Among some of the most influential works of Japanese animation, anime films exemplify everything that makes the genre as great as it is. With top of the line art work, animation that flows like water and themes that range from the relatable to the fantastical, they’ve allowed viewers to see breathtaking works of art in motion and brought more than a few people to the medium as a whole. Among them are those that stand above the rest as some of the most influential though, and these 10 in particular are works that you need to watch before you die.
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie
Known as one of the best anime series of all time, Cowboy Bebop took the world by storm and helped establish the roots of the Western anime fandom we have today. It’s no surprise then that the anime’s film adaptation had just as much of an impact, taking what made the series great and cranking it up to 11. When an unknown biological weapon is threatened for use against the people living on Mars, it’s up to Spike and the gang to hunt down the person responsible and claim the bounty on his head.
This is easier said than done though, as they quickly discover they aren’t the only ones trying to stop this shadowy figure. Ripe with fantastic character moments, crisp and clean animation, and a story on par with the best the series has to offer, this film set a bar for what films based on existing anime properties should be, and arguably remains on this throne even today. If you’ve ever been curious about why people speak so highly of this series or just want to see anime at its best, check out this film posthaste.
In This Corner of the World
Set during the events and fallout of World War II, In This Corner of the World tells the tale of Suzu, a young woman and talented artist who must adapt to her new life after being married off to a man far from the town where she grew up. An imaginative dreamer, she finds new and creative ways to deal with the increasing hardships facing herself and her new family, using the creativity that would go toward her art to find solutions to everything from food shortages to caring for her sister-in-law’s daughter. For a while, it looks like this may be enough for her to build a happy life for herself… until the real world forces its way in.
Uplifting one minute and then heart wrenching the next, this film is among some of the best portrayals of life during World War II for someone trying to come to terms with adulthood. Insightful and thought-provoking, it’ll give you a new appreciation for what someone across the world went through and how similar it is to everyone trying to make the best out of the hand they’ve been dealt in life.
For those who race in the intergalactic circuit, no race is as prestigious as the Redline, a high-stakes competition which places the best of the best against each other in a life or death drive to the finish. JP, a human who rose from the slums to become the greatest racer of all time, has dreamed of entering this race his entire life, doing whatever he had to do in order to gain the resources and notoriety needed to become a contestant. When he finally does gain entry into the race, this catches up to him: Unsavory characters inform him and his friends he has to take a fall or pay the price, while Sonoshee, a fellow racer and source of inspiration for JP, doesn’t believe he is a racer worthy of the opportunity due to his checkered past. With one last chance to prove to everyone he’s the real deal, JP must put everything on the line and show the world just what kind of racer he’s always been.
Fast-paced and dripping with some of the best animation around, this film is the perfect fit for anyone who likes their animated features to be injected with a hefty dose of over the top action and themes. Once it picks up, it doesn’t slow down for a single second and will have anyone who watches it enthralled by its one of a kind presentation.
Arguably the most well known of legendary director Satoshi Kon’s works, Paprika takes all of the mind-bending, psychological aspects of his style and refines them into an imaginative thriller of a film. After a group of scientists invent a machine which allows them to dive into the dreams of whoever they choose, an unknown assailant attempts to steal the technology for his own purposes and goals, manipulating the thoughts and actions of whoever’s dreams he can enter. To stop him, they enlist the help of Paprika, an agent developed to dive into the dreams of others and use her mastery of the dreamscape to uncover the true meaning behind their most secretive dreams and deepest nightmares. Together, they pursue the culprit in a race against time, desperate to put a stop to his ambitions before they cause the real world and dream world to collide.
Boasting mind-bending visuals matched only by the intriguing story and characters, this movie is a must-see for anyone who wants to see an anime that does something other mediums could only imitate (case in point: Inception). For an animated work that’ll give your eyes and mind plenty to chew on, look no further than this phenomenal work.
Sword of the Stranger
There’s something iconic about a wandering, nameless samurai, and this film nails everything about this to near perfection. On the run from a band of ruthless assassins, a young boy named Kotaro and his dog Tobimaru are saved by Nanashi, a wandering samurai with a mysterious past. In exchange for a treasure from his home temple, Kotaro convinces Nanashi to protect him on his way to safety from his pursuers, sparking a journey that will help the two gain a sense of purpose, belonging and redemption should they survive the dangers that are hot on their tail.
Bloody, emotional and filled to bursting with some of the best fight scenes in the industry, this sleeper hit is still as much of a stand out work as it was over a decade ago. Fights are animated in a way that makes them feel nearly realistic in their flow and attention to detail, and the sheer speed of battles between Nanashi and the film’s villains will take your breath away. Whether you’re a fan of samurai action flicks or amazing animation in general, you owe it to yourself to experience this one of a kind work first-hand.
Finding a place in the world where you belong can be difficult, something Hana and her children Ame and Yuki know all too well. After falling in love with a man who is able to turn into a wolf at will, Hana finds herself raising their two supernaturally blessed children on her own after he is killed in a freak accident. Determined to give them a good life in spite of this, she sets out to overcome every obstacle they encounter, all while trying to help Ame and Yuki decide whether they want to live as humans or wolves.
Blending fantastical elements with more relatable themes of untraditional families, finding a place in the world and learning to accept the ones you love for who they are, this film is a shining example of the kinds of works director Mamoru Hosoda does best. Don’t expect to get through this film without having your heartstrings masterfully tugged, and don’t be surprised if it leaves a lasting impression on you long after you’re finished watching it.
Ghost in the Shell
It’s no secret that Ghost in the Shell is an influential work not only in anime, but across several mediums of art and entertainment. Set in a cyberpunk future where humans connect and augment their consciousness into the worldwide web through advances made in technology, the imagery and themes presented in the film have become iconic among those who wish to delve into the possibilities, risks and consequences of an increasingly technological society and culture.
That’s to say nothing of the fantastic story focused around Motoko Kusanagi, an agent tasked with tracking down what is believed to be a rogue hacker manipulating the populace’s AI to commit acts of terrorism. The further she digs into each event and crime, the more she realizes the events occurring have far deeper implications for the world at large, forcing her to consider what makes a person human and when something can make the leap into becoming human. Heady, imaginative and filled with some excellent action set pieces, you’ll be kicking yourself for not crossing this off of your to-watch list sooner.
Life takes a turn for the unexplainable for two teenagers, Mitsuha Miyamizu and Taki Tachibana, discover they’ve suddenly switched bodies. Unsure of how or why it happened, the two try their best to adapt to the other’s lives, one living in the far-off countryside while the other lives in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Before long, the two learn enough about each other to develop feelings for one another; but just as quickly, their strange connection is severed, forcing the two to uncover what caused it in the first place and how to re-establish it before their memories of the event vanish.
A runaway hit across the world that is more than worthy of its success, Your Name encapsulates the sense of longing and fantastical elements of everyday life that director Makoto Shinkai lends to all of his films. The jaw-dropping detail put into each new setting, and the honest emotion given to each character exchange and interaction, bring this film to life while also creating moments which feel straight out of a modern fairy tale. If you’ve been wondering why this film was as popular as it was upon release, don’t deny yourself this amazing experience any longer and dive headlong into all that it has to offer.
Both inside and outside of the anime industry, Akira’s influence is something that cannot be understated. Responsible for the boom in anime’s popularity outside of Japan, it opened up the world to a style of animation that could extend past children and family films, tackling themes and ideas regularly reserved for traditional film and other entertainment media. Past that, its story was a shining example of post-apocalyptic dystopian Sci-Fi: Set after a cataclysmic event that wiped out Most of Japan, the story follows Tetsuo and Kaneda, two life-long friends who are drawn into the experimental dealings of the government after Tetsuo’s latent psychic powers are awakened. Before long, these powers cause Tetsuo’s ego to run rampant and cause him to develop a god complex, leaving Kaneda to put a stop to him before he causes another event which could destroy the recovering nation once and for all. Dripping with originality and responsible for so much of what anime is today, this film is more than worthy of being seen by anyone and everyone who wants to see the medium for themselves.
Made by the legendary animation team at Studio Ghibli and helmed by the visionary director Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited away is THE anime film. Set in the modern day, the story follows Chihiro Ogino, a young girl whose family is moving to a new city when they happen upon an abandoned town in the middle of nowhere. After her parents choose to eat food from an abandoned stall, they are both turned into pigs and Chihiro is taken off to a strange world of spirits, forced to discover a way to return her parents to normal and get back to her world before she becomes trapped in this new realm forever.
Full of amazing art, animation that flows with ease and host to a story that manages to be relatable even at its most fantastical, This movie stands as one of, if not the, best that Ghibli and Miyazaki have to offer. Whether you’re a lifelong fan, someone looking to get into the medium or just looking for the perfect work to point to as why anime can be amazing, this is about as good of an example as you could possibly find.
What are some anime films you believe need to be watched by everyone? Let us know in the comments below, and check out some of our other anime features on topics like the 20 best anime fights of all time.