So you own a Totoro plushie, made your own soot sprites, and named your cat after Jiji from Kiki’s Delivery Service, but have you seen these underrated Studio Ghibli films? If not, grab a buddy and some popcorn because Ghibli’s catalog is a lot bigger than the five or six Miyazaki films you've probably seen. In this list of Studio Ghibli films you should watch, you’ll find a movie for whatever mood you’re in, and each one contains the Ghibli hallmarks of timeless themes, moving narratives, and compelling characters.
Some of these Studio Ghibli films people haven't seen, like Grave of the Fireflies and When Marnie Was There, have a more serious and somber tone than their more well known counterparts. Others, like The Tale of Princess Kaguya and The Cat Returns, have a fairy-tale quality to them reminiscent of the most beloved Ghibli films. All of them live up to the high standard audiences have come to expect of any film tagged with the logo of globally recognizable forest spirit Totoro.
Whisper of the Heart is about a quiet, bookish young girl who meets a charming man who inspires her to follow her dreams and break out of her introverted shell. It’s an incredibly uplifting movie that might prompt you to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. If that’s not enough to pique your curiosity, the movie also features a cat in a top hat named the Baron who, in typical Ghibli fashion, serves as a guide for the protagonist.
Whisper of the Heart was the directorial debut of Ghibli animator Yoshifumi Kondō. Miyazaki called him "one of the best among the hundreds of animators I ever met," and Kondō's untimely death (he passed in 1998 of an aneurysm, possibly from working too much) prompted Miyazaki to create a long-term plan for his retirement, to avoid working himself to death. He never made a second film.
When Marnie Was There follows a young girl named Anna, a foster kid suffering from depression, struggling to figure out who she is. Things start to look up when she meets the mysterious Marnie, and the two form a strong friendship. Like many Ghibli films, When Marnie Was There explores themes of loss, loneliness, and love, but it is one of the few Ghibli films to unflinchingly shows how feelings of inadequacy and being unwanted can affect a child.
If you’re a fan of cats and Ghibli, The Cat Returns is the movie for you. Haru's life changes when she saves a cat from being hit by a truck. The incident prompts a latent power to surface, as Haru discovers she can talk to cats. Things get a little Alice in Wonderland as Haru is thrust into the Cat Kingdom and starts to turn into a cat. She even gets proposed to by the prince of the cats. Needless to say, required viewing for cat enthusiasts.
From Up on Poppy Hill doesn't have fantastical elements, but that doesn't make it any less magical. The movie follows a young girl as she tries to reconcile her past with her present. Unlike many well known Ghibli films, From Up on Poppy Hill is more character oriented than plot-driven, which may have initially turned some Ghibli fans off. However, fans who tuned in were treated to a meditative piece evoking a strong sense of nostalgia.