20 Best Anime Movies Everyone Should Watch

Anime has been one of the most celebrated mediums of entertainment in the past two decades. With the rise in popularity of anime shows, many new fans are curious about the best movies the medium has to offer. 

This list takes a look at some of the most celebrated and critically acclaimed anime movies of all time to get you started.

List of Best Anime Movies

1. Your Name (2016)

Best Anime Movies

Director: Makoto Shinkai 

Studio: CoMix Wave Films

Genre: Romance, Fantasy 

Runtime: 1 hour 46 minutes 

Summary: Starting this list is one of the most popular anime movies of all time. Critically acclaimed for its Animation, Music and Narrative, Your Name is a must-watch film.

The story follows the life of 2 high-schoolers, Mitsuha Miyamizu and Taki Tachibana, who live contrasting lives unaware of each other’s existence. 

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One fateful morning, the two suddenly start switching bodies. Although confused at first, they deduce it as a dream, but as time passes on they realise that they’re two different people living in each other’s bodies.

2. Spirited Away (2001)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Hayao Miyazaki
  • Studio: Studio Ghibli
  • Genre: Adventure, Supernatural
  • Runtime: 2 hours 5 minutes

Summary: This Oscar-Winning masterpiece has been on every single anime fan’s must-watch movies of all time. The film tells a tale of a young girl named Chihiro who accidentally wanders into the spirit world with her parents.

By the curse of a witch called Yubaba, Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs. She immediately gets startled by the dramatic changes around her and starts panicking. However, a young boy called Haku assures her and informs her that the only way to save her parents is if she works for Yubaba in the bathhouse.

The film follows the adventures of Chihiro as she serves spirits and other god-like creatures in the bathhouse while simultaneously looking for a cure for her parents. 

3. A Silent Voice (2016)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Naoko Yamada
  • Studio: Kyoto Animation
  • Genre: Romance, Drama
  • Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes

Summary: Another masterpiece from 2016, this coming-of-age teen romance movie had multiple fans bawling on the floor. Naoko Yamada’s ‘A Silent Voice’ has proved to be one of the most touching movies with a cast full of psychologically complex characters.

The story revolves around a young boy called Shouya Ishida who bullies Shouko Nishimiya, a transfer student who is deaf, in elementary school. Shouko’s classmates make fun of her and Shouya leads the show until she eventually transfers out.

Soon after Shouko leaves, the entire class rats Shouya out and he gets blacklisted for being a bully. Years later, a distressed teenage Shouya becomes suicidal and is tormented by the things he did in the past. As a final attempt to set things right, he approaches Shouko to rekindle their friendship and make amends.

4. Princess Mononoke (1997)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Hayao Miyazaki
  • Studio: Studio Ghibli
  • Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
  • Runtime: 2 hours 14 minutes

Summary: The second studio Ghibli film on this list, Princess Mononoke is acclaimed for its epic storyline. Hailed to be one of the best anime movies of the late 1990s, it narrates the saga of a young Emishi prince, Ashitaka.

Set in a fantasy world with magical creatures where Gods and humans wish to peacefully coexist, Ashitaka is placed under a curse by a demon boar god. To find a cure, he sets off on a journey to find the Great Forest Spirit. 

However, on this journey, he finds himself slowly getting entangled in a war between the gods of a forest and a mining colony who continue to use the forest’s resources. This is a tale that is told from the perspective of a man who sees the good in both sides but is treated as an enemy regardless. 

He also encounters San, a mysterious young girl who was raised by the wolf gods. Together, they try to stop the war between the two factions.

5. Perfect Blue (1997)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Satoshi Kon 
  • Studio: Madhouse
  • Genre: Thriller, Drama
  • Runtime: 1 hour 21 minutes

Summary: The directorial debut of one of the finest directors in the nation, Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue was a statement on Kon’s perception of reality and fantasy. Similar to Perfect Blue, most of his work is narrated in a way that blurs the lines between reality and imagination.

The plot goes as follows: Mimi Kirigoe is on her way to make her debut as a new upcoming actress after choosing to retire from her career as a pop star from a relatively popular group called, ‘CHAM!’. 

During this transition, she finds herself being obsessively stalked by a mysterious figure who threatens her and accuses her of killing the innocent teen girl persona that she held during her CHAM! days. 

As her mental fortitude decays due to the choices she makes like an actress, a ghost of herself dressed as the idol she once haunted her, blurring the line between hallucination and reality.

6. Wolf Children (2012)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Mamoru Hosoda
  • Studio: Studio Chizu
  • Genre: Family, Drama
  • Runtime: 1 hour 57 minutes

Summary: Next up on this list is an original feature film coming from the great Mamoru Hosoda himself. Wolf Children reflects the struggles in the life of Hana, a young college student who falls in love with a werewolf. 

Having half-human and half-wolf kids is already hard enough but now she must deal with it as a single mother after the death of her husband. The film depicts 13 years of Hana’s life as she watches her two kids Ame and Yuki grow up and decide on their lives as humans or wolves. 

7. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Hayao Miyazaki
  • Studio: Studio Ghibli
  • Genre: Fantasy, Romance
  • Runtime: 1 hour 59 minutes

Summary: One of Hayao Miyazaki’s most praised works, Howl’s Moving Castle is loosely based on the novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones. For the most part, the first half of the movie stays loyal to the novel, however, it takes a completely different turn with Miyazaki’s introduction of elements of war into the film. 

The movie takes place in a world where Magic and Machinery are prevalent throughout the kingdom. Within the walls of this fantasy, Sophie Hatter is a young and plain milliner who lives a rather uneventful life. One day while she is on her way to meet her younger sister, she crosses paths with Howl, a young magician with a handsome face and rumoured to have eaten the hearts of many beautiful maidens. 

Getting jealous over Howl’s interest in Sophie, the Witch of the Waste decides to place a curse on her which makes her a 90-year-old woman. From there on, Sophie finds herself living in Howl’s four-legged walking castle to find a cure.

8. Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (2018)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Mari Okada
  • Studio: P.A. Works
  • Genre: Family, Adventure 
  • Runtime: 1 hour 55 minutes

Summary: From the studio that made Angel Beats! comes another tearjerker that made me bury my face in a pillow and cry for hours. 

The film revolves around a young girl called Maquia who hails from the clan of Iorphs, a race that ages incredibly slowly. Maquia was born an orphan so she’s expressed her loneliness and a longing for her own family since the beginning. 

One day, the neighboring Mezarte kingdom invades the Iorphs with dragons known as Renato to find the secret to their immortality. Alas, unable to find anything, they capture or kill them.

During this struggle, Maquia finds herself trapped with a Renato who has contracted a disease called the Red Eye disease which causes it to go berserk. She eventually gets separated from her clan while trying to run away from Renato and lands up in a forest near an abandoned caravan. 

Feeling incredibly lost and lonely upon being parted from her fellow Iorphs, she adopts a crying infant and decides to raise it.

9. I Want To Eat Your Pancreas (2018)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Shinichiro Ushijima
  • Studio: Studio VOLN
  • Genre: Romance, Drama
  • Runtime: 1 hour 49 minutes

Summary: Originally serialized as a web novel, I Want to Eat Your Pancreas is a romantic tragedy between two ill-fated teenagers. 

The film revolves around Haruki, a rather emotionless and unexpressive high schooler and his classmate Sakura, a cheerful girl who suffers from a pancreatic illness. Over their school break, the two find themselves spending a lot of time together.

As time passes, Haruki becomes more expressive as Sakura’s illness worsens. This is a story about a young blossoming friendship between the two as one’s inevitable death slowly approaches. 

10. Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
  • Studio: Studio Ghibli 
  • Genre: Romance, Drama
  • Runtime: 1 hour 51 minutes

Summary: Yoshifumi’s first and only film before his death in 1998, Whisper of the Heart is a touching coming-of-age romantic movie that talks about love budding from a young age and later blossoming into adulthood.

The story is set in a Tokyo suburban area where a middle school student, Shizuku Tsukishima aspires to become a future writer. One day while checking out books from the library, she notices that a person named Seiji Amasawa had checked out all the books that she had once read before. 

Shizuku eventually meets Seiji and finds out his dream to become a master luthier. The two become closer and bond over their passions as they make plans to pursue their dreams while trying to maintain their relationship.

11. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train (2019)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Haruo Sotozaki
  • Studio: Ufotable
  • Genre: Action, Adventure
  • Runtime: 1 hour 57 minutes

Summary: A direct sequel to the first season of the anime series, the movie is a canon continuation to Tanjiro’s adventure to find a cure for his sister.

The movie begins with Tanjiro and his comrades getting on board the Infinity Train to provide help to the Flame Hashira, Kyojuro Rengoku to defeat the demon Enmu. After escaping from the demon’s enchanted sleep trap, the group battle it out to subjugate the Lower Rank One Demon.

12. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Mamoru Hosoda
  • Studio: Madhouse
  • Genre: Romance, Si-fi 
  • Runtime: 1 hour 38 minutes

Summary: Another one of Mamoru Hosoda’s masterpieces, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is built on the premise of time travel and time loops. 

When Makoto Konno, a normal high school girl, finds out about her ability to time leap to prevent certain situations, she thoughtlessly starts leaping to fix her problems.

In the beginning, Makoto abuses her newfound powers for her own interests but this slowly changes after she realizes the multiple consequences she must now face after affecting the lives of those around her.

13. Summer Wars (2009)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Mamoru Hosoda
  • Studio: Madhouse
  • Genre: Sci-fi, Drama
  • Runtime: 1 hour 54 minutes

Summary: The third and the last movie of Mamoru Hosoda on this list, Summer War’s setting in a futuristic world dependent on virtual machines provides a refreshing take on the Sci-Fi comedy genre of anime. 

The film divulges a society that is constructed upon the framework of a massive computer-simulated virtual reality known as OZ. Kenji Koiso is a high school student and a math genius who acts as a moderator in the world of OZ. 

After being dragged to Ueda by one of his seniors to impersonate her fiance at her grandmother’s 90th birthday, he finds himself being falsely accused of hacking OZ. Love Machine, a virtual intelligence device takes advantage of the situation and starts wreaking havoc which causes extensive damage.

Faced with no choice but to disable the virtual intelligence, Kenji hatches a plan to take down Love Machine. 

14. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (2010)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Tatsuya Ishihara
  • Studio: Kyoto Animation
  • Genre: Mystery, Romance
  • Runtime: 2 hours 42 minutes

Summary: Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu is based on the fourth light novel of the acclaimed Haruhi series and is set after the events of the anime. 

The story takes place after the SOS Brigade, a club led by Haruhi, decides to have a nabe party on Christmas. However, as dawn approaches, Kyon is faced with a different reality upon his arrival at school.

Things have mysteriously changed as he notices that Haruhi and Koizumi go missing. Moreover, Ryoko Asakura, who was missing; mysteriously reappears. Mikuru seemingly has no memories of Kyon and increasingly grows afraid of him. 

Yuki Nagato, who used to be an alien, becomes a normal human and forms the Literature Club which now occupies the SOS Brigade’s clubroom. As Kyon searches through the room the only clue he manages to find is a bookmark left for him by Yuki to find certain keys to run a “program”. 

15. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Isao Takahata
  • Studio: Studio Ghibli 
  • Genre: War, Tragedy 
  • Runtime: 1 hour 29 minutes

Summary: Considered to be one of the greatest anime war films of all time, Isao’s Grave of the Fireflies illustrates the star-crossed fate of two siblings who struggle to survive during the aftermath of World War II.

Set in the city of Kobe, Japan, the movie takes the viewers on a journey to the past in 1945, when World War II rampaged throughout the nation. 

During these harsh times, the movie shows us the life of two siblings, Seita and his younger sister, Setsuko. In the desperate attempt to survive, they struggle for their lives as the conclusion of the War dawns closer.

16. Akira (1988)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
  • Studio: Tokyo Movie Shinsha
  • Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
  • Runtime: 2 hours 4 minutes

Summary: One of the most expensive anime films at the time with a budget of 700 million yen, the film is set in a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk world, showcasing the story of Shōtarō Kaneda the leader of a biker gang.

During a battle with a rival gang “The Clowns”, Kaneda’s best friend Tetsuo Shima gets involved in an accident with an esper who escaped imprisonment from the Japanese government, granting Tetsuo telekinetic abilities. 

While Kaneda and others try to help Tetsuo with his ailments due to his newfound abilities, he decides to hunt for the remains of Akira, the esper who caused the destruction of Tokyo in 1988.

17. Millennium Actress (2001)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Satoshi Kon
  • Studio: Madhouse
  • Genre: Fantasy, Drama
  • Runtime: 1 hour 27 minutes

Summary: Taking inspiration from the lives of actresses Setsuko Hara and Hideko Takamine, comes the last movie by Satoshi Kon on this list. Millennium Actress tells a story about two filmmakers who investigate the life of a retired legend in the industry.

Ginei Studios, a well renowned but financially strained film studio is being shut down. Following these events Television interviewer Genya Tachibana and his cameraman Kyoji Ida interview Chiyoko Fujiwara, the Studio’s most celebrated star who retired 30 years prior and became a recluse.

As they unravel her past, the line between reality and cinema are blurred. The characters and events she portrays are heavily intertwined with her own life. Although the actress retired 30 years ago she still has much to offer for the world to experience.

18. Ghost in The Shell (1995) 

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Mamoru Oshii
  • Studio: Production I.G.
  • Genre: Sci-Fi, Action
  • Runtime: 1 hour 23 minutes

Summary: Set in a neo-noir cyberpunk-themed 2029 Japan, the film is based on the manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow. 

In a world where robots coexist together with humans, cybernetic implants are nothing special and society is extremely intertwined with technology. 

Humans are capable of separating their consciousness using the Cybertrain which allows the brain to connect to the Internet and other networks. The term “ghost” is often used to refer to the consciousness that inhabits a body or shell.

We follow the story of Major Motoko Kusanagi, the leader of the Public Security Section 9 assault team, who is tasked with taking down a dangerous “ghost” hacker known as The Puppeteer but as she dives deeper into the case she starts to reach her conclusions.

19. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Satoshi Kon
  • Studio: Madhouse
  • Genre: Tragedy, Comedy
  • Runtime: 1 hour 30 minutes

Summary: The third animated film directed by Kon and co-written by Keiko Nobumoto, Tokyo Godfathers became another acclaimed work of Kon winning an Excellence Prize at the 2003 Japan Media Arts Festival and Best Animation Film at the 58th Mainichi Film Awards.

A film depicts a tale between an alcoholic named Gin, a teenage runaway, Miyuki and a transgender woman called Hana. The three encounter an abandoned newborn on the night of Christmas Eve when they search through the remains of a garbage dump.

Along with the abandoned baby, they find a note and a bag containing clues to the identity of the baby’s parents and a mysterious key.

Determined, the trio sets out in search of the baby’s (now named Hana) parents. However, as the film traverses through the bizarre events that take place, they figure that it was going to be anything but easy. 

20. Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (1997)        

Best Anime Movies
  • Director: Hideaki Anno
  • Studio: Gainax, Production I.G. 
  • Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy
  • Runtime: 1 hour 27 minutes

Summary: Serving as a parallel ending to one of the most acclaimed anime shows of all time, the film picks up where the television show’s 24th episode ended.

Following the death of Kaworu, Shinji Ikari, pilot of Evangelion Unit 01, visits the comatose body of Asuka. Gendo Ikari, the commander of Nerv, deploys Evangelion units for his own plans. However, when the Seele committee is made known for his plans, they use Japanese forces to stop him.

The film follows Shinji, Rei Ayanami and several other important characters as they navigate through the turmoil created by Gendo’s selfish plans and the retaliation of Seele.

These were some of my favourite films and I hope this will be a good gateway for you to get into the diverse and vivid world of anime movies.