Five Favorite Anime Films (from Five Different Directors)

When asked about my favorite anime, I usually stick with television series, because if I include movies, that list becomes very movie-centric. It’s even less varied if I give my favorite anime movies, since it’s top-heavy with Studio Ghibli. But oh how I love anime films! So in the spirit of including them among my favorites, while also creating a list with some diversity, I’m giving my five favorite anime films with the caveat that each film on the list has to have a different director. Sorry, Hayao Miyazaki. Apologies, Mamoru Hosoda.

While you peruse my list below, why don’t you give yours in the comments? What are you five favorite anime films from five different directors? Also, be sure to check out our anime movie recommendations!

1. Princess Mononoke

It’s a credit to Miyazaki that there’s no one movie that is consistently pointed to as his masterpiece – it could be Spirited Away or Nausicaa or Laputa or this one, which I still marvel at each time I watch it. A tale of how greed can destroy our hearts and the world around us, Miyazaki’s environmental tale strikes such a perfect note of being meaningful without being pushy, of being brutally honest and still touching. The animation is top-notch and remains shocking in its vividness.

Article: Hayao Miyazaki’s Common Grace

2. In This Corner of the World

I recently watched this tale of the final days of World War II near Hiroshima. Like the previous entry, this movie is subtle in delivering its message, inserting the audience into the daily victories and later unending suffering at the war reaches its horrific climax. I was so lucky to get to see the film upon its release; the DVD is coming out in English soon, and I can’t recommend enough that you give it a watch.

Article: The Healing We Bring Each Other in “This Corner of the World”

3. Grave of the Fireflies

From one film about the bombings of Japan during WWII to another, Grave is the second Ghibli movie on this list (but I’m not cheating – this one was directed by Isao Takahata). One thing I often see when people comment about this movie is that it’s too painful to watch twice, and certainly I felt that way, going more than a decade between viewing the story about a brother and sister’s slow descent into disease and starvation. But I saw it again last year, and was glad I did; it was more meaningful and even better the second time around.

Article: Grave of the Fireflies and Burying Selfishness

4. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

Haruhi is such a trip. In the television series, there are moment that just work so well, like Yuki’s explanation of her existence and Kyon’s exposition, but there are also times where this vast, creative story feels too confined by a 22-minute run time. The Disappearance movie is told in one big whole, and it’s the best for it. Beautifully animated, well-developed, and full of love for the original series yet unafraid to jump entirely into a new portion of the tale, Disappearance is also the most heart-warming piece of Haruhi. Previous viewing of season one is required.

Article: The Disapperance of Haruhi Suzumiya: Stepping outside into the cold to see the snow.

5. The Boy and the Beast

The top four slots were easy (other than picking which Miyazaki film to include), but the fifth was harder, both because there were a lot of films that I deem were of comparable quality and because I love Mamoru Hosoda’s works so much that it’s hard to select just one. The Boy and the Beast, a movie about a boy finding his “heart” by journeying into an animal world, edges out the others by a bit, though, because it’s more ambitious in its scope and more beautifully animated than either Summer Wars or TGWLTT, and while it’s not as tightly knit as Wolf Children, it has a heart-warming quality that means so much to me.

Article: Mamoru Hosoda and God’s Unconventional Family

There were many others that I wanted to add to this list. Besides Ghibli fare and other Hosoda works, Akira, Evangelion 2.0, Metropolis, two Shinkai films, and a couple Kara no Kyoukai movies almost squeezed in. But now I want to hear from you: what are your five films?

14 thoughts on “Five Favorite Anime Films (from Five Different Directors)

  1. 5) Madoka III: Rebellion, for its philosophical/theological themes (I would say it endorses some problems of the Buddhist worldview), its bold yet consistent and fascinating change of the statu quo, the returns, the anguish, the turns. the amazing, disturbing art.
    4) Disappearance for reasons similar to yours: interesting turns, unexpected yet logical developments in the characters (Yuki Nagato! Itsuki!) and because the series seemed to need this conclussion.
    3) Five centimeters per second: it teached me a lot about romantic love as a sign in our lives. Deep, very relatable, beautiful -so much detail, such colourful and enlighted images of the cotidiane-, painful, real, well-written, strangely hopeful.
    2) Princess Mononoke: I agree. Best film about human-Nature conflict I´ve ever seen, one of the most interesting, devout and loving heroes I´ve known, and in addition deep, mythical, beautiful, delicate, violent, epic, and such a relatable antagonist…
    1) Chihiro, I almost remember the film as if it all happened to me.

    1. Rebellion was such a great movie! It was really an experience. I should really visit it one day.

  2. I’m a little sad to see Koe no Katachi not on your list!
    I think it would also be a perfect addition to the “anime movie recommendations for christian viewers” page, because of the way it portrays sin, repentance, forgiveness and redemption. As the director Naoko Yamada stated: “I wanted to send out a message of hope and redemption”.

    Slight correction: Regarding Haruhi Suzumiya, I’m sure many people would push for also watching season 2 of Melancholy before Disappearance, but at the very least, you NEED to watch episode 1 of season 2, “Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody”, before the movie.

    1. Ah, hold out hope! I haven’t watched the film yet – it comes out here soon. I’ve made a concerted effort the past few years to watch anime legally, but it’s been tough for some series and movies I really want to see, like Koe no Katachi.

      There are fans of the movie among our writers, and I read the original one-shot years ago and enjoyed it, so I’m sure I’ll like the film!

  3. Top 5 lists are always so difficult for me because they’re usually too wide of a category for me to be fair to everything I’ve seen. Like you, I love Ghibli films and can easily pick five that are up there among my favorites: Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Castle in the Sky, Nausicaa, Porco Rosso. They also have a fair number that make me cry, so it’s hard for me to call them favorites when they hurt so much to watch: Grave of the Fireflies, The Wind Rises.

    One of these days I will watch In This Corner of the World, which, while not a Ghibli film, looks to be just the type of film to tear me apart.

    Other favorites include Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika, Your Name, Anthem of the Heart, and Wolf Children.

  4. I try to give Ghibli films their own ranking because it’s just so easy to fill up a list with them. So outside of those, in no particular order: Nanoha 1st, Perfect Blue, 5 cm/s, Bungaku Shoujo, and Kara no Kyoukai 5. The last one I have to go re-watch now that it’s available for legal streaming, which I still can’t believe happened.

      1. I still don’t think it’s worth it, but I’ll use the free trial to watch Kara no Kyoukai just because I can…

    (5) YOUR NAME.

    4 out of 5 are Ghibli, but all have different Directors. Miyazaki is my favorite Director for his body of work, even though I have 3 films ahead of him. THE KINGDOM OF DREAMS AND MADNESS is my favorite documentary, so fascinating!

    Do you happen to be on Letterboxd? It’s a great site for movie lovers.

    1. Whisper of the Heart…until recently, that was my favorite Ghibli film. I think I may have watched it one too many times, but still, it holds a special place in my heart.

      I’m not on Lettergoxd! I keep thinking of putting together a general movie watch list, but I’m a bit afraid to open that can of worms, having watching almost every film that came out in North America in the 90’s. -_-‘

  6. In no particular order:

    Patlabor 2
    The Wind Rises
    MSG: Char’s Counterattack
    Jin-Roh The Wolf’s Brigade

    1. Jin-Roh! Such a good film. I feel like people have forgotten about it…such a thoughtful, well-done work.

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