- Anime movies not made by Studio Ghibli can provide memorable and impactful experiences for fans.
- Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms explores themes of identity, motherhood, and loneliness with stunning animation and a memorable soundtrack.
- Blue Giant tells a moving tale about jazz and friendship, while I Want To Eat Your Pancreas offers a beautiful story about the value of life and friendship.
To many anime fans, the movies created by Studio Ghibli, especially those directed by Hayao Miyazaki, represent the pinnacle of the anime world. From classic titles like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke to the more recent award-winning The Boy and the Heron, most fans would count at least one of these among their favorites. However, there are quite a few options for the best anime movies not made by Studio Ghibli as well.
The anime movie landscape is a broad one, defined by its rich and complex history. With titles that range from classic, influential works, to modern hits that stunned first-time viewers, there is something for everyone, regardless of preferred themes or genres. Moreover, even movies that are not as widely recognized as those created by Studio Ghibli often end up providing memorable and impactful experiences, for fans willing to give them a chance.
10 Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (2018)
Original Movie Produced by P.A. Works & Directed by Mari Okada
The titular Maquia is an orphaned Iorph, spending her time away from humans, weaving the magical cloth of Hibiol together with her companions. Her peaceful yet lonely life is disrupted when the Mezarte kingdom suddenly attacks, greedily seeking to obtain the blood that grants the Iorph their longer lifespans. Losing her home and friends in the attack, Maquia finds herself all alone, unable to hear anything but the cries of a defenseless human baby. Despite knowing nothing about motherhood or human babies, she names him Ariel and makes up her mind to take care of him.
Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms is a beautiful and emotional character-driven movie that tactfully explores themes of identity, motherhood, and loneliness. From the main characters to the supporting ones, everyone is intriguing and well-developed. Moreover, while the world’s events do not represent the story’s focus, the fantasy world presented therein is intricate and fascinating, featuring distinct races with unique features and political situations. Finally, the stunning animation and memorable soundtrack complete the package magnificently.
Mari Okada, who is responsible for writing and directing Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, has also written the script of other highly regarded anime titles, including Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, and Kiznaiver.
9 Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
Original Movie Produced by Madhouse & Directed by Satoshi Kon
Gin, Hana, and Miyuki are three homeless people with troubled pasts living together on the streets of modern-day Tokyo. On a fateful Christmas Eve, while scavenging for anything that could prove useful through discarded presents, they end up finding a baby girl, whom they name Kiyoko. Determined to find Kiyoko’s parents and solve the mystery behind her apparent abandonment, the three set out on a life-changing journey full of unexpected coincidences and unprecedented trials.
Tokyo Godfathers is a heartwarming film about found family that brilliantly balances light-hearted comedy scenes with touching drama. From the realistic and charming characters to the exceptional animation and sound design that continue to impress decades later, everything about this title is simply outstanding. Moreover, despite being defined by the Christmas spirit and providing an experience that perfectly suits the festive season, that doesn’t make the movie any less entertaining throughout the rest of the year.
Satoshi Kon, the director and creator of Tokyo Godfathers, is also known for directing other influential titles such as Paprika and Perfect Blue.
8 Blue Giant (2023)
Produced by Nut, Based on the Manga by Shinichi Ishizuka, & Directed by Yuzuru Tachikawa
Dai Miyamoto is an average high school student, splitting his time between his basketball club, studies, and part-time jobs. Amidst his busy schedule, he can’t help but worry about the future, and where he wants to be. Just then, a fateful jazz performance changes his life, inspiring him to take up the saxophone and become a well-known jazz musician himself. Despite not knowing the first thing about music, Dai hopes to compensate for his lack of experience and formal training with sheer determination and hard work.
Blue Giant tells a moving tale full of awe-inspiring musical performances, which stands out thanks to its unique theme. With a genuine love for the jazz genre emanating from every scene, the creators’ passion is certain to reach the viewers as well. However, even fans with little interest in music can enjoy this title, as its themes are otherwise reflective of the anime world’s most well-known stories, exploring ideas of friendship and aiming for the top. Providing a remarkable experience that is only slightly held back by the use of CGI, Blue Giant is an unexpected masterpiece.
Yuzuru Tachikawa, Blue Giant‘s director, is also known for directing Mob Psycho 100, as well as for creating Death Parade.
7 I Want To Eat Your Pancreas (2018)
Produced by Studio VOLN, Based on the Novel by Yoru Sumino, & Directed by Shinichirou Ushijima
Sakura Yamauchi is a popular, cheerful girl who gets along with everyone and always makes people smile. On the other hand, there is an aloof boy who cares about nothing but reading. Always paying attention to his books more than anything and anyone else, he lives in a seemingly separate world from his peers. But when the bookworm accidentally comes across a book named “Living with Dying” in a hospital waiting room, he ends up learning that Sakura secretly suffers from a terminal pancreatic disease, a revelation that is about to change his life.
Although its title might seem odd at first, I Want To Eat Your Pancreas is a remarkably beautiful and sentimental story about the value of life and friendship. Its story is far from unique, following a tragic character whose fate is predetermined, but the characters’ interactions and growth allow it to stand out among other similar titles. Even when certain developments are easy to predict, this film still manages to resonate with viewers sincerely, evoking powerful emotions that range from blissful smiles to sorrowful tears.
Yoru Sumino, who wrote the I Want To Eat Your Pancreas novel, has also authored several other titles, including the beautiful yet underappreciated I Had That Same Dream Again.
6 The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)
Produced by Madhouse, Based on the Novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, & Directed by Mamoru Hosoda
Makoto Konno is a seemingly ordinary high school girl, spending time with her friends and agonizing about the future like everyone else. What separates her from the rest, however, is that she possesses the power to travel through time. At first, she uses this power like most people likely would, leaping into the past and changing some of the choices she regrets, but eventually, Makoto has to face the fact that every action comes with consequences and that certain decisions don’t always lead to the expected outcomes.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time tells a remarkable tale, using sci-fi elements to augment an otherwise realistic story about growth and the value of time. By approaching the time travel concept from an unexpected angle, the title’s story proves genuinely compelling, and the well-developed characters are easy to resonate with. Some viewers may find the animation to be unimpressive compared to more recent or higher-budget titles, but that does nothing to take away from its quality as a brilliant coming-of-age anime.
5 Akira (1988)
Produced by Tokyo Movie Shinsha, Based on the Manga by Katsuhiro Ootomo, & Directed by Katsuhiro Ootomo
A mysterious explosion caused by psychic powers triggered the start of World War 3, leaving Tokyo in ruins. In its place now lies Nep-Tokyo, a city defined by gang violence and terrorism, where misfits such as “the Capsules” and “the Clowns” are in constant destructive conflict. After Shoutarou Kaneda, the leader of “the Capsules” gets caught up in an accident with an esper, he begins developing his own paranormal abilities, which in turn attracts the attention of the groups who seek to quarantine anyone with psychic powers to prevent another disaster.
As one of the predecessors to cyberpunk anime, Akira leverages its post-apocalyptic, dystopian setting to tell a simple yet noteworthy story about corruption, power imbalances, and human nature. However, while the title’s story and characters are all interesting in and of themselves, it is the presentation that made it as recognizable and influential as it is. Continuing to impress with its breathtaking visuals and exceptional sound design, this film has proven itself to be truly timeless.
4 Josee, the Tiger and the Fish (2020)
Produced by Bones, Based on the Novel by Seiko Tanabe, & Directed by Koutarou Tamura
Tsuneo Suzukawa is a university student driven first and foremost by his passion for marine biology. To achieve his goal of studying abroad, Tsuneo would do just about anything for money. This is why he accepts the offer of being Josee’s caretaker after stumbling into this opportunity, despite Josee’s unpleasant attitude and bossy demeanor. Although he nearly quits, Tsuneo’s views end up changing as he learns about Josee’s struggles and dreams, as she too, much like him, longs to see the outside world, having been bound to her wheelchair her entire life.
Josee, the Tiger and the Fish tells a charming and wholesome love story that is sure to move even the coldest of viewers. The story may not be particularly groundbreaking in terms of its premise, but the depth and quality of the characters allow them to stand out, making their journey compelling. Moreover, the remarkable production values enhance the experience as well, with the beautiful animation and soundtrack adding to the enjoyment and impact of the emotional scenes.
Some anime stories minimize or overturn physical disabilities, but these ones provide genuine and earnest representation, in a thoughtful manner.
3 Wolf Children (2012)
Original Movie Produced by Studio Chizu & Directed by Mamoru Hosoda
Hana is an ordinary college student who ends up in an extraordinary situation, falling in love with the last werewolf alive and giving birth to two wolf children, Ame and Yuki. Initially, the four of them live a happy, peaceful life together, making for an ideal family despite their differences. But when Hana’s lover suddenly dies, she is left to take care of her children by herself, which she decides to do in the countryside, far from society, where her unusual children can grow up free of discrimination and in touch with nature.
Though it may admittedly seem like a weird slice-of-life anime at first, Wolf Children undermines its fantasy setting to emphasize its central theme of realistic motherhood, complete with all of its inherent trials and difficulties. This one-of-a-kind tale will resonate with anyone, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats as they are captivated by Hana’s heartbreaking journey, and delivering an experience that proves as memorable as it is poignant, an experience that no other title could emulate.
Mamoru Hosoda, who both created and directed Wolf Children, is also responsible for creating other brilliant anime movies, including The Boy and the Beast, and Summer Wars.
2 A Silent Voice (2016)
Produced by Kyoto Animation, Based on the Manga by Yoshitoki Ooima, & Directed by Naoko Yamada
Shouya Ishida is a popular kid, doing just about anything to get others’ attention. This is how, when Shouko Nishimiya, a deaf girl, transfers into his school, he begins inconsiderately bullying her along with the rest of the class. But when the school finds out about Shouko’s suffering, and the girl is forced to transfer again, Shouya ends up being the only one to take the blame, becoming an outcast. Having grown up and understood the pain caused by his childish actions, Shouya continues to carry guilt and regrets, wishing for nothing but a chance to make amends for his past self.
Although it may initially seem like a romance-oriented title, A Silent Voice is primarily a profound and realistic story of redemption, which aims to highlight the dangers of thoughtless actions and the importance of genuine apologies. The supporting cast is admittedly underdeveloped so as to allow the main characters to stand out, and the title’s depiction of deafness has not always been appreciated by viewers, some of whom have raised valid concerns, but the emotional story and high production values make it one of many anime fans’ favorite movies.
Yoshitoki Ooima, the creator of the A Silent Voice manga, also authored To Your Eternity, another fantastic title that was adapted into an outstanding anime series.
1 Your Name. (2016)
Original Movie Produced by CoMix Wave Films & Directed by Makoto Shinkai
Mitsuha Miyamuzu, bored with the uneventful countryside and its lack of interesting developments, yearns to live a more fun and exciting life in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Taki Tachibana, while seemingly living Mitsuha’s ideal life, is working hard towards a stable and respectable future in architecture. But when an unexpected supernatural phenomenon causes the two to switch bodies, they begin to focus all of their efforts on living as the other person without drawing attention, while communicating with each other in an attempt to solve the mystery behind their situation.
Your Name. subverts classic tropes to tell a refreshingly innovative story, providing one of the most memorable and emotionally impactful experiences in the medium, and appealing to one’s deepest emotions without needing to resort to forced tear-jerker moments. The depth of the supporting cast is understandably sacrificed to allow the main characters to shine, but the simple yet effective story works wonders to resonate with fans, especially as it is elevated by stunning visuals and a fantastic soundtrack. All in all, this is truly one of the best anime movies not made by Studio Ghibli.
Makoto Shinkai, who created and directed Your Name, is also responsible for several other amazing anime movies, including Weathering with You and the more recent Suzume.