The 15 Best Anime Films That Aren’t Studio Ghibli

Voting Rules
Vote up the Japanese animated films that deserve more recognition.

Ask the average Westerner what the best Japanese animated film is, and you're likely to hear one of three responses: Hayao Miyazaki’s Totoro, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, or get away from me you weirdo, what are you even talking about, I'm an adult and I don't watch cartoons. Regardless, Japan is a country beloved for its animation, and there are myriad amazing anime films that aren't Studio Ghibli.

After Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name topped box offices worldwide and took the title of highest grossing anime film from Spirited Away, it’s clear that the best Japanese anime movies are no longer limited to one studio. Studio Ghibli doesn't have a monopoly on childhood innocence or kids discovering themselves in fantastical settings. Other studios also have more freedom to tell darker stories that question technology, gender and identity, or even the existence of God. These films have fans all around the world, and they're definitely worth watching. Perhaps, for some of you, one of these films will be your introduction to a new world of Japanese animation.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

  • 1
    2,214 VOTES
    Your Name
    Photo: Toho

    You go into Your Name expecting a simple body-switching teen romance between a high school girl in the country and a high school boy in the city. Makoto Shinkai’s 2016 box office hit goes far beyond that, however, transcending space and time itself.

    Your Name, though fantasy, grounds itself with the beautiful and detailed animation Makoto is renowned for, coupled with a cohesive story line that binds everything together like the symbolic musubi, or threads of fate, in the film.

    • Actors: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Masami Nagasawa, Etsuko Ichihara
    • Released: 2016
    • Directed by: Makoto Shinkai
    2,214 votes

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  • 2
    1,838 VOTES
    Wolf Children
    Photo: Toho

    What’s tougher than being a single mom? Apparently, being a single mom of half-human, half-wolf children. In this 2012 film by Mamoru Hosoda, we follow the story of Hana, a woman who moves to the countryside with her two hybrid children, Ame and Yuki, after the death of their werewolf father.

    The film enraptures you with the gorgeous greenery of the countryside, as well as Hana’s struggle to raise children with dangerous wild sides. Viewers are also treated to Ame and Yuki’s own pubescent woes, as they try to figure out which side of their bloodline is more in line with their identity.

    • Actors: Aoi Miyazaki, Megumi Hayashibara, Bunta Sugawara, Takao Osawa, Kumiko Aso
    • Released: 2012
    • Directed by: Mamoru Hosoda
    1,838 votes
  • The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
    Photo: Kadokawa Herald Pictures

    A lot of embarrassing things can happen in high school, but what if you could go back in time to fix it? 17-year-old Makoto gets this chance in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time after an accident grants her the ability to literally “leap” back in time (with progressively larger jumps sending her further back in time).

    Though she initially has a lot of fun, she learns there is a limit to her leaps, and that her warping of the past can affect those around her. The 2006 sci-fi film put Mamoru Hosoda on the map for many anime fans, and this is a great introduction to his films. It’s a fun and energetic study of youth, and there's a surprising twist at the end involving the origins of the time-leaping power.

    • Actors: Riisa Naka, Sachie Hara, Fumihiko Tachiki, Mitsuki Tanimura, Yōji Matsuda
    • Released: 2010
    • Directed by: Mamoru Hosoda, Masaaki Taniguchi
    2,850 votes

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  • 4
    1,116 VOTES

    Before manga creator Midorikawa Yukiko's beloved series Natsume's Book of Friends, she wrote Hotarubi no Mori e, or Into the Forest of Fireflies. The short 2011 film directed by Takahiro Omori depicts a young girl named Hotaru who, one summer, befriends a masked forest spirit named Gin. However, Hotaru learns that her new friend cannot be touched by a human or he will disappear.

    They promise to meet every summer after that, and the movie explores their friendship despite their limitations and Hotaru's growing feelings. The ending is touching, heartrending, and still somehow hopeful. It really comes at you as quickly and surprisingly as it does for Hotaru and Gin. Heads up, you might need some tissues for this one. 

    • Released: 2011
    • Directed by: Takahiro Omori
    1,116 votes
  • 5
    1,175 VOTES
    Summer Wars
    Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

    You may already know Mamoru Hosoda’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Wolf Children, but between those works was the incredible film Summer Wars – a story about youth, young love, the importance of family. Oh, and trying to thwart an AI program from shooting a probe into a nuclear power plant using virtual reality.

    Summer Wars (2009) ties in tradition with modernity. It parallels the strength of networking in the past through bloodlines and familial connections with the digital connectivity of the world today.  

    • Actors: Riisa Naka, Ichirō Nagai, Sakiko Tamagawa, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Ayumu Saito
    • Released: 2009
    • Directed by: Mamoru Hosoda
    1,175 votes

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  • 6
    1,212 VOTES
    Ghost In The Shell
    Photo: Shochiku

    This 1995 science fiction film by Mamoru Oshii saw a future in which most of mankind is modified with robotic body parts. Federal agent Major Motoko Kusanagi and her team are hunting down “The Puppermaster,” a black hat charged with hacking into the minds of cyborg-human hybrids. As Motoko delves deeper into this case, her own existence comes into question, as do the questions of what life and identity mean in an age where humanity and technology are one.

    Ghost in the Shell feels ahead of its time, with its rich animation, world building, and its vision of technology in 2029. It's easy to forget this movie was made in the '90s. The film’s influence can be seen in numerous film and TV series that followed, and including most notably The Matrix movies.

    • Actors: Richard Epcar, Mimi Woods, William Frederick Knight, Tom Wyner, Christopher Joyce
    • Released: 1995
    • Directed by: Mamoru Oshii
    1,212 votes

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