If you live outside of Japan, chances are the first Japanese anime movie you saw was Taken away as if by magic. Or maybe Kiki’s Delivery Service Where Princess Mononoke. The thing is, in addition to ubiquitous TV shows like Pokemon Where dragonball, Studio Ghibli films are one of the most common entry points into the “anime” world for Westerners. And because there are so many Studio Ghibli movies, you can hang around the magical, melancholy realms of Ghibli for a very long time. But what happens when you run out? Where should you go next?
I put “anime” in quotes because, famously, Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki absolutely despises the term. What’s more, he hated when his films are called “anime”. But, unfortunately for Miyazaki, it happens all the time. These other directors are, at least to my knowledge, less allergic to the term. Here’s a loosely ordered countdown of the best animated movies that are not from Studio Ghibli.
I also try not to repeat directors. If there’s a movie where the director has made other movies that you should watch, I’ll list them.
8. Promare (2019)
Promare is a film that, despite being only a few years old, has a sort of cult following. Although I am not part of this sect, I would recommend Promare primarily as a way to experience one of anime’s most ubiquitous studios, Studio Trigger. The trigger is particularly hot right now, thanks to Cyberpunk: Edge Runners. But they are behind quite a few iconic series, like kill her kill her.
Promare, to me, reads like an introduction to Studio Trigger methods. Mechs, a general feeling that clothes are overrated, queerness, stakes that suddenly escalate into levels of global catastrophe, stunning animation – it’s all there!
7. The Night is Short, Step on the Girl (2017)
Maasaki Yuasa is probably my favorite anime director, but he usually does TV. You can thank him for gems such as Devilman Crybay, Keep your hands on Eizoken!and ping pong animation. The night is short, step on the girl actually takes place in the same universe as my favorite of his shows, The Tatami Galaxy, but this is by no means a necessary preview. It’s recommended because it’s great, but not necessary.
Upon its release, The night is short, step on the girl toured all film festivals. This is this film genre. Beautifully animated, artfully done, tastefully bizarre. Its plot just follows this college-aged woman wandering around Kyoto one night.
Other films by Maasaki Yuasa: Ride your wave is basically Ponyo and it’s just okay, but a fun watch nonetheless. If you like that, check out the TV shows listed above.
6. The Evangelion Films Rebuild (2007-2021)
Neon Genesis Evangelion is, by far, one of the greatest anime series ever made. But it was made in the 90s on a extremely tight budget. When the series became popular, director Hideaki Anno decided he wanted to tell the story with updated animation and a different ending. (Me? I think the OG looks fantastic, thanks.)
All four Evangelion movies (1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 3.0 + 1.0) retain what’s great about the original series, making it ideal for fans old and new. Because who doesn’t love a totally baffling mech series that’s actually about humanity’s depression and greed?
If you’re wondering how it could be related to Ghibli: Anno was one of Miyazaki’s favorite animators before he left to start his own company. The bond was so close that Anno returned to voice the title character of Miyazaki’s so-called last film, The wind picks up.
REMARK: The End of Evangelion is the end of the To display! Don’t watch this if you watch this! But you should also watch the show and this!
5. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
You may have noticed that once you leave the Ghibli Zone, many anime movies like to play with your brain a lot. ghost in the shell is certainly no exception to this. But it is an iconic film. You might even remember the super scary Hollywood adaptation starring Scarlett Johansen as the lead (Japanese) character.
ghost in the shell features both beautiful animation and a deeply chilling and thought-provoking meditation on artificial intelligence. A truly dizzying number of sequel films and series stem from the original film. I heard the series The loneliness complex is good, but my personal opinion is that this movie is amazing on its own.
Other Production IG films: Not a movie, but I very recommend the completely different and completely frenetic ride that is FLCL. It was created in collaboration with Anno’s Gainax.
4. Wolf Children (2012)
I guess, if you like Studio Ghibli, you’re ready to have a good cry during a movie. Wolf children is 1000% a movie that will make you cry. It mixes a very Ghibli magical fantasy with the equally very Ghibli touch of personal trauma. The film centers on a human mother forced to raise two half-wolf children on her own after tragedy strikes. This takes the struggles of solo parenting to an extreme. It’s a beautifulbreathtaking movie.
Overall, Studio Chizu is probably the closest studio to a “modern Ghibli” launched in the past two decades. Studio head Mamoru Hosoda also has an interesting history with Ghibli. Miyazaki was his inspiration to become an animator, but he was initially rejected by Ghibli and worked at Toei instead. He was then hired to direct Howl’s Howl’s Moving Castlebut left the project due to creative differences.
Other Studio Chizu films: There’s not a bad one in the lot. The girl who crossed time, Summer Wars (my favorite), The Boy and the Beast, Miraiand Beautiful are all great. Hosoda’s first film, a A play movie titled Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Islandis also phenomenal.
3. The Godfathers of Tokyo (2003)
If you know the name of another famous Japanese animation director, it’s probably Satoshi Kon. Kon has become world famous for his beautifully animated films, which completely flip your brain and your concept of reality. Some of his movies are almost Lynchian — the kind of movies college kids love to talk about.
Tokyo Godfathers is a huge exception to the famous Satoshi Kon vibe. It’s… a Christmas movie. In which three homeless characters find a baby and try to find a way to return it. Notably, the film is also way ahead of its time by featuring a transgender protagonist who the film is totally sympathetic to.
Other films by Satoshi Kon: Completely different, but Millennial actress, Paprika, and perfect blue are all beautiful. Paprika famous inspired Creation.
2. Your Name (Kimi no Na Wa) (2016)
Makoto Shinkai is perhaps the closest thing in reputation to Hayao Miyazaki (which we’re going to get in current-gen). You will immediately know Shinkai’s movies because they are all breathtaking beautiful. Pure eye candy, dazzling to look at.
But it’s a testament to the incredible your name is that he’s not near the top here on his visuals alone. This movie has it all: humor, romance, the pain of growing up, and a nice dollop of weirdness (not fully realized). I remember walking out of seeing this movie in theaters screaming, “THIS WAS A PERFECT MOVIE!”
your name was also the first film to break the box office records set by the almighty Taken away as if by magic. They have since been shattered again by the almighty trio of Mugen Train, Jujutsu Kaisen 0, and (probably) One Piece Movie: Red.
Other movies by Makoto Shinkai: Make your choice, apart from his very first film! grow old with you, garden of wordsand 5 millimeters per second are all wonderful.
I’ll be honest upfront: Akira is my favorite movie of all time. Not “favorite animated movie”. Just “favorite movie”.
Why? For one thing, the animation is incredible: every cel is hand-painted, in a huge production effort that put the film well over budget. There is also the music by the collective of experimental composers Geinoh Yamashirogumi, which mixes gamelan, Japanese matsuri songs and all sorts of other sonic delights. It’s my all-time favorite film score. Try this on for size.
It’s also the kind of movie to watch. a lot a lot times before fully understanding what is happening. I also read the graphic novel, and felt like I could fully explain what’s going on in Akira after my fifth viewing. I also think Tetsuo is a brilliant character. Hmm, I mean: TESUOOOOOOOO!!!
Image credit: Makoto Shinkai
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