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10 Best Ghibli Movies of All Time

Studio Ghibli movies have been a generational favorite since 1985 with the release of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Takahata-san, Miyazaki-san, and Suzuki-san, a small group of animators came together to craft each story through countless hand-drawn frames, which is one of the most distinguishing and remarkable aspects of Studio Ghibli.

In twenty years, the trio has created not only 20 feature films and several short films but also has had its hands in the production of some commercials. Their movies have resonated with all age groups worldwide, as the makers today continue to tell heartfelt poetic stories through art, often using it to hide deeper meanings in the symbolism behind the childlike simplicity.

It was difficult to decide which 10 of all their amazing films would be the best way to get hooked on to Ghibli, but we hope we did some justice. 

Spirited Away 

Spirited Away

Spirited Away is often regarded as the best-animated film of all time, it has won hearts and awards across the world since its release. With Spirited Away, Miyazaki managed to create a flawless blend of the spiritual, the realistic, and the fantastic with a touch of humanity.

The story revolves around a young girl, Chihiro whose parents get trapped in an enchanted world. Desperate to free them, Chihiro eventually starts working in a bathhouse that is run by Yu-Baaba. Written for young girls, the story does not focus on triumphing evils, rather it portrays the honest character development that Chihiro goes through, with each obstacle that she faces. What sets this movie apart is how the balance of the universe is maintained throughout; there is no evil character and everyone has their reasons for doing what they did. Spirited Away is one of the most highly acclaimed anime movies of all time and is perfect if you want to immerse yourself in an enchanting world of spirits.

My Neighbour Totoro

My Neighbour Totoro

My Neighbour Totoro is one of the first Ghibli movies. The movie has no villains, no fight scenes, no evil or darkness.  My Neighbour Totoro is one of the most beautiful handcrafted works of Miyazaki, it is visually enchanting and has a watercolor style for backgrounds with an unforced realism in the details.

The story revolves around two siblings who move into their new house with their father while their mom is hospitalized nearby. One day, little Mei follows baby Totoro through the nearby forest when her sister is at school. The next day, as the siblings are waiting for their father’s bus in the rain, a gigantic Totoro comes and stands beside them almost like a protective friend. He is so delighted to receive the umbrella that he jumps up and down, shaking the earth below, and this is when the cat bus arrives. There is never a sense of evil in any of these scenarios; the mother’s illness is not treated as an impending doom but a fact of life, the knight is not treated as something sinister but just a situation and the father is shown to be strong and loving. Warm and humane, with occasional humor, this Ghibli movie looks at life in a positive light and portrays how wonderful it is to enjoy every moment.

Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies

Released in the same year as My Neighbor Totoro, Grave of the Fireflies is a film based on the horrors of World War 2 and the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Centered around a brother who loses his parents, his house, and everything in the tragedy, he leaves with his baby sister on his back in search of food and works in order to survive. The physical and emotional destruction caused by the events on the siblings and the people of Japan is portrayed in a very realistic manner. One cannot help but cry helpless tears as the siblings try to survive in the desolate world, especially the baby sister who struggles to be alive on the bare minimum food that her brother is able to find. The drawings are astoundingly powerful as it portrays the irreversible sufferings that Japan had to go through, following the war. “Love simply wasn’t enough to protect these orphans”- the ending is so heartbreaking, so raw, until we realize how dark the symbolism is for ‘fireflies’ which are actually used to represent the firebombs dropped on their home. It is one of the most powerful and underrated Ghibli films that lack the acclamations of a masterpiece. 

Ponyo 

Ponyo 

Ponyo is widely thought of as a symbol of the tsunami that shook Japan. The story follows Ponyo, a magical fish who comes up to the surface and encounters a boy named Sosuke. The two grow greatly attached and infatuated with each other as they spend their days together.

The antagonist is shown to be Ponyo’s father, who keeps her locked up and bears an immense hatred towards humans. Ponyo tries to escape and in her attempts, she accidentally jumbles up her father’s potions and upon returning to the surface, accidentally floods the entire town. Once again, the animation is absolutely beautiful, and sometimes it is compared to ‘The Little Mermaid”. The film shows a magical childhood much like My Neighbour Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service.

When Marnie Was There

When Marnie Was There

Another heartwarming tale by Ghibli- When Marnie Was There portrays themes of fantasy and friendship while portraying deeper and more mature notes of loneliness and adolescence. The story follows young Anna who, after her parents pass away, has been relocated to a seaside community to help her heal. Needless to say, she is lonely, asthmatic, and glum. This is when she gets drawn to a mansion on a marsh and soon becomes friends with the child residing in the house, Marnie. Marnie is the absolute contradiction of Anna. As they spend more and more time together, Anna slowly starts to open up and the two girls seem to become each other’s needs. Whether Marnie is a ghost, Anna’s imagination, or real is not known until the very end. The plot twist both shocks and leaves the audience in awe and tears. This film shows how important it is to embrace our past, the differences and learn to be comfortable in our own skin. With this film, Studio Ghibli bids goodbye to the cinematic world.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle

Second only to Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle is the most renowned Studio Ghibli movie. The movie bears an anti-war sentiment. It is Miyazaki’s protest against the Iraq war, making it the darkest Ghibli movie.

Howl’s Movie Castle has a strong female protagonist, an incredibly handsome wizard, a villain, and an equally amazing cast of side characters, but there is another element that steals the spotlight: the moving castle of Howl. Sophie is an introverted hatmaker when suddenly her life is upturned into a magical adventure as she follows Howl after being cursed by a witch that steals Sophie’s youth. As Calcifer, Markl, and Howl look for a way to restore Sophie’s youth, with war as the backdrop, the film proves to be one of Miyazaki’s most intricately layered creations. With Howl and Sophie depicted as symbolism of personal growth and development, the movie’s pivotal themes are portrayed as overcoming fears and finding oneself and realizing self-worth.

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke

Critically acclaimed worldwide, Princess Mononoke is often said to be even better than Spirited Away! With far more dynamic characters and a much more intricate and complex plot, it sets itself apart from a lot of other Studio Ghibli movies. The movie is set in medieval Japan at the dawn of the Iron Age. The story is not just a simple tale of good versus evil, but a story of how humans and nature should coexist in a harmonious balance, and how the antagonists are trying to tame and ‘defeat’ it. The last Prince, Ashitaka sets out on a journey to find out why there has been a disturbance in nature, i.e, the wild boar that attacks his people. He kills the wild boar only to end up with a curse on his arms and looks for a remedy. In the process, he meets Moro, a fierce wolf-goddess, and ends up falling in love with her. As it goes without saying, the artistry and animation are masterful and the ending is so philosophical that one cannot help but be in awe of it.

Whisper of the Heart

Whisper of the Heart

With the beautiful Japanese rendition of “Take me Home” by John Denver and a quiet and humanistic portrayal of how art connects people everywhere, Whisper of the Heart is a particular favorite among Ghibli enthusiasts everywhere. This was the only film that was made by Miyazaki’s protege, Yoshifumi Kondo, and is one of the studio’s best works to date. The story follows Shizuku, who is in her teens and seems to be incredibly imaginative as her mind is overwhelmed with curiosity over what a boy, who took the same books as her from the library, might be like. She soon finds herself in his grandfather’s workshop and befriends a familiar cat. Finding themselves conflicted over what their true identity is, going through the roads of adolescence, Whisper of the Heart is not a typical coming of age story, but a tale of self-realization.

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises is an anti-war film and was even nominated for an Academy Award. Animator Hayao Miyazaki announced that this would be his latest and last film. It is based on the story of Jiro, a young protege, who designs an airplane for the World War Two for Japan. Flying planes has always been his greatest dream as he is seen running around the green fields of the country ecstatically feeling like anything is possible if he is determined enough. He even sees the Italian aircraft pioneer, Count Caproni in his dreams, almost like a mentor showing him the glorious possibilities of a gigantic flying machine.

With the political and economic unrest going on in Japan at the time, Jiro is then sent to Germany by Mitsubishi to learn about their technology and workings. The film portrays the conflicts in Jiro as his dreams, when materialized, create killing machines that fly through the clouds, and how the ‘Wind rises’ are a powerful symbol for the change that is about to come in Japan.

Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki’s Delivery Service

In another coming of age film by Ghibli, the protagonist, Kiki, is an isolated character who lives alone with her cat, Jiji. Her loneliness is contrasted against Ursula who is an artist and thrives on independence. All through her hard times, Kiki had Jiji until one day, that too is lost. The film’s charms lay in how Kiki eventually underwent her own character development when she successfully created a support system by the end of the film. 

Miyazaki does not shy away from using adult undertones under the façade of innocence in his movies. This is the reason why Studio Ghibli movies appeal to people of all ages around the world. Each of his works comes with a valuable lesson about life, about passing moments and trying to find oneself, and the values of family and friendship. Do you agree with our list or would you like to see any other Ghibli movies added to our list? Let us know in the comments below!

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