Which are Studio Ghibli’s best movies? Ranking Ghibli movies is an entertaining way to pass the time with other anime fans, while also being a frustrating endeavor that can end friendships between people who take their animation a little too seriously.
Luckily for Studio Ghibli enthusiasts, HBO Max is currently streaming the studio’s best movies – and by that we mean the platform has almost every Studio Ghibli movie available. No no Grave of the fireflies, so don’t even start complaining that it’s not on this list.
Which list? Oh, our list of the best Studio Ghibli movies you can stream on HBO Max. Let’s get started!
My neighbor Totoro
In terms of brand recognition, Totoro has a clear edge over most Ghibli characters. As popular as they are, it’s rare to see Princess Mononoke on a backpack or Howl on a hat. Totoro is all about that merchandise, though, and while that’s not necessarily representative of the quality of its movie, it’s an element worth considering when the field is so competitive.
There’s a reason you see Totoro immortalized all over the world, and that’s because the movie that introduced him to us is actually a masterpiece. Light on the plot but heavy on heat and characterization, My neighbor Totoro is one of the most iconic Studio Ghibli movies – and one of the best too.
Kiki’s delivery service
True My neighbor Totoro was a gentle exploration of childhood, Kiki’s delivery service is a spirited look at the transition to adolescence. Sure, it’s all wrapped up in witches and spells and talking kitties, but Kiki’s journey is ultimately about losing her innocence and learning about the world is a complicated place.
How many Studio Ghibli fans have named their cats “Jiji” after they slumped Kikis spell? And how many more have a hint of sad recognition felt when Kiki’s triumphant happy ending still fails to make things the way they were? (Unless you’re watching the dubbed version, so don’t, at least for this movie.) Again, that Ghibli magic is creeping up on you, even if you think you’re watching a kid’s movie.
Now we come into the realm of heavy hitters. The story of a young girl who is transported to a strange, enchanting and dangerous world. . . yes, you could say this is Studio Ghibli’s version of Alice in Wonderland. The mysterious land of Spirited Away is full of memorable characters and unforgettable sequences – a trademark of the best Studio Ghibli films.
Spirited Away has a dragon, huge bathhouse and a spooky ghostly creature that imitates humans. Also, our protagonist’s parents turn into grotesque pigs within minutes of the movie’s beginning. No wonder this is one of those Ghibli movies that is in constant rotation for anime fans everywhere.
Some of you may be old enough to remember the impact Princess Mononoke made when it was first released. The epic fantasy story was an absolute blockbuster in Japan, holding the box office record from 1997 to 2001 (when it was dethroned by Spirited Away). When the film finally reached the US in 1999, the English dub was written no less by Neil Gaiman. As if Mononoke needed to add to his family tree.
The story of Prince Ashitaka and his involvement in the battle between forest gods and greedy humans is one of Studio Ghibli’s most revered stories. It’s not as light-hearted as most of the studio’s most popular work, but that doesn’t stop audiences from falling in love with the environmental themes and beautiful visuals.
Howl’s Moving Castle
Every movie on this list – and most of the movies in Studio Ghibli’s catalog – was directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki’s imagination seems to know no bounds, and his animation work is a constant reminder of that. But every now and then the Japanese master storyteller decided to adapt someone else’s work rather than start a new story from scratch. That is the case with Howl’s Moving Castle.
The film is based on Dianna Wynne Jones’ novel of the same name and loosely adapts the story of young Sophie and her relationship with the wizard Howl. As you would expect, Howl is doing live in a moving castle. What you might not expect is that Sophie gets cursed by a witch quite early on and spends most of the movie as an old woman. This allows the film to explore the theme of old age, and to do so in a positive way.
Additionally, Miyazaki gave the story the Ghibli treatment and turned it into a sharp reflection on the horrors of war, as Howl is a fierce resistance fighter for his kingdom. That means you get all the fun of the original novel, as well as a spoonful of Studio Ghibli’s signature soulfulness. What a winning combination.
What do you think are the best Studio Ghibli movies? Let us know in the comments!
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