There are dozens, if not hundreds, of top anime movies lists of all time out there, but they all have one thing in common. On every single one of them, a Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki film takes the first spot, if not populates the top ten spots. While he is, without a doubt, the greatest anime film creator of our generation, his work often overshadows all the other great anime films out there.
Providing compact, cohesive, and amazing stories that don’t need to be extended enough to fill an entire anime series, anime films are an excellent way to explore the genre without investing a lot of time. Often they take you on an unforgettable adventure, as is the case with all these non-Studio Ghibli films.
20 – Redline
Every five years there takes place an exhilarating no-rules race called Redline that pushes drivers to the limit. Daredevil JP just qualified for the race, but there may be more danger than usual. With a setting on Roboworld with an aggressive military and criminals that want to take advantage of the race, it seems this Redline will be pushed to the extreme.
Yes, it is ridiculous, like an intergalactic Fast and the Furious, but it is a fun romp. You also have to respect the seven years of production it took to create that fast-paced and fluid animation by hand.
19 – Time of Eve
In future Japan, androids are involved in all aspects of life. When a student named Rikuo begins to notice odd return times of his android Sammy, he goes to investigate. There he ends up in a bar called Time of Eve where androids and humans are not treated so differently. It is here that Rikuo begins to gain a great respect for androids. At the same time elsewhere in Japan, an ethics committee is trying to reduce the use of androids in society.
Although originally an OVA, Time of Eve was compacted into a movie and being able to watch everything at once begins to make the story play out like an Asimov novel. It goes to great lengths to make androids seem more human without letting go completely of the laws of robotics.
18 – Patema Inverted
Patema is plucky young royalty of an underground civilization. She uses her royal status as an excuse to explore tunnels, but one day she falls into a massive hole and ends up on the surface, a world completely inverted from her own reality. As she starts floating up into the sky, she is caught by Age, a discontent student of the totalitarian nation Aiga. He has been taught that Inverts like Patema are sinners that will be swallowed up by the sky, but the chance meeting of these two people will unravel the secrets of their world.
Patema Inverted is one of those movies that capture the same wonderful weirdness that Studio Ghibli creates and turns it into one of those heart-warming stories that you just sort of fall in love with. Featuring themes of working together to coexist, it is a great film for the world with symbolism you can learn from.
Living in a small town in the countryside, Asuna spends her days listening to strange music that comes from an old crystal radio that her father left her. However, one day she finds herself transported beneath the Earth to a lost land where she is attacked by strange creatures and rescued by a mysterious stranger. There she is engulfed in a mystery that may unravel the secret of life itself.
This movie has the same beautiful animation and storytelling that one has come to expect from the now-famed Makoto Shinkai. Unfortunately, it wraps itself in a blanket of philosophy that doesn’t quite work together with the story. While it trips up with its themes at times, it does create a fun, albeit slightly clichéd, adventure story.
16 – Garden of Words
On one morning during the rainy season in Tokyo, an aspiring shoemaker named Takao Akizuki decides to skip class and sketch in a garden. There he meets the mysterious Yukari Yukino. After offering to make her new shoes, they continue to meet up during the rainy season, exchanging words in that garden and alleviating their worries through conversation. However, as the season ends, their relationship is put to the test.
Garden of Words explores the romance between a 15-year-old boy and a 27-year-old woman, which inherently gives a lot of potential for drama. While underutilized, it does a great job developing the relationship with the time it is given, exploring the dynamic between a boy alienated for his passion and a woman lost among an adult society.
In an alternate version of Japan, the country is split between the United States and Soviet Union. In 1996, the construction of the much anticipated Hokkaido Tower is completed and three students of Aomori have big dreams concerning it. When a drone crashes, the two boys of the group try to repair it with dreams of flying it to the top of the tower, but after the girl they both have a crush on disappears, it seems it may have something to do with their dreams.
A common theme in many Makoto Shinkai movies is distances, and in this film it is not time or space, but rather dreams and reality that create the distance. While it starts out as a beautiful, but rather average slice of life movie, it transcends into sci-fi and becomes a touching story of about when someone feels so close to you, but it actually very far away.
14 – Tokyo Godfathers
On Christmas Eve while rummaging through the trash, three homeless friends experience a miracle, they find a baby. Naming her Kiyoko, they set off on a journey to find her mother based off her belongings. Across the vast city on a cold night, the transwoman Hana, runaway teen Miyuki, and belligerent Gin find themselves entangled in a murder mystery and along the way find out a little something about themselves.
Satoshi Kon is a master of mindfucking psychological stories, but this, one of his last movies, is that that. This is compassionate and heart-warming, approaching topics you don’t often see done seriously in anime in a way that bonds you with each character and makes their realistic journey feel like one that is out of this world.
13 – Tekkon Kinkreet
Black and White are two orphans on the streets of Treasure Town who beat any thug that gets in their way. However, when foreign entrepreneurs come to town looking to tear it down and make an amusement park, it is up to destructive Black to save the city and gentle White to save Black from himself.
This movie is one of those that you think it is going to be all fun and games with an experimental art style, but then it ends up both beautiful animated and surprisingly deep. It is colorful and evokes happy feelings from that which serve as glorious contrast to the story.
12 – Classmates
Rihito is an honor student that gets perfect scores. Hikaru plays guitar with his band and is beloved by the ladies. Their paths never would have crossed if Hikaru didn’t offer to help Rihito prepare for the upcoming chorus festival. As they spend time together, their feelings grow and grow until they realize what they are feeling is love, but when it comes time to think about their future…
The story is one as old as time in the romance genre, particularly the difficulties near the end when it comes to shounen ai. However, Classmates is proof that if you pour enough emotion into a tired storyline, it can feel like new again.
11 – Summer Wars
The world is now connected by OZ where people create avatars and interact. Kenji Koiso is a moderator on OZ and a genius mathematician. However, when he is asked to the family estate by the girl he has a crush on and asked to pose as her fiancé, he is elated. However, shortly after arriving he is sent a coded message and challenged to solve it. While he is able to crack the code, he may have just put the Earth in danger.
Family. That is the theme of Summer Wars that it glaringly tosses in your face at ever opportunity. While it is obvious, it is not a bad theme to have nor does it ruin an otherwise great movie. You watch a family, one not always bound by blood ties, come together to help each other.
10 – Paprika
Atsuko Chiba is a renowned doctor in real life, but in the dream, she is the spunky Paprika, who, sing a new technology, jumps into people’s dreams to analyze their deepest thoughts. However, while it can do tremendous good, one of these devices was stolen, but Paprika is on the chase, chasing down the thief in a psychedelic romp through the dream world.
As the last film of Satoshi Kon before he died, one can only hope he is romping through our dreams now in the same way. Highly visual, intelligent, and, as always, psychological, Paprika can coax out some deep introspection if you let it. Otherwise, it is one of the most original movie adventures ever told.
In her last year of high school, Makoto Konno is having trouble deciding her future. While enduring the pressure of her teachers and spending time with her friends, she suddenly discovers she has the ability to leap through time.
Essentially this movie is exactly what you expect if you have watched any time travel series ever. She discovers the power, she uses it selfishly, then tries to fix things. While cliché in the time travel genre, it is still a fun slice of life, lightly sci fi romp. Emotions will flair, and they will be beautifully animated.
8 – A Silent Voice
After bullying a deaf girl to the point that she has to switch schools, Shouya Ishida finds himself bullied and ostracized by his peers. This is his story of redemption.
First off, with these sort of stories, typically you find the focus set on the original bullying victim, so this scenario is pretty unexplored territory. However, it is a film that actively tries to set itself apart pack by asking complex questions, but not leaving you with so many answers. Yet, while it stumbles in its story and into its plot holes, it is a powerful story to ponder over.
7 – Wolf Children
Hana is a hard-working college student that falls in love with a man in her class. However, as it turns out, the man is not a human, but the last werewolf. Even knowing his secret, Hana’s love remains strong, and soon they start a family. After giving birth to two healthy children, her lover dies, leaving her alone to raise her two babies that inherited lycanthropy from their father. With their wild nature, she soon decides to move to the countryside to better keep her children’s secrets.
Anime has been undergoing a small revolution about single parents lately, and Wolf Children is as heart-warming as they come. While they missed the chance to push the boundaries by having the father actually leave instead of die, it is still so touching to watch this woman do her best alone with her kids in a world that might not accept them.
After wandering up the mountain and being saved by a masked forest spirit named Gin, Hotaru Takegawa slowly builds a friendship with him over the course of several summers despite being separated by distance and planes of existence. However, when she develops romantic feelings for Gin, a spirit she can’t even touch, relationships are put to the test.
Considering it is based off a manga by the same mangaka that created Natsume’s Book of Friends, it is understandable why this movie feels just like one of Natsume’s episodes. It is bittersweet, touching, and a love story movie that doesn’t require a lot of thought afterwards. It is a movie about love, friendship, and ultimately, the compromise that both involve.
Takaki Toono and Akari Shinohara are two close friends and classmates that are ripped apart when Akari’s family is transferred to another region of Japan. Even through separation, they keep in touch through mail, but when Takaki’s family also decides to move, they meet up one last time. As the years pass, the distance between them grows wider and contact fades. Yet they still wonder when they will meet again.
Ah, Makoto Shinkai’s ultimate movie about distance. You watch as friendship and love is suddenly torn apart and as their distance in both their physical proximity and emotional bond grows wider, as if by five centimeters per second. However, on the other hand, while sad, it is also very much a movie about growing up.
This is a tale about a boy and a beast, both lonely, but both strong. After the death of his mother and feeling no love from his relatives, Ren runs away to try and make it in Shibuya. In the beast realm, Kumatestu is the natural candidate to take the place of their retired lord for his strength, but never having a disciple and not well-liked, he needs to prove himself. When Ren gets lost and ends up in the beast world, fate brings these strong, stubborn souls together where they both have much to learn from each other.
The story of this movie is rather a simple one, but you will never see such an amazing amount of character growth packed into such a small amount of time. While it also sounds like manly, chest-beating anime, get ready to cry. Lots.
3 – Perfect Blue
Mima Kirigoe is a member of the pop idol group CHAM! However, when she decides to retire to pursue acting, her fans are devastated. As an actress, she accepts an interesting role despite her manager’s warnings, but on set strange things begin to happen around her. This leads Mima to break down, and slowly, reality becomes indistinguishable from fantasy.
Mindfuckery has gotten popular in anime now, but this was one of the originals. It is like a rollercoaster ride through the human mind. There is really nothing else to say about it. The animation is dated these days, but it is the content that draws you in.
2 – Akira
In 2019, gangs rule the streets of Neo-Tokyo where Shoutarou Kaneda leads a group of misfits in constant conflict with his rivals. During one such battle, Shoutarou’s best friend Tetsuo is caught up in an accident with an esper that escaped a government institution. Through him, Tetsuo begins to develop abilities, but now must also escape government operatives that seeks to quarantine the powers that once leveled their city.
Often lauded as the best anime film of all time, it is also one of the more controversial pieces of art out there. For many, it requires a high degree of perception to get the full appeal, but ultimately, it is a movie about a dystopian society that didn’t rot due to some high sci fi concept, but rather because the world let it rot. Like Detroit. Regardless of the actual story, although with old animation, it still remains a piece of art in that aspect. Drawn with a high degree of detail, many turn to Akira to fondly remember what a glory hand drawn animation was.
1 – Your Name
One month after the first comet fell over Japan in a thousand years, a girl who longs to escape country like begins to dream she was a man. At the same time, a boy who lives in Tokyo and has a passion for the fine arts begins to dream her was a girl going to high school. What could be the meaning behind these dreams?
You’ve likely already heard about Your Name. It is one of the highest rated non-Ghibli rated movies ever and it currently lauded as the future of anime cinema. With stunning animation, a story rich with symbolism, and a touching soundtrack, Your Name stunned each and every person that sat down to watch it.
Disagree with our list? Of course you do! Rankings are so subjective. Let us know what you’d do different in the comments section below.