Every Studio Ghibli Movie, Ranked

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It’s a strange thing to believe that live-action films and animated films are both considered the same medium. Of course, both have plenty in common, and most live-action films could somewhat easily be recreated as animated films. The opposite, however, is not true. One of the things that unites and separates these two kinds of movies is imagination. Because both are visual mediums, they require the imagination of creators to put something beautiful on screen. In the case of animation, animators are not bound by the limits of the real world when searching for something to portray.

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Studio Ghibli is one of the few production studios that capitalizes on that essential quality of animation: an unbound imagination in every work that they produce, whether it’s from famed director Hayao Miyazaki or any other brilliant Ghibli mastermind. Many of these films have been painstakingly animated frame-by-frame by talented 2D artists, taking an exorbitant amount of time; it took three years to animate only 36 minutes of Miyazaki’s How Do You Live?, for instance.

As such, these great movies can impart an impossibly unique sense of wonder and joy about the world. Even the imaginative power of words can’t capture what makes these films so truly different; they beg to be seen and understood by people’s eyes and minds. Films are now more accessible than ever before thanks to streaming; there’s no excuse not to witness them in all their beauty. Here is every Studio Ghibli movie ranked.

Update December 15, 2023: We know how cherished the films of Studio Ghibli are, so in an effort to represent the best of their movies, this article has been updated to keep it as comprehensive and fresh as possible following the release of The Boy and the Heron.

23 Earwig and the Witch (2020)

Earwig and The Witch
Toho

Released in 2020, the 3D animated Ghibli movie Earwig and the Witch is not of the most beloved movies among audiences. Earwig and the Witch tells the story of a child named Earwig who is left at an orphanage by her mother in 1990s England. Audiences get to see that her mother is a witch. Thinking that a name like Earwig is unfit for a child, the matron of the orphanage changes it to Erica Wigg. Earwig lives very happily with her friend Custard in the orphanage but, unfortunately, gets adopted against her wishes by a witch called Bella Yaga. The rest of the movie shows how Earwig, with help from a new and unlikely friend, plans to defeat Bella Yaga.

Why It Ranks at The Bottom

The movie is extremely fun to watch, and the voice actors also did a fantastic job bringing the characters to life, with stars like Dan Stevens and Kacey Musgraves providing their voices for the unique picture. Earwig and the Witch was able to capture the essence of Ghibli’s magic while also attempting to venture into new animation territory. The people who were used to the beautiful 2D animation of Ghibli movies were a little uncomfortable with this new format. But at the end of the day, Goro Miyazaki did a great job bringing Diana Wynne Jones’s novel to life as a movie everyone is going to love. Stream on Max

22 From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

From Up On Poppy Hill
From Up On Poppy Hill

Release Date
July 16, 2011

Director
Goro Miyazaki

Cast
Masami Nagasawa , Junichi Okada , Keiko Takeshita , Yuriko Ishida , Rumi Hîragi , Jun Fubuki

Rating
PG

Immersed in the aftermath of the Korean War, From Up on Poppy Hill narrates the life of Umi Matsuzaki, a young girl balancing household responsibilities and a mission to preserve her school’s clubhouse. Her life shifts dramatically as she finds herself falling for Shun Kazama, her classmate, weaving a poignant tale of self-realization and youthful romance.

What Makes It Great

Studio Ghibli’s From Up on Poppy Hill is a beautiful illustration of everyday life, imbued with a nostalgic quality. Goro Miyazaki steers storytelling in the film, marked by universally relatable themes and subtle drama. It pulls the audience into the carefully crafted 1960s Yokohama, thanks to its realistic animation. The film’s aesthetic, with its softer color tones, mirrors the tender nature of the plot.

Umi Matsuzaki, the lead character, evolves from a dutiful girl to a fearless champion of her school’s legacy. Shun Kazama, Umi’s romantic interest, undergoes his own journey, wrestling with personal truths while backing Umi’s initiative. Their growth, rooted in their real-world conditions, enriches their personas, enabling viewers to connect deeply with their stories. The film stands as a significant entry in the Studio Ghibli library, distinguishing itself by diverging from the typical fantasy settings. It has garnered worldwide appreciation, a testament to the enduring allure of Ghibli’s storytelling. Stream on Max

21 Ocean Waves (1993)

Ocean Waves
Toho

The 1993 Ghibli movie Ocean Waves tells a great story about love and friendship. This coming-of-age romance focuses on two friends, Taku and Yutaka, and a new girl in their high school, Rikako. The movie may seem like just another high-school love triangle at first, but it is so much more than that. Ocean Waves is a great testament to young love and how misunderstandings between friends can end up ruining what can be a beautiful relationship.

What Makes It Great

The movie shows viewers that if two people are truly in love with each other, they can be reunited later in life, when they have both grown into mature individuals. The story of young love and friendship that overcomes the petty fights of high school and transcends into beautiful relationships, in the end, is what makes Ocean Waves a really amazing movie, and even though this is not the best that Ghibli has to offer, the film is definitely worth a watch, especially if someone loves coming-of-age dramas. Stream on Max

20 Ponyo (2008)

Ponyo
Ponyo

Release Date
July 19, 2008

Cast
Yuria Nara , Hiroki Doi , Jôji Tokoro , Tomoko Yamaguchi , Yûki Amami , Kazushige Nagashima

Rating
G

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Ponyo presents a touching narrative of a goldfish named Ponyo who aspires to become a human girl. When she encounters Sosuke, a young boy, she embarks on a magical journey that unsettles nature’s equilibrium. Together, Ponyo and Sosuke must fight to protect his village after an enchanted elixir threatens to wreak havoc on his people.

What Makes It Great

Ponyo infuses traditional Miyazaki storytelling with a mix of magical elements and environmental motifs. The plot is a contemporary adaptation of The Little Mermaid, delivered with a distinct Ghibli spin. The animation is dynamic and lively, animating a fantastical underwater universe and a charming coastal town. The metamorphosis of Ponyo from an inquisitive goldfish into a resolute little girl forms the crux of the movie. Stream on Max

19 The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

The Tale of Princess Kaguya
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Release Date
November 23, 2013

Cast
Aki Asakura , Yukiji Asaoka , Takeo Chii , Isao Hashizume , Hikaru Ijûin , Takaya Kamikawa

Rating
PG

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya narrates the story of a girl discovered by a bamboo cutter in a glowing stalk. Intriguingly, the woodcutter and his spouse take her in as their own. She matures, her ethereal allure and enigmatic past draw the gaze of the aristocracy. An intense narrative of affection, existence, and self-definition ensues in a breathtaking retelling of the classic Japanese legend The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.

What Makes It Great

Isao Takahata’s direction distinguishes this movie. It diverges from the classic Studio Ghibli look, utilizing a unique watercolor and sketch-inspired animation. The storytelling is deeply rooted in Japanese folklore, and Takahata masterfully explores themes of femininity, societal expectations, and the fleeting nature of life, presenting a narrative that is both heart-rending and thought-provoking.

The protagonist, Princess Kaguya, undergoes a profound transformation from an innocent country girl to a noblewoman grappling with societal constraints. Her foster parents, initially humble and loving, are swayed by the allure of wealth and status, showcasing a tragic shift in their priorities. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya leaves an indelible impact with its unique artistic style and profound narrative. It has been praised for its feminist undertones and cultural authenticity, earning a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 87th Academy Awards. Its rich thematic content and visually stunning scenes make it a compelling watch, time and again. Stream on Max

18 The Cat Returns (2002)

The Cat Returns
Toho

Whisper of the Heart is one of the best Ghibli movies, and everyone will agree, as it will be included later in the article. But this spot is dedicated to the spinoff of the movie, the 2002 Ghibli classic, The Cat Returns, which is based on the Manga of the same name by Aoi Hiragi. Directed by Hiroyuki Morita, the movie tells the story of Haru Yoshioka, a high school student who has the ability to talk to cats. The movie begins when the protagonist saves a cat, and he turns out to be the Prince of the Cat Kingdom named Lune.

What Makes It Great

Even though people who have watched Whisper of the Heart will be able to identify the familiar face in the movie, it is only a spin-off and does not really have any connection to the other story. But if audiences want to, they can watch Whisper of the Heart before watching The Cat Returns. Both these movies are great and highly entertaining to watch, as Hollywood greats like Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, and Tim Curry provide their distinct voices for the English-dubbed version.Stream on Max

17 Tales from Earthsea (2006)

Tales from Earthsea
Tales from Earthsea

Release Date
July 29, 2006

Director
Goro Miyazaki

Cast
Junichi Okada , Aoi Teshima , Bunta Sugawara , Yûko Tanaka , Teruyuki Kagawa , Jun Fubuki

Rating
PG-13

Tales from Earthsea is set in a world where dragons and humans are at odds, and magic is on the decline. The story follows Arren, a troubled prince, who encounters Sparrowhawk, a powerful wizard, and together, they embark on a journey to restore balance in their crumbling world. Directed by Goro Miyazaki, the film is a creative adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series. The animation style is consistent with Ghibli’s signature detailed and vibrant visuals. However, the storytelling faced criticism for its disjointed narrative and lack of depth compared to Le Guin’s intricate world-building.

What Makes It Great

Arren, the angst-ridden prince, goes through a journey of self-discovery and redemption. Sparrowhawk serves as a moral compass, guiding Arren through his internal struggles. Their relationship evolves from mentor-student to companion, highlighting their mutual growth. Tales from Earthsea, despite initial mixed reviews, has gained a cult following for its exploration of existential themes and visually captivating animation. Its brilliance stems from the immersive fantasy world and the layered characters, inviting viewers to delve deeper into the subtle nuances. Stream on Max

16 The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

Studio Ghibli remained a constant force in cinema at the dawn of a new decade in 2010, releasing the wondrous fantasy film The Secret World of Arrietty and once again capturing the hearts of audiences across the world. The animated picture marked the debut of director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and tells the magical tale of the titular tiny teenager, a Borrower girl and member of the four-inch-tall Clock family who suddenly finds their existence compromised when she is discovered by (and ultimately befriends) a human boy named Shō.

What Makes It Great

The whimsical Studio Ghibli flick was based on a series of children’s books by English author Mary Norton and went on to become a critical and commercial hit, winning the prestigious Animation of the Year award at the Japan Academy Prize. Both Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata had previously been wanting to adapt Norton’s novel about little people living beneath the floorboards of a family for nearly 40 years, and the animation studio founders’ patience paid off splendidly; The Guardian calledArrietty “the soul food of the animation world.” Stream on Max

15 My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999)

My Neighbors the Yamadas
Toho

Known for its very different art style My Neighbors the Yamadas is a 1999 Ghibli movie which was written and directed by Isao Takahata. Not only does it have a unique animation style, but also a unique plot and format. The movie shows the audience a family who is known as the Yamadas. Made up of mother, father, grandmother, brother, and sister, viewers see short vignettes that show them the various events of their daily lives.

What Makes It Great

Living together as a family and going through all the ups and downs of life with them is something everyone has all experienced to some extent. The movie breaks out of the usual Ghibli format and shows audiences the familiar scene of a little family and how they help each other overcome the little problems of life. My Neighbors the Yamadas utilizes a stylized comic strip look instead of the tried-and-true traditional anime style Studio Ghibli is known for, a gamble that ultimately paid off and set the engrossing film apart from other entries in their illustrious repertoire. Stream on Max

14 Only Yesterday (1991)

Despite becoming the highest-grossing film in Japan upon its release in 1991, Studio Ghibli’s Only Yesterday is often overlooked in the animated studio’s superb catalog but is nonetheless a visually stunning and emotionally enlightening masterpiece in its own right. The drama takes place in 1982 and centers on the unmarried, 27-year-old city-slicker Taeko Okajima, who decides to shake up her everyday routine by traveling to the rural countryside to visit family in hopes of escaping the chaos of Tokyo life.

During her getaway, Taeko is faced with both her past and present feelings as she reminisces about her childhood and all the events that shaped who she is today, leading to the young woman reflecting on what she wants for her future.

What Makes It Great

Only Yesterday shies away from traditional animated themes and subjects, instead becoming a realistic and uplifting film marketed towards adult women. Based on the Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone manga of the same name, the drama implements a more realistic style of animation and provides a poignant and honest look at the lives of women in Japanese society. It currently holds a highly-coveted 100% Rotten Tomatoes score, and over thirty years later, Only Yesterday remains a compelling and gorgeous animation triumph.

RogerEbert.com commended the insightful film, retrospectively writing in their glowing review, “Like Kaguya, functions as a highly sensitive and empathetic consideration of the situation of women in Japanese society—but it’s also a breathtaking work of art on its own.” Stream on Max

13 Porco Rosso (1992)

Porco Rosso
Toho

Ghibli is no stranger to magic and the supernatural, and the 1992 animated feature film Porco Rosso also does not shy away from these familiar themes. The protagonist of the film is a World War I veteran, an Italian Fighter pilot named Porco Rosso, who is also an airborne bounty hunter. The story begins in 1929, and audiences see that unlike normal soldiers, Porco has a head of a pig, which is a curse that has been put on him. But even with his unique appearance, he is able to fend off any enemy attacks and go on adventures.

What Makes It Great

Porco Rosso tells a beautiful story and has a fantastic animation style as well. The movie is not only an exciting adventure but it also delves into the worlds of politics and love. At the end of the day, the audience gets a beautiful cacophony of unlikely romance and a hero who would rather be a pig than a fascist. The movie is directed by the revered Hayao Miyazaki, and if someone is a huge Ghibli fan, then they should give this unique action-adventure movie a try. Stream on Max

12 Pom Poko (1994)

Pom Poko
Toho

This 1994 movie has been largely forgotten by many Studio Ghibli fans, which is a huge shame since it’s one of the most wild and bonkers films the animation studio has ever produced. Written and directed by the late and great Isao Takahata, who always had a more serious and adult touch (as in Grave of the Fireflies and Only Yesterday), Pom Poko is Ghibli at its most radically environmentalist, taking the usual subtext of Ghibli cinema and plastering it across the screen as hypertext.

What Makes It Great

The film follows a group of Japanese raccoon dogs who realize that their land is being targeted for real estate development and begin a series of revolutionary acts against the humans and corporations surrounding their home. It’s an extremely odd movie, with a silliness that can at times be childlike but also includes some disturbing imagery, violence, sexual humor, and political content that is entirely adult. It’s impossible to define, but whatever it is, Pom Poko is incredible.

Stream on Max

11 The Wind Rises (2013)

The 2013 film The Wind Rises was meant to be Hayao Miyazaki’s last film, but the 81-year-old director has been coming out of retirement with the highly-anticipated 2023 Studio Ghibli film, How Do You Live?. As his supposed swan song, The Wind Rises was an extremely personal project for the great Ghibli director and represented many of his conflictual feelings about Japan. The movie focuses on the engineer Jiro Horikoshi and his brilliant aircraft designs, and if that sounds full, the film is anything but.

What Makes It Great

The Wind Rises is a beautiful meditation of pacifism, creativity, and imagination that shows the director wasn’t slowing down whatsoever as a septuagenarian. It provides a fictionalized account of the life and legacy of Horikoshi, who brilliantly designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero that was used during World War II, with Miyazaki having also published a manga series depicting his spectacular career. The Wind Rises was the highest-grossing Japanese film of the year and also earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature. Stream on Max

10 Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Kiki’s Delivery Service follows Kiki, a 13-year-old witch who opens a delivery service using her flying broom to bring items to people. Doubling as a coming-of-age romance, Kiki continuously crosses paths with Tombo, a wide-eyed young boy who admires her ability to fly. Each element of Ghibli’s impressive production talents is on display in this film, which offers a memorable score, excellent voice acting, and a captivating story.

Related: The Funniest Animated Cartoon Movies of All Time, Ranked

What Makes It Great

The animators have a special eye for capturing little moments here, like that of Kiki sleeping in a train car with the light of the passing environment crossing in front of her face with the train’s movement. These moments are the reason that Studio Ghibli’s films are often called “humanist.” They give these characters and their internal lives a rich depth that is as compelling as it is beautifully animated. Stream on Max

9 The Boy and the Heron (2023)

Read Our Review

Hayao Miyazaki’s final movie (supposedly), The Boy and the Heron was recently released and has left the audience in awe with its sheer brilliance. The genius movie maker Miyazaki never really disappointed Studio Ghibli’s devoted fanbase with his exceptional work, and he has once again lived up to his fame this time around as well. The movie tells the story of a 12-year-old boy, Mahito, and a gray heron who can talk as they embark on a valiant mission to find his stepmother, searching a wondrous world inhabited by both the living and the dead.

What Makes It Great

The Boy and the Heron is an exciting blend of reality and magic and, as always, presents the genre of coming-of-age in a really unique way. Filled with magic, many mysterious characters, and an alternate world, this movie truly carries the bizarre tone that Miyazaki is known for. The acclaimed director created the enchanting picture for his grandson, with producer Toshio Suzuki explaining it was Miyazaki’s way of expressing, “Grandpa is moving onto the next world soon, but he is leaving behind this film.” The Boy and the Heron has garnered widespread critical and commercial praise, and has already earned two Golden Globe nominations including Best Animated Feature Film. Currently in theaters

8 Castle in the Sky (1986)

If the floating city Laputa looks derived from a steampunk adventure story, it’s because this film was likely one of the biggest sources of inspiration for the steampunk aesthetic. In Castle in the Sky, an airship is attacked by air pirates in search of a crystal pendant, a key to the fabled city of Laputa, which is rumored to be full of the riches of a lost civilization.

What Makes It Great

A princess lost after the attack on the airship has to ensure the safety of Laputa with the help of an orphaned boy named Pazu. One of the first films produced by Studio Ghibli, it was the first widely seen success of the formula that would make Studio Ghibli renowned globally: well-realized fantasy aesthetics and idealistic youthful characters tasked with saving their communities. Since its debut over thirty years ago, Castle in the Sky has gone on to be regarded as one of the greatest animated films of all time and is a beloved cult classic staple adored by fans all across the world. Stream on Max

7 My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro

Release Date
April 16, 1988

Cast
Noriko Hidaka , Chika Sakamoto , Shigesato Itoi , Sumi Shimamoto , Tanie Kitabayashi , Hitoshi Takagi

Rating
PG

Not much actually happens in My Neighbor Totoro, and incredibly, it’s a movie that tugs hard at the heartstrings anyway. Two young girls move into a new home with their father and discover friendly spirits in the environment of their residence and its surrounding land. The plot follows their journey into being inducted into the vibrant world of spirits, none of which are particularly harmful.

What Makes It Great

The magic of My Neighbor Totoro is in the imagination of spirits and their design, which draws on Japanese mythology and other inspirations. Some of these creatures, like the catbus, have some of the most endearing animation designs ever drawn and help contribute to this film being a perfect pick-me-up for any bad day. Both the breathtaking picture and its titular fan-favorite character have gone on to become cultural icons, with Totoro even becoming the official mascot for Studio Ghibli. Stream on Max

6 Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Whisper of the Heart
Toho

When Ghibli movies don’t involve incredibly high stakes, they usually focus on a lower scale of storytelling, and Whisper of the Heart is a great example. It’s a simple love story told in an urban Japanese setting and one of the best depictions of high school life and being a teenager, following as it does two high-school-age characters. The premise is elevated by the delicate, lively sensibility that the filmmakers take to portraying love in a youthful urban environment.

What Makes It Great

Each of the settings in the story comes alive through those smaller moments, showing characters interacting with their surroundings, lounging on chairs, making tea, etc. These moments of pause and meditation are what makes this feel like a truly universal story that anyone who has ever loved will be able to relate to. Watch this film with an open heart and a cup of tea for the best, most peaceful viewing experience. A live-action sequel produced by Sony Entertainment was originally planned, but was ultimately delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stream on Max

5 Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Toei Company

Set in a post-post-apocalyptic future (1000 years after an apocalyptic event), Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind presents a vision of a world where giant mutated insects have evolved to protect the remaining plant life on earth. A girl with the ability to communicate with the insects has to ensure that a faction of humanity won’t reactivate a Giant Warrior, one of the robotic abominations responsible for the destruction of the earth.

Related: Here Are the 10 Best Animation Studios Ever, Ranked

What Makes It Great

Even as long as 40 years ago, the aesthetics presented by this movie are products of a large and vivid imagination. Small one-person planes, insect-inspired armor, giant beetles, and 20th-century airships alongside rural villages make Nausicaa a visually unique experience. Delicate interpersonal moments interspersed with grand scenes of eye-catching action make this one of Studio Ghibli’s best titles. Stream on Max

4 Grave of the Fireflies (1989)

Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies

Release Date
July 26, 1989

Cast
Tsutomu Tatsumi , Ayano Shiraishi , Akemi Yamaguchi

Rating
Not Rated

Grave of the Fireflies is a major divergence from the majority of Studio Ghibli’s work, doing away with much of the romantic childhood themes that underlie most of their films. Instead, it’s a movie about World War II and all the suffering and trauma it entailed, focusing on two Japanese teenagers struggling to survive during the last days of the war, around the time of Japan’s surrender.

What Makes It Great

There’s a reason that audiences of the film feel deep sorrow even when only remembering Grave of the Fireflies it is undeniably heartbreaking. Every bit as humanistic as other Ghibli films, this one chooses to resurrect the deep, lingering scars of war trauma and its merciless effect on children. It’s best to be emotionally prepared when watching this one, as it will certainly leave viewers reaching for a box of tissues. Grave of the Fireflies is both a cinematic masterpiece in animation and an extremely poignant war picture, with the New York Times simply (and accurately) declaring it, “One of the most startling and moving animated films ever.” Rent/Buy on Apple TV+

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