Japanese Animated Movies: 20 Classic Masterpieces You’ll Love

Japanese animated movies are well-known for extravagant world creation, unforgettable characters and tear-jerking moments.

And of course, anime is a Japanese cultural staple.

Watching a good anime can be one of the best ways to relax after a long day and get sucked into another world.

Here’s a list of awesome Japanese animated movies for you to binge-watch! 

Contents

1. “Princess Mononoke” (2007)

Genre: Fantasy, drama
Animated by: Studio Ghibli

“Princess Mononoke” is set in the Muromachi Period (around the 14th to 16th century) and tells the story of a war between the guardians of a forest and the people who want to consume its resources. Through this fantasy story, we learn about the world around us and the dark undertones of human greed.

Although it’s animated, viewer discretion is advised, as it has minor violence and potentially frightening scenes for young children.

Where to stream: Google PlayHBO Max | Vudu
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan 

2. “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988)

Genre: Fantasy, drama
Animated by: Studio Ghibli

Considered one of Studio Ghibli’s masterpieces, “My Neighbor Totoro” is a classic tale that remains popular with all generations. With several awards under its belt, it’s well worth a watch. 

“Totoro” tells the story of a family that moves into a new house in order to be closer to the hospital where the mother is recovering from a long illness. Totoro appears as a guardian and a friend to the two girls, Mei and Satsuki.

Some fan theories suggest that Totoro isn’t just a kindly magical being, but something more sinister. Watch this charming classic and decide for yourself.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime | HBO Max | Vudu
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan 

3. “Spirited Away” (2001)

Genre: Fantasy
Animated by: Studio Ghibli 

Another well-known Ghibli movie is “Spirited Away,” the tale of a family that accidentally enters the spirit world and pays the price.

Chihiro’s father takes a wrong turn while they’re traveling, and insists on exploring the new-found world. As Chihiro’s parents eat in an empty restaurant stall, a spirit warns Chihiro to leave across the river before it’s too late. However, Chihiro’s parents have already turned into pigs, trapping them all in the spirit world.

“Spirited Away” is often described as one of the best animated movies ever. If you love Studio Ghibli, it would be a crime to miss this movie.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime | HBO Max | Vudu
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan 

4. “Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F'” (2015)

Genre: Fantasy, action
Animated by: Toei Animation

The 19th Dragon Ball movie is one of the best yet. Frieza has returned, and he’s training himself to be more powerful than ever so he can defeat Goku for good.

With great music, good animation and the return of our favorite Dragon Ball characters, this exciting movie should definitely be on your list of must-sees.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime | Hulu | Vudu
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan 

5. “Wolf Children” (2012)

Genre: Fantasy
Animated by: Studio Chizu

Born to a werewolf father and a human mother, Yuki and Ame are “wolf children” who can change between their human and wolf forms. Ame is more interested in exploring the wild whereas Yuki is desperate to join human society and go to school.

This charming tale shows the struggles of motherhood, and how children must be free to choose their own path.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime | Funimation
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan 

6. “The Boy and the Beast” (2015)

Genre: Fantasy, adventure
Animated by: Studio Chizu

“The Boy and the Beast” features beautiful art with heartwarming messages about the power of finding family and the struggle of being accepted for who you are.

A boy named Ren runs away from home after his mother dies and ends up wandering into the realm of beasts. He’s taken in by the warrior Kumatetsu, who’s looking for an apprentice in order to be worthy of competing for the beast realm title of Grandmaster. While their relationship is prickly at first, the two begin to learn more about themselves and encourage each other in ways neither thought possible.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime | Funimation
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan

7. “5 Centimeters Per Second” (2007) 

Genre: Romance, drama
Animated by: CoMix Wave Films

Japan is famous for heartbreaking love stories, so if you love a tear-jerking romance, “5 Centimeters Per Second” is worth checking out.

Childhood sweethearts Takaki and Kanae are separated when their families move away from their hometown. They keep in touch via letters, but time slowly pulls them apart. Can love survive?

Where to stream: Amazon Prime | iTunes | Vudu
Buy the DVD: Amazon US | Amazon Japan 

8. “The Garden of Words” (2013) 

Genre: Romance, drama
Animated by: CoMix Wave Films

“The Garden of Words” is a short and simple film about unrequited love, with stunning visuals that are bound to enchant any viewer.

Takao is a high schooler who hopes to become a shoemaker. Yukari is a mysterious woman he meets only on rainy days at a garden in Shinjuku. The two of them go to the garden to avoid the hardships of their lives.

Upon getting Yukari to open up, Takao promises to design her a pair of shoes. Over the course of the rainy season, they start to ease their worries simply through the other’s presence.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime | iTunes
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan

9. “Tokyo Godfathers” (2003)

Genre: Adventure, comedy
Animated by:
Madhouse

While looking for presents in a dumpster on Christmas Eve, three homeless people—alcoholic Gin, ex-drag performer Hana and runaway girl Miyuki—discover an abandoned baby. Using the clues left in the infant’s cradle, the three go on a quest to reunite the baby with her mother. Along the way, they confront yakuza hitmen, runaway ambulances, a suicidal woman and their own pasts. 

“Tokyo Godfathers” is a wild crazy adventure with gorgeous animation. Both funny and heartwarming, this movie is sure to become one of your favorites.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime | iTunes | Google Play | Vudu
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan

10. “Paprika” (2006)

Genre: Thriller, sci-fi
Animated by: Madhouse

A mind-boggling feast for the eyes, “Paprika” is the final film of renowned director Satoshi Kon.

In this movie, a device that allows therapists to enter the dreams of patients in their care is stolen and used to imprison people in a bizarre dream. The group of scientists who created the device, a police officer receiving treatment and the mysterious dream therapist Paprika work together to track down these stolen devices and uncover the thief.

If this sounds a bit like “Inception” to you, then you’re not alone! Critics and fans alike have noticed considerable similarities between these two films.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime | Google Play | Vudu
Buy the DVD: Amazon Japan

11. “Perfect Blue” (1997) 

Genre: Psychological thriller
Animated by: Madhouse

This is another Satoshi Kon movie and, like “Paprika,” it blurs the lines between what’s real and what’s imaginary.

Mima, a member of an idol group, decides to leave singing for a career as an actress. However, as the roles she takes on go against her previous pure, clean image, her fans become unhappy and a stalker begins to take action against her. Soon, those around her start ending up murdered, and the combination of these stressors sends her on a descent into madness.

Please keep in mind that this film deals with some rather dark subjects and is intended only for mature audiences.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime | Google PlayVudu
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan

12. “Millennium Actress” (2001)

Genre: Drama
Animated by: Madhouse

A beautiful melding between past, present and future, “Millenium Actress” is a wonderful film that’ll satisfy the artistic soul in you. When a prominent film studio goes bankrupt, a TV interviewer named Genya Tachibana and his cameraman find the studio’s star actress who retired 30 years ago to interview her for a commemorative documentary.

As she speaks with them, the two go on a journey through her memories of her life, her film career and her lifelong pursuit of a mysterious man.

Where to stream: Amazon PrimeGoogle PlayVudu
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan

13. “Summer Wars” (2009)

Genre: Sci-fi, adventure
Animated by: Madhouse

This critically acclaimed adventure takes place in both virtual and real worlds, and it emphasizes the importance of family.

Kenji Konso is a genius yet timid eleventh-grader who spends his time in the online world of OZ. A classmate, Natsuki, invites him to her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday party in the town of Ueda.

While there, he accidentally gets implicated in the hacking of OZ’s servers. Because of this, he has to track down the true culprit: a malicious AI who’s using accounts of OZ users to cause widespread havoc in the real world.

Where to stream: Amazon PrimeGoogle PlayFunimation
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan

14. “Barefoot Gen” (1983)

Genre: War drama
Animated by: Madhouse

The atomic bombs dropped on Japan left huge scars on its population, both physical and mental. Many artistic works depict the bombs as well, including Studio Ghibli’s famous tragedy, “Grave of the Fireflies.” But did you know that movie was actually inspired by another film?

“Barefoot Gen” tells the story of Gen, a young boy living with his family in Hiroshima during World War II. After the atomic bomb goes off, killing most of his family, he has to survive with his mother and newborn sister.

“Barefoot Gen” depicts the brutal reality of life in the aftermath of the atomic bomb, the struggles faced by victims and the tragedies they endured. This film is useful for learning about the lives of Japanese people during that period in history.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime
Buy the DVD: Amazon US 

15. “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” (2006) 

Genre: Romance, comedy, sci-fi
Animated by: Madhouse

A girl named Makoto is having a pretty crummy day but after a harrowing close call with a speeding train, she realizes she has the power to go back in time. At first, she uses her power to benefit herself and fix things that went wrong in the past. However, it turns out that her actions have consequences, and when things go horribly awry, she realizes she only has a few jumps left to make everything right.

“The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” is a coming of age film with a supernatural twist that cleverly drives home the importance of treasuring the time you have, when you have it.  

Where to stream: Amazon Prime | Google Play | Funimation
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan

16. “Ghost in the Shell” (1995) 

Genre: Cyberpunk, action
Animated by: Production I.G.

Ghost in the Shell” is a long-running and well-loved franchise, beginning with a manga released in 1989 and expanding into anime, games and movies.

In the year 2029, cyborgs abound and human brains can be connected to the internet directly through a device called a cyberbrain. Those inhabiting these artificial bodies are commonly called “ghosts,” and one such ghost named Makoto Kusanagi leads a team called Section 9 Security force.

This force is put in charge of tracking down a cybercriminal named Puppet Master who’s hacking into the brains of ghosts with a virus in order to make them commit crimes.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime | Google Play | Vudu
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan

17. “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade” (1999)

Genre: Action, political thriller
Animated by: Production I.G. 

Set in an alternate history of postwar Japan, “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade” is a dark, gripping political thriller filled with symbolism regarding the beastly nature of humanity.

When a soldier from the Special Anti-Terrorism Forces named Kazuki witnesses a girl set off a suicide bomb at a riot, he’s punished for his lack of preventive action. Haunted by her death, he goes to visit her grave, where he meets her older sister and begins a relationship with her.

Behind the scenes, the Special Anti-Terrorism Forces and the Metropolitan Police engage in a fierce power struggle, with Kazuki stuck in the middle.

Where to stream: Amazon PrimeGoogle Play
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan

18. “Vampire Hunter D” (1985)

Genre: Fantasy, sci-fi, romance
Animated by:
Ashi Productions

Older anime fans may already be familiar with this classic, but “Vampire Hunter D” holds up well for modern audiences to enjoy. In a far-off post-apocalyptic future, a young woman named Doris is bitten by a vampire, and her only chance at survival is to hire a mysterious vampire hunter known only as D. D must face off against the mighty vampire and his minions, who are intent on bringing her into their coven.

“Vampire Hunter D” has a classic story setup with monsters and animation that gives off a nostalgic vibe, making it a must-watch for lovers of retro anime.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan

19. “Sword of the Stranger” (2007)

Genre: Action, adventure
Animated by: Bones

If you’re a fan of action-packed historical dramas, “Sword of the Stranger” is the film for you. In the warring states era of Japan, an orphan named Kotaro and his dog Tobimaru are being hunted by Ming swordsmen for an unknown reason. As they flee, the two encounter a nameless wandering samurai who saves them from their pursuers.

Kotaro grudgingly hires the samurai as a bodyguard to escort them to a Buddhist temple across Japan. However, it soon becomes clear that the Ming have far more sinister intentions for Kotaro.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime | Funimation
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan

20. “Colorful” (2010) 

Genre: Fantasy, drama
Animated by: Ascension

“Colorful” offers a profound look at the inner workings of a family and the pressures faced by adolescents in Japan, giving the viewer a new appreciation for life.

When an impure soul arrives at the bus station leading to death, it’s unwillingly given a test to return to life by the spirit guide Purapura. The soul wakes up as 14-year-old Makoto Kobayashi, who recently tried to kill himself. To pass the test, the soul has six months to discover what its greatest sin was, as well as what caused Makoto to attempt to end his life.

Where to stream: Vudu
Buy the DVD: Amazon USAmazon Japan

Aside from Amazon, you can get all of the above recommendations on DVD from Right Stuf Anime. It’s a great option if you’re in the U.S. and Canada, especially if you buy your anime in bulk (this can mean free shipping). They also have other Japanese products, like manga and games, that you can bundle together with your movies.

Benefits of Watching Animated Movies for Japanese Learners

If you’re also learning Japanese, then here are a few benefits of watching movies when you’re not hitting the textbooks:

  • Listening practice. Whether you use subtitles while you’re watching or not, your ears are exposed to authentic, native Japanese and that gives you great listening practice.
  • Context-specific vocabulary. Depending on the genre, you can pick up new vocabulary. Fantasy movies expose a huge range of vocabulary on magic or creatures, dramas offer useful words to do with emotions, family films can teach you children’s language… things like that.
  • Great chat topics! If you’ve seen some Japanese movies of any kind, they can be a great conversation starter when you’re practicing real-life conversations with your peers!

Tips for Studying Japanese with Animated Movies

It’s understandable if you’re eager to just sit down and get sucked in, but don’t start without keeping these vital tips in mind first!

  • Watch the whole movie with English subtitles if it’s your first time watching it. Absorb the sounds and the rhythm of the Japanese.
  • Write down any new phrases and vocabulary you hear. It’s best to watch the movie on DVD or Netflix so you can pause and rewind. Don’t worry about getting every single new word down, however, or you’ll be there forever.
  • Watch with Japanese subtitles. If you have both the subtitles and the audio, you’re twice as likely to catch what’s being said. 
  • Write down any new kanji. Watching with Japanese subtitles can provide new kanji to words and phrases you might hear. Studying kanji isn’t all textbooks and novels; it’s common to be able to pick up new characters from subtitles, too!

Animated movies with subtitles are a great resource for practicing Japanese, but it can be slow-going because you have to keep pausing and looking up words. If you need more learner support, FluentU can be helpful. It’s a language learning program with short Japanese videos that you can start with, such as anime clips and movie trailers.

All of the videos feature interactive annotated subtitles and other learning tools that allow you to be immersed in the language, much like native Japanese speakers, while actively building your vocabulary:

FluentU Anime Clip

Aside from web, FluentU also has a mobile app (Android or iOS). 

 

With so many Japanese animated movies around, these 20 picks are considered masterpieces that are still well-loved years after they’ve been released. 

So grab a blanket and a cup of tea, or coffee if you prefer, and indulge in the joys of good cinema! 

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe

Close