30 Anime Classics: Unforgettable Movies You Must Watch

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Animation is one of the most popular genres in film and television. However, if animated and originated in Japan, it’s known as anime

The record-breaking genre became mainstream in the late 20th century with giant robots, space operas, cyberpunk, fantasy themes, and more.

Here is my take on the 30 best anime movies of all time.

You won’t find any Hayao Miyazaki films on this list. Studio Ghibli deserves its own list.

30. PROMARE (2019)

GENRE: Science Fiction

DIRECTOR: Hiroyuki Imaishi

SCREENWRITER: Kazuki Nakashima

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Kenichi Matsuyama, Taichi Saotome, Masato Sakai

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Billy Kametz, Johnny Yong Bosch, Crispin Freeman

DESCRIPTION: After the world’s devastating calamity, “The Great World Blaze,” consumed half of the world’s population through spontaneous human combustions, everything changed. Now, the world’s divided between normal humans and others with special pyrokinetic abilities. Galo Thymos (Kenichi Matsuyama, Billy Kametz) and his band of heroic firefighters, The Burning Rescue, must protect Promepolis from the terrorizing super-powered radicals, Mad Burnish, their leader Lio Fotia (Taichi Saotome, Johnny Yong Bosch).

From the creators of popular anime shows Kill la Kill and Gurren Lagann, Promare is an example of the range of anime films. Fluorescent visuals and dramatic animations distinguish anime films from your average science fiction or action films. If you want a great entry point into anime films, this is for you.

29. JIN ROH: THE WOLF BRIGRADE (1999)

GENRE: Action Political Thriller

DIRECTOR: Hiroyuki Okiura

SCREENWRITER: Mamoru Oshii

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Yoshikatsu Fujiki, Sumi Mutoh, Hiroyuki Kinoshita

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Michael Dobson, Moneca Stori, Colin Murdock  

DESCRIPTION: A chapter in the Mamoru Oshii’s Kerberos Saga, Jin Roh, takes place in 1950s Japan following an alternate Germany’s atomic bombing and occupation. Kazuki Fuse (Yoshikatsu Fujiki, Michael Dobson), a member of an elite counter-terrorism unit, fails to stop a young terrorist, which eventually leads to his mission to restore the honor of the Kerberos Panzer Cops. The only thing standing in his way is the Special Unit’s rival division, Public Security, and Kei Amemiya (Sumi Mutoh, Moneca Stori), the mysterious sister of the young terrorist.

28. TOKYO GODFATHERS (2003)

GENRE: Tragicomedy Adventure

DIRECTOR: Satoshi Kon

SCREENWRITERS: Keiko Nobumoto, Satoshi Kon

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Tooru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegami, Aya Okamoto

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Jon Avner, Shakina Nayfack, Victoria Grace

DESCRIPTION: On Christmas Eve, three homeless people– an alcoholic named Gin (Tooru Emori, Jon Avner), a runaway girl named Miyuki (Aya Okamoto, Victoria Grace), and a transgender woman named Hana (Yoshiaki Umegami, Shakina Nayfack) find an abandoned newborn baby while searching through the garbage. With only a few clues, the trio set out to find the baby’s parents but instead get into the middle of a criminal plot involving high-ranking Yakuza bosses, wedding parties, hitmen in disguises, and the police. 

27. VAMPIRE HUNTER D (1985)

GENRE: Fantasy Horror

DIRECTOR: Toyoo Ashida

SCREENWRITER: Yasushi Hirano

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Kaneto Shiozawa, Ichiō Nagai, Michie Tomizawa

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): John Gremillion, Andy McAvin, Luci Christian

DESCRIPTION: Doris Lang (Michie Tomizawa, Luci Christian), the orphaned daughter of a dead werewolf hunter, is attacked and bitten by a forgotten 10,000-year-old vampire lord named Count Magnus Lee (Seizō Katō, David Wald). Doris hires a mysterious vampire hunter known only as D (Kaneto Shiozawa, John Gremillion) and his powerfully demonic, talking left hand (Ichirō Nagai, Andy McAvin) to kill the count and save her from becoming a vampire. 

26. PAPRIKA (2006)

GENRE: Science-fiction Psychological Thriller

DIRECTOR: Satoshi Kon

SCREENWRITERS: Seishi Minakami, Satoshi Kon

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Megumi Hayashibara, Tōru Furuya, Tōru Emori

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Cindy Robinson, Yuri Lowenthal, David Lodge

DESCRIPTION: In the future, a treatment developed through a technological device known as the “D.C. Mini” gives users access to other people’s dreams. Leading the team is Dr. Atsuko Chiba (Megumi Hayashibara, Cindy Robinson), who illegally uses machines to treat psychiatric patients outside the research facility. As her dream world alter ego “Paprika,” Chiba, Dr. Toratarō Shima (Katsunosuke Hori, David Lodge), and Dr. Kōsaku Tokita (Tōru Furuya, Yuri Lowenthal) discover a plot to use their unfinished technology to steal people dreams.

25. MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER (2017)

GENRE: Fantasy

DIRECTOR: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

SCREENWRITERS: Riko Sakaguchi, Hiromasa Yonebayashi

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Hana Sugisaki, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Yūki Amami

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Ruby Barnhill, Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Kate Winslet

DESCRIPTION: A curious, clumsy girl, Mary Smith (Hana Sugisaki, Ruby Barnhill), moves to the English countryside with her Grant Aunt Charlotte (Shinobu Otake, Kenichi Endō). She meets a local boy named Peter (Ryunosuke Kamiki, Louis Ashbourne Serkis) and his cats, Tib-cat and Gib-cat. One day, the cats lead her to a mysterious glowing flower rumored to possess magical power. Mary accidentally activates the magic flower, and only Madam Mumblechook (Yūki Amami, Kate Winslet) and the Endor College for witches can help her discover the secret behind her newfound powers.

This is a Studio Ghibli film, right? Not quite. This film from Studio Ponoc was created by Yoshiaki Nishimura, who produced two Academy Award-nominated Ghibli films with Hiromasa Yonebayashi as director. Despite being the studio’s first film, its powerhouse production set it up for immediate success among the greats.

24. SWORD OF THE STRANGER (2007)

GENRE: Historical Fantasy

DIRECTOR: Masahiro Andō

SCREENWRITER: Fumihiko Takayama

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Tomoya Nagase, Yuuri Chinen, Kōichi Yamedera

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Michael Adamthwaite, Aidan Drummond, Scott McNeil

DESCRIPTION: In the Sengoku period, young Kotaro (Yuuri Chinen, Aidan Drummond) and his dog Tobimaru were pursued by swordsman Luo-Lang (Kōichi Yamadera, Scott McNeil) and the Ming Chinese warriors. Their escape leads them to Nanashi (Tomoya Nagase, Michael Adamthwaite), a nameless ronin with a troubled past who refuses to draw his sword. The battle between the Ming warriors, feudal lords, war generals, and devout monks creates a bond between the boy and the nameless ronin, urging him to draw his sword again.

23. THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME (2006)

GENRE: Science Fiction Romance

DIRECTOR: Mamoru Hosoda

SCREENWRITER: Satoko Okudera

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Riisa Naka, Takuya Ishida, Mitsutaka Itakura

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Emily Hirst, Andrew Francis, Alex Zahara

DESCRIPTION: In Tokyo, Kuranose High School student Makoto Konno’s (Riisa Naka, Emily Hirst) life is changed forever when she suddenly discovers a small object on the ground. Suddenly, she can transport back in time right before and relive any moment. With the new ability to leap through time, Makoto frivolously fixes problems like running late and passing tests until she realizes her action adversely affects others, including her best friend Chiaki Mamiya (Takuya Ishida, Andrew Francis).

22. HER BLUE SKY (2019)

GENRE: Magical Romance

DIRECTOR: Tatsuyuki Nagai

SCREENWRITER: Mari Okada

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Shion Wakayama, Riho Yoshioka, Ryo Yoshizawa

DESCRIPTION: After a fatal accident changes their lives, third-year high school student Akane Aioi (Riho Yoshioka) abandons her dreams of moving to Tokyo with her aspiring guitarist boyfriend, Shinnosuke “Shinno” Kanamuro (Ryo Yoshizawa). She chooses to take care of her little sister Aoi (Shion Wakayama). Thirteen years later, Aoi’s musical aspirations of becoming a bassist are interrupted when an obnoxious spirit of teenage Shinno appears with unfinished business and unrequited love.

21. APPLESEED (2004)

GENRE: Post-Apocalyptic Action Film

DIRECTOR: Shinji Aramaki

SCREENWRITERS: Haruka Handa, Tsutomu Kamishiro

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Ai Kobayashi, Juurota Kosugi, Mami Koyama

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH: Luci Christian, David Matranga, Allison Sumrall

DESCRIPTION: One of the last survivors of the Global War, Deunan Knute (Ai Kobayashi, Luci Christian), awakes to find herself in a Utopian city called Olympus. Her former love Briareos Hecatonchires (Juurouta Kosugi, David Matranga), is a cyborg, and the town is populated by genetically engineered species called Bioroids. She joins a counter-terrorism organization to protect the population from terrorist factions, corrupt politicians, and the secret behind Bioroid’s creations.

20. STEAMBOY (2004)

GENRE: Steampunk Action

DIRECTOR: Katsuhiro Otomo

SCREENWRITERS: Sadayuki Murai, Katsuhiro Otomo

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Anne Suzuki, Manami Konishi, Katsuo Nakamura, Masane Tsukayama

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Anna Paquin, Kari Wahlgren, Patrick Stewart, Alfred Molina

DESCRIPTION: In an alternate nineteenth-century Europe, steam-powered technology rules the world. Scientist Lloyd Steam (Katsuo Nakamura, Patrick Stewart) and his son Edward (Masane Tsukayama, Alfred Molina) discover an unlimited power source for steam engines, leading to a terrible accident. A few years later, Edward’s son Ray (Anne Suzuki, Anna Paquin), an inventor with big dreams, receives a mysterious package from his grandfather. It’s the unlimited power source and a powerful treasure everyone seeks, good and bad.

Steamboy is one of the most expensive Japanese anime films, with ten years of production, a $22 million budget, 100,000s of drawings, and GG cuts. This is Otomo’s second major release aside from one of the most iconic anime films ever.

19. A SILENT VOICE (2016)

GENRE: Drama

DIRECTOR: Naoko Yamada

SCREENWRITER: Reiko Yoshida

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Miyu Irino, Saori Hayami, Aoi Yūki, Kenshō Ono

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Robbie Daymond, Lexi Cowden, Kristen Sullivan, Graham Halstead

DESCRIPTION: A troubled high school bully Shoya Ishida (Miyu Irino, Robbie Daymond), tries to end his life but changes his mind at the last minute and devotes his life to wrapping up the loose ends. The loose end is a deaf student named Shoko Nishimiya (Saori Hayami, Lexi Cowden). Shoya attempts to apologize to her and return her belongings, leading to a friendship that tests the loyalty and trust of his old friends, Shoko’s little sister, and everyone who knows him as nothing more than a bully. 

18. WOLF CHILDREN (2012)

GENRE: Fantasy Drama

DIRECTOR: Mamoru Hosoda

SCREENWRITERS: Satoko Okudera, Mamoru Hosoda

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Aoi Miyazaki, Takao Osawa, Huro Kuroki

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Colleen Clinkenbeard, David Matranga, Jad Saxton

DESCRIPTION: Hana (Aoi Miyazaki, Colleen Clinkenbeard), a hopeful college student in Tokyo, falls in love with a mysterious wolfman (Takao Osawa, David Matranga), and together they have two children. After their father is killed, Hana is forced to raise her daughter Yuki (Momoka Ono, Lara Woodhull) and her son Ame (Amon Kabe, Alison Viktorin) alone. The family must deal with the growing pains of a single-parent family while grappling with whether or not the children should fully embrace their life as humans or wolves.

17. REDLINE (2009)

GENRE: Science Fiction

DIRECTOR: Takeshi Koike

SCREENWRITERS: Katsuhito Ishii, Yōji Enokido, Yoshiki Sakurai

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Takuya Kimura, Yū Aoi, Tadanobu Asano

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Patrick Seitz, Michelle Ruff, Liam O’Brien

DESCRIPTION: On the high-octane planet Dorothy, racer Joshua Punkhead “J.P.” (Takuya Kimura, Patrick Seitz) is on the verge of winning the final elimination before the infamous Redline race. J.P.’s corrupt mechanic Frisbee (Tadanobu Asano, Liam O’Brien), who’s involved with gangsters, watches the televised race hoping J.P. loses the fixed race against female racer Sonoshee “Cherry Boy Hunter” McLaren (Yū Aoi, Michelle Ruff). JP, Sonoshee, and all the racers become the centerpiece of the interplanetary war and the ambitions of the criminal underworld.

16. SUMMER WARS (2009)

GENRE: Science Fiction Comedy-Drama

DIRECTOR: Mamoru Hosoda

SCREENWRITER: Satoko Okudera

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Ryunosuke Kamiki, Nanami Sakuraba, Mitsuki Tanimura

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Michael Sinterniklaas, Brina Palencia, Maexy Whitehead

DESCRIPTION: Kuonju High School math whiz Kenji Koiso (Ryunosuke Kamiki, Michael Sinterniklaas) and his friend are moderators for a massive virtual reality world, O.Z. When Kenji attempts to join older student Natsuki Shinohara (Nanami Sakuraba, Brina Palencia) at her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration, he becomes blamed for the hacking of the virtual world by an insane AI named Love Machine. The only way he can clear his name is to stop the rogue program and repair the damage of its impending chaos.

15. TEKKONKINKREET (2006)

GENRE: Action Adventure

DIRECTOR: Michael Arias

SCREENWRITER: Anthony Weintraub

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Kazunari Ninomiya, Yū Aoi, Yūsuke Iseya

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Scott Menville, Kamali Minter, Rick Gomez

DESCRIPTION: Two orphans, the violent streetwise punk Black (Kazunari Ninomiya, Scott Menville) and the out-of-touch disillusioned White (Yū Aoi, Kamali Minter), dream of controlling the crumbling slums of the pan-Asian metropolis of Takaramachi. The only thing that stands in their way is warring criminal gangs. When Black faces off with the wrong trio of Yakuza, the retaliation places them in a type of danger that unleashes the darkest parts of Black and White’s minds.

14. YOUR NAME (2016)

GENRE: Romantic Fantasy

DIRECTOR: Makoto Shinkai

SCREENWRITER: Makoto Shinkai

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Ryo Narita

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Michael Sinterniklaas, Stephanie Sheh, Kyle Hebert

DESCRIPTION: In the rural town of Itomori, high school student Mitsuha Miyamizu (Mone Kamishiraishi, Stephanie Sheh) wishes to become a boy in her next life. The wish is granted slightly when she magically switches bodies with Taki Tachibana (Ryunosuke Kamiki, Michael Sinterniklaas), a high school boy in Tokyo. First believing it’s only a dream, the two students live each other’s lives, helping each other get through the trials and tribulations of high school, dating, and family with the looming news of comet Tiamat passing by Earth on the day of the autumn festival.

From newer director Makoto Shinkai, Your Name became the fifth highest-grossing Japanese film and the highest-grossing anime film of all time, surpassing Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away. Its worldwide success put Shinkai in the hall of fame of the top anime directors ever. J.J. Abrams, Bad Robot Productions, and Paramount Pictures are working on a live-action film.

13. DRAGONBALL SUPER: BROLY (2018)

GENRE: Martial Arts Fantasy Adventure

DIRECTOR: Tatsuya Nagamine

SCREENWRITER: Akira Toriyama

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Bin Shimada, Masak Nozawa, Ryō Horikawa

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Vic Mignogna, Sean Schemmel, Christopher Sabat

DESCRIPTION: Two of the mightiest warriors, Goku (Masako Nozawa, Sean Schemmel) and Vegeta (Ryō Horikawa, Christopher Sabat) of a powerful alien warrior race known as Saiyans, must answer for the actions of their ancestors when one of their banished kin Broly (Bin Shimada, Vic Mignogna) and his father are recruited by their sworn enemy, the evil warlord Freiza (Ryūsei Nakao, Christopher Ayres). Goku and Vegeta must use all their strength and newfound abilities to best the power of the long-lost Super Sayian warrior.

12. MILLENNIUM ACTRESS (2001)

GENRE: Drama

DIRECTOR: Satoshi Kon

SCREENWRITER: Sadayuki Murai, Satoshi Kon

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Miyoko Shōji, Mami Koyama, Shōzō Iizuka, Masaya Onosaka

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Cindy Robinson, Erin Yvette, Christopher Swindle, Benjamin Diskin

DESCRIPTION: Documentary filmmakers Genya Tachibana (Shōzo Iizuka, Christopher Swindle) and Kyoji Ida (Masaya Onosaka, Benjamin Diskin) set out to tell the story of Ginei Studios, a once prestigious film studio that was bankrupt and went out of business. With a mysterious key, the filmmakers seek out Chiyoko Fujiwara (Mami Koyama, Erin Yvette), the studio’s most significant star who retired many years ago to become a hermit in the Japanese countryside. Upon returning the lost key to the actress, she begins to reminisce on her past and the golden age of Ginei Studios.

11. THE ANIMATRIX (2003)

GENRE: Science Fiction Anthology

DIRECTORS: Kōji Morimoto, Shinichiro Watanabe, Machiro Maeda, Peter Chung, Andy Jones, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Takeshi Koike

SCREENWRITERS: The Wachowskis, Kōji Morimoto, Shinichiro Watanabe, Machiro Maeda, Peter Chung, Yoshiaki Kawajiri

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Hiroaki Hirata, Kiromi Tsuru, Hikaru Midorikawa

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Clayton Watson

DESCRIPTION: The Animatrix is a compilation of nine short films based on the Wachowskis’ The Matrix series. Each story ties into the main backstory of an endless war between humankind and ruthless machines. Every tale includes connections to the main characters from the live-action films Neo (Keanu Reeves), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), and Kid (Clayton Watson). The short films are directed and animated by some of the most prominent Japanese anime creators of all time.

10. STREET FIGHTER II: THE ANIMATED MOVIE (1994)

GENRE: Action Adventure

DIRECTOR: Gisaburō Sugii

SCREENWRITERS: Gisaburō Sugii, Kenichi Imai

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Kojiro Shimizu, Kenji Haga, Miki Fujitani, Masane Tsukayama

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Hank Smith, Ted Richards, Mary Briscoe, Donald Lee

DESCRIPTION: Interpol agent Chun-Li (Miki Fujitani, Mary Briscoe) joins forces with Captain Guile (Masane Tsukayama, Donald Lee) of the United States Military to help bring down M. Bison (Takeshi Kusaka, Phil Mattews) and his mysterious crime syndicate known as Shadowlaw. M. Bison and his minions search for the world’s strongest fighters, including Ken (Kenji Haga, Ted Richards) and Ryu (Kojiro Shimizu, Hank Smith), the greatest threat to defeating Shadowlaw.

9. WEATHERING WITH YOU (2019)

DIRECTOR: Makoto Shinkai

SCREENWRITER: Makoto Shinkai

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Kotaro Daigo, Nana Mori, Shun Oguri

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Brandon Engman, Ashley Boettcher, Lee Pace

DESCRIPTION: In the summer of 2021, high school freshman Hodaka Morishima (Kotaro Daigo, Brandon Engman) runs away from his troubled life on the island of Kōzu-shima to the big city of Tokyo. Struggling to find his way, he befriends an occult businessman and an orphan girl, Hina Amano (Nana Mori, Ashley Boettcher), who turns out to be the mysterious “sunshine girl,” an urban legend who can control the weather. Hina and Hodaka use their weather-controlling powers to help others, but more attention leads to more problems for their secrets.

8. COWBOY BEBOP: THE MOVIE (2001)

GENRE: Science Fiction

DIRECTOR: Shinchirō Watanabe

SCREENWRITER: Keiko Nobumoto

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Kōichi Yamadera, Unshō Ishizuka, Megumi Hayashibara

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Steve Blum, Beau Billingslea, Wendee Lee

DESCRIPTION: The year is 2071 on Mars, 49 years after Earth mainly became abandoned after a major catastrophe. Four space-traveling bounty hunters, Spike Spiegel (Kōichi Yamadera, Steve Blum), Jet Black (Unshō Ishizuka, Beau Billingslea), Faye Valentine (Megumi Hayashibara, Wendee Lee), and Edward Wong (Aoi Tada, Melissa Fahn) and their genius dog Ein finally meet their match following a terrorist attack in Mars’ capital city. Each of them uses their style and wit to uncover the identity of the terrorist who plans to use a biological weapon to devastate the population.

7. MIRAI (2018)

GENRE: Adventure Fantasy

DIRECTOR: Mamoru Hosoda

SCREENWRITER: Mamoru Hosoda

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Moka Kamishiraishi, Haru Kuroki, Gen Hoshino

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Jaden Waldman, Victoria Grace, John Cho

DESCRIPTION: Kun Ota (Moka Kamishiraishi, Jaden Walderman) is a spoiled four-year-old boy with a talented executive mother and architect father. His family is perfect until his little sister Mirai (Haru Kuroki, Victoria Grace) is born. Kun becomes jealous. When things couldn’t get any stranger, Kun meets a mysterious man and a middle-aged schoolgirl named Mirai. She is his younger sister who traveled back in time.

The award-winning film is a testament to Mamoru Hosoda’s creative genius. After being inspired by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, he created his work, celebrated as a magical realism animation and storytelling staple. Mirai was the first non-Studio Ghibli film to receive a nomination for the Academy Awards.

6. NINJA SCROLL (1993)

GENRE: Historical Fantasy

DIRECTOR: Yoshiaki Kawajiri

SCREENWRITER: Yoshiaki Kawajiri

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Kōichi Yamadera, Emi Shinohara, Takeshi Aono

DESCRIPTION: In Japan’s Edo period, the Yamashiro clan secretly mines gold for the Toyotomi Shogun of the Dark to help fund their sinister plans to take over the shogunate. When a storm grounds the gold shipment, a team of supernatural ninjas known as the Eight Devils of Kimon kill everyone in a nearby village to keep the shipment a secret. Another group of ninjas investigates the deaths but are ambushed and killed. The sole survivor, a female ninja named Kagero (Emi Shinohara), is rescued by Kibagami Jubei (Kōichi Yamadera). The real challenge begins when a shogunate spy forces Jubei, ex-Yamashiro ninja, to help defeat the Eight Devil of Kimon, one by one.

5. PERFECT BLUE (1997)

GENRE: Psychological Thriller

DIRECTOR: Satoshi Kon

SCREENWRITER: Sadayuki Murai

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Masaki Ōkura

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Ruby Marlowe, Wendee Lee, Bob Marx

DESCRIPTION: Mima Kirigoe (Junko Iwao, Ruby Marlowe), ⅓ of CHAM!, a famous Japanese pop idol group, retires from music to pursue an acting career. Unfortunately, the career shift and her first role in television detective drama sparks the attention of a jealous stalker and a string of violent murders of people close to her. The events cause Mima to lose grip on her reality, making her the prime suspect.

The late Satoshi Kon is one of the most iconic psychological film directors ever. Solidifying a place on this list with four movies, Perfect Blue is where it all began. His dedication to visual motifs, themes, and genre set the tone for many films, including Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for Dream and Black Swan.

4. METROPOLIS (2001)

GENRE: Dieselpunk Drama

DIRECTOR: Rintaro

SCREENWRITER: Katsuhiro Otomo

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Kei Kobayashi, Yuka Imoto, Kōsei Tomita

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Brianne Siddall, Rebecca Forstadt, Tony Pope

DESCRIPTION: In Metropolis, the most technologically advanced city in the world, humans and robots coexist. However, the robots are an oppressed group segregated into the lowest levels of the city. When private detective Shunsaku Ban (Kōsei Tomita, Tony Pope) and his nephew Kenichi Shikishima (Kei Kobayashi, Brianne Siddall) arrive in search of a rogue doctor, they discover Tima (Yuka Imoto, Rebecca Forstadt). She is a unique robot connected to powerful weapons and the evil plot involving Metropolis’ leadership.

This film brings together the two most celebrated minds of anime history. Based on Osamu Tezuka’s (Astro Boy) story, famous anime director Katsuhiro Otomo directed a stunning cinematic adaptation inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and the Shinto religion. The film is an excellent example of the differences when transitioning from manga to the silver screen.

3. LITTLE NEMO: ADVENTURES IN SLUMBERLAND (1989)

GENRE: Musical Fantasy

DIRECTORS: Masami Hata, William Hurtz

SCREENWRITERS: Chris Columbus, Richard Outten

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Takuma Gōno, Chikao Ōtsuka, Kōichi Kitamura, Hiroko Kashara

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Gabriel Damon, Mickey Rooney, René Auberjonois, Laura Mooney

DESCRIPTION: After visiting a traveling circus, a curious boy named Nemo (Takuma Gōno, Gabriel Damon) and his pet flying squirrel Icarus (Danny Mann) are visited in the night by a whimsical professor and whisked away to a magical dreamland at the behest of King Morpheus (Kenji Utsumi, Bernard Erhard) to become the playdate of his daughter Princess Camille (Hiroko Kasahara, Laura Mooney). His only warning is to follow all the rules and avoid the mischievous Flip (Chikao Ōtsuka, Mickey Rooney).

The film was a development nightmare and a box-office bomb. Still, it involved many creatives who became the most decorated anime creators of all time, including Isao Takahata, Osamu Dezaki, and Hayao Miyazaki. It doesn’t stop there; the film also included George Lucas, Ray Bradbury, Brad Bird, and more getting their hands dirty with the project before dropping out. 

2. GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995)

GENRE: Neo-Noir Cyberpunk Thriller

DIRECTOR: Mamoru Oshii

SCREENWRITER: Kazunori Itō

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ōtsuka, Iemasa Kayumi

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Mimi Woods, Richard Epcar, William Frederick Knight

DESCRIPTION: In 2029, the advancement of cybernetic technology made way for human augmentation or full-body replacement with cybernetic parts and the cyber brain, allowing humans to access the Internet and network through their brains. When augmented human brains linked to a diplomat are hijacked by a mysterious criminal known only as The Puppet Master, Major Motoko Kusanagi(Atsuko Tanaka, Mimi Woods), and her special assault team designated as Section 9 must uncover the secret of the cybernetic terrorist’s origin.

Award-winning director Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell is considered one of the greatest cult science fiction anime films of all time, inspiring directors like Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and The Wachowskis’ hit franchise The Matrix

1. AKIRA (1998)

GENRE: Post-Apocalyptic Cyberpunk Action

DIRECTOR: Katsuhiro Otomo

SCREENWRITER: Katsuhiro Otomo, Izo Hashimoto

VOICE ACTORS (JAPANESE): Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama

VOICE ACTORS (ENGLISH): Johnny Yong Bosch, Joshua Seth, Wendee Lee

DESCRIPTION: In the future, the destruction of Tokyo led to the dystopian Neo Tokyo, a metropolis riddled with corruption and terrorism. Shōtarō Kaneda (Mitsuo Iwata, Johnny Yong Bosch), a leader of a vigilante biker gang, and his best friend, Tetsuo Shima (Nozomu Sasaki, Joshua Seth), battle a rival gang during a violent protest against the government. The fight leads to Tetsuo crashing into a mysterious boy, triggering his latent psychic powers, and he is captured by Colonel Shikishima (Tarō Ishida, James Lyon) and the Japan Self-Defense Forces.

The pivotal cyberpunk film Akira is a critically acclaimed masterpiece regarded as one of the greatest animated and science fiction films ever created. Katsuhiro Otomo’s remarkable cinematic adaptation influenced popular culture and the recognition of anime worldwide. Otomo pulled inspiration from classic Japanese manga and established a standard for its cinematic adaptation. Without Akira, many science-fiction films, TV shows, and video games wouldn’t exist.

Also, check out the best Iroh Quotes from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Conclusion

From pioneer Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy to Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece— anime has changed the world with its unique style, expressive tones, and adult themes.

The 1980s marked the first international success of a feature-length anime film and changed the genre forever.

Once a cult genre hard to come by outside of Japan, anime movies are now available everywhere thanks to streaming platforms like Crunchyroll, Netflix, Hulu, HBO MAX, and Amazon Prime.

At this point, Mamoru Hosoda, Makoto Shinkai, Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Oshii, and Katsuhiro Otomo should be household names. 

These visionary directors and many others transformed an entire genre of cartoons into a dynamic realm of animated storytelling.

Next time you’re at a party, and someone asks you to name an anime besides Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001), you know what list to reference.

Do you agree with my 30 best anime films of all time? Let me know in the comments!


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  • Myke Thompson

    Myke Thompson is a freelance writer, screenwriter, and humorist based out of Los Angeles. When he’s not working on his own projects, he supports other artists as a creative manager in music, art, film, and television.

2 thoughts on “30 Anime Classics: Unforgettable Movies You Must Watch”

  1. Mirai: I had the pleasure and privilege of experiencing this in the theaters. I went on a whim and bumbled into the theater opening day with no prior knowledge to the film whatsoever and, boy, was I lucky. There was even an interview with the creator from awhile back. And you can see how passionate he was and is about animation. Man, they just don’t make completely hand-drawn films like this anymore. The English VAs were actually really great, too. Definitely grab a physical copy when I can.

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  2. Wow, what an incredible list of the best anime movies! This compilation shows the dedication and passion the website owner has for bringing enthusiasts like us the finest recommendations. I’m thrilled to have discovered some hidden gems that I hadn’t seen before. The detailed descriptions and rankings make it so easy to decide which anime movie to watch next. A well-curated collection that truly showcases the beauty of the anime genre. Thank you for the amazing work, Gary Ford.

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