The Five Best Studio Ghibli Movies

Studio Ghibli is a revered Japanese animation studio that’s best known for its lineup of heartwarming and sometimes heart-wrenching films. 

Following the success of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, friends and longtime collaborators Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata decided to start their own company. Fast forward to three decades later and Studio Ghibli has become one of the most celebrated studios in the world. 

However, most of their movies were either difficult to find or expensive to watch. But, thanks to their deals with Netflix and HBO Max, their timeless classics are now just a click away.

Miyazaki’s influence reached far and wide, touching the works of other filmmakers such as Guillermo del Toro and Wes Anderson. 

Studio Ghibli films are a masterclass in storytelling. More than that, Miyazaki has a way of making these animated films relatable. So as a tribute to this legendary studio, we’re listing down five of its masterpieces.

Spirited Away (2001)

Credit: Spirited Away

Chihiro and her parents are on their way to move into the suburbs when her father decides to take a detour. They find a tunnel that leads into an abandoned theme park. Her parents turn into pigs after stuffing themselves with food from a stall, and Chihiro finds herself stuck in the spirit world.

She meets a boy named Haku and is forced to work at a bathhouse run by Yubaba. 

Spirited Away showcases Miyazaki’s genius—from stunning visuals to iconic characters like No-Face. Even though this is a movie meant for kids, it has the stuff of nightmares that will terrify grown-ups. It’s the film that propelled Studio Ghibli into the international scene. Over two decades later, it continues to resonate with both young and old audiences.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Credit: My Neighbor Totoro

Who would have thought that a snoozing woodland entity named Totoro would be a global icon?

My Neighbor Totoro has a simple story. Two young girls, Satsuki and Mei, move to the countryside and are essentially left to fend for themselves since their father is working and their mother is in the hospital.

While exploring their surroundings, they came across three forest spirits—one small, one medium, and one large. The woodland spirits often showed up during emergencies. It’s a fascinating film that shows how the sisters try to cope and escape reality with this fantasy involving an adorable and cuddly spirit. This is a fairly common theme in Miyazaki’s works—how the stories speak to the viewer.

It’s a delightful and enjoyable watch, perfect for all ages. It’s one of those movies you can watch over and over again and still find magical every single time.

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

While My Neighbor Totoro features a simple yet magical story, Howl’s Moving Castle is the opposite. There’s still magic, of course, but there’s also a bit of action. If there’s one thing that separates this from Studio Ghibli’s other offerings, it’s the fact that this is quite possibly their most visually stunning animation.

It’s about a young milliner, Sophie, who is cursed by a witch and turned into an old woman. She heads to the countryside to look for anything that can cure her when she meets a living scarecrow. She’s led to a moving castle where she lets herself in and makes herself the cleaning lady.

She meets the owner, a lonely and troublesome wizard named Howl who’s forced to participate in human war.

Miyazaki opposed the war in Iraq, which is reflected in Howl’s Moving Castle’s anti-war themes. 

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Credit: Grave of the Fireflies

Not all Studio Ghibli films are light, happy, and uplifting. Some of them emotionally wreck you in ways you didn’t know possible.

Grave of the Fireflies is emotionally and mentally scarring. It follows 14-year-old Seita and his sister, 4-year-old Setsuko, as they journey through their hometown toward the end of World War II. They were orphaned after their mother died from an air raid. The children are homeless and starving, and Seita tries his best to take care of and distract Setsuko from the grim reality surrounding them. 

Unlike the other movies on this list, this one isn’t something you let kids watch unless you want to traumatize them at an early age. 

There are no magical creatures or spirits to protect Seita and Setsuko. There’s no happy ending, too, because that’s the reality of war—no winners, just survivors.

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

13-year-old Kiki is an apprentice witch who moves into a new town and tries to find her footing in the world. She’s accompanied by a sarcastic black cat named Jiji, who happens to be one of Studio Ghibli’s most recognizable characters. She uses her flying abilities to offer delivery service for a bakery. Kiki soon realizes that her powers are fading.  

Kiki’s Delivery Service is a moving coming-of-age story. Plot-wise, it’s not that rich, but it has several important lessons even grown-ups should take note of.

Studio Ghibli has something for everyone.

From somber to fantasy, this legendary studio has a deep understanding of what tugs on its viewers’ heartstrings. You can binge-watch their films on Netflix and HBO Max.

 

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