It’s common knowledge that Studio Ghibli is the palace of Japanese animated films, and Hayao Miyazaki, as the legendary director and writer of the genre, is the king of all Studio Ghibli movies. Of course, there are other notable directors and screenwriters like Yoshifumi Kondô, Isao Takahata, and Hiromasa Yonebayashi who’ve brought some of the best Studio Ghibli movies to the world. In this article, we’ll take a look at the best Studio Ghibli movies from the directors mentioned above. Let’s go!
1. Spirited Away
Miyazaki’s 2001 film Spirited Away ranks #1 on our list of Studio Ghibli movies. Spirited Away is about a ten-year-old girl who accidentally enters the world of Kami. After her parents are turned into pigs by the witch Yubaba, the girl takes a job at Yubaba’s bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents. The film held the record as the most successful and highest-grossing film in Japanese history for 19 years. Spirited Away is considered by many critics to be one of the best films of the 21st century and one of the best animated films of all time.
2. Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies is one of the Studio Ghibli movies written and directed by Isao Takahata. Based on the 1967 semi-autobiographical short story of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka, the wartime tragedy tells of two sisters’ struggle for survival in the final months of World War II. However, the film is extremely touching and powerful, showing the harsh reality of the war. It received critical acclaim and is considered one of the best war films of all time.
3. Princess Mononoke
Among the Studio Ghibli movies, Princess Mononoke is another film directed by Miyazaki. The film is about a young Emishi prince named Ashitaka and his involvement in a battle between the gods of the forest and the humans who consume its resources. The film became the highest-grossing film in Japan in 1997 and also held the Japanese box office record for domestic films until Spirited Away.
4. Howl’s Moving Castle
Howl’s Moving Castle is loosely based on the novel of the same name by English writer Diana Wynne Jones and is one of the Studio Ghibli movies Miyazaki directed. The story revolves around Sophie, a young milliner who’s transformed into an older woman and meets a wizard named Howl and becomes involved in his resistance to fighting for the king. Miyazaki said Howl’s Moving Castle was his favorite creation. The war theme in the film was influenced by the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003.
5. My Neighbor Totoro
Written and directed by Miyazaki, My Neighbor Totoro tells the story of a professor’s two young daughters and their interaction with friendly wood spirits in postwar rural Japan. The film was acclaimed worldwide and won numerous awards.
6. Castle in the Sky
Laputa: Castle in the Sky is one of Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli movies that had a strong impact on Japanese popular culture and inspired numerous films, media and games in Japan and internationally. The film revolves around a boy and girl who try to protect a powerful crystal from the army, a group of secret agents, and a pirate family as they search for a legendary floating castle in a fictional 19th century.
7. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a post-apocalyptic film by Miyazaki that tells the story of Nausicaä, the teenage princess from the Valley of the Wind, who becomes embroiled in a battle with a kingdom that’s trying to use an ancient weapon to eradicate a jungle full of giant mutant insects.
8. Whisper of the Heart
Based on the 1989 manga of the same name by Aoi Hiiragi, Whisper of the Heart is a romantic coming-of-age musical film directed by Yoshifumi Kondō and written by Miyazaki. One of the most amusing Studio Ghibli movies, the film tells the love story between a girl who loves to read books and a boy who has previously checked out all of the library books she chooses.
9. Kiki’s Delivery Service
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a 1989 film adapted by Miyazaki from the novel by Eiko Kadono. The film revolves around Kiki, a young witch who moves to a new town and uses her flying ability to earn a living. The film shows the gap between independence and reliance among teenage Japanese girls, Miyazaki said, and therefore is a must-see for teenage girls.
10. The Wind Rises
The Wind Rises is one of the best Studio Ghibli movies and, unfortunately, the last film Miyazaki directed. It’s a fictionalized version of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the engineer who invented many Japanese World War II fighter planes, including the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane. The critically acclaimed film was nominated for numerous awards.
Like almost all Studio Ghibli movies, Ponyo has a very interesting and compelling storyline: Ponyo, a goldfish, escapes from the sea and is rescued by a five-year-old human boy, Sōsuke, after being washed ashore trapped in a glass jar. As the two bond, the story deals with resolving Ponyo’s desire to become a human girl with the devastating circumstances surrounding her acquisition and use of magic.
12. The Secret World of Arrietty
The Secret World of Arrietty, the feature film debut of Hiromasa Yonebayashi, is based on the 1952 novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton and is about a family of tiny humans who secretly live in the walls and floors of an ordinary household, borrowing items from people in order to survive.