The Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked From Fine to Phenomenal

Every Ghibli Film Ranked From Fine to Phenomenal

In the world of Japanese animation, the name Ghibli is as well known and influential as Disney. Producing some of the most iconic works in the entire medium with stories, characters and themes that remain relatable even decades after they were first revealed to the world, its films stand as examples of what anime is and should continue to strive to be. Their catalog of works is basically required viewing among many anime fans, and for those wondering where to start, we’ve ranked all 22 Ghibli films from fine to phenomenal. Author’s note: While Studio Ghibli provided assistance in the production of The Red Turtle, the film is credited to a director and production staff outside of the studio and will not be considered for this ranking.

22. Tales From Earthsea

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

Tales From Earthsea is a bit of an odd duck among the works of Studio Ghibli. On one hand, it takes the same inspirational path as many other Ghibli works and adapts an existing novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, giving image to the tale of a young man out to save his homeland from a growing imbalance and turmoil. On the other, it’s the debut work of acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro Miyazaki, and the signs of inexperience in pacing and story structure are… noticeable, to say the least. Regardless, the film still holds strong in its visuals, whisking viewers away to a beautiful fantasy world of dragons, magic and wide open vistas. For those who don’t mind leaning on style over substance, there’s still something to enjoy about this movie.

21. Ponyo

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

A heartwarming tale of coming to a new world, Ponyo strikes the same vein as some of the most well regarded Disney films. Centered around Ponyo, the daughter of an undersea wizard who left the surface for its mistreatment of nature, the film follows her journey to the surface, her befriending of a young boy named Sosuke, and their journey to set the balance of the world back in check so that all can live in peace and harmony. It’s fun, imaginative and a perfect diving-in point for younger viewers that might not be ready for the more intense entries in Ghibli’s filmography. That said, the simplified themes might not strike a chord with older viewers in the same way as the studios more mature works, and Ponyo should be seen as a work for children first and foremost.

20. The Secret World of Arrietty

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

Set in a world where small, fairy-like beings known as Borrowers live just outside of the view of humans, The Secret World of Arrietty tells the tale of a young boy who discovers these beings and tries to befriend one known as Arrietty. Though the two come to see each other as friends, the intersecting of their world threatens the very existence of the Borrowers and forces both of them to decide whether to remain friends of return to separate worlds. A wonderful film that presents the possibility for fantasy in everyday life, Arrietty is a fun mix of Studio Ghibli’s more realistic and lighthearted works. It may not have a world ending plot or implications, but it’s still the type of film that most anyone can enjoy comfortably.

19. From Up on Poppy Hill

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

Umi Matsuzaki, a high school student living near the port of Yokohama in Japan, meets another student named Shun Kazama after he writes a poem on her daily tradition of raising signal flags with the message of “I pray for a safe voyage.” The two slowly form a friendship and, in time, romantic feelings for each other before discovering a strange coincidence: Both have the same photo of a deceased man who is supposedly their father. To this end, they set off to discover the truth, coming to terms with their feelings for one another and what it will mean when the truth is revealed.

An enjoyable slice-of-life film, From Up on Poppy Hill is one of the easier period pieces made by Ghibli to see. While the main character’s romantic dilemma can be a bit off-putting at first, it does wrap up in a satisfactory way and makes for a worthwhile viewing experience Ghibli or otherwise.

18. Ocean Waves

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

One of Ghibli’s more subdued and nuanced offerings, Ocean Waves tells the story of how a young man named Taku Morisaki came to know a young woman known as Rikako Muto. Strong-headed and standoff-ish, he finds little to like about her at first. As time goes on though, the two’s lives intersect again, and again until a strange bond starts to form between them, and draws their friends and classmates in as a result. Straying from the magical and fantastical of the studio’s other works, Ocean Waves instead feels like a genuine and grounded coming of age tale, complete with all of the imperfect exchanges and mistakes that come with it.  Though some might not enjoy it as a result, it’ll more than satisfy anyone who wants to see the legendary animators test new waters with promising results.

17. The Cat Returns

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

A spin-off of another Ghibli property, The Cat Returns follows a young girl named Haru Yoshioka who is whisked away to a magical world of anthropomorphic felines after rescuing their supposed prince from being hit by a truck. Though he wishes to make her his wife for her actions, Haru instead wishes to return to her world and must find a way to escape the magic spell that threatens to trap her there forever as a cat. Luckily, she has the help of the suave and enigmatic Baron to guide her toward a solution and uncover a lesson she needs to learn about herself along the way.

A rare example of a continuation from one of Ghibli’s other works as well as one of their few films not directed by a Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, the film does a fine job of presenting an interesting fantasy world with a likable protagonist and plot, all to the trademark aesthetic of Ghibli’s art style. It’s a fun romp for viewers young and old, and while it may stumble here and there in its execution, it’s an interesting look into the storytelling process of other members of the iconic team.

16. The Wind Rises

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

The swan song of Hayao Miyazaki’s career – or at least, it was before he announced plans for a new film – The Wind Rises tells the life story of Jiro Horikoshi, a man who dreamed of creating airplanes to fly through the sky. Living through many major events that help to shape this dream, viewers are treated to his perspective through and through; What appeared as an earthquake to others came off as a roaring crowd rending the Earth to Jiro, just as a minor modification to a paper airplane holds the secret to a more aerodynamic full-scale plane in his eyes.

Seen from childhood all the way into his career as a military engineer, these points of view lead him to do great things at the cost of his inventions becoming weapons for World War II. His struggle to come to terms with the implications of this tugs at the heart strings, and is worth the longer stretches of exposition.

15. Whisper of the Heart

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

Shizuku Tsukushima is a young girl with dreams of becoming a writer, but is hesitant to pursue it until she meets Seiji Amasawa, a violin player who dreams of becoming a master at the craft, and his grandfather Nishi, the owner of an antique shop. Inspired by the way Seiji is willing to go across the world to achieve his dreams, she resolves to tackle writing wholeheartedly and to create a story which shows how far she can go with the profession. To that end, she begins to craft the tale of an enigmatic cat known as the Baron, and his journey to find his long lost love.

The film which inspired The Cat Returns with its imaginative lead’s day dreams and writing process, is a touching tale of pushing through one’s doubts to accomplish your dreams. For a film that mixes slice of life elements with fantastical wonder, few are better than this.

14. My Neighbors The Yamadas

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

There aren’t many Ghibli films that stray from the studio’s trademark aesthetic, but for films like My Nieghbors The Yamadas it proves to be a huge boon. Telling a number of different vignettes centered around an eccentric family and their daily lives, the movie’s art style brings it to life with a cheery, rough-lined style that gives it an innocence and curiosity.

Subjects as mundane as a child getting lost in a grocery store, arguing over what to watch on T.V. and many more daily activities become intriguing experiences with high stakes, yet still feel relatable no matter what your upbringing. For a great change of pace that will strike a familial chord, check out this oft-forgotten entry in Ghibli’s filmography.

13. The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

Speaking of films that depart from the Ghibli art style, The Tale of Princess Kaguya breathes new life into the age-old Japanese fairy tale of a girl born from a magical bamboo chute. From her upbringing with a kind couple in a calm village, to her eventual crowning as divine royalty, every new scene flows and moves with an artistic flair that is hard to pull yourself away from. Factor in the emotion presented by the titular character’s journey for freedom and purpose, and you have a stunning departure from the studio’s norms which is sure to cleanse the palette of even the most avid fan.

12. When Marnie Was There

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

Following Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement, many wondered how the studio would fare in their first work without the director. As it turns out, they marked it with this phenomenal film, proving that they do indeed still have top of the line stories up their sleeve. Set in a quiet mountain town, the movie sees a young girl named Anna struggling to find a sense of belonging in life when she meets Marnie, a bright and vibrant girl who helps her enjoy the smaller moments in life and see the kind of person she can be. It’s an intimate and heartfelt story that not many films could tell, and save for a stumble or two near the end it serves to help establish where the studios films could head in the future.

11. Pom Poko

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

The tanuki is a treasured piece of Japanese mythology with a variety of fables to pull stories from, so it’s no surprise Ghibli were able to make such a fun and interesting film based on them.

Centered around a group of the legendary critters who are threatened by human development projects, the plot sees their efforts to protect their existence, while also coming to understand humans before they decide how to carry on in the new world with them.

Poignant in its portrayal of the struggle to adapt to a changing world, it balances its heavier themes with excellent comedic moments ranging from an attempt to convince townspeople their homes are haunted to, yes, the assault on land developers with giant inflated testicles (trust me, you need to see it for yourself). If you haven’t seen this film already, make the time to cross it off your list.

10. Castle in the Sky

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

A precursor to many of the most iconic themes and ideas in Ghibli films, Castle in the Sky takes viewers on the magical journey made by Sheeta and Pazu, two young children on the run from a government agent out to use them to find the floating sky island of Laputa. This quest takes them and the viewer from a humble mining town to a lost land full of ancient technologies, long lost secrets and lessons that should never have been forgotten by the people it left behind. Dripping with trademarks that are staples of Japanese fantasy offerings today, the influence of this film on the country and anime’s culture can’t be understated, and it’s easily a film that should be viewed by any who have a passing interest in what allowed the studio behind it to rise to prominence.

9. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

Before they were a juggernaut and a household name, Ghibli was a loosely collected group of aspiring animators looking to make a name for themselves with this project.

In a world ravaged by war and an encroaching poison, a young woman named Nausicaä is determined to learn more about how the land can be restored to its former vibrance, and what the massive insects known as Ohm can offer toward this endeavor. This is easier said than done though, as there are many who are more than happy to maintain control of this violent world and are willing to do whatever it takes to put a stop to her digging.

Hinting at the creativity they would bring to their future works, Nausicaä took several risks that paid off beautifully, from featuring a strong female lead in a time when it was uncommon, to presenting a bizarre and inventive world for viewers to immerse themselves in. It was a thrilling preview of what Ghibli’s future members had in store, and it still stands as one of their better works even today.

8. Only Yesterday

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

Despite being one of Ghibli’s earliest works, Only Yesterday was just recently brought to wider audiences in the latest re-release of their movies. It was worth the wait though, as it tells one of the more impactful and grounded stories in the studio’s repertoire.

During a trip out to the countryside to assist her brother-in-law’s family with a harvest, a woman named Taeko Okajima reminisces about her childhood and the many different stages of her life. Each reveals a different aspect of how she became who she is, and while not all of them are positive, each experience helps her come closer to discovering who she really wants to be.

Down to earth in its tone and empathetic in the portrayal of its lead’s life, it’s the kind of film one might not expect to find in anime, but is all the better as a result.

7. Porco Rosso

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

The adventures of Porco Rosso, a World War I veteran fighter pilot cursed to look like a pig, populate this light-hearted tale of acceptance and adventure set against the looming specter of World War II.

After encountering a young woman named if Fio, Porco is drawn into a competition with the hotheaded American pilot Curtis, who is out to prove himself the best pilot in the world by defeating him and gaining the affection of the woman who adores him. There are fist fights, aerial acrobatics and a less-than subtle but none-the-less comical metaphor about pigs flying sprinkled throughout, helping this charming movie stand as one of the most entertaining in Ghibli’s stable of works.

6. My Neighbor Totoro

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

Featuring one of the most iconic characters to ever emerge from Ghibli films, My Neighbor Totoro tells the story of two young girls who discover a friendly forest spirit near their new country home. Alongside this friendly giant, the two are exposed to a world of magic and wonder hiding just behind the one they inhabit, and even find a friend to turn to when they run into trouble.

Bright and bubbly with a child-like sense of imagination, this is the kind of film that is watchable no matter how old one is and rivals Disney in how it can strike a chord with most any audience. Don’t expect to get through this work without a smile crossing your face several times.

5. Grave of the Fireflies

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

Most would assume Studio Ghibli’s films are meant to make you smile and warm your heart, and they wouldn’t be wrong. However, after watching this film, they’d probably be hard pressed to say the studio didn’t have it in them to wreck a person’s emotions with the sheer, debilitating truth of reality.

Set against the crumbling conditions of Japan during World War II, this movie sees Seita and his younger sister Setsuko struggle to survive after their mother is killed in a bombing raid on their home town. Forced to steal from others in just as bad of a situation as they are, and constantly fighting against starvation and sickness, the two hold on for as long as they can, but not every story is meant to have a happy ending. Powerful and worth watching at least once, this film shows the emotional range of the studio that created it even if it goes to far darker places than one would ever expect.

4. Kiki’s Delivery Service

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

Kiki, a young witch tasked with applying her magic in a new town for a year, finds her niche as a delivery girl in the town of Koriko. Taking on any and all jobs that come her way, she comes to call the place home and begins to find friends among the town’s populace, leaning on them for support when life’s challenges threaten to derail her progress toward her future goals.

A touching coming of age tale, Kiki’s Delivery Service showed the care and nuance Ghibli could lend to its characters with detailed animations which feel relatable and memorable. You root for Kiki to overcome the challenges in her life, and it’s hard not to remember your own challenges with the way the film so thoughtfully conveys them in artful motion.

3. Howl’s Moving Castle

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

Based off of the novel by British author Dianne Wynne Jones, this fantastical thriller combines the wonder and imagination of Ghibli’s most prominent works with its themes of war and its consequences, resulting in a film that encapsulates much of what makes the studio’s works so iconic. After being cursed by the Witch of the Waste, she decides to escape from her boring life and start over as an old woman, taking on a housekeeping job for the wandering magician Howl.

As a result, she is drawn into his business of providing magical consultation to people across the world and finds she has a role to play in stopping the continued conflict between two kingdoms. Full of action, romance and learning to believe in what makes oneself special, you won’t want to pull yourself away from this excellent modern fairy tale of a movie.

2. Princess Mononoke

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

Out of the films that are synonymous with Ghibli and their work, Princess Mononoke is arguably one of the most worthy of the honor. Telling the tale of Ashitaka, a young man out to cure a curse placed on him by an enraged boar god, the film delves into themes of nature and humankind’s impact on it in a way few of the studio’s other works have.

Whether in the budding relationship between himself and the forest protector San, or in his interactions with Lady Eboshi and her loyal citizens of Iron Town, every exchange and character moment feels genuine, memorable and carefully crafted to maximize its impact on the audience. That’s to say nothing of the gorgeous animation that puts other works to shame even today, the resonant soundtrack or most every other aspect of this outstanding film.

1. Spirited Away

Best Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked

Arguably Ghibli at their peak of creative brilliance, Spirited Away nails pretty much everything one could hope for in an anime. Chihiro Ogino, a young girl moving to a new town, finds herself drawn into a world of spirits when her parents eat some suspiciously forgotten food at an abandoned stall and are turned into pigs. Unable to return them to normal until she can pass a test presented by a witch, she sets out to find the skills and confidence in herself needed to overcome the ordeal and return to her normal life.

The movie presents one of the most relatable tales of coming of age in anime, film and most any other medium. Not only that, but it masterfully uses its medium to full effect, with top notch animation and a soundtrack that enhance the experience at every turn. If you only ever watch one Ghibli film, make sure it’s this one.

For more on all things anime, check out some of our list of 10 anime movies you need to watch before you die.

About the author

Keenan McCall

Keenan has been a nerd from an early age, watching anime and playing games for as long as I can remember. Since obtaining a bachelor's degree in journalism back in 2017, he has written thousands of articles covering gaming, animation, and entertainment topics galore.