One of the most critically acclaimed directors of the century is Hayao Miyazaki. He has directed and written many famous movies. One of them is Howl’s Moving Castle. Howl’s Moving Castle is a Japanese animated film released in 2004. The film is based on a book of the same name. The movie was so popular that its English adaptation was also released.
The movie follows the story of a young girl named Sophie, who makes her living by designing and manufacturing hats. She lives in a fictional world where magic and technology coexist. This tiny world has magic as well as technologically advanced equipment existing at the same time. One day, a witch enters the shop and, in a fit of anger, curses Sophie. Due to this, Sophie turns into an old woman.
The story is set against the backdrop of war. One fine day, Sophie comes across a wizard named Howl, and her fate gets entangled with him. The wizard is in a fight with the king, and she gets trapped in a mess. The beauty of Ghibli’s films is unparalleled. Along with a good story, the film has some breathtaking visuals.
The one thing that differs between the book and the movie is that the movie mostly focuses on the power of love and the side effects of war on people’s lives. Hayao Miyazaki said in an interview that he made the film because he had a lot of rage in his heart due to the Iraq war.
Nevertheless, the film did exceptionally well at the box office and remained one of the most critically acclaimed films of the century. If you love animated films and are a sucker for good storytelling, then here are some more films just like Howl’s Moving Castle that you must check out.
Spirited Away (2001)
A 2021 Japanese animated film, Spirited Away, is a name everyone must have heard of. The film was highly successful and appreciated by the audience. Animated by Studio Ghibli, the film is another phenomenal work by Hayao Miyazaki.
The story follows the life of a young girl named Chihiro Ogino, who, on one fine day, accidentally enters the world of spirits. Yubaba, a witch, turns her parents into pigs, who keep on slogging for food for the whole film.
To escape from this world and free her parents, she takes up a job in Yubaba’s bathhouse while uncovering their secrets. The film did quite well at the box office and went on to win the Critic’s Choice Award for the best-animated film.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Another one of the classics, My Neighbor Totoro follows the story of a university professor and his two daughters, Satsuki and Mei. Their mother is sick and has been admitted to a hospital nearby. Thus, the girls and their father moved to a house near the hospital. Soon the girls befriend a friendly wood ghost, and their adventure continues from there.
The film follows the theme that all living things have spirits and focuses on the philosophy of protecting the environment. The film is rated 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and has won many awards and a lot of appreciation from people all over the world.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Princess Mononoke, released in 1997, was Japan’s highest-grossing film of 1997. Animated by Ghibli Studios, the film follows the story of a young man named Ashitaka. The boy finds himself stuck in the battle between the gods of the forest and humans who consume the resources of that forest.
The film returns to the much-needed but under-reported subject of how humans are depleting the Earth’s resources. The main theme of the movie centers around the environment and its importance in our lives. If you are a fan of Miyazaki and the environment, then this is the film for you.
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
How to Train Your Dragon follows the story of Hiccup, a teenager who lives in the fantasy village of Viking. The village is frequently attacked by a vicious dragon. Hiccup, who was raised to believe that dragons are evil, builds his own machine to kill the night fury. He attacked him but failed to kill him.
So, he befriended the dragon, and soon they became inseparable. Hiccup soon realized that the dragons were really misunderstood, so he went on a mission to protect them. The film had a beautiful ending as the villagers finally accepted the dragon. The film was quite famous around the world. So much so that it had many other sequels. The film has won numerous awards over the years and is regarded as one of Dreamworks’ best works.
The Breadwinner (2017)
The Breadwinner follows the story of a young girl named Parvana and the struggles she faces as she finds ways to survive in a Taliban-ruled country. After her father was arrested by the Taliban, she cut her hair and set out into the world disguised as a boy to provide for herself and her family.
However, her journey is not going to be an easy one, and she will have to face many challenges to rescue her father from jail. The story gives deep insight into the lives of people living under Taliban oppression and speaks heavily of perseverance and strength. A good film to watch.
Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (2018)
Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, also known as “Let’s Hold the Promised Flowers in the Morning of Farewells,” is a Japanese animated fantasy drama. The film was highly appreciated by the fans, and one critic said that it would invoke emotions and memories that you thought were long dead. The film went on to win many awards.
The story follows the life of a special girl from a different clan known as Iorph. The people of this race live a separate life and age slowly. Thus, they can live for many years. One day, their clan was attacked, killing most of them. While surviving and escaping the war, Maquia comes across an infant and decides to adopt and raise him as her son.
After a lot of twists and turns, in the end, we see her son dying of old age in her arms. After his death, she had to bear pain and loneliness, unlike anything else. The movie is quite an emotional one, so if you are planning to watch it, grab a few tissues.
A classic fantasy film directed by Jim Henson, Labyrinth tells the story of a young girl named Sarah who must solve a magical riddle within 13 hours to save her brother. While solving the riddle, she comes across many magical creatures and learns about life in general. One of the lessons is that no one should take their loved ones for granted.
The film, although quite old, remains a classic and feels like a mixture of The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. The actors did quite a phenomenal job with the characters, and they were highly praised for the same.
The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
The Castle of Cagliostro, co-written and directed by the mastermind himself, is a Japanese animated action-adventure film. It is the story of gentleman thief Arsène Lupin III, who robs a casino only to find that the money is fake. He went to a different country to save their princess but ended up being trapped. The story follows his adventures and how his life transforms after the incident.
The film was made with a lot of attention to the details of the city, depicting the classic Miyazaki signature. The film was highly successful and appreciated by film directors.
The Wind Rises (2013)
The Wind Rises was supposed to be Miyazaki’s last film. The film draws strong similarities to Miyazaki’s own life. He draws inspiration from his own life through the main character. Just like Miyazaki, the hero is quite obsessed and engrossed in his passion.
The film focuses on the theme that anything taken too far can be dangerous, even if it is as harmless as a dream. As he becomes entangled in his own life, the hero has to choose between what must be done and what he does.
The film is beautifully made and covers a very serious topic very subtly. Although, till the end, we do not get a specific answer to our questions, we find solace in the simple fact that life exists, so one must do their best to live in the best possible way.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
The classic fantasy film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was animated by the studio, which was the predecessor of Ghibli. It is based on an original manga series and was created in 1984. It is regarded as one of Miyazaki’s earliest works.
Based in a post-war country, the story takes place after 1000 years of a deadly war that destroyed civilization and created a toxic forest. The forest is said to be the home of toxic plants and vicious creatures, and animals. One day, a prophecy occurs that a young girl will come and stabilize the country’s situation.
Nausicaä, a young princess dressed in a blue gown is the prodigy princess. She gives her best to try and understand the forest so that the enmity between human civilization and nature can end. The result of her actions was that, in the end, one non-toxic flower bloomed in the forest.
Porco Rosso (1992)
Porco Rosso is Italian for “red pig” and is a film about a war veteran who, after the 1st World War, is acting as a bounty hunter for pirates in the Adriatic Sea. He has been converted into a pig due to a curse.
Just like any Miyazaki film, this one is quirky and beautiful at the same time. It also pays homage to the early aircraft. Miyazaki said that he wanted to make a sequel to the film but later did not.
Wolf Children (2012)
Quite an emotional film, Wolf Children follows the life of a young girl, telling her story over the course of 13 years. Hana, the young girl, fell in love with a wolf and married him. One day, when he is out searching for food for his family, he is killed.
Now Hana must raise the half-human, half-wolf siblings on her own. She moves to a new city in search of a job to feed her children and raise them. The kids will grow up and have their own lives one day. Finally, Hana comes to terms with this as her children find their own lives.
The film was so beloved that it became the second highest-grossing film in Japan on its release. The film centers around the story of family love and drama.
Still Walking (2008)
Still Walking narrates the story of a family who comes together every year on the anniversary of the death of their oldest son, who died saving another drowning child. The story spans a period of 24 hours that the family spent together. We have people of different personalities in the family, and it all shows how different characters deal with and express the loss.
In a beautiful, well-written story directed, written, and edited by Koreeda, the director draws inspiration from his own childhood memories of the passing of his mother. It is a slice-of-life movie, and one can easily relate to the story one way or another. Koreeda is a mastermind when it comes to conveying emotions through his storytelling and visuals.
Persepolis is adapted from the animations of Marjane Satrapi, in which she drew conclusions from her own life in war-torn Iran. Although the place she grew up in was surrounded by a dictatorship, she grew up in a loving family, which gave birth to her own imagination and identity.
The story gives an insight into what it is like to grow up in such a conflicting environment. The environment in which she was raised made her a strong, independent woman, despite the state of her country was in. Although in 2D, the story never felt flat, and it was due to the powerful writing of the writer.
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Animated by Ghibli, “Grave of the Fireflies” is a tragedy-themed animated film written and directed by Isao Takahata. Ranked as one of the best Japanese films of all time, it is a work of art. The emotional journey of two war orphans, Seita and Setsuko, tells the story of how they survived the bombing of Kobe in World War 2. After their mother died, they moved into their aunt’s house, but after many insults, they left that place
After going through a lot of trouble, they started to find it difficult to fend for themselves, and one of them died of malnutrition and another of starvation. After their deaths, they are reunited when they board a ghostly train and live happily ever after with the ghost of fireflies.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Miyazaki is no stranger to strange and magical storylines. Kiki’s Delivery Service is no different; only in this case does the difference emerge from the common mundane of everyday life. Kiki decides to leave her home one day to pursue her dream of becoming a better witch.
She starts to work for a witch as a delivery service, and the story unfolds from there. Set in quite a simple setting, the story is not that crazy, but it gives quite an important message that one must believe and follow their dream no matter what.
Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Written by Hayao Miyazaki, the last movie directed by Yoshifumi Kondō before his death, “Whisper of the Heart,” which was released in 1995, remains a classic. A simple tale of Shizuku Tsukishima, a 14-year-old student, Whisper of the Heart is unlike any other Miyazaki film as it has no supernatural element to it.
It tells the story of a girl who loves to write and read books. While reading a book, she comes across a boy who appears to be following her.
Being keen on knowing where the story starts, she went to an antique shop, where she met the boy again. They discussed it, and he told her that he wanted to learn how to play musical instruments. He attended a distant college to pursue the same.
Seeing him pursue his dreams motivated her, and she started writing her first novel. After two months of hard work and stress, her novel is finished, and she decides to pursue her studies. The boy returned and proposed to her, and they lived happily ever after.
Perfect Blue (1997)
Perfect Blue, a psychological thriller, explores a previously unexplored side of anime. It tells the story of a woman who leaves her career as a pop star to become an actress, but she starts going insane when a ghost from her past starts to stalk her and make her life miserable.
The film strikes a similar tone to Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream. Satoshi Kon has done a perfect job of depicting how things can go wrong and how reality can be twisted if the person is suffering.
Ink is an award-winning American film that shows a struggle between good and evil while two people are caught in the crossfire. Though it seems like a grim movie, the message it portrays is quite good and hopeful. No matter what the situation, you can always discern good from bad and choose a different path.
One important message that we get from this film is that there is hope, no matter what. “I hope to do good, to choose better, and to survive.”
Only Yesterday (1991)
Only Yesterday, a film to which everyone can relate, tells the story of Taeko Okajima, who is taking a train to the countryside. The film shifts between the past and the present as the protagonist reminisces about her past.
Her childhood, schooldays, first crush, puberty, and more. Along with the past, the movie shows the realistic side of today. It is something that everyone can understand and relate to. Moreover, the amazing visuals of the show do not disappoint and glue the audience to the screen.
Castle in the Sky (1986)
The first film animated by Ghibli and written by Miyazaki; Castle in the Sky, is a Japanese animated film set in a fictional setting. It tells the story of a boy and a girl who is attempting to protect a castle while keeping it hidden from the army, secret agents, and the government. Along with it, they are also trying to find a floating castle. Will they succeed or not? Watch the film to find out more.
96% of the reviews of the film were positive, and it even got an American remake. The film was a huge success in Japan and many other countries.
A western fairy tale but with Miyazaki’s magical touch, Pony tells the story of a goldfish who wants to be independent of her controlling father and reunite with her human friend Sosuke. He named her Pony, and the story revolves around their friendship and relationship.
Miyazaki’s environmental touch is also evident in the movie as our characters go through their lives. He never fails to tell us the importance of environmental protection through his films.
To the Forest of Firefly Lights (2011)
To the Forest of Firefly Lights, a short film of approximately 45 minutes, is a sweet, simple film that will make you feel good. It is based on a manga of the same name. The bond between a spirit named Gin and a girl named Hotaru is explored in the movie. The story follows their sweet love story and tells everything it wants to in a short time.
Mary and Max (2009)
Mary and Max follow an unusual friendship between an overlooked child and an autistic old man from New York. The girl starts to communicate with the man, and an unusual friendship develops between them where they understand each other perfectly. Although it addresses some serious issues, the film does so with humor and lightheartedness.
Babette’s Feast (1987)
The movie tells the story of two nuns, Martine and Filippa, who live a life of simplicity, rejecting any love advances. One fine day, a French immigrant came to live with them. Her name was Babette, and she was escaping the war. With her arrival, the lives of the sisters changed, and they got to see life from a different perspective.
The film explores a very serious topic as to whether a life of simplicity is enough for one to live or not.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)
Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a film directed by the same person who directed 5 centimeters per second. It tells the story of a girl named Asuna. Having lost his father at a very young age, Asuna had to grow up soon. One fine day, she was attacked by a vicious creature, and a boy named Shun saved her.
She later learns that this boy is from another world called Agartha, which is the land of the dead. Later, she travels to Agartha to unravel a secret and finds many new adventures on the way. The film is perfect for those who are looking for a Ghibli-like feel. The movie is quite picturesque and will pull at your heartstrings.
Voices of a Distant Star (2002)
Voices of a Distant Star is a short film created and animated by Makoto Shinkai. The film follows the lives of two childhood friends, a boy, and a girl. At the age of 15, the girl is sent to space to fight the aliens, and the boy must continue his life waiting for her.
As the distance between the earth and space increases, so does the distance between the two of them. The greater the distance, the longer it took for the messages to reach the boy. Despite the distance between them, their love never falters. After some time, it would take 7-9 years for her message to reach the boy, but he did not give up hope. He studies hard, joins NASA, and joins the mission to rescue the team.
Tamako Love Story (2014)
Tamako Love Story is the story of a young boy named, whose school years are going to end soon. He wants to go to Tokyo to pursue his dreams but is reluctant to leave his friends and family behind.
More than anything, he does not want to leave his childhood crush behind. Since she has no future, she will be staying back in town. Now that the time for his departure has arrived, he must make a decision whether to leave his love unrequited or gather up the courage to confess his true feelings. A sweet and simple love story, the movie can be easily enjoyed by all.
I Want to Eat Your Pancreas (2018)
The 2018 film tells the story of a boy who discovers his classmate, Sakura Yamauchi, is suffering from a terminal illness. He then begins to care for her, and her illness brings them closer together, eventually leading to love.
Directed by Shin’ichirô Ushijima, the film was highly appreciated for its story. People even said there were no dry eyes in the theater. The film will hit you hard and make you feel things you haven’t felt in a long time.
Your Name (2017)
Just like Howl’s Moving Castle, Your Name was a huge success in Japan as well as other countries. It received huge appreciation from fans worldwide as it is deemed one of the best-animated films ever made.
Your Name tells the story of two teenagers who swap their bodies. The concept isn’t new and has been covered before. One fine day, two teenagers find out that they can randomly switch bodies. Taking advantage of this, they switch places and try to help each other in any way they can.
They communicate with each other through notes. They discover one day that they cannot switch back, but their circumstances have worsened, and thus their adventure begins. The story is deeply moving and shows the power of true connection.
The Garden of Words (2013)
A Japanese animated film, The Garden of Words, tells the story of a young teenager who aspires to be a shoemaker and a middle-aged woman who is struggling in her life. Through sheer coincidence, they keep meeting and communicating with each other.
The boy tells her all about her ambition and story, while the woman keeps calm and mysterious. Once they come to terms with their feelings, they learn that they have been teaching each other “how to walk.” Through the story, the director tries to tell a story that is filled with love and life. Moreover, the age difference between the characters is significant as well, and we can see how people of different ages can learn from each other.
5 Centimeters per Second (2007)
5 Centimeters per Second is a Japanese animated film written and directed by Makoto Shinkai. The film is divided into three parts, in which it discovers the life of Takaki Tōno and his relationship with three different women at different times. The film was later adapted into a manga series as well.
Takaki fell in love with a girl named Akari when he was a child, but due to his parent’s job, he had to move, and they were separated. Last night, before his departure, they promised each other they would meet again under the cherry blossom tree, but life happened in a way they did not meet.
Although they always loved each other, they moved on with their lives with a pinch of regret. They keep going back to the last night they met and keep remembering their promise to each other. The story is bittersweet and will leave you in tears. However, it has some of the most beautiful visuals.
A Silent Voice (2017)
A Silent Voice is a type of film that is rarely made. Combined with great visuals and amazing writing, the film portrays some powerful messages. It is a coming-of-age psychological film that covers heavy topics such as suicide, depression, mental health, bullying, and more. The film tells the story of a bully boy who grows up to be a social outcast.
Having faced a lot, he understands all that he did wrong in his childhood and tries to befriend the deaf girl he bullied. Although the story covers some dark topics like suicide, it is a must-watch as it covers many important life lessons.
From Up on Poppy Hill (2013)
From Up on Poppy Hill, directed by Goro Miyazaki and written by Keiko Niwa and Hayao Miyazaki, was released in 2013. Set in 1963, the film tells the story of two teenagers, Shun and Umi, and the budding romance between them. The time is after World War II, and the world is changing. How their lives will change and adapt to this situation is the main theme of the story.
Japan’s youth were struggling to get back on their feet after World War II, but the country was ready to host the Olympics. At the same time, saving a building from demolition, romance buds between the two individuals. However, their past comes back to haunt them soon and threatens to tear them apart. Will their relationship survive this turmoil? Watch this great masterpiece to learn more.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2007)
Directed by Mamoru Hosoda and written by Satoko Okudera, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time tells the story of a young girl named Makoto Konno who discovers one day that she can travel through time. So she does that and uses her powers to preserve her friendships with the people who are closest to her.
It is an amazing romance anime film and a great start for anyone who wants to explore the world of anime.