The 20 Best Anime Movies of All Time, Ranked: Despite existing in both film and television, anime is kind of its own thing. There’s a tacit contract between audiences and the creators of anime, agreed upon before watching. Fans accept some of the worst impulses commonly found in anime — the suspension of logic and disbelief, the tendency to sexualize or infantilize women, the melodramatic or over-the-top voice acting — in favor of what the medium can actually provide. That’s because at its best, anime brilliantly utilizes the imaginative possibilities of animation to explore existential, societal, and technological issues with a depth of maturity rarely found in animation.
Unfortunately, some anime can be daunting to approach. For example, Dragon Ball has more than 800 episodes, and One Piece has over one thousand episodes. Sometimes it’s just easier to get into a film rather than navigate the massive anime franchises out there. A stand-alone film may be the best way to get into anime in general. So if you’re looking for the absolute greatest anime movies of all time, you’ve come to the right place. 20 Best Anime Movies.
This list will omit films that are essentially anthologies, even if they are great (Robot Carnival, Genius Party). It will also stay away from titles that are less than 60 minutes (such as the brilliant Life After BOB: The Chalice Study or Voices of a Distant Star), which are hard to justify as feature films. We’ll avoid films that are connected to larger franchises (like the astounding Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time); we’re only including movies that anyone can turn on without needing to have watched a TV series to appreciate it. Finally, we’ll also try to avoid listing too many titles from the same filmmaker; after all, Hayao Miyazaki films could take up a lot of this list, so we’ve mentioned him sparingly. 20 Best Anime Movies.
1. Darkside Blues (1994)
An abstract, mysterious, and romantic gothic thriller, Darkside Blues is an immensely atmospheric film that doesn’t offer many answers but poses some fascinating questions and distinct animation for the time.
A sci-fi film with ominous undertones, Darkside Blues is set in a dystopic future where a resistance faction fights against an awful corporation. Their secret weapon? A mysterious stranger recetly emerged from another dimension. While it may be confusing or incomprehensible at times, the overall mood and feel of Darkside Blues is downright ineffable. 20 Best Anime Movies.
2. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)
Controversial author Yasutaka Tsutsui has inspired a few incredible animes over the years, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is based on his 1966 time travel story. In many ways, the time loop story about a young girl reliving the same day could be seen as a precursor to hit films like Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow.
The great Mamoru Hosoda (Belle, Mirai, Wolf Children) brings his usual emotional acuity to this gorgeously animated story of a time-traveling girl who runs into the usual problems of causality when trying to fix problems of the past.
3. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)
Vampire Hunter D has a lengthy pedigree, from 40 novels to audio dramas, video games, and a 1985 anime film. While that’s a very good film, it’s actually the loose sequel, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, that stands above all the rest, and offers a very inviting self-contained world for audiences to lose themselves in.
With incredible gothic animation and a cool horror narrative, the 2000 movie finds the titular character, half-human and half-vampire D, involved in a complicated plot to rescue a woman taken by a wealthy vampire count. 20 Best Anime Movies.
4. Barefoot Gen (1983)
Before there was Grave of the Fireflies, there was Barefoot Gen, a powerful study of Japan and its children around the time the nuclear bombs dropped. Written by Keiji Nakazawa, who was actually in Hiroshima (at the age of six) when the bomb fell, the film follows the Nakaoka family from the period the bomb drops on Hiroshima through the Nagasaki bomb dropping and after, as Japan surrenders in World War II. It’s of course an emotionally devastating film, but less mired in misery as the later Grave of Fireflies, but also less visually interesting.
Tip TopA delightful and hilarious little film with punk rock energy that came out of nowhere, On-Gaku: Our Song is relatively new but has quickly become a cult classic and one of the few animes to be added to the lauded Criterion Channel. The film follows a group of delinquent friends who steal different instruments to start a rock band despite not having any idea what they’re doing. With a minimalist approach and a whole lot of dry humor, On-Gaku: Our Song is ultimately a surprisingly sweet look at finding fulfillment and meaning amid the temptations of nihilism.
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It may not be remembered well today, but at the time, Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise was a massive endeavor. The most expensive anime film of all time upon its release, there could be a whole documentary made about Royal Space Force and it would be fascinating.
The film was a collaborative experiment constructed by a variety of skilled people with little experience, and the result was somehow a cohesive sci-fi epic with wonderful characters and incredible music directed by Ryuichi Sakamoto. Though the film was a bomb at the time, it succeeded on home media, and deserves to be revisited.
7. Metropolis (2001)
There should be more anime remakes of classic sci-fi films. The medium is capable of taking the ideas of science-fiction and manifesting them in ways that technology wouldn’t allow decades ago. Such is the case with the amazing anime film Metropolis, a loose remake of the silent Fritz Lang classic, which remains one of the best sci-fi movies of all time.
Like the original, it studies the divisions between a proletariat class and their bourgeois overlords, with robots taking center stage here as a discriminated class. With a heavier emphasis on romance than the original film, Metropolis is the epic anime swan song of the famed director Rintaro (Galaxy Express 999), and a brilliant study of technology and dehumanization. It also has one of the best endings in any anime film.
8. Belladonna of Sadness (1973)
The trailblazing anime film Belladonna of Sadness has unfortunately been remembered mainly for its adult content, but the film is so much more than a hentai. Part of an adult trilogy of films (with Cleopatra and A Thousand and One Nights), Belladonna of Sadness transcends just about any other hentai thanks to its phenomenal animation and deconstruction of misogyny.
The psychedelic film was a box office disaster, an indication that it addressed ideas far beyond the traditional confines of pornography. Belladonna of Sadness chronicles the sad life of a woman in medieval France whose dignity, strength, and genius survives endless torment. It’s a very dark, disturbing film, but a surprisingly empowering one.
9. Millennium Actress (2001)
Like Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon is one of the best filmmakers of all time, even outside the world of anime. Kon, however, died at the young age of 46, and wasn’t able to create as impressive a filmography as some other directors. However, every single Kon title is masterful in its own way.
Millennium Actress is one of his most subdued films, a beautiful, subtle, and melancholic study of a great actress’ life. An ode to cinema and acting itself, Millennium Actress is a gorgeous character study that defies the traditions of anime and becomes entirely its own thing.
10. Weathering with You (2019)
Has there ever been a better film about rain? Weathering with You is a downright gorgeous romance about people actively fighting against fate to find something beautiful and true. The fantasy film follows a 16-year-old who runs away from home and into Tokyo, where he stumbles across a ‘Sunshine Girl,’ who can supposedly part the rain clouds and bring rays of sunlight at any time.
Astounding animation and sound design create one of the most textural animes ever made, as Makoto Shinkai (Voices of a Distant Star, Your Name) directs a quiet story of loss, grief, and loneliness that manages to find some beautiful sunshine amid all the rain. Weathering with You was seen in 4DX when it was released, and was one of the most amazing cinematic experiences an anime fan could have at the time, but is still incredible in any regular home media viewing.
11. Pom Poko (1994)
Most people associate Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki, and understandably so. But Isao Takahata was the other genius director on their team, and honestly, several of his boldly uncompromising films could’ve been included here (Only Yesterday, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, My Neighbors the Yamadas, Grave of the Fireflies, Anne of Green Gables). He was a master, an iconoclast, and in many ways, Pom Poko could be called his best film.
While it flirts with tropes present in other films, Pom Poko is ultimately unlike any other movie. A radical environmentalist polemic, the film mixes very adult humor with documentary sensibilities and childlike anthropomorphized cartoons to create a complete anomaly. They begin a legitimate ecoterrorism campaign against the humans that are destroying their home. Pom Poko is truly unlike anything else.
12. Angel’s Egg (1985)
An avant-garde anime with little to no dialogue, Angel’s Egg is a stunning tone poem of a film that has influenced countless titles ever since, such as Under the Skin. The haunting but unforgettable experimental anime place in a post-apocalyptic landscape where a woman protects a mysterious egg against all odds. Her journey and the people she meets are beautifully animated, and the abstract plot gives way to countless philosophical interpretations.
13. Paprika (2006)
Another adaptation of a Yasutaka Tsutsui story, Paprika is a mind-blowing extravaganza about dreams and human psychology. Susumu Hirasawa’s score is one of the greatest of all time, accompanying a kaleidoscopic vision of dreams and nightmares four years before Inception tackled similar territory. Satoshi Kon’s final film is yet another masterpiece, this time following a dream-sharing device used by terrorists and investigated by detectives. Incredibly imaginative and deeply metaphysical, Paprika is a mysterious classic you have to see to believe.
14. The Night Is Short Walk on Girl (2017)
An absolute delight on all fronts, The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is pure joy. Beginning with a merry feast, the film follows one horny guy and his crush, an intelligent and independent woman. After they drink separately, they end up spending the night going on an adventure of sorts.
In a way, it’s reminiscent of the great Richard Linklater filmBefore Sunrise, except here, the great filmmaker Masaaki Yuasa (Ping Pong the Animation, Devilman Crybaby, Mind Game) continues to embrace experimental animation, making every single frame of this joyous film funny, strange, and extremely artistic. 20 Best Anime Movies.
15. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
One fo the most heartbreaking films of all time, Grave of the Fireflies follows a pair of siblings recently orphaned during the American bombing of Kobe in 1945. The brother and sister attempt to survive in a ruthless situation, stealing food and avoiding capture and death where they can. The film is quiet and antithetical to many of the usual clichés in anime history, instead favoring an emotional, deeply painful study of resilience, love, and war.
16. Mind Game (2004)
As its title implies, Mind Game is a complete mind-melt, one of the most unpredictable films ever made. Completely embracing the liberating qualities of animation, Masaaki Yuasa doesn’t just draw outside the box here — he unboxes it. The film is an anarchic look at causality and consequences, depicting what happens when a dead man is given a second chance to live life to his fullest. The film is mainly split into two halves, one at a diner where a violent incident takes place, and one where the main cast is stuck inside the belly of a whale.
In between, there are mysterious montages depicting all the possible consequences for everybody’s actions, and impressively innovative animation that combines multiple different styles. It’s funny, weird, inappropriate, disturbing, beautiful, and ultimately inspiring. In short, Mind Game is unlike anything ever made.
17. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
One of the seminal cyberpunk texts of all time, Ghost in the Shell was a cultural force in and of itself. An intricately detailed meditation on technology, crime, and the human soul, the masterful Ghost in the Shell set the template for many animes and adaptations moving forward. It’s essentially the Blade Runner of Japanese culture. 20 Best Anime Movies.
Ghost in the Shell follows a synthetic cyborg used to protect the state from hackers and activists in a world where cybernetics and transhumanism are becoming more popular. A masterclass in paranoia and suspicion, Ghsot in the Shell is also a subtly philosophical interrogation of identity and selfhood, with one of the greatest main characters in all anime.
18. Spirited Away (2001)
Continuing to prove that 2001 was the greatest year of all for anime, Spirited Away may very well be the greatest Studio Ghibli film ever made. A sly satire of capitalism and modernism, the film follows a girl who is entrapped in a fantasy land after her parents are turned into consumer pigs.
The main character’s contagious curiosity, resilience, and optimism perseveres through a variety of strange, dark circumstances, not to mention a plethora of unique, beautifully designed characters. Spirited Away remains one of the most radical films in anime history, even if most people miss the point, and produced a range of unforgettable characters and incredibly entertaining set pieces.
19. Akira (1988)
Possibly the most important anime of all time, at least culturally, Akira helped promote the medium to the entire world by virtue of its gritty, cool, and intellectually mature chronicle of restless youth and a bloodthirsty society. 20 Best Anime Movies. The film follows rebellious delinquents in a dystopic Japan of the future, and their young friend who develops dangerous telekinetic abilities. An ethically ambiguous, visually disturbing masterpiece, Akira is an apocalyptic sci-fi masterpiece of the highest order.
20. Perfect Blue (1997)
Satoshi Kon’s perfect film, Perfect Blue, proves that anime doesn’t need fan service, over-the-top performances, illogical stupidity, childish fantasies, or deep lore to succeed. No, Perfect Blue is a postmodern mystery and psychological thriller that easily stands among the best work of Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Brian De Palma, and other masters of the artistic thriller.
The brilliant thriller follows a pop star who is either losing her mind or is being stalked by an obsessive fan. The animation is perfectly tailored to her crumbling mental state, so that form and content become beautifully synchronized. The story is grounded and appealing to anyone, rewarding both anime lovers and anime haters alike. Perfect Blue stands as both the best example of the medium in a cinematic format, while also transcending the medium itself. 20 Best Anime Movies.