Top 10 Anime Films

Anime began at the start of the 20th century, when Japanese filmmakers experimented with animation techniques pioneered in France, Germany, the United States, and Russia. The oldest known anime in existence first screened in 1917 – a two-minute clip of a samurai trying to test a new sword on his target, only to suffer defeat.

The success of The Walt Disney Company’s 1937 feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs influenced Japanese animators. In the 1960s, manga artist and animator Osamu Tezuka adapted and simplified many Disney animation-techniques to reduce costs and to limit the number of frames in productions. He intended this as a temporary measure to allow him to produce material on a tight schedule with inexperienced animation staff.

princess mononoke japan anime animation
Give the head back now? Come on, boy. Don’t be silly. Now, when the sun’s about to come up? Look! He’s a brainless, life-sucking god of death. At sunrise he’ll vanish like a bad dream.

The 1970s saw a surge of growth in the popularity of manga – many of them later animated. The work of Osamu Tezuka drew particular attention, he has been called a “legend” and the “god of manga”.

In the 1980s, anime became more accepted in mainstream Japanese cinema (although less than manga), and experienced a boom in production. Following a few successful adaptations of anime in overseas markets in the 1980s, anime gained increased acceptance in those markets in the 1990s and even more at the turn of the 21st century. This started in 1988 with the film Akira which was the first anime that made the west sit up and take note. Anime flourished for a few years but soon went out of focus with slow distribution and limited availability. The big breakthrough came with the introduction of Studio Ghibli and the films of Hayao Miyazaki, starting with Princess Mononoke which has been followed with several other quality films. This combined with the increased distribution has made anime films a force to be reckoned with and has given the large western animation films something to think about.

10. Perfect Blue (Kon, 1998)IMDBBUY

Pop singer Mima decides to swap her successful singing career to become an actress. She lands a role in a sexually charged murder mystery, but this does not sit well with some of her fans who don’t like the pop princess’s squeaky clean image tainted by her portrayal of a rape victim. This is especially true of her stalker who takes a particular dislike to the new role. Mima soon becomes paranoid, and reality and hallucinations become blurred. Combined with the deaths of the some of the people responsible for her new role we have the makings of a perfectly constructed murder mystery.

A brilliantly constructed thriller, Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s novel is brought to life by Satoshi Kon’s directing and special advisor Katsuhiro Otomo’s visually stunning portrayal of one woman’s dissent into a nightmarish dream world which grips the viewer from the outset.

9. Urotsukidoji (aka Legend of the Overfiend) (Takayama, 1989)IMDBBUY

legend of the overfiend anime japan hentai sex animation

A personal favourite of mine, this film is more true in style to Japanese manga, with its ultra violent action scenes and hentai (sexually explicit scenes). Many versions have been cut, and some scenes changed by the BBFC and other certification boards. Finding an uncut version is a must.

The plot concerns a world split into three parts: the world of the man beasts (the Jyujinkai), the humans, and the nightmarish realm of the monster demons (the makai). The demons gain power from the bodies of human girls. There is a prophecy that every 3000 years comes the ‘superfiend’ – the ‘chojin’ – who is destined to unite the worlds. The hero Amano is on a mission to find the chojin but when he realises that the united world will be a place of horrendous violence and uncontrollable lust he must try to stop it.

Probably not a film many of the purists would put in their top 10’s but for me it is what an anime film can do that could never be done in live action film. It allows us to see just how creative the human mind can be.

8. Castle in the Sky (aka Laputa: Castle in the Sky / Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta) (Hayao Miyazaki, 1986)IMDBBUY

laputa castle in the sky anime japan animation

The 1986 film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki is the first film created and released by Studio Ghibli. Laputa: Castle in the Sky (as it was titled on its UK release) won the Animage Anime Grand Prix in 1986. The film is a perfect example of one of Miyazaki’s loves – flying machines – with a story set around the legend of a floating city lost in the clouds.

According to legend, humans were fascinated with the sky; therefore they created increasingly sophisticated ways of lifting aircraft from the ground. This eventually led to flying cities and fortresses. Over time, the cities came crashing back to earth, forcing the survivors to live on the ground as before. One city, Laputa, is said to remain in the sky, concealed within the swirling clouds of a violent thunderstorm. While most people consider it to be fictional, some believe the legend is true and have sought to find the ancient city.

With homage to Jules Verne and Jonathan Swift the film is packed with wonder and extraordinary machines. Miyazaki takes us on a journey with our two hero’s Pazu and Sheeta who meet sky pirates and some sinister government agents and a giant robot. This is a terrific adventure film that is full of Miyazaki’s wonder and invention and the colourful characters make the whole film enjoyable.

7. Memories (Morimoto, Okamura, Otomo, 1995)IMDBBUY
Memories (also Otomo Katsuhiro’s Memories) is an anime produced in 1995 by artist/director Katsuhiro Otomo based on three of his manga short stories. The film is composed of three episodes: “Magnetic Rose”, “Stink Bomb” and “Cannon Fodder”.

“Magnetic Rose” follows the story of a deep space corporate freighter that is called upon to investigate a distress signal from a supposed derelict space station. Unbeknownst to the space freighter pilots, the space station is run by a deranged artificial intelligence.

“Stink Bomb” is a lighter story, its tone more attune to comedy than horror. It concerns a young man who works at a bioresearch facility. One day he turns up with flu. A colleague tells him to take some medication which the young man does. However, these pills turn out to be part of a biological weapons program. Amusingly, the man develops a deadly body odour becoming a walking weapon of mass destruction.

“Cannon Fodder” finds a city walled in and continually at war. Everyone’s lives and livelihood depend upon maintaining and firing the cannons: millions of cannons, all of different sizes. The entire city is made up of cannons. The story essentially concerns itself with a young boy and his father.

For me Cannon fodder is the pick of the three: a tale that shows the way that people can just live without questioning the bigger picture as long as they have hope.

6. Ghost in the Shell (Oshii, 1995)IMDBBUY

ghosts in the shell anime japan animation

Mamoru Oshii brings the original manga written by Masamune Shirow to our screens. Critics and fans hold it in high regard, and it has done a lot for the genre. The Wachowski brothers say they got their idea for The Matrix from this film.

The story can labor in parts and there are a lot of shots of the future city which although slow the story they are incredible beautiful and seamlessly blend computer and cell animation. This was one of the first films to bridge the East-West gap and get a release in America. It brought anime to mainstream American and European audiences, introducing us to what Japanese animation could do. Another massive factor in the success of the film is the haunting, eerie score.

The story focuses on Major Motoko Kusanagi – an officer in the security services sector 9 division and a cybernetic agent – with her team Batou (a cyborg) and Togusa (the only humanoid in the team). They set off to pursue the Puppet Master – a talented data thief with a skill for infiltrating the consciousness of others and getting them to commit criminal acts while he remains in the shadows. The mysterious section 6 then get involved and Kusanagi begins to realise that there is a vast political conspiracy behind what has been going on.

5. Ninja Scroll (Kawajiri, 1993)IMDBBUY
Set in feudal Japan, Jubei is a wandering samurai with fearsome skills. He gets drawn into a fight with some of the most dangerous warriors who are plotting to overthrow the government. At the head of this group is Jubei’s nemesis, a warrior he believed to be dead. Jubei teams up with a strange ninja master who leads him to the female ninja Kagero, a warrior with the ability to cause death by touch.

Ninja Scroll is a tale full of incredible characters and ultra violence. It features some of the best fight scenes I have ever seen. Another film that has been cut by the BBFC so look out for an uncut version to get the full experience.

4. Spirited Away (Miyazaki, 2001)IMDBBUY

spirited away anime japan animation

My second Hayao Miyazaki film, and one of the biggest grossing Japanese films of all time. The story is a loose take on Alice In Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, as it follows Chihiro, a young girl who is moving to a new town with her parents when they take a detour to explore a mysterious tunnel. They find what seems to be a deserted theme park but they have actually crossed into the spirit world. A world of ancient gods and magical beings ruled by the sorceress Yubaba. After entering the spirit world Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs and held captive. Chihiro must overcome her fears to rescue her parents with the help of Haku, a young boy with a secret. Throughout the film Chihiro has to try and remember her true name so she doesn’t forget who she really is.

The film won the Oscar for best animated film in 2003. It is full of magic and adventure and one of the most visually stunning films I have had the pleasure to watch. It is both thrilling for adults and children to watch. This film has some of the most strange and amazing characters, each bringing something new to the story.

3. Barefoot Gen (Masaki, 1983)IMDBBUY
For me one of the most heart wrenching and emotional films I have ever seen. Some may question whether an animated film can produce such emotion, I challenge them to watch Barefoot Gen without feeling for the main character and what he goes through. Writer Keiji Nakazawa’s bases the film on his own experience as a six year old boy when the atomic bomb was dropped on his hometown of Hiroshima in 1945 killing most of his family. This is the only film in the list that is only available in its original Japanese language with English subtitles. According to Anime News Network there is an English dub available but it is not reproduced on the latest DVD releases.

A largely ignored film in the west because of it staying in its native language, it also suffers from dated animation. Most people favour the similar Grave of the Fireflies because its more widely available. The story is that of Gen whose life is turned upside down by the atomic bomb. When the bomb hits he is shielded by a wall. He tragically returns home to find his family trapped and dying. Then we follow his experiences as he wanders the streets finding people affected by the blast. The reason the film hits so hard is that what we see is what Nakazawa saw as a six year old and how people looked to him when he was just a child. Some of the images are haunting and will stay with you. But don’t think this film is anti-American or anti-west – it in fact points the finger towards the Japanese government and their failures. A must see film for anime and non-anime fans.

2. Akira (Otomo, 1988)IMDBBUY

akira anime japan animation

Most people’s number one, Akira was the first anime to be a success in the west. Released in 1988, writer-director Katsuhiro Otomo based the film on his own manga story. The film is set in a futuristic and post-war city, Neo-Tokyo, in 2019. While most of the character designs and basic settings were adapted from the original 2,182-page manga epic, the restructured plot of the movie differs considerably from the print version, pruning much of the last half of the manga.

The film influenced the genre in Japan, paving the way for Japanese animation to gain notoriety and commercial success in America and Europe.

1. Princess Mononoke (Miyazaki, 1997)IMDBBUY

Released in Japan in 1997 it quickly became the highest grossing film only to be replaced a few months later by Titanic. It was the first Hiyao Miyazaki film to be viewed by a mass western audience and was our first taste of what this genius could do. It also introduced a whole new generation to the wonders of anime. The film shows the clash of the old natural world and the coming of human civilization, mixing in Gods and spirits of the animal kingdom. It has a heavy eco feel yet gives us the point of view of the humans as to why they cause so much destruction.

The story is of a young warrior Ashitaka who battles a cursed beast and receives a wound that will eventually kill him, he is cast out of his village and goes in search of the forest spirit were he encounters the raging battle of the iron workers and the wolf gods fighting over the forest.

This story is very powerful and certainly makes you think about the way we treat the world we live in. Although rated as PG (Parental Guidance) in the UK the film has some graphic scenes of violence. The animation is superb and Miyazaki’s creations are some off the most fantastic and mystical.

Princess Mononoke is number one because the story has a powerful, deep-rooted passion for the human spirit. Amidst the fantastical, Princess Mononoke is a thought-provoking story of love and honour, one that will have you thinking about your own decisions in life. It also has some of the most creative, awe-inspiring moments in anime – the scene with the tree spirits for example is my favourite scene in the film. (see above picture).

Written and compiled by D. Lloyd-Smart

Discover more:
Anime News Network – the internet’s number one resource for all anime news
Anime History
Grave of the Fireflies
Anime Maestro – comprehensive Anime Blogging network
Blog: AstroNerdBoy Anime and Manga Blog – comprehensive, well-written and researched.
Blog: Hanners Anime Blog – catchy writing, lots of information about less mainstream stuff
Blog: Nyu’s Anime and Stuff

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Gavin Bollard Reply

    Good List, but would have liked to see;

    Kiki’s Delivery Service
    Grave of the Fireflies
    My Neighbour Totoro
    Blood: The Last Vampire
    Vampire Hunter D
    Panda Go Panda!
    Tales from Earthsea

    on it – even if only as notable mentions.

  2. David Lloyd-Smart Reply

    Thanks for the coment Gavin, i could have picked so many Miyazaki films but didn’t want to over fill the list. It was also a toss up between barefoot Gen and grave of the fireflies but for me Gen is the superior.

  3. ghost of 82 Reply

    No Millenium Actress! Shocking ommission! Seriously, it’s far better than most films in your top ten- if you haven’t seen it you really should do. Also Tekkinkinkreet, a visually arresting film with a complex story. And finally, the simply astonishing Jin-Roh. Those three anime are far better than most live-action rubbish being made today.

  4. AnimeFanboy Reply

    Good list, I would put Akira number 1 but that’s a personal preference. I would have also considered Cowboy Bebop, Grave of the Fireflies, and My Neighbor Totoro.

  5. George_C Reply

    Add “Blood: The Last Vampire” and “My Neighbor Totoro” – subtract “Barefoot Gen” and “Memories”. But good list anyway!

  6. animaniac Reply

    I like the list – approved I say! However (it’s only a small ‘however’ mind you), I would put Spirited Away top with my little ‘Princess’ number 2.

  7. Aiden R. Reply

    God, I need to get back into anime. Great pick for #1, but no love for Grave of the Fireflies or Bebop? I’ll let it slide. Never heard of Barefoot Gen, gotta give that a look.

  8. Erik Reply

    Vampire Hunter D definitely needs to go up there. Its THE classic. And nice to see Perfect Blue – it really doesnt have the credit it deserves. Its one of the best horror films ive ever seen AND THE BEST animated movie of all time, and I havent missed out on much in anything horror or animation. Its not as the critics say by calling it “Alfred Hitchcock” – its more reminiscent of my all time favorite filmmaker, the giallo horror master, Dario Argento. Satoshi Kons the man.

  9. Castor Reply

    Fantastic post! I would have put Spirited Away ahead of Princess Mononoke. I really need to rewatch Grave of the Fireflies and see Barefoot Gen. Thanks for the list.

  10. David Lloyd-Smart Reply

    Miyazaki’s films are all amazing it was hard just to put a few into the list and i think everyone has a different favourite. just wait for the top ten of his films due on soon im sure that will open up some debate.

  11. A Man Reply

    You should definitley add Ponyo. Some of Myazakis were a lot better, but it is pretty good. Also, Nausicca of the valley of the wind was kind of cheesy, but still good.

  12. Univarn Reply

    Sorry to hop onto an old post, but sort of working my way through your site here (the amount of links you have, and posts, applaud worthy I must say).

    I have to admit I’ve only seen 7 of your 10 top anime films (missing Perfect Blue, Legend of the Overfiend, and Barefoot Gen. My top 3 are Spirited Away & Grave of the Fireflies & Princess Mononoke but I tend to prefer fantasy anime to action anime (which can be a bit gruesome for my tastes). Akira would probably be my #4, but Barefoot Gen definitely grabs my attention.

    Great list!

    • Dan Reply

      Thanks for the comment and kind words Univarn.

  13. Ronan Reply

    Enjoy watching anime more than any other kind of movie, it really takes my imagination and runs with it, Miyazaki especially. I thought Princess Mononoke was probably his most grown up film, but Kiki’s delivery service is up there with Spirited Away as two of my favorite of his because it looks at relationships between people and is very aware of the human need to find a purpose within society. Still have to watch The cat Returns and Whisper of the heart in my collection. Laputa was good but a bit long. Must watch Akira again. Ghost in the shell is to cool for school and Urosukidoji is just messed up. Saw it at Uni, never again.
    Good list Dan, Keep it up.

  14. anotherhero Reply

    Nice, but you should have put Karas. Its the top of the line anime.

  15. amy Reply

    Grave of the Fireflies is on my Top10 general fave films, so I’m really bias… but it should have been there xD

    Tekkonkinkreet’s got really splendid animation and art work, the story seemed a little shaky to some, but it holds fine for me. Animation-wise, it’s flawless.

  16. Zonbaeck Reply

    These movies are great! I like Spirited Away:)

  17. Novroz Reply

    I love your list, but Spirited Away will be in my number 1 list of top 10 anime.

  18. hanar Reply

    Perfect Blue is definitely a good movie although I was left confused at the end :D..

    more ghibli movies could have been picked and less mecha and violent anime movies added..

    More shojo stuff perhaps? – Would have definitely added the pretty and beautiful anime 5cm Per Second, which was nearly made me cry…

    Millenium Actress as well as Tokyo Godfathers would be great too :D.

  19. hanar Reply

    *which NEARLY made me

  20. sundryandco Reply

    Cat Returns and Totoro would feature in mine, but I also agree with the selection above…so I may just have to extend my list to top 12 🙂

  21. Raghav Reply

    Nice to see Ghost in The Shell mentioned. At times it’s grossly overlooked. Great list

  22. Sir Phobos Reply

    So I’m trying to figure out which version of Urotsukidoji to buy. The link provided is for the UK DVD, but the first comment there says it’s cut. There’s a new DVD & blu-ray, but they don’t have runtimes. Helllllppppppp……

    Aside from that, I’m super happy to see Perfect Blue on the list. It would be much, much farther up on my list, though. I also would have added some of Kon’s other stuff, like Tokyo Godfathers or Millennium Actress. Amazing, all of them.

    I have to admit that I haven’t seen much of Miyazaki’s works. I’m a bit ashamed of that fact, but there it is.

    Ninja Scroll is damn awesome. I don’t think I’ve seen the second one, and what little I watched of the series was definitely not as good. It was cool, just…toned down.

    I’ll need a bit more convincing to watch Memories. It didn’t sound very good from its description.

    I think Akira and Ghost in the Shell were some of the firs animes I ever saw, and they’re what got me into them.

    Someone already mentioned it, but Jin-Roh is awesome as well. Spriggan is pretty sweet, and Ghost in the Shell 2 is more bizarre than the first, but still worthy.

    Very nice list, though. I’ll be watching the few I haven’t seen before.

  23. abby Reply

    so happy with number 1 its my fave anime movie of all time

  24. LJ Reply

    I just want to give a shout out to Tokyo Godfathers.

  25. Rose Reply

    My top three:

    Spirited Away
    Howell’s Moving Castle
    My Neighbor Totoro

    I ADORE these movies and are some of my favorite movies of all time, Castle in the Sky sounds amazing there’s a theme with the giant mechanical cities and such… I haven’t seen many of the movies on this list unfortunately…

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