People love their anime, but unless you’re familiar with the genre, it can seem a little daunting to dive into. Once you’re in it however, you’ll never want to get out. The stunning animation, complex plots, and heartfelt storylines are something that really needs to be experienced. In case you’re trying to get into anime, here’s some of the best films you could start off with.
First things first – this is not a kid’s movie. It’s a staple of the anime genre, and also a total clusterfuck of gore and violence. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk future, and involves a super cool bike. There’s a bunch of fights, bike chases, and some truly terrifying mutation scenes.
2. Grave Of The Fireflies
This devastating war film is based after a particularly harsh bombing on a Japanese village separates 2 children from their parents. Seita, a teenager, takes care of his younger sister, Setsuko, as they travel the land in a desperate bid to stay alive. Get your tear ducts ready.
3. Howl’s Moving Castle
This 2004 fantasy film, directed by the acclaimed Hayao Miyazaki and animated by the inimitable Studio Ghibli, is a must-watch. It’s about a young girl who is transformed into an old hag by a spiteful witch, with her only hope of rescue being the idiosyncratic but friendly wizard Howl.
4. Spirited Away
Another animated masterpiece by Miyazaki, this film is about a 10-year-old girl who must work to free her parents from a cursed amusement park. Well actually, the story is a lot more nuanced, but I don’t want to ruin the movie for you. Just know that it was the first Japanese animated film to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
5. Ghost in the Shell
Please don’t watch the 2017 Scarlett Johansson-starring American live-action remake. Go watch the original like an adult. This dystopian film is about a cyborg-human policewoman hunting for an evil hacker known as the Puppet Master. It spoke about themes surrounding gender and sexual identity, and even influenced The Matrix trilogy.
6. My Neighbour Totoro
One of Miyazaki’s most iconic characters came from this movie. It’s a film about 2 young girls who go on a series of adventures with their large rabbit-like friend Totoro in a magic forest. In the process, they also learn about the complex nature of life vis a vis their mother, who is in the hospital.
7. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie
Yes, there’s also a series that is off the charts, but the movie is great as well. It’s a neo-noir space opera about a lawless time in space travel where rival bounty hunters vie for the top. It’s one of the coolest shows to ever be made in the most basic sense of the word, not to mention the soundtrack is out of this world (pun intended).
8. Princess Mononoke
Another offering from the acclaimed Studio Ghibli, this film is about a forest princess working to keep her natural habitat alive, and a mining town that is ravaging the environment. Caught between all this is a prince looking for a cure to his curse, and his interaction with this forest being.
This anime film apparently inspired Nolan’s Inception! It’s about a therapist who creates a device to enter the dreams of psychiatric patients in order to help them recover. However, the device can also destroy people’s minds, and when it is stolen, they must do everything they can to recover it.
10. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
This is the film that jump-started the Studio Ghibli craze, headed by Miyazaki. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, and is about a young girl who can communicate with the strange creatures that live in this harsh world, trying to bring peace back to the planet.
11. Vampire Hunter D
Yes, this is another post-apocalyptic story set in a ravaged future earth, but this time there’s also the undead! The plot might sound a little far-fetched, what with it being about vampires who’s numbers are declining due to vampire hunters in the future, but the underlying story has a lot to tell.
When this film came out, steampunk was still in its nascent stage, mostly a foundation for jokes. As interest in the genre and style has grown however, so has this film’s status, which is about a young inventor who must protect a powerful device gifted to him from the forces of evil. It’s a really fun ride, and full of adventure.
13. Your Name
While this is a more recent release, it in no way dilutes the quality of this list (98% on Rotten Tomatoes). Based on the novel of the same name, this is a gorgeous film about 2 high school students who end up swapping bodies after a strange incident, and then have to figure out how to make things work. Considering its low budget, Your Name really did a wondrous job on both the animation as well as the storytelling.
14. Barefoot Gen
If you’re starting to sense a pattern in anime’s focus on the ravages of war, it might be because a lot of their material was inspired from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Barefoot Gen, which came out in 1983, follows the 6-year-old protagonist Gen as he attempts to make some sense of life post the atomic bombing in a world torn apart.
15. Ninja Scroll
If you like action and campy backstories, this is the film for you. It’s about an ace ninja who was tricked into killing his clan members. Now, he roams the lands with 2 companions in an effort to defeat a demonic ninja organisation who are hell bent on taking over the Japanese government.
Your initiation is now complete. Get out there and hadouken it up!