Since its foundation in 1985, Studio Ghibli has been one of the most talented and well-regarded animation studios in history. They have made a long list of films that are regarded as must seem by anyone who likes film or anime in general.
This list will be your best guide on how to watch this amazing group of movies that have transcended its medium and have become something else, entirely. True works of art.
Studio Ghibli has helped create a way for anime to stop being something niche and be accepted into the mainstream. The now-legendary studio has been home to several legends in the world of animation, and still after more than three decades of being the best of the best. The studio is getting ready to keep going and make the best anime films ever.
Studio Ghibli Movies in Order
The best way to watch the Studio Ghibli films is in release order. This is the best way because that is how you can see them evolving from solid filmmakers to genius-level artists. Most of the studio’s biggest films are directed by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, but there are also a couple of ones by different directors that are just as good.
There are currently 23 Studio Ghibli movies. On this list, we’re not including The Castle of Cagliostro or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind because even though they are directed by Miyazaki, they are works released before the constitution of Studio Ghibli. Let’s go with the list.
1.Castle in the Sky (1986)
This is the first official Studio Ghibli film. It is directed by Hayao Miyazaki and you can already tell as it involves a conscious message against war and about how to protect the environment; two very important themes for Miyazaki. It might not be as entertaining as the next movies, but it is still quite charming.
2. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
This is the first Ghibli masterpiece. Grave of the Fireflies is such an incredible film that it has shaped the consciousness of Japanese society against war. This film is directed by Isao Takahata, the other master at Ghibli who would always focus his work on more serious and grounded storylines.
3. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Released in the same year as Grave of the Fireflies, Totoro makes for a more light-tone film. Focusing on the story of two sisters living in the Japanese countryside as they wait for their sick mother to get better. Totoro is a fantastic family film, and it would give the Studio its mascot, which appears at the beginning of every film they make.
4. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Kiki’s Delivery Service is just one of those movies that will make you smile from beginning to end. The story of a young witch trying to learn about the human world is filled with amazing sequences and a lovely message on friendship. Miyazaki keeps it simple and enjoyable. The whole town, where the story sets in, becomes a place we wish could visit.
5. Only Yesterday (1991)
This is another Takahata film, which means it is a lot more adult and serious. The film tells the story of a young woman who, after becoming tired of her life in the city, moves to the countryside to live a simpler life. The movie works as a sort of memory for the main character, as she remembers her childhood and all the events that contribute to her development as a person.
6. Porco Rosso (1992)
Porco Rosso is a very strange movie. The film has a sort of Casablanca feeling, with the main character battling air pirates, while also being emotionally trapped by his past and Femme Fatales. Oh! And the main character is also an anthropomorphic pig. Porco is filled with imagination, action, and even a good old dose of intrigue. It’s one of the most mature of the studio’s earliest films.
7. Ocean Waves (1993)
This might be the most obscure of Ghibli films. The film was made for TV, so for a long time, it became a sort of rarity. Now, thanks to streaming services like Netflix, it is easier to find in some countries. The film is a simple love triangle that evolves into a meaningful story of life. It is also the first Ghibli film not directed by Miyazaki or Takahata.
8. Pom Poko (1994)
The title refers to the sound that the main creatures of the film make when they drum their bellies. Pom Poko is the first time when Ghibli started to experiment with other animation styles, and the result is a fun little adventure in a more magical realm than what Takahata used to do with his works.
9. Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Directed by Yoshifumi Kondo. Whisper of the Heart might be one of the best Ghibli films to date. It tells the story of a young girl who dreams of being a writer and her friendship with a young boy who makes musical instruments. Sadly, Kondo died not long after the release of the film, and Miyazaki and Takahata’s wish of him becoming their successor did not come to fruition. He was a real talent.
10. Princess Mononoke (1997)
The first Ghibli epic! Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Princess Mononoke has a bit of everything. It is a powerful environmental tale, it also works as a sort of big action film with amazing set pieces, and it is also a love story. Miyazaki takes a lot from filmmakers like Kurosawa and manages to create an incredible fantasy film with a huge scope and a high entertainment factor.
11. My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999)
This is another of Ghibli’s biggest experiments with animation. The film is directed by Isao Takahata and dwells into the little details of Japanese life in the city. The Yamadas are a wonderful family and their antics work well to create comedy, which is the genre the film tries to fit in. In terms of animation, there’s nothing more unique in the Ghibli portfolio.
12. Spirited Away (2001)
This film is the consecration of Miyazaki as a filmmaker and also of Studio Ghibli as a factory of geniuses in the animation field. The film won Best Animated Film at the Oscars and helped bring anime to the mainstream. This is another high fantasy tale from Miyazaki, and it has one of the most endearing main characters in the studio’s filmography.
13. The Cat Returns (2002)
Directed by Hiroyuki Morita and Reiko Yoshida, The Cat Returns is the first theatrical Ghibli film non-directed by Miyazaki or Takahata since Whisper of the Heart, which is funny because The Cat Returns is a spinoff from that film. One of the shortest Ghibli films but also one of the most magical. It is better watched along with Whisper of the Heart for a better effect.
14. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
My personal favorite and one of the most visually striking films from Ghibli, Howl’s Moving Castle, is an adaptation of the book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones. The movie has it all; love, war, comedy, and a powerful message on family and what makes you who you are. The cast of characters is incredible, and after so many years it’s still a cornerstone of the medium.
15. Tales From Earthsea (2006)
This one is another adaptation, this time, of the Earthsea series by Ursula K Le Guin, one of the biggest fantasy authors ever. The film is directed by Miyazaki’s son, Goro, and it’s normally seen as one of the weakest films in the series. Still, it is worth seeing, if you are a completionist.
16. Ponyo (2008)
Miyazaki is back on the director’s chair for this one and after Howl’s Moving Castle. This one goes back to the more simple times of My Neighbor Totoro, as it tells the story of a young boy and his friendship with a girl that is actually a fish. The environmental theme is also really strong in this one.
17. Arrietty (2010)
Arrietty is another novel adaptation. This time from the novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton, and tells the story of a tiny group of people that live in people’s houses and borrow things from them to make their houses and clothing. The environments are real works of art on this one, and this also marks the time of film directed by someone different from Miyazaki or Takahata. It’s clear by this point they are trying to create a new guard.
18. From Up Poppy Hill (2011)
Goro Miyazaki’s second try behind the director’s chair and a sort of redemption as Poppy Hill is an excellent film. The story of two young people living in a port town is loveable from beginning to end, and the characters are just as easy to root for. The twist at the end is also quite satisfying. It shows that Goro has the talent to continue his father’s work in the future.
19. The Wind Rises (2013)
This is the latest Hayao Miyazaki film to be released in theaters, and according to him, it would be his last one. The Wind Rises strays away from the fantasy territory to tell a more realistic story. The narrative follows an airplane designer that needs to confront the fact that his inventions are used to kill people during the war. The film is sad and meditative, but it is also one of the best films, period, you could ever watch.
20. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)
This is the last Isao Takahata film, as he would die after the release of this movie. Oh, boy! What a way to go out. Kaguya is not only a bang, it is a nuclear explosion. Takahata goes back to experiment with their animation style and the result is strikingly beautiful. The film tells the Japanese legend of Kaguya in the best way possible. The film was nominated for an Oscar, and it deserved to win but was defeated by Big Hero 6.
21. When Marnie Was There (2014)
Hiromasa Yonebashi, the director of Arrietty, comes back with a wonderful film and for a time what would be the last film from the studio. Marnie tells the story of a young sick girl that goes to the countryside to get better, and there she makes friends with a particularly strange girl. The film is Ghibli at its best and while it is an amazing film, it would have been sad if this was the send-off for the studio.
22. Earwig and the Witch (2020)
Six years after the release of When Marnie Was There, Studio Ghibli comes back with Goro Miyazaki on the director’s chair for what would be the first 3D animation film from the studio. Sadly, their inexperience in making 3D films is noticeable and well, Earwig isn’t a good film. Would the studio die with a whimper?
23. How Do You Live? (2023)
This film isn’t released yet, but it is Hayao Miyazaki coming back from retirement to direct a new film. We couldn’t be more excited. The film will be an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Yoshino Genzaburo, and it will tell the story of a young man that has been touched by the real-life novel. It is expected for 2023, and we cannot wait for it.