, where she discovers an abandoned mansion across the lake. Hidden in the mansion, Anna meets a mysterious girl named Marnie (Kasumi Arimura, Kiernan Shipka). Although the pair become the best friends, they must keep their friendship a secret.

When Marnie Was There is the final film Yonebayashi directed for Studio Ghibli before joining Studio Ponoc and heading Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017). As one of the newest Ghibli films, it established that the studio is still a powerful example of anime filmmaking with a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 88th Academy Awards.

9. The Wind Rises (2013)

  • GENRE: Historical Drama
  • DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
  • SCREENWRITER: Hayao Miyazaki
  • VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Hideaki Anno, Miori Takimoto, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Masahiko Nishimura, William H. Macy
  • VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short, Morio Kazama

Why you should watch it:
This beautifully animated biographical tale stands out for its historical context and poignant exploration of dreams vs. reality. Its attention to detail and unique approach to storytelling reflect Studio Ghibli’s dedication to pushing the boundaries of animation, making it essential viewing for filmmakers and fans alike.

DESCRIPTION: The Wind Rises follows the nearsighted Jiro Horikoshi (Hideaki Anno, Joseph Gordon-Levitt) on his journey to become a pilot. Jiro’s journey and the support of the beautiful Naoko Satomi (Mirio Takimoto, Emily Blunt) lead him to become an aircraft designer for Mitsubishi. He creates planes for the Imperial Army and the Imperial Navy while navigating his ambitions and dreams.

Loosely based on The Wind Has Risen by Tatsuo Hori, the movie was supposed to be the final film directed by Hayao Miyazaki before his retirement in 2013. It became one of the highest-grossing Japanese films in history and was nominated for several international awards, including an Academy Award, Globe Globe, and the Japan Academy Film Prize.

8. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

  • GENRE: Historical Fantasy
  • DIRECTOR: Isao Takahata
  • SCREENWRITER: Isao Takahata
  • VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Aki Asakura, Kengo Kora, Takeo Chii, Nobuko Miyamoto
  • VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Chloë Grace Moretz, Darren Criss, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen

Why you should watch it:
This visually stunning film, based on a Japanese folktale, showcases the peak of Ghibli’s hand-drawn animation techniques. Its emotional depth, combined with a unique artistic style, offers a fresh perspective on traditional storytelling, making it a compelling watch for those interested in the evolution of animation.

DESCRIPTION: When a bamboo cutter named Sanuki no Miyatsuko (Takeo Chii, James Caan) finds a tiny girl inside a magical bamboo shoot, he and his wife adopt the child.

They name her Princess and dedicate their lives to giving her a life worthy of her divine arrival on Earth, but she falls in love with life in the countryside and her friends.

When she grows older, Princess Kaguya (Aki Asakura, Chloë Grace Moretz) does everything she can to return to the life she once had before royalty.

Based on his favorite childhood story, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, director Isao Takahata spent decades with ambitions to recreate the story for animation.

Once part of Studio Ghibli, he received financial support to create one of the most expensive Japanese animated films, using realistic watercolor and traditional Japanese designs. It’s by far one of the most influential works of Japanese animation to date.

7. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

  • GENRE: 
  • DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
  • SCREENWRITER: Hayao Miyazaki
  • VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Sumi Shimamoto, Goro Naya, Yōji Matsuda, Yoshiko Sakakibara
  • VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Shia LaBeouf, Uma Thurman

Why you should watch it:
As one of the earliest works that led to Studio Ghibli’s founding, this film offers a fascinating look at the themes of environmentalism and pacifism that would become hallmarks of the studio. Its innovative animation and storytelling make it a cornerstone for any filmmaker or animation fan’s education.

DESCRIPTION: A thousand years ago, an apocalyptic war, the Seven Days of Fire, destroyed civilization and created the poisonous Toxic Jungle filled with giant mutated insects.

In one of the last remaining kingdoms, the Valley of the Wind, Princess Nausicaä (Sumi Shimamoto, Alison Lohman) discovers a crashed aircraft carrying a Giant Warrior, a monstrous bioweapon responsible for the destruction of the war.

Nausicaä and her mentor Lord Yupa (Goro Naya, Patrick Stewart) must protect her kingdom and the world from the weapon falling into the hands of war-mongering Princess Kushana (Yoshiko Sakakibara, Uma Thurman) and the Kingdom of Tolmekia.

Technically, this film is not a work of Studio Ghibli. Topcraft created it while it was produced by Isao Takahata and directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki.

Miyazaki, Takahata, and producer Toshio Suzuki formed Studio Ghibli when the studio went bankrupt. This film marked the beginning of one of the greatest and iconic animation teams in the world.

It makes you wonder, what are the best 30 anime films of all time? Find out here. 

6. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

  • GENRE: Fantasy Adventure
  • DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
  • SCREENWRITER: Hayao Miyazaki
  • VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Minami Takayama, Rei Sakuma, Keiko Toda, Kappei Yamaguchi
  • VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Tress MacNeille, Matthew Lawrence

Why you should watch it:
This heartwarming tale is a testament to the power of simplicity in storytelling and animation. Its charming portrayal of independence and growing up offers universal appeal. At the same time, the detailed animation provides a masterclass in bringing a fantastical world to life, making it essential for fans and filmmakers.

DESCRIPTION: A thirteen-year-old witch named Kiki (Minami Takayama, Kirsten Dunst) leaves home as a right of passage on her flying broomstick with her talking black cat Jiji (Rei Sakuma, Phil Hartman).

When she arrives in the port city of Koriko, she moves in with the pregnant baker Osono (Keiko Toda, Tress MacNeille).

Everything seems to go well until she befriends Tombo (Kappei Yamaguchi, Matthew Lawrence), a young boy infatuated with airplanes who reminds her that there’s still much to learn about being a young girl in a new city.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is the first big hit of Studio Ghibli, bringing in twice as much money as previous films. It set the standard moving forward, gaining Disney’s attention and leading to the international redistribution of famous Studio Ghibli titles.

This film also marks one of the first prominent examples of Miyazaki’s fantasy themes and homages to his love for aviation, seen in future projects.

5. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

  • GENRE: Fantasy
  • DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
  • SCREENWRITER: Hayao Miyazaki
  • VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Chieko Baisho, Takuya Kimura, Tasuya Gashuin, Akihiro Miwa
  • VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Billy Crystal, Lauren Bacall

Why you should watch it:
This film’s imaginative setting and complex characters showcase Studio Ghibli’s ability to create fantastical worlds that resonate on a deeply human level. Its innovative animation techniques and themes of love, war, and transformation make it a standout for filmmakers and Ghibli enthusiasts.

DESCRIPTION: In a fictional European kingdom of magic and early twentieth-century industrial technology, a young hat-maker, Sophie Hatter (Chieko Baisho, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons), encounters an infamous wizard named Howl (Takuya Kimura, Christian Bale).

In turn, the jealous Witch of the Waste (Akihiro Miwa, Lauren Bacall) curses Sophie, transforming her into an old woman. The only ones who can save her are Howl, his apprentice Markl (Ryūnosuke Kamiki, Josh Hutcherson), and a magical castle controlled by a supernatural demon named Calcifer (Tatsuya Gashuin, Billy Crystal).

Based on the book of the same title by Dianna Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle is one of the most financially successful Japanese films in history, following in the footsteps of previous international Studio Ghibli successes.

Mamoru Hosoda (Mirai, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) of Toei Animation was initially penned to direct this film but left after rejecting his ideas, setting the future of anime films in motion.

4. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

  • GENRE: War Tragedy
  • DIRECTOR: Isao Takahata
  • SCREENWRITER: Isao Takahata
  • VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara
  • VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Adam Gibbs, Emily Neves, Shelley Calene-Black

Why you should watch it:
A powerful and moving anti-war film, this is a must-watch for its stark portrayal of war’s human cost. Its emotional depth, combined with Studio Ghibli’s signature animation style, makes it a poignant study of storytelling and the potential of animation to convey profound messages.

DESCRIPTION: The children of an Imperial Japanese Naval officer, Seita Yokokawa (Tsutomu Tatsumi, Adam Gibbs), and his little sister Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi, Emily Neves), are siblings who fall victim to the devastation of World War II when a firebombing destroys their childhood home in Kobe, Japan.

Together, the two children struggle for survival, living with abusive relatives, abandoned shelters, and the fear of starvation.

Ghibli released the film twenty years after its short story publication of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka. Nosaka refused any live adaptations but felt Isao Takahata’s animated version was the best way to capture the reality of the horrors the children experienced in the war-torn countryside.

The critically acclaimed animated movie is one of the greatest war films ever.

3. Spirited Away (2001)

  • GENRE: Fantasy
  • DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
  • SCREENWRITER: Hayao Miyazaki
  • VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki
  • VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette

Why you should watch it:
This Oscar-winning film is a masterpiece of world-building and storytelling. Its richly detailed universe and complex characters offer endless inspiration for filmmakers and animation fans, making it a benchmark in animation and a testament to Studio Ghibli’s creative prowess.

DESCRIPTION: Ten-year-old Chihiro Ogino (Rumi Hiiragi, Daveigh Chase) is on her way to a new home with her parents when they become trapped in a spirit world.

A clever witch, Yubaba (Mari Natsuki, Suzanne Pleshette), transforms her parents into pigs for trespassing. The only way to free them is to work at the witch’s bathhouse.

Chihiro sets out to rescue her parents with the help of her new magical friends Haku (Miyu Natsuki, Suzanne Pleshette) and Lin (Yoomi Tamai, Susan Egan).

Arguably one of the most famous Studio Ghibli films of all time because of its international recognition, Spirited Away is a fantasy masterpiece.

It’s the first hand-drawn, non-English animated film to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards.

The film caught the attention of John Lasseter of Pixar Animation Studios, leading to Walt Disney’s distribution gaining immense popularity and the status as one of the greatest animated films of the 21st century.

2. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

  • GENRE: Fantasy
  • DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
  • SCREENWRITER: Hayao Miyazaki
  • VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Noriko Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto, Shigesato Itoi
  • VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga

Why you should watch it:
A beloved classic, this film captures the wonder of childhood and the beauty of nature through its enchanting story and visually stunning animation. Its simplicity and depth make it a timeless watch for those interested in animation’s storytelling power.

DESCRIPTION: Professor Tatsuo Kusakabe (Shigesato Itoi, Tim Daly) and his two daughters, Satsuki (Noriko Hidaka, Dakota Fanning) and Mei (Chika Sakamoto, Elle Fanning), move into an old countryside home to be closer to a hospital where his ailing wife, Yasuko (Sumi Shimamoto, Lea Salonga), resides.

The girls discover tiny magical spirits living in the house, and their curiosity eventually leads them into an enchanted forest to meet a sizeable furry spirit named Totoro (Hitoshi Takagi, Frank Welker).

This film stars one of the most recognizable mascots of Studio Ghibli, the loveable titular character Totoro. A story loosely based on Miyazaki’s own life, it’s one of the most popular entries to Ghibli films for anyone, with an emotional level and heartfelt characters.

If you don’t believe in the iconic power of Totoro, see if you spot his easter eggs in other popular Ghibli films like Pom Poko, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Whisper of the Heart, and Spirited Away.

See more examples of easter eggs in movies.

1. Princess Mononoke (1997)

  • GENRE: Fantasy
  • DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
  • SCREENWRITER: Hayao Miyazaki
  • VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Yōji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yūko Tanaka
  • VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver

Why you should watch it:
This epic tale of conflict between humans, gods, and nature is a visually breathtaking and narratively complex film. Its themes of environmentalism and humanity are explored through stunning animation and deep character development, making it an essential study for any filmmaker or Studio Ghibli fan.

DESCRIPTION: After a demon attacks a rural Japanese village, Prince Ashitaka (Yōji Matsuda, Bill Crudup) manages to save his people but is cursed. He discovers the only cure for the curse resides in the western lands where a Great Forest Spirit lives.

Unfortunately, the ongoing feud between Lady Eboshi (Yūko Tanaka, Minnie Driver), the ruthless leader of Iron Town, and the vengeful human daughter of the wolves, San (Yuriko Ishida, Claire Danes), stand in his way of finding the Great Forest Spirit.

A stunning visual masterpiece of fantasy and war, Princess Mononoke is one of the greatest works of Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki.

The film won three prestigious Mainichi awards for the best Japanese, best animated, and fan choice. The following year, it became the first animated feature to win the best overall film at the Japanese Academy Awards.

While it doesn’t hold the same international awards as other Studio Ghibli films, it is the only film to beautifully blend violent adult themes of natural destruction and war with the usual Ghibli elements of fantasy and love.

Compared to all other Studio Ghibli animated films, this film is one of the greatest.


Studio Ghibli films are timeless masterpieces. They capture audiences with their unique blend of whimsical storytelling, profound themes, and enchanting animation.

What’s your favorite Studio Ghibli movie? Let us know in the comments below.

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