If you haven’t been introduced to the amazing world of anime yet, Japanese anime movies are the best place to start. These movies are not just artistically appealing but are also enriched with unique and enthralling plots. Don’t let anyone tell you that an anime is just a cartoon show, because it is so much more than that. Sometimes the depth and emotions involved in a work of anime are more human than humanly possible. But you have to watch it to know it, right? Don’t worry, we have got you covered. Since this list is basically for anime beginners, we haven’t included movies that are based on certain anime series and would therefore need a knowledge of the context. Here’s the list of the best Japanese anime movies of all time that will give you a wholesome movie experience.
1. Your Name
Japanese name- Kimi no Na Wa
Get ready to enter into a world quite different from the one we see, but which has emotions quite similar to the ones we feel. Right from the beginning of this Makoto Shinkai wonder, you’ll be hooked, not just by the picturesque animation but also by the brilliant plot. This is not the kind of movie that you can fit into just one genre. It is a well-balanced mixture of all that is good and true. The oh-so-good music by Radwimps will just leave you speechless and mesmerized. This movie is, without the slightest doubt, the best Japanese anime movie ever!
2. Weathering With You
Japanese name- Tenki no Ko
Another display of the ‘Makoto Shinkai’ brilliance, this movie is fantasy at its best. Tokyo is under the spell of a never-stopping rain. The only hope for a little while of sunshine lies with a mysterious girl named Hina who has the power to stop the rain. Hodaka, a young boy who is trying to make a living in Tokyo, falls in love with Hina. The animation is just out-of-the-world! You’ll be in awe just by how beautiful the movie looks, and more by the impact that it will have on you. Adorned with the music by Radwimps, this anime film is a must-watch.
3. My Neighbour Totoro
Japanese name- Tonari no Totoro
This is undoubtedly one of the most famous Japanese anime movies out there. Even if you haven’t heard about this movie, you must have heard its extremely catchy theme song. Mei and Satsuki befriend a spirit named Totoro when they move to a new neighborhood in order to stay closer to their ailing mother. Together, they go on various happy adventures. This hand-drawn anime film is a treat to the eyes and the heart alike.
4. Spirited Away
Japanese name- Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi
Studio Ghibli is one of the most popular anime production houses in Japan, and it is also the studio that produced this Hayao Miyazaki masterpiece. It is, in fact, one of the most critically acclaimed anime movies. A young girl named Chihiro and her parents find an abandoned amusement park and decide to give it a visit. Chihiro later finds out from a mysterious man named Haku that the park is a resort for spirits and that she needs to work in that place in order to free her parents. What follows is a magical (oh, the amount of magic is just crazy) journey that will surely have you spirited away!
5. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Japanese name- Toki o Kakeru Shōjo
A quite ordinary girl stumbles upon the fact that she has gained powers that allow her to travel through time. Unbeknownst to the consequences, she uses the powers to, wait, I promised, no spoilers. But I can surely tell you that the character development and the music in the movie are spot-on. And also that it is one of the best Japanese anime movies of the century.
6. Princess Mononoke
Japanese name- Mononoke-Hime
This 1997 anime movie by Hayao Miyazaki is of epic proportions. Unlike the other films by Ghibli productions, Princess Mononoke is slightly gorier and more serious. A war erupts between the Gods of the forest and the humans living in it, and like all other wars, there is no right or wrong in it. While the Gods fight to protect and preserve nature, the humans fight for their survival. With a powerful female protagonist, a well-written story, awe-inducing animation, and relevant themes; Princess Mononoke is hands down one of the best Japanese anime movies.
Japanese name- Akira
Back in 1988, a new surge of anime fandom was triggered just by this movie. What is it about this movie that makes it so awesome? Jaw-dropping action sequences, brilliant character development, a generous dose of science fiction, and so much more! Set in a world where Japan is rebuilding itself after the third World War, this cyber-punk action anime is a delight to watch. I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I say that this movie is pure gold.
8. Nausicaä: Valley of the Wind
Japanese name- Kaze no Tani no Naushika
In a world turned almost inhabitable, the surviving humans live in a few semi-habitable areas remaining on earth. A nature-loving woman named Nausicaa tries her best to stop humans from exploiting what is left of the earth. This movie is a powerful and engaging saga of the long-standing struggle between man and nature.
9. Grave of the Fireflies
Japanese name- Hotaru no Haka
Is war more important than the happiness of children? What is pain? What is hunger? What is the power of the love between siblings? All these questions will be answered in this movie. This movie will rip your heart apart and serve it to you on a platter. It’s heartbreaking, yes. But it is also one of the few movies that have the power to move you like that. You’ll be devastated but you’ll sit down and reflect upon questions that you seldom ask yourself. This movie is a must-watch.
10. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train
Japanese name- Gekijō-ban “Kimetsu no Yaiba” Mugen Ressha-hen
Suppose you are stuck in an endless dream and the only way you can get out of it is by slaying a demon. And some other mind-blowing twists and turns, all make this movie an awesome thrill ride (pun intended). Although this movie is based on the anime series Demon Slayer, it can be watched as a stand-alone story. In fact, many people call it the best anime movie of all time. It is also the highest-grossing Japanese movie of all time even though it was released during the pandemic!
11. A Silent Voice
Japanese name- Koe no Katachi
A story about redemption had never been so endearing! This movie teaches all its viewers a very important lesson, how important it is to listen to the unspoken sometimes. The literal translation of the original Japanese name of the movie is- ‘The form of the voice’. When a differently-abled girl is bullied by her classmates, tormented and distraught, she moves to another school. Years later, one of her bullies regrets his behaviour and sets out to seek forgiveness. Will his voice ever reach her? You have to watch the movie to know.
12. 5 Centimeters Per Second
Japanese name- Byōsoku Go Senchimētoru
Do you know how my friend got me interested in watching this hour-long movie? He just told me the fact that 5 cm/s is the speed at which cherry blossoms fall from the tree to the ground. That’s what this movie gives you, facts. It hits you reality after making you wear the safety gear of hope. Makoto Shinkai never disappoints.
13. I Want to Eat Your Pancreas
Japanese name- Kimi no Suizou wo Tabetai
Tearjerker alert! The name sure sounds a little creepy. But do not judge this movie by its name. The name is derived from an ancient Japanese belief that you’ll know when you watch the movie. No spoilers here, don’t worry. A boy finds the secret diary of one of his classmates in the hospital waiting room and learns that she is suffering from a fatal pancreatic illness. He helps Sakura experience all that she has on her bucket list before she dies. In turn, he learns the importance of friendship and starts opening up to the world.
14. Perfect Blue
Japanese name- Pāfekuto Burū
Roger Corman once said, “If Alfred Hitchcock partnered with Walt Disney, they’d make a picture like this.” A pop star quits her band to fulfill her dream of becoming an actress. As the plot of this highly unsettling adult movie advances, one is exposed to a cruel world that trades innocence for ambition. If you want to watch a truly amazing psychological thriller, Perfect Blue would be perfect for you.
15. Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish
Japanese name- Josee to Tora to Sakana-Tachi
Josee, a differently-abled girl, and Tsuneo, a University student with big dreams meet each other through an accident. Tsuneo, who is working his way through college, accepts Josee’s grandmother’s proposal to become Josee’s caretaker. The story is very simple and sweet, which is exactly why it is so lovable. The characters grow beautifully, the viewer grows with them, and at the end what you have is a fully-blossomed flower garden.
Honourable Mentions: Wolf Children, Ghost in The Shell, The Garden of Words, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Violet Evergarden
With this, we have come to the end of the list of the best Japanese anime movies of all time. In recent years, Japanese anime and manga culture have made a huge impact all over the world. The popularity of anime knows no bounds. We hope that this article has moved you enough to go watch at least some of the movies on this list. Which of these Japanese anime movies fascinated you the most? Do let us know in the comments section.