Top 10 Classic Studio Ghibli Movies You Can’t Afford to Miss!

best studio ghibli movies

Writing an article about 10 Ghibli movies you should watch might seem redundant at this point since a lot of people have watched them already and because of a bazillion other lists about them.

Nonetheless, I want to write one because they mean a great deal to me. I’m mentioning two things here because I don’t want to write the same things, over and over again.

First, Studio Ghibli animation is truly the best in the business. You will always be amazed by the fluidity of the frames and the detail and beauty in every frame. It mostly consists of hand-drawn animation with some CGI thrown in here and there in the latter movies.

Second, the music scores in all Ghibli movies are brilliant, Joe Hisaishi, the music director who does most of them is a genius. So, with that out of the way, let’s begin!

Best Studio Ghibli Movies!

10. The Wind Rises

Best Studio Ghibli Movies!

Miyazaki once again displays his love for aircraft in this masterpiece. It is his most recent movie and was thought at one point and still could possibly be his last. If it is the latter, then what a great note to end on.

The movie is loosely based on the famed Aeronautic engineer Jiro Horikoshi who designed the Zero fighter plane. Miyazaki has always maintained that he is a pacifist and that he felt that Japan’s militarism during and before WW2 was dangerous.

But at the same time, he has a genuine love for the fighter planes that were made during that era. Watch out for the Earthquake scenes and be ready to be amazed at the amount of detail in the frames, truly nothing like it in animation today.

9. Castle in the Sky

Best Studio Ghibli Movies!

The first movie that Studio Ghibli produced is one of my favorites. The worldbuilding with the steampunk genre setting is wonderful. You feel like the characters truly live and breathe there.

All the characters have a singular goal, finding the lost city of Laputa, but all their motives are different. Dola and her pirate flying crew are like many Miyazaki villains, morally ambiguous which gives them the proper depth of character.

Both the protagonists are strong and independent, and their relationship that develops throughout the movie is beautiful. Watch this one when you’re feeling particularly adventurous.

8. Ponyo

Best Studio Ghibli Movies!

Boy meets fish which then turns into a girl. It might sound weird, but trust me, it’s one of the most adorable movies I’ve ever watched.

I’ve probably seen it the most out of any Ghibli movie, which might be surprising because it is the least liked by the general public and the makers of the movie themselves among the movies in this list.

The movie sets on the oceanside, and the animation of the sea and the waves is so spectacular that when you first watch it, you’ll be awestruck by its life and vigor.

The boy’s mother is one of the best mothers in movies, strong, caring, and independent. If you want to watch a pleasant movie and without much conflict, then try this one.

7. Howl’s Moving Castle

Best Studio Ghibli Movies!

It’s in the title itself. A moving, talking, and breathing castle powered by a talking flame named Calcifer. The movie is known for its strong anti-war themes.

Miyazaki has said that he was inspired to make it because of the invasion of Iraq by the U.S in 2003. The movie also explores themes in feminism, old age, which it depicts positively, and the values of loyalty and compassion.

It does tend to meander a bit, and critics have said that there is no discernible plot, but I think the movie works very well. The richness of the main character and the world itself, I think makes up for the plot. 

6. My Neighbour Totoro

Best Studio Ghibli Movies!

Cat Bus! That’s it, that should be enough for you to watch this one. The movie is about two young sisters and their adventures with one Totoro, who is either a magical creature or a spirit, I’m not quite sure.

Their mother is away due to an illness, and people have often hypothesized that the character was inspired by Miyazaki’s own mother who spent many years away from him due to tuberculosis during his childhood.

It’s a heartwarming movie, and despite being a children’s movie like most Miyazaki movies this one too can be a great source of enjoyment for adults.

5. Porco Rosso

Best Studio Ghibli Movies!

Porco Rosso is a movie about an Italian ex-fighter pilot who’s now a bounty hunter and a Pig due to a curse. Yes, an actual Pig.

Hayao Miyazaki is famously known for his love of planes and fighter planes in specific, and this movie showcases that with beautiful scenes of planes in blue European skies.

It’s got action, drama, comedy, and romance, what more does one need? Try watching it because it is one of the best studio Ghibli movies.

4. The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Best Studio Ghibli Movies!

The final movie to be made by Isao Takahata is beautiful. He was known to be an experimental director, using new animation techniques and methods of storytelling in his movies, and thus this one looks different when compared to any other Ghibli movie.

The story revolves around a princess born to an old childless couple and her troubles dealing with a patriarchal society. It’ll bring you to tears at certain points and amaze you constantly with its characters and storytelling.

3. Princess Mononoke

Best Studio Ghibli Movies!

The central theme of this movie is Man vs. Nature. The animation was revolutionary when the movie came out in 1997, and it still looks spectacular today.

It has more fight scenes, action, and gore than most Ghibli movies, but it does them really well. The fight in the opening sequence between a Demon Boar and one of our main characters should be reason enough to watch this one.

Princess Mononoke, the protagonist is one of the best I’ve ever seen, she’s fierce, loyal, and passionate about the things she fights for and an overall badass.

2. Grave of the Fireflies

Best Studio Ghibli Movies!

Grave of the Fireflies is directed by Isao Takahata, the other prominent Ghibli director. It tells a story of a brother and sister and their lives in war-torn Japan.

The story is simple enough, but few have been known to not cry while watching the movie, and I’m certainly not one of them. Some demerit it by arguing that it tries too hard to be a tear-jerker, but I think it represents reality as it would be and has been in a country at war.

Takahata has said that this movie is neither an anti-war nor a pro-war movie because it could be represented as either depending upon the individual and that, he only meant to bring life to the lives of the millions who have been affected by one.

1. Spirited Away

Best Studio Ghibli Movies!

Spirited Away is about a 10-year-old girl named Chihiro and her journey to save her parents from being food for supernatural beings on vacation in a resort. Need I say more?

Hayao Miyazaki is known to not have a detailed outline for his stories. At any point in the making of a movie, he knows what is ahead only for a few storyboards and this is evident when you watch Spirited Away.

Now, this might sound like a criticism, but in fact, this is what in my opinion makes the movie so magical. Some people do say the movie is trippy and that it does give off that vibe in its visuals and plot. There is probably no other movie quite like it.   

Let’s Conclude! 

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and The Castle of Cagliostro, the 3rd Lupin film are not Ghibli movies but are both directed by Hayao Miyazaki and had a lot of the Ghibli crew are both must watch too.

After you’re done watching some of the movies on this list check out these documentaries made by NHK: 10 Years with Hayao Miyazaki (NHK is a Japanese broadcasting company).

It gives you a behind-the-scenes view of the making of these movies and gives you an idea about what it takes to make these masterpieces. 

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Posted by
George Pauly

Math tutor and hopeful Fantasy/Sci-Fi writer. I've loved Anime ever since Kagome time-travelled through a Well in a Shinto Shrine. Anime, Manga, Manhwa have meant a lot to me in the past few years and will continue to do so except now, I get to write about it!