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20 Greatest Anime Films - That Will Amaze Every Time

Updated on May 8, 2018
RachaelLefler profile image

Rachael has been an anime blogger since 2010, with an intense passion and depth of knowledge for the subject.

Intro to Anime Movies

Most anime series have movies and OVAs (original video animations - the stuff that doesn't usually make it to television, but is sold in video format) in addition to the show's main episodes. Then you have anime movies that aren't connected to any series. There are a lot of anime movies, and it can be hard to know which ones are definitely the very best. Anime fans vary widely in personal taste. My personal list of my all-time favorite anime movies would probably not be exactly the same as that of someone else. But I did set up objective guidelines for what made this list.

Here is my list of these guidelines:

  • Do I Care? If it doesn't get me to care about the plot or the characters, it's not really worth watching.
  • Is it Innovative and Unique? They say there are not degrees of uniqueness. But in a strictly technical sense, every film is unique. So when describing the degree of uniqueness, people generally mean the degree to which something's unique attributes are interesting. By innovative, I mean, is it pushing the envelope artistically, and does it avoid the worst anime clichés?
  • Is the ending satisfactory, and does it make sense? This doesn't mean it always has to have a happy ending. Rather, what I'm mostly asking is, are all the questions implied by the beginning of the movie answered in a logical way by the ending of the movie?
  • Is it logical and coherent? Some movies on here get away with not making sense, but they're the exception rather than the rule. Logical doesn't mean "boring", it means that the movie is internally consistent, and plot events don't come out of nowhere or happen for no reason. I also think about whether or not it's easy to understand the characters' motivations, and the thought processes behind their decisions.
  • Does it have compelling characters? Self-explanatory. Related to the 'Do I Care?' question. I have to care about the characters. They also can't cross the line into being morally unsympathetic. Unless their psychopathy is the joke or part of a larger point the writers are going for. For example, the violence in Akira is used to show the main characters' lack of social connection, as well as the setting's bleak detachment from traditional values.

I also considered whether the film rewards multiple viewings - which is a bit subjective. If it is connected to a series, I also considered whether the movie would confuse a viewer who'd never seen the series.

So here are my top 20 anime films of all time!


20. Hetalia - Paint it White

Hetalia is a silly, comedy anime where the main characters (mostly guys) represent nations. The main character is Italy, who is the ditz, played off of Germany, who is the straight man. As the series goes on, other countries come into focus, including America, England, France, Russia, China, and Japan.

The movie Paint it White is hilarious. It's about blank, white-skinned, faceless aliens invading Earth and trying to assimilate every nation, making everyone look like them. There's a lot of comedy in all the main characters arguing about how to deal with them. This movie works well because it's a hilarious spoof of a common sci-fi premise. You also see a lot of interesting appearances of minor characters, like Sea Land.

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Innovative and Unique?
Y
Does the Ending Make Sense?
Y
Is it Coherent?
Y
Compelling Characters?
Y
Will it Make Sense to People Who Haven't Seen the Series?
Y
Rewatch Value?
Maybe?

Re-watch value is its weakest point. That's because it's attached to a series, Hetalia: Axis Powers, that has ended, as far as I know. And most anime fans have moved on. This movie is still a solid B, and is especially good for people looking for a light-hearted comedy that parodies sci-fi tropes.

19. Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos

I like this movie for stunning visuals, some stirring performances, and the unique addition of new characters and settings to the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise. This is a deeply layered story. Julia's childhood and confrontation with her brother is one of the more interesting conflicts in anime storytelling. This movie made me wish for a sequel or spin-off series featuring her as a main character.

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Innovative and Unique?
Y
Does the Ending Make Sense?
Y
Is it Coherent?
May have a few unanswered questions or plot holes, but overall makes sense.
Compelling Characters?
Y
Will it Make Sense to People Who Haven't Seen the Series?
Mostly
Rewatch Value?
Y

18. Trigun: Badlands Rumble

Like Sacred Star of Milos, this one introduces a character I like, who I wish would get her own spin-off (Amelia). I guess I just have a thing for ass-kicking redheads.

It's mostly for fans of the series, and assumes a little familiarity with the main characters on the part of the viewer. It has everything you'd want to see in a good Trigun story arc; action, comedy, and heart. Gasback, the main bad guy, is just every minor Trigun villain, so he's not the most compelling part of this movie. The real heart of this movie is Amelia, and her interactions with Vash. Amelia's harsh worldview is contrasted with Vash's compassionate one, and so he helps her grow as a person.

So it's mostly for Trigun fans, but also a nice chill-out, feel-good, action/comedy.

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Innovative and Unique?
Passable
Does the Ending Make Sense?
Y
Is it Coherent?
Y
Compelling Characters?
Y
Will it Make Sense to People Who Haven't Seen the Series?
More or Less
Rewatch Value?
Y

17. Tenchi Forever!

This movie, which I originally received as a birthday present, was my introduction to the Tenchi Muyo franchise. Along with Maburaho and Love Hina, Tenchi Muyo codified and created the major tropes of the 'harem' genre, in which a boy is pursued, sometimes aggressively, by multiple women.

One thing that makes Tenchi different from other harem series is the use of science fiction and fantasy elements. The show has very likable characters, even if their romantic attraction to this boring, average nobody kid (who is related to most of them) merits the occasional head scratching.

Tenchi Forever! is a movie that is very different in overall tone from the series. It is more serious.The movie introduces a new character, Haruna, an alien lady who was Tenchi's grandfather's lover. Haruna kidnaps Tenchi and traps him in an alternate reality where he grows older and more mature, and she causes him to forget all memories of his past. This includes forgetting the existence of leading love interests Ayeka (a snotty princess), and Ryoko (a wild space pirate).

Ayeka and Ryoko set out to rescue Tenchi. It's not easy, and takes several months, but they eventually track him, with help from Tenchi's grandfather, Washu (the computer whiz), and Mihoshi (the ditzy blonde). Washu, Mihoshi, and Sami take a back seat in this movie though. The story focuses on Tenchi's grandfather's past, when he escaped from Jirai to Earth. Haruna, unlike the main protagonists, doesn't want Tenchi for Tenchi. She wants Tenchi because of his resemblance to his grandfather. So this creates a plot that rests on sentimentality, and asks the question: what is the right reason to fall in love with someone? And why is possessiveness not the same as true love?

I really found it endearing and sweet, as well as more mature than the Tenchi Muyo series as a whole.

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Innovative and Unique?
Y
Does the Ending Make Sense?
Y
Is it Coherent?
Y
Compelling Characters?
Y
Will it Make Sense to People Who Haven't Seen the Series?
Y
Rewatch Value?
Y

16. Dead Leaves

This movie is a bit less well-known, mostly because it's not tied to an anime series. It's sort of just like they said, "let's let some Studio Gainax people be weird" and that's the movie. It's quirky and hilarious. A good one to see as a group if you want something to laugh at. It's not technically connected to an anime series, but the resemblance to FLCL and Panty & Stocking will make it a treat for fans of either or both of those series.

Pandy, a woman with a red spot around one eye, and Retro, a man with a TV for a head, wake up naked in a random field with no memories. And then things only get weirder from there. The duo go on a breakneck-paced crime spree, end up in a dehumanizing, dystopian prison on the moon, and lead a riot at said prison, breaking everyone out (who can survive the carnage of the confrontation with the prison's security bots).

TV Tropes says, "This OVA shares a director with Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, Kill la Kill and FLCL's fifth episode — which explains both very little and oh-so-much…"

So...yeah. The movie is seriously fun, if you're not disgusted by crude humor. But fans of the above-mentioned anime series will definitely enjoy this gloriously insane movie.

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Innovative and Unique?
Up to Eleven
Does the Ending Make Sense?
None of It Does
Compelling Characters?
Y
Is it Coherent?
Didn't Even Try
Rewatch Value?
Y

15. The Dog of Flanders

The Dog of Flanders

The Dog of Flanders was a movie I got into because the advertizement for it played at the end of my Pokemon VHS tapes when I was a kid. It's is a European tale, based on a novel written by an English woman named Marie Louise de la Ramée in 1872. The novel is more or less forgotten in Europe, yet beloved in Japan. Because of this popularity in Japan, it has been adapted into an anime series as well as a film.

The anime film came out in 1997. It's very low on the radar. Not many people know about it, and it doesn't seem as popular as many of the other titles on this list. It might just be because anime is often these days considered to be for and about teenagers. Dark and edgy plots and motifs are the rule of anime nowadays, not the exception. This is a very emotional, sentimental story, about children. This just doesn't fit the super-popular shounen action mold people tend to think of when they think of anime.

The story is about Nello, a poor boy living in 17th century Flanders (a country that no longer exists but once contained parts of both the Netherlands and Belgium). Specifically, the story takes place in Antwerp, Belgium. Inspired by the work of Peter Paul Rubens, one of the most significant Dutch artists of his day, Nello sets out to become an artist. Along the way, he rescues Patrasche, a dog, from an abusive owner. Nello endures many brutal hardships, but never loses his spirited determination.

SPOILERS: SKIP THIS SECTION IF YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT THE ENDING




The ending of this movie is extremely sad. I wonder if the trend is that current American audiences hate the tragedy genre, and always insist, somewhat childishly, that every story have a fairy tale ending. Perhaps that's why this film did poorly here. However, Americans also love their dogs. In the end, this tale is not much different than many, many of the books that young Americans do enjoy that are tragic and emotional, such as The Outsiders or Old Yeller. I like this for sentimental reasons, being a lover of art as well as dogs. Patrasche is a faithful, loving dog, despite being abused by a former owner. The relationship between boy and dog is very touching. Although you may have read many books like this in school, I still think the story is unique and timeless enough to stand on its own.

To please Japanese tourists, a small statue of Nello and Patrasche has been built in front of Antwerp's cathedral.

— TV Tropes
Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Innovative and Unique?
It's fairly traditional, but still a good story.
Does the Ending Make Sense?
Y
Compelling Characters?
They're OK. Just average children.
Is it Coherent?
Y
Rewatch Value?
Kind of. Depends.

14. Oblivion Island

This 2009 hit movie from Production I.G. was everything I like about anime. It has wonder and joy, teaches a lesson without being overly preachy, and has good storytelling and good visuals.

Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror is animated in 3-D computer animation, which is a development that hasn't taken over animation in Japan as much as it has in the west. I generally prefer good ole 2D cel animation, because I associate the medium with my favorite old-time animated films, such as Disney's The Fox and the Hound. Despite my prejudices, however, I found that Oblivion Island possessed stunning, amazingly detailed, beautiful objects and scenery. It manages to look life-like when it needs to, and cartoon-like when it needs to as well.

Oblivion Island is a story about growing up, but not in a way you might expect. Haruka, the main character, is a run-of-the-mill little girl in modern-day Japan. Her mother died when she was younger. The movie is about her growing up and realizing how important it is to cherish her mother's memory, and to cut her father a little more slack. It's a movie that radiates warmth and humanity.

The plot revolves around Haruka's mother's mirror: one of the few things Haruka has that reminds her of her mom. However, as she gets older, she stops caring about the mirror and neglects it, and then eventually forgets about it altogether. Then Shinto fox spirits come and take her mother's mirror, because they take anything humans have neglected. Haruka gets in a fight with one adorable little fox boy over the issue, and is sucked with him into a spirit realm. There she must disguise her human-ness and blend in among a bunch of spirits in order to take back what's hers. Over the course of the story she learns important lessons about what truly matters in life.

Sounds familiar? Yes, an avid anime watcher will notice similarities between the plot of this movie and that of Spirited Away. But a lot makes Haruka's journey unique, and the world the two movies take place in are still dissimilar. Yet they both have strong girl heroines on a quest to get something back that was taken by supernatural means.

One part about Oblivion Island that I found interesting was when Haruka got re-united with an old lamb stuffed animal from her early childhood. This part was about how growing up sometimes means that we abandon childhood things. Even things that were once very special to us. Haruka re-unites with her lamb toy, making up for the guilt she feels when she sees that she abandoned a sentient being. I would be freaked out, too, especially since I had lots of stuffed animals and Pokemon cards that I lost or gave away!

This movie is about the nature of time and moving forward with life, how we should be able to do that without neglecting what was important to us in the past. I think that is a Japanese sentiment the west could really stand to listen to.

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Unique and Innovative?
The plot and main character, not really. The art is though.
Does the Ending Make Sense?
Y
Is it Coherent?
Y
Compelling Characters?
Not really. The main character is kind of an everygirl type. Not that different from Dorothy in 'Wizard of Oz', Alice in 'Alice in Wonderland', Chihiro in 'Spirited Away', etc.
Rewatch Value?
N - I only watched this once or twice, and eventually sold my DVD copy. It is worth at least one watch, though.

13. Tokyo Godfathers

This story revolves around a homeless man, teenage girl, and transwoman who find an abandoned baby. The transwoman wants to keep it, but the man insists that they search for its parents. Tokyo Godfathers is thus a compelling, heartwarming story about the meaning of family. It's also a massively entertaining, wild ride, as the main characters deal with a ton of crap on their journey through the underbelly of Japanese society in the dead of winter to figure out the baby's story. It's asking the question, who would abandon a baby? What kind of people end up at such a sad predicament in life? And I give this film credit for portraying poverty realistically and not sweeping its existence under the rug, but giving it focus and breathing life into it. We need more movies about the humanity of homeless and poor people. So that's what this movie offers, humanity. It's a deep, mature movie with some occasional dark humor moments. Definitely check it out if you haven't seen it yet.

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Innovative and Unique?
Y
Does the Ending Make Sense?
Y
Is it Coherent?
Y
Compelling Characters?
Y - Some of the most out of any movie on this list.
Rewatch Value?
Y

12. Blood: The Last Vampire

There are a lot of anime about vampires. Most of them are stupid. The main exceptions to that rule are this movie, and Hellsing.

Blood: The Last Vampire is one of my personal favorite movies, and a good treat on Halloween in particular. I would almost call it the perfect horror movie. It has everything you want in horror; suspense, mystery, the primal fear of the unknown.

The movie takes place in a high school at a U.S. military base in Japan. Saya is a vampire with a human appearance. She is told by a secret U.S. organization to pose as a high school student, to hunt down monsters that have been sighted around the base. Saya takes her work seriously, and the corpses of the large, ugly demons soon pile up. However, Saya by the end Saya is left doubting if she made the right choice, and (SPOILER ALERT):

The movie ends on a bittersweet note, with a shot of Saya feeding one of the creatures her own blood, as it lays helpless after being torn up by an airplane propeller. After all the monsters are presumably slaughtered enough, Saya vanishes without a trace, leaving her poor, kindly old teacher alone to brood over the horrible events that have taken place. It's then revealed that there is a photograph of Saya from the Victorian era, looking the same then as she does now. Think of the photograph reveal in The Shining.

The movie is deep and thought-provoking, but has great action scenes. It is really good at building the suspense and drama necessary for a good horror movie. Horror is a genre that's hard to write, and can easily go wrong. This short, but interesting film should be a piece to study for anyone who wants to know how to write horror fiction well.

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Unique and Innovative?
Y
Does the Ending Make Sense?
It's stylistically ambiguous.
Is it Coherent?
Y
Compelling Characters?
Y - But the main character is more interesting and cool than any other character.
Rewatch Value?
Y

11. Fullmetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shamballa

Although I enjoyed the other Fullmetal Alchemist movie: Sacred Star of Milos, it didn't seem as good. It felt like just another episode of Brotherhood, albeit with an interesting narrative, cool new characters, and a dark twist ending.

But Conqueror of Shamballa was amazing, it really took my breath away.

Conqueror of Shamballa takes the characters of Fullmetal Alchemist and places them in the real world. In the 1930's, in Germany, to be exact. Now, the show has hints at Nazi stuff. The show takes place in a militaristic nation, where the people are known for having blue eyes, and they call their leader "the Fuhrer". In addition, human scientific experimentation, especially on ethnic minorities, is an issue often brought up. So it was interesting to me to see them take all this subtext and make it text.

The movie-makers obviously did the research; Hitler was fond of occult studies. However, Hitler himself doesn't make an appearance in this film. He is replaced as the obvious main antagonist, by a blonde woman named Dietlinde Eckhart. Eckhart is the leader of a group that is trying to make contact with Shamballa, their name for the "alchemy world" in which the events of Fullmetal Alchemist take place. Her group is trying to open a gate to the alchemy world, to control and use alchemy for the Nazis' millitary purposes.

Some of the main homunculi villains are able to move between the worlds. However, some of them take different forms. My favorite part about this was Envy taking the form of a humongous dragon.

This movie was done very well, coming from someone whose seen a lot of badly researched or ridiculous movies that have tried to portray this monumental period in history. I also think it's interesting for the Japanese to do a WWII movie from what they imagine to be a German youth's perspective. I think that the addition of the parallel "real" or "scientific" world to Fullmetal Alchemist gave it a whole new level of depth and sophistication. It also raised the stakes, intensifying the drama.

SPOILERS BELOW:


This made the triumphant conclusion all the more satisfying. It's hard to find a good World War Two historical movie, and it's even harder to find a good movie based on a mega-popular shounen franchise.

It's also a movie that compares the perspective of magic (alchemy) with that of scientific realism. The show does this by making the alchemy itself a science, but it was very interesting to contrast alchemy with what is known as science in this world.

Plus, all the most beloved Fullmetal Alchemist characters were at their best in this movie. Rose as a gypsy, Al as an idealistic young rocket scientist, Winry at her peak in terms of supportiveness, the military characters being heroic, the villains being truly monstrous, etc.

In contrast, I felt that Sacred Star of Milos didn't allow all the familiar Fullmetal Alchemist characters to really shine, because the struggles of Ed, Al, and the new characters were the focus of the film. In this movie, everything is on a grand scale, a battle between worlds. In Milos, everything is about saving one small city in the middle of nowhere, with no relation to anything in the rest of the series. So having more at stake in this movie made it more interesting.

Questions:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Unique and Innovative?
Y
Does the Ending Make Sense?
Y
Is it Coherent?
Y
Compelling Characters?
Y
Will it Make Sense to People Who Haven't Seen the Series?
I'd strongly recommend watching the series first.
Rewatch Value?
Y

10. You Are Umasou

I did not expect this movie to make me cry as much as it did. You Are Umasou is, like Tokyo Godfather, heavily centered around the theme of family.

Heart is a baby tyrannosaurus who is adopted into a family of plant-eating dinosaurs. This creates an obvious conflict as he grows up and becomes afraid that he will hurt someone he loves because of his carnivorous instincts. He runs off by himself and lives in isolated self-loathing, (as you do from about ages 18-25). Eventually he finds happiness anew by adopting a baby ankylosaurus. He calls it 'Umasou' which means 'very tasty', because Heart is about to eat it, when he's compelled to stop by how gosh-darn cute it is. He ends up not only defending the baby Umasou from other predators, but teaching it to become strong enough to defend itself as it grows up.

I won't spoil the ending but this movie is so sweet and heartwarming. It's also gut-wrenching, dark, and scary at times. The animation, which shows a lot of action scenes involving dinosaurs doing martial arts, is stunning. This movie is visually a masterpiece. It's about being a parent, and the trials of unexpected parenthood in a dangerous world and where you haven't even figured out life as an adult for yourself yet. So it's Tokyo Godfather, but with dinosaurs.

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y - This movie made me FEEL things.
Is it Unique and Innovative?
Y - It is extremely creative.
Does the Ending Make Sense?
Y
Is it Coherent?
Y
Compelling Characters?
Y
Rewatch Value?
Y

10. Perfect Blue

Many reflections, but which is the real Mima?
Many reflections, but which is the real Mima?

Another excellent work by Satoshi Kon, who did this movie, Tokyo Godfather, Paprika, and Millennium Actress, which are all great. I liked this psychological thriller the most. It centers on the identity crisis of Mima, a woman who leaves a girly pop group, CHAM, to pursue a career acting in a serious, adult-oriented TV drama.

She's pursued by a creepy stalker dude, who is upset that Mima had the nerve to go on to do something with her life other than being an idol. She is also haunted by an alternate version of herself who looks like she did, but in her girly, ballet-inspired CHAM getup. This spooky doppelganger claims to be the "real" Mima, and Mima is taunted by hallucinations having to do with her past. She has an identity crisis, questioning her reality.

This movie is dark and scary. It's also a jab at the culture surrounding idols in Japan, who are expected to adhere to extremely strict standards of purity and modesty, are not allowed to have boyfriends, and have lives that are very tightly controlled by their record companies. They really do have scary stalkers sometimes, and they have fans who turn ugly when they leave their idol groups. At the same time, there is unspoken pressure to leave when a girl approaches 'a certain age'. It's a really ugly, misogynist aspect of Japanese culture, and Satoshi Kon here is holding nothing back in attacking just how creepy some of it is.

The movie is also compelling because it centers around the theme of identity, and focuses on the main character's inability to tell reality from a hallucination. Are identities things we construct, the labels given to us by others, or something intrinsic? This movie explores the philosophical question of personal identity in a very smart and compelling way.


Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Unique and Innovative?
Extremely
Does the Ending Make Sense?
It's a mind screw, but it does, upon closer inspection.
Is it Coherent?
Y - Except when the movie is deliberately messing with you.
Compelling Characters?
Kind of. Mima is just an average pretty girl. It's more about the situation than the characters. But the stalker is memorably creepy.
Rewatch Value?
Y

8. End of Evangelion

For Evangelion fans, this is the true ending to the series. The final episodes, while psychologically and philosophically intriguing, suffered from animation budget problems and a possible creator breakdown. This feels like the true culmination of the Neon Genesis Evangelion series. It's the pinnacle of the show's genius.

It concludes the soul-searching and introspection of the final episodes of Evangelion the show, while creating new sources of external conflict, action, and drama. You get the feeling that this movie means something big in terms of philosophy and spirituality, but they don't make any meaning too obvious. The fun of this movie is in watching it multiple times and trying to figure it all out. It not only rewards multiple viewings, but I would consider multiple viewing necessary to catch every crazy thing this movie does, and to grasp the full weight of it. It might not be palatable for the masses, but intellectuals should get something out of it, as should anyone interested in a deconstruction of common anime tropes. Hell, it's not simply deconstructing them, but exploding them, ripping up the remains, and setting them on fire.

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Innovative and Unique?
Y
Does the Ending Make Sense?
Not really. You have to watch it many times for anything to make sense.
Is it Coherent?
N - It defies easy understanding. It can be considered a work of postmodern literature.
Compelling Characters?
Y
Will it Make Sense to Someone Who Hasn't Seen the Series?
N - It ends the series. I would recommend watching the series first.
Rewatch Value?
Y

7. Akira

Sometimes I think Akira is over-hyped, but it does deserve to be considered one of the greatest anime films. It definitely elevated the medium as an art form. Akira is about a dystopian metropolis, where bike gang youths wander, socially and morally adrift in a nightmarish society.

The body horror in Akira is seen by critics as a symbol of Japan's rapid expansion and mass industrialization since World War Two. While this was praised as a "Japanese miracle", Katsuhiro Otomo, the author of the manga the movie is based on and the movie's director, seems to be questioning the rise of technical progress at the expense of soul, beauty, and meaning.

The movie is not just philosophically interesting, but one of the better-animated films - ever, and it has some stunning, compelling, and memorable visuals. Just not for the faint of heart.

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Innovative and Unique?
Y
Does the Ending Make Sense?
???
Is it Coherent?
Not really. You kind of have to watch it a couple times to understand it.
Compelling Characters?
Y
Rewatch Value?
Y

6. Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie

Also Known As "The Adolescence of Utena"

Revolutionary Girl Utena is a movie that doesn't end its series, like End of Evangelion does, but can be seen as a strong competitor with the series, a faster retelling of the same plot. It has the same plot as the anime series and manga, but in the form of a movie, I feel like the story really packs more of a punch. It's been compared to End of Evangelion, in that both movies are deconstructions and criticize anime tropes. Both movies also went a long way towards showing the world that anime could be a serious art form - not just a medium for shallow children's or teenagers' entertainment.

This analysis page goes deep into all the interesting discussion fodder this story has to offer. It's feminist, and a criticism of fairy tales' simplified view of gender roles. It's also about abusive relationships, and the psychological toll they take on victims.

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Innovative and Unique?
Y
Does the Ending Make Sense?
Y
Is it Coherent?
Mostly.
Compelling Characters?
Y
Rewatch Value?
Y
Will it Make Sense to People Who Haven't Seen the Series?
Y

5. Ghost in the Shell and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

I think both of these films are equally compelling as classic anime masterpieces. Both deal with trans-humanism, and the ethical implications of new technology, which might be more than hypothetical in the very near future. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, a series spawned by the success of the 1995 film, is a great anime series, combining philosophical quandary, political turmoil, and gripping action.

Both of the movies were strong, but are more subdued than the anime series. The movies are bolder, exploring the notion of robots being used for sex, which is an issue Stand Alone Complex only mentions here and there in passing. The movies have a more mature tone than the series.

If pressed for which one I prefer, it would be Innocence, because it explores the feelings of Bato more in depth. In the Stand Alone Complex series, Bato is a strong, silent guy who keeps it all bottled in. In the movies, especially in Innocence, his past and feelings are brought to the surface. Since he's the only other full-cyborg member of Section 9 besides Motoko, and Motoko's closest confidant, he's very interesting, and I'm glad that he was put in the spotlight in his own movie. In the show, Bato is often simply back-up for Motoko, and a mentor figure for Togusa. In these movies, his relationship with Motoko, as cyborgs, fellow cops, and as man and woman, are more thoroughly explored.

I prefer the art style of the movies to that of Stand Alone Complex. The colors are more earthy and realistic. In a movie, one can show more detail and complexity than in an animated series for television. The lighting is also more interesting, varied, and subtle. The visuals often convey mood in a really strong way. Many parts of both movies were deeply contemplative.

It really makes you wonder what it would feel like to give up your humanity and become a cyborg, and what it means to be human. If we placed our minds in new bodies, how would we change? What would we be giving up?

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Unique and Innovative?
Y
Does the Ending Make Sense?
Y
Is it Coherent?
Y
Compelling Characters?
Y
Rewatch Value?
Y
Will it Make Sense to People Who Haven't Seen the Series?
Y - Considering the movies predate the series.

4. The Animatrix

The Animatrix is an animated prequel to the Matrix trilogy. A series of animated vignettes begin with humanity's last stand, then flip back in time to document the rise of the machines, the matrix, and also to show what certain individuals went through in various matrix-controlled dreams. It also follows how they were called from outside the matrix, and how some escaped it. Most scenes take place in individual people's matrix-projection dreams, so the animation is really trippy, in a fun but often dark way. Reality in this movie is no fixed or certain thing.

A problem for this movie might be a lack of connection between the stories, since the characters in each scene don't interact with each other. However, what I like is that each scene is animated differently, signifying the individual nature of personality and mind. I also like that it explores the deeper historical roots of the matrix, even making the viewer feel sympathy for the machines, which were just monsters in the original Matrix trilogy. This movie is top on the list for anyone who likes a good old-fashioned mind screw.

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Unique and Innovative?
Y
Does the Ending Make Sense?
Y
Is it Coherent?
Y
Compelling Characters?
Y
Rewatch Value?
Y

3. Spirited Away

Like Oblivion Island, Spirited Away is a girl's coming-of-age story, told within a framework of Japanese beliefs, in a fantastical setting. While Oblivion Island is about growing up without forgetting things that were important or special in childhood, Spirited Away is simply about growing up. You see the main character, Chihiro, struggle as she works to earn a living, gets along with diverse and sometimes annoying characters, resists greedy impulses, and learns to carry herself confidently.

There are many excellent movies from Studio Ghibli. But Spirited Away is one of my favorites, with its large array of varied characters, moral complexity, character development, and a compelling plot. It also has a cool fantastical setting that mirrors the real world in a way that makes it feel real. It's pretty darned close to a perfect movie.

Sometimes the scenes in the bathhouse can seem like sensory overload. This contrasts with other more quiet, dark, and private scenes, involving just a few characters. There are a wide range of personality types represented in the cast. It gives Chihiro a vast, complicated world to inhabit. This movie also manages to pull at one's heartstrings in a way few movies are genuinely able to do without being over-the-top, fake, or cheesy about it.

This is Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki at their best: evoking powerful emotions in the audience and telling a great story in a beautiful way, but without having to be too melodramatic. Spirited Away combines the real and the magical in a stunning, impactful way.

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Unique and Innovative?
Y
Does the Ending Make Sense?
Y
Is it Coherent?
Y
Compelling Characters?
Y - Chihiro is kind of an average little girl, but other characters are frightfully interesting, and Chihiro is interesting because of her struggles.
Rewatch Value?
Y

2. Puella Magi Madoka Magica: A Rebellion Story

This movie is breathtaking and visually busy. Probably one of the most artistic-looking anime movies out there.

Rebellion is often criticized because it changed the ending of the series, Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It is possible, given the way reality works in the series, to see Rebellion as merely one possibility out of many. But also, the ending of the series is not all that rosy, if you look at it from Homura's perspective. It also does not technically fulfill the wording of Homura's wish, which said that Homura wanted to be the one protecting Madoka with her own hands. So even if Madoka finds some way to be happy, Homura has to be the one protecting her, ideally by single-handedly defeating Walpurgis so that Madoka never has to make a contract and become a magical girl.

That dilemma gives us Rebellion, which shows us the mind of a Homura on the edge of total despair. Why? Because Madoka got her happy ending, but it sadly meant leaving her human form behind, such that only Homura could even remember Madoka's existence as a physical person. She becomes a metaphysical entity representing a new law of the universe, the 'law of cycles', that means that magical girls no longer have to become witches.

This is good for humanity, but bad for Homura, since her love for Madoka is denied. Thus, this movie is seen as an exploration of the theme of sacrificing for a greater good, which is also a theme touched on in the series.

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Unique and Innovative?
Y
Does the Ending Make Sense?
Y
Is it Coherent?
You may have to watch it a few times to really get it.
Compelling Characters?
Y
Rewatch Value?
Y
Will it Make Sense to People Who Haven't Seen the Series?
N - I think you should watch the series first.

Special Mentions:

- Kiki's Delivery Service

- Grave of the Fireflies

- My Neighbor Totoro

- Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

- Millennium Actress

- Wolf Children

1. Princess Mononoke

I have an aversion to watching anything I consider over-hyped, but when I finally gave in and saw this movie, it blew me away. And made Spirited Away only my second favorite Studio Ghibli film.

Princess Mononoke is not your average 'princess' movie. It's not your average Ghibli movie either, being much gorier, darker, edgier, and just generally not as kid-friendly as you might expect. But it's a deeply serious movie.

Prince Ashitaka sets out on his elk for adventure to figure out why his village was attacked by a monstrous, possessed boar. Turns out, the source of the evil is a place called Iron Town, where the ruthless Lady Eboshi's industrialization efforts, particularly her manufacturing of bullets, seems to be pissing off the local nature spirits. Among these are huge wolves, who attack the village. But what's this? With the wolves is what appears to be a human girl?

That would be San, the titular Princess Mononoke. She was raised by the spirit wolves when abandoned as a child. As a wolf adoptee, she hates humans, especially because Lady Eboshi's ambitious projects are a threat to nature. Eventually, it comes to a head when Eboshi tries to go kill the lead forest spirit, a fantastical nature god resembling a deer. Needless to say, that doesn't work out well for her.

Thus, the movie is about how people should have a sincere respect for nature, rather than just seeing it as something to conquer or clear out of the way.

Question:
Y/N:
Do I Care?
Y
Is it Unique and Innovative?
Y
Does the Ending Make Sense?
Y
Is it Coherent?
Y
Compelling Characters?
Y
Rewatch Value?
Y

Conclusion

A lot of anime movies exist. Most are just longer versions of episodes in their series. However, some anime films are part of the elevation of the medium as an art form. Some should be seen by everyone and have universal, timeless appeal. These 20 films are what I think qualify as the best anime films, at least the best ones I'm familiar with.

Which ones do you like the most on this list? Would you add anything?

Comments

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    • RachaelLefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachael Lefler 

      5 years ago from Illinois

      Yeah, I think if you were disappointed by Sacred Star, Shamballa is much better.

    • Hikapo profile image

      Seet 

      5 years ago from California

      I am thinking about watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shamballa. Any thoughts?

      I am actually disappointed with Sacred Star.

    • RachaelLefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachael Lefler 

      5 years ago from Illinois

      Well I flat-out don't like time travel plots. They always end up resolved unsatisfactorily because there's always more you can do with time travel than make one person's petty personal problem go away. I also don't like it when there isn't much of a logical explanation and the time travel is clearly a plot device pulled from thin air.

    • David Trujillo profile image

      David Trujillo Uribe 

      5 years ago from Medellin, Colombia

      Ok, if its like Alice I´ll give it a try. Its just that I saw "The Girl That Leapty Through Time" (or somenthing like that) and regreted it.

    • RachaelLefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachael Lefler 

      5 years ago from Illinois

      Yeah. Well, Obivion Island isn't a love story in any way. It's more of a coming-of-age story, but it's told in a beautiful and interesting way. It's boldly theatrical, a lot like the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland.

    • David Trujillo profile image

      David Trujillo Uribe 

      5 years ago from Medellin, Colombia

      Spirited Away introduced me to the Gibli Universe. I loved it, as I love any fantasy story like "The Never Ending Story" type. I´m OK with the magical themes and worlds, its the teen love stories that bore me.

    • RachaelLefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachael Lefler 

      5 years ago from Illinois

      Spirited Away and Oblivion Island are more geared towards girls, I suppose, but they're still quality films. In particular, Spirited Away is always thrilling, and they both have that element of paranormal exploration, of venturing into the unknown. I guess I would recommend Spirited Away a bit more because Oblivion Island gets kind of video game/pixar looking.

    • David Trujillo profile image

      David Trujillo Uribe 

      5 years ago from Medellin, Colombia

      Gonna come back to this list and download some of the films. The first ones seem like girl flicks, are they really enjoyable? I´m not into teen stories like "Th Girl Who Traveled Through Time". It has perfect quality but I´m not into these kinds of themes.

    • EJ Lambert profile image

      EJ Lambert 

      5 years ago from Chicago, IL

      I would, since it the best of the bunch.

    • RachaelLefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachael Lefler 

      5 years ago from Illinois

      I've never seen it but I've seen almost every other Studio Ghibli movie, but I might have to watch it at some point.

    • EJ Lambert profile image

      EJ Lambert 

      5 years ago from Chicago, IL

      There is no question in my mind that My Neighbor Totoro is perhaps the most beloved and impactful Anime film of all time. Full grown adults with jobs still reference it in cartoons over here.

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