Anime movies are one of the art types that are relatively new, with just about 50 years behind them. But in those 50 years, Japanese animation specialists have created so many amazing movies that are difficult to neglect for any real fan of this art category. Here are 20 classic films of the genre that you have to watch before considering yourself a true fan.
20. Akira (1988)
Based on Akira (the manga) by Katsuhiro Ohtomo
Studio: TMS Entertainments
Director: Katsuhiro Ohtomo
While not the first movie on this list, any analysis of recent anime filmmaking is not complete without the cyberpunk traditional genre. The brave story of rider rebels Tetsuo Shima and Shotaro Kaneda considers the significance of their life as they battle with government oppression. This technological masterpiece is the ancestor of action anime and still is regarded as one of the best Japanese movies of all-time.
19. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Based on Ghost in the Shell (the manga) by Masamune Shirow
Studio: Production I.G.
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Another popular film, this sci-fi art piece by the imaginative Mamoru Oshii provided us the archetype of the psychologically detached woman cyborg. And even if many have tried after it, no one has been capable to create a story as powerful as half-human-half-cyborg cop Motogo Kusanagi’s trip through the cyber-hell around her. This is the type of film that creates the true lovers of anime.
18. Panda and the Magic Serpent (1958)
Based on Legend of the White Snakes (folktale)
Studio: Toei Animation
Directors: Kazuhiko Okabe and Taiji Yabushita
The very first film made and presented on the list, the original colored anime movie was based on this Song Dynasty folktale. This was among the first to be launched in the US. It did not instantly create for the anime genre a popular name. Nonetheless, this story of never growing old is a visual masterpiece that truly manages to show the amazing progression of animated technological innovations in the last half a century.
17. Treasure Island (1971)
Based on the Treasure Island (novel) by R.L. Stevenson
Studio: Toei Animation
Director: Hiroshi Ikeda
This funny and vibrant 1971 movie follows the stories of Gran and Jim as they search for the enormous wealth of space trip. Non-anime viewers will likely be happy with the Disney variation of this Stevenson novel. Other than being so amazing, the anime also gets extra points for being created on a concept by the famous Hayao Miyazaki, a legend of the genre.
16. Digital Monster X-Evolution (2005)
Loosely Based on The Digimon Chronicles (the manga) by Shisheni Okorarana
Studio: Toei Animation
Director: Hiroyuki Kakudou
Digimon might seem “too mainstream” (and it rather is for some people’s taste). However, this unique feature – the only movie in the sequence to be delivered entirely in amazing computer animation – is truly a spectacular look at a Digimon universe without humans in it. You will have to look for it on the Internet because it was never launched in the United States. But do not skip this awesome film that anime lovers in Asia already know too well.
15. Paprika (2006)
Based on Paprika (the novel) by Yasutaka Tsutsui
Director: Satoshi Kon
Satoshi Kon created some awesome works during an amazing career. At the very top of it is the adventure of doctor Chiba Atsuko, who utilizes a system to get into the patients’ dreams and tries to help them deal with some of the most distressing psychological problems under the role of her attractive personality “Paprika”. The movie is complicated, difficult and creative – even more reasons to watch it and see why the character of Satoshi Kon is so liked by many.
14. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)
Based on The Girl Who Leapt through Time (the novel) by Yasutaka Tsutsui
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is the second film on this list that is based on one of the novels written by Yasutaka Tsutsui. This story follows the teenage girl Makoto Konno, who amazingly gets the ability to travel through time while thinking like a youngster, begins using it to fix trivial problems. An interesting film that lovers and non-fans of the genre as well can appreciate, few movies of great quality have such cheerful tendencies.
13. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Based on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (the manga) by Hayao Miyazaki
Studio: Top Craft
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Any list of anime films will surely take us to the recently retired creator Hayao Miyazaki. Hayao is an artist who made one of the most significant post-apocalyptic movies of all-time. Young princess Nausicaa gets herself out of the comfortable life in the Valley of the Wind as she attempts to stop a nearby country from using a dangerous tool to reduce their overgrowing pest issue. If the quickly obvious governmental and public implications are not enough to already make it a terrifically powerful piece of art, the movie’s achievements were also amplified about the beginning of a certain graphics studio.
12. Lupin the Third: The Secret of Mamo (1978)
Based on Lupin III (the manga) by Kazuhiko “Monkey Punch” Kato
Studio: TMS Entertainment
Director: Soji Yoshikawa
As the first movie in the extremely acclaimed Lupin series of films, Lupin the Third: The Secret of Mamo might be missing for the viewers who concentrate more directly on the character’s second part, under the guidance of Miyazaki. But the fans not watching this masterpiece often skip a powerful story, as the delightful robber Arsene Lupin III is tricked by the wonderful Fujiko Mine, fights Office Koichi Zenigata and goes around the globe to look for of the strange Philosopher’s Stone.
This often ignored classic was the movie that first made Lupin one of the on-screen anti-heroes. It has completely left a mark on all the crime anime inspired by it.
11. Mobile Suit Gundam (1981)
Based on Mobile Suit Gundam (the anime) by Hajime Yatate and Yoshiyuki Tomino
Studio: Nippon Sunrise
Director: Yoshiyuki Tomino
Just like Akira or Ghost in the Shell, the classic Mobile Suit Gundam is accountable for the beginning of a hugely wide known subgenre: the “mecha” category, with its action of enormous technical monsters managed by weak pilots inside them. While not being the first of this type, Gundam has been certainly one of the most influencing, mixing space epicness with the traditional Japanese giant movies like Godzilla.
Officially a selection of several episodes taken from the cartoon series, the movie follows the story of resident Amuro Ray who has been given the job of flying a massive new robot. The storyline functions as a comment on the pervasiveness of technological innovation and its impact on mecha genre can be seen even to these days.
10. Tekkonkinkreet (2006)
Based on Tekkonkinkreet (the manga) by Taiy? Matsumoto
Studio: Studio room 4°C
Director: Hiroaki Ando and Eileen Arias
This anime film follows the life of orphans Shiro and Kuro as they try to endure harshness on the streets of the surprisingly Treasure Town. The story of Tekkonkinreet reveals to us the loss of childhood purity and the consequences of social disfavor on younger people. The film, obviously, has a true Akira-like experience. And when you recognize the lovely but disappointing message behind its title, you can see why this is considered as one of the best contemporary anime movies.
9. Wings of Honneamise (1987)
Studio: Bandai Visual and Gainax
Director: Hiroyuki Yamaga
Described by Mark Ebert as being visually awesome, this space dilemma about uninspired astronaut Shitotsugh Lhadatt might very well be to the anime genre what Star Wars is to movies, without its financial achievements. It is often considered as one of the top anime ever created. However, the film did not create an impact on the box office, taking nearly 25 years for even a statement of the newly planned follow up to this masterpiece.
8. Appleseed (2004)
Based on Appleseed (the manga) by Masamune Shirow
Studios: Electronic Frontier and Micott & Basara
Director: Shinji Aramaki
Appleseed is a type of mixture between the mecha elements of Mobile Suit Gundam and a cyborg-centric story from Ghost in the Shell. This well-known film goes around cop Deunan Knute, who is gradually trapped among the crossfires of warring groups in the incorrect Utopia that her dad assisted in its creation. With fantastic action, wonderful CG animation and a whole series as a result of its worldwide success, this is a top anime that should not be skipped.
7. Patlabor: The Movie (1989)
Based on Patlabor (the manga) by Masama Yuki and storyline by Headgear
Studio: Studio Deen
Director: Mamoru Oshii
If our list looks a little too populated by technical stuff, know that the “golden age of anime”, extending from the 80’s into the beginning of the 90’s, had a lot of devices. But what is different about this movie is the fact that the whole movie has such spiritual overtones. It is almost challenging to neglect the powerful theological or existential concerns the storyline suggest to the viewers. It stars the Urban Cops Department’s Automobile Unit 2 and their initiatives to stop the broken robots all over the city.
6. Neo Tokyo (1987)
Based on Meikyu Monogatari (the short tale compilations) by Taku Mayumura
Studios: Madhouse and Venture Group Argos
Directors: Yoshiaki Kawajira, Rintaro, Katsuhiro Otomo
As one of the more experimental anime created by the Japanese artists, this anthological film examines the influence of technological innovation on people across several short episodes relevant to our individual thoughts and how devices alter them. Unfortunately, for the United States fans of the genre, it is somewhat hard to track it down. But this still does not change the fact that it is a haunting and informing look at the part of humankind on a technically mobile globe.
5. 5 Centimeters per Second (2007)
Studio: CoMix Pattern
Director: Makoto Shinkai
This film is truly one of the more understated and peaceful anime movies ever created. 5 Centimeters per Second is made of three-segment view of the events through which Takaki Toono, a regular younger man whose relationship with his close friend Akari Shinohara is challenged when the latter goes to another town. As one of director Makoto Shinkai’s best movies, this work places the artist on the same level as Miyazaki regarding the development of a sad story. And for those of you who have ever believed that anime cannot do a “realistic” experience, this one is for you non-believers.
4. Steamboy (2004)
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
While it does not quite live up to its story prospective, Steamboy is the director’s second important work after Akagi. And it still is a visual pleasure. The storyline goes around innovative inventor Ray Steam, who is caught among the fight of Western groups looking to declare the supremacy over to the recently discovered steam technological innovations. The concept of the movie might not actually be among the most exclusive. However, every scene of this movie has more details than most cartoons have in a whole show. Thus it developed into an awesome experience for those passionate about extreme visuals.
3. Megazone 23 (1985)
Directors: Ichiro Itano, Noboru Ishiguro, Shinji Aramaki and Kenichi Yatagai
Studio: Tatsunoko and AIC
Original Animated Movie (direct-to-home)
While the Wachowski bros have candidly declined to have any inspiration from this apparently missing four-part video animation, the story for Megazone 23 does seem just like their popular The Matrix. Going on in a fictionalized decor of Tokyo that prevails only as a computer simulator, the direct-to-video sequence was published across several decades in different segments. It follows the travails of youngling Shogo Yahagi, a boy who comes across a bicycle that allows him to find out that all he recognizes around him is just a virtual reality. It is truly quite complicated and loses a little focus in following events. Nonetheless, it is still unforgettable to create the direct-to-video cartoons a probability.
2. Any Movie from Studio Ghibli (1985)
Producers: Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki, Yasuyoshi Tokuma and Toshio Suzuki
Works consist of video games, advertisements and films
Remember a “certain studio” that the movie Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind brought into the open? Well, that studio was Ghibli – surely the most significant Japanese animation studio in the history. With the capability to create movies that are both psychologically in contact with the audience and visually complex, this production organization stayed through when several others from the 80’s were unsuccessful. By doing so, it provided us everything from Spirited Away to Ponyo. Such a wide inclusion to the record creates the variety of needed movies well over 20. But there basically is not a Ghibli film that any serious fan cannot watch.
1. Graveyard of the Fireflies (1988)
Based on Graveyard of the Fireflies (the novel) by Akiyuki Nosaka
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Director: Isao Takahata
I just described Studio Ghibli just one paragraph above. Nonetheless, I must create a unique emphasis for this classic film that Roger Ebert has branded as one of the best movies of all-time. Starting from Akiyuki Nosaka and his semi-autobiographical book, this movie features younger brothers Setsuko and Seita as they try to endure life in Japan during the period of World War II.
Truly one of the deepest films ever made, Graveyard of the Fireflies is filmmaking at its very best. It transcended brands like “anime” or “movie” and just being an unquestionable work of art. While the other Studio Ghibli movies are classics, this is simply a masterpiece.