"Best anime movie ever!"
We're sure you've shouted these words during heated arguments with your nerd friends. But perhaps they didn't agree. Everyone has an opinion, which is what makes debates like these so much fun.
Unfortunately, the fun is over because Tofugu has finally compiled the definitive list of best anime movies ever made.
What makes this list unique? No Ghiblis. Check out any other "best anime" list online and over half of it will be filled with films by Miyazaki and his crew. We love ol' Mi-chan as much as the next otaku, but he's not invited to this party. This is a chance for the rest of the anime kingdom to shine (but don't worry, we're working on a separate Ghibli list).
We put together this list as a team, but majority credit goes to Tofugu's senior otaku analyst, Rich, who's written some of our most brilliantly nerdy posts. Get ready to settle some debates once and for all. This is the top 20 anime films of all time, period.
20. Perfect Blue
Perfect Blue is a heavy, unsettling dive into the depths of Japanese celebrity and consumer culture.
The most frightening movie on this list, Perfect Blue stirs up reality-bending paranoia for the audience. When pop-idol Mima retires from music to pursue an acting career, outcry and criticism from her beloved fans consumes her. Things get worse when she makes a questionable decision, accepting a role in a film with a rape scene, a career move that destroys her good-girl reputation.
Mima's psyche hits a breaking point when people around her start getting murdered. Is Mima the next target, or the perpetrator? Scared and confused, the layers of conflict and stress melt her perception of reality, taking viewers on an intense psychological ride.
Perfect Blue is a heavy, unsettling dive into the depths of Japanese celebrity and consumer culture. Director Satoshi Kon made his genius apparent in this, his directorial debut. If you're ready to experience a character's descent into madness with a side of social commentary, give Perfect Blue a try. But be forewarned, it's not for the faint of heart.
Watch the trailer: Perfect Blue trailer
Often times, "anime" is defined by its lack of motion. Redline punches this "limited animation" concept in its motionless face. It's easily the busiest, most overstimulating animated film we've ever seen.
A daredevil speedster named JP enters the Redline, a high-stakes, weaponized space race that nearly took his life. But first, he's gotta get back into racing shape to challenge the best in the universe with pure speed and guts. Along his comeback trail, JP meets Cherry-Boy Hunter, a young female competitor who unearths old memories. Can JP return to form in time for the Redline? Is Cherry-Boy Hunter friend or foe? Can JP survive the intergalactic conspiracy that saturates the race?
Sure, Redline's plot plays like a giant stone soup of anime tropes: space, vehicles, aliens, and giant pompadours. Check, check, and check. The film took seven years and 100,000 hand drawings to create, all that hard work paid off. Down to its pop-art presentation, Redline is anime pulp fiction at its best. What it lacks in depth, it makes up for with an adrenaline-fueled circus of speed and action.
Watch the trailer: Redline trailer
18. Summer Wars
Summer Wars, Mamoru Hosoda's follow-up to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, throws a touch of sci-fi into a realistic situation. This time it's kids versus AI, battling in a digital world with very real consequences. Summer vacation takes a wild turn for gifted Kenji when a relaxing trip to the country turns into a battle against Love Machine, an AI program bent on world destruction.
Summer Wars' battle rages in both real and virtual reality. Kenji and company confront Love Machine on the Internet to prevent its control of the world's digital infrastructure, which includes traffic lights, satellites, and military weapons. Director Mamoru Hosoda blends his hyper-realistic style with artificial Internet sensibilities for his most visually versatile movie to date. The result is an exciting, youth-empowering battle for the safety of humankind.
Watch the trailer: Summer Wars trailer
17. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
Kyoto Animation Studio's warm coloring and real-life locations put The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya over the top.
Haruhi, the titular character of the light novel, anime, manga, and game series The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, took otakudom by storm in the mid-2000s. The series is slice-of-life that mixes in sci-fi and fantasy tropes. The main characters have to keep iron-willed, tsundere Haruhi safe and satisfied. Though fans are downright obsessed with her, it's easy to see why others might wish she would disappear.
Those fans get their wish in the feature film The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. As the title suggests, the series' main character has disappeared and Kyon is the only one with knowledge of his previous, Haruhi-filled life. It's up to him to solve the mystery…but does he even want to? What would you do if the most irritating person in your life disappeared? The mystery spurs Kyon to explore his feelings for Haruhi.
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya's endearing and heartfelt plot is surprising, propelling the series beyond other shallow stories by delving deep into the essence of its characters and universe. But it is Kyoto Animation Studio's warm coloring and real-life locations that put The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya over the top, adding beautiful visuals to complement the film's refreshing plot.
Watch the trailer: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya trailer
16. Evangelion 2.22
Fans rejoiced when Gainax announced it would bring the legendary Neon Genesis Evangelion series to the big screen. Finally more Evangelion! And perhaps, a single, satisfying ending? Evangelion 1.11 (the first of the new movies) had familiar music, slick animation, and a crisp retelling of the series' beginning. And while 1.11 offered a blueprint to remaking a series for the big screen, 2.22 took the process a step further.
Neon Genesis Evangelion 2.22 has feet in two realities, embracing much of the original canon, while offering new and interesting changes. The rare mix of old and new thrilled fans (both old and new). This time around the story reaches a new and satisfying crescendo in a final battle that can easily be watched over and over again.
A few years after 2.22's release, 3.33 came out and turned the canon on its head, venturing into brand-new territory. Among the three Neon Genesis reboot films, Evangelion 2.22 stands out as the most balanced and satisfying. Feature-length remakes of anime series often stick too close to the original material (even using old animation cels) or venture too far from the original material. But Neon Genesis Evangelion 2.22 found balance, offering a satisfying mix of old and new that should satisfy all fans of great animation.
Watch the trailer: Evangelion 2.22 trailer
15. The Boy and the Beast
Orphaned Ren doesn't quite fit in. He runs away to the streets of Shibuya, but finds himself spirited away to the monster-inhabited world of Shibuten. There he meets the bear-like contender to Shibuten's throne, Kumatetsu. Ren and the crude, antisocial monster make the perfect pair, and quickly find they have a lot to learn from one another.
The Boy and the Beast is a quest for identity: the heroes are forced to overcome circumstance to find themselves and adapt to society. The divide between reality and Japan's spirit world provides the perfect backdrop for this quest and Mamoru Hosoda ventures far from reality in his most fantastic tale yet. Featuring yokai, epic quests, and even a battle tournament, The Boy and the Beast's mix of flashy characters, action, and meaningful themes is sure to satisfy anime fans of all stripes.
Watch the trailer: The Boy and the Beast trailer
14. 5 Centimeters Per Second
This one hour film pulls you into its story better than most 26-episode series can.
5 Centimeters Per Second is mind-blowing. It's a fantastic example of Makoto Shinkai's trademark visual nuance and ability to reveal extreme beauty in the mundane. If you're new to this director, this is a great introductory film.
Those who live in Japan will find themselves feeling nostalgic for things they see everyday: standard notebooks, washing machine controls, run down train stations, and even those dreaded kerosene heaters! Every detail is beautifully crafted, from colors to textures to angles.
5cm's plot is even more impressive than the visuals; the simple story of lost love between two elementary school sweethearts is can make you feel lonely and nostalgic, just like the characters. At a running time of about an hour, 5cm pulls you into its story better than most 26-episode series can. Even with Shinkai's recent successes, 5 Centimeters Per Second still stands as the most skillfully crafted and paced film in this director's library.
Watch the trailer: 5 Centimeters Per Second trailer
13. Barefoot Gen
Barefoot Gen is an unapologetic, raw look at World War II in Japan. Based on a manga currently causing controversy in Japan, Barefoot Gen exposes the horrors of war and moreover, the horrors of something only Japan has known – nuclear destruction.
Based in the city of Hiroshima in 1945, Gen is a young schoolboy forced to help his family scrape by. Gen and his brother lie, cheat, and steal to provide food their pregnant mother needs to survive. As bad as their situation appears, Gen and the people of Hiroshima have no idea of the tragedy that lies ahead.
Barefoot Gen is valuable for two reasons: its glimpse into the domestic lives of Japan's population during the war, and its depiction of the bombing of Hiroshima. The film paints an agonizing, graphic, and eye-opening account of history. Although a Japanese film on WWII could easily gloss over Japan's side of the war, Barefoot Gen is brutal and honest, depicting the harrowing conditions citizens dealt with in the face of an obsessed war machine. While Ghibli's Grave of Fireflies is as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking, Barefoot Gen is brutal and shocking, a powerful piece of history that must not be forgotten.
12. Macross: Do You Remember Love?
Macross: Do You Remember Love?'s incredible title certainly helped it make the list. But transforming mecha, plot-altering pop music, touching romance, and thousands of tiny missiles by any other name would still be list-worthy.
Do You Remember Love? is a retelling of the 1982 anime series Super Dimension Fortress Macross; 36 episodes concentrated into two hours. The human race is in a life-and-death struggle with the Zentradi, an alien race bent on ending humanity. As the hulking space fortress Macross fends off swarming alien hordes, pilot Hikaru Ichijyo gets stranded with pop star Lynn Minmay. Just as sparks start to fly, they are rescued and their "relationship" complicates life for everyone around them. As the war rages on, a mysterious "weapon" with the potential to save humanity surfaces.
DYRL establishes the groundwork for what came to define the Macross franchise: a revolutionary, cross-media, otaku-centric mix of space, robots, and pop music. DYRL's battles (dubbed the "Itano circus") featured dynamically animated space flight and gazillions of tiny missiles. Generations ahead of Aikatsu, Love Live!, and K-on!, this film featured one of the first 2D idols for otaku to obsess over. Do You Remember Love? offers a quality story and dimensional characters, but its spot is secured as one of the best anime movies ever made.
Watch the trailer: Macross: Do You Remember Love? trailer
11. Ninja Scroll
Ninja Scroll's arsenal of transforming baddies, fantastic powers, and incredible ninja action were unparalleled at the time.
Ninja Scroll is by far the most badass and graphic film on this list. The animation is beyond superb. No corners were cut making this one. And though there's enough eye candy to give you eye cavities, the plot is pretty sweet too.
Set in ancient Japan, the story follows Jubei, a lone ninja with a horrible past. Without giving too much away, there's a resurrected rival, a plot to overthrow the shogun, and secret gold! Not to mention, lots and lots of violence. We definitely recommend this as a film, but don't watch it with Grandma (unless your grandma is into animated ninja violence).
Ninja Scroll borrows the best tropes from films like Lady Snowblood and Lone Wolf and Cub. But thanks to animation's creative potential, these tropes are taken a step beyond. Ninja Scroll's action and special effects would have been impossible for live action in the early 1990s. Its arsenal of transforming baddies (the bee guy is our favorite), fantastic powers, and incredible ninja action were unparalleled at the time. Ninja Scroll's 90s "Japanimation" style also sets it apart from modern animated films, making it beyond classic – one of the best action anime movies of all time.
Watch the trailer: Ninja Scroll trailer
10. Millennium Actress
A young girl named Chiyoko Fujiwara has a chance meeting with a man fleeing the police. Without a way to find him again, she becomes an actress in hopes her mystery man will one day recognize her on the big screen. Flash forward, and Chiyoko is a fragile old woman. As she reflects on her life, she takes an interviewer and cameramen on a wild ride through her years in film.
Presented in a way only director Satoshi Kon can, Millennium Actress is a high-speed chase, skipping through the kaleidoscope timeline of Chiyoko's film career as she searches for the mysterious man she fell in love with. Her life lessons add valuable substance to this visual work of art and make Millennium Actress another masterpiece by a celebrated anime director.
Watch the trailer: Millennium Actress trailer
9. A Letter to Momo
A Letter to Momo resonates with the modern spiritual side of Japan; one that balances the natural and man-made.
After Momo's father passes away, she and her mother move to a remote Japanese island. But any hope of a quiet life are soon crushed by a trio of yokai that Momo accidentally releases. She tries to keep her new companions a secret, but this proves difficult when they start wrecking up the island countryside. Instead of settling into her new life or, more importantly, coming to grips with her father's death, Momo is forced to play mother and guardian to the trio of immature troublemakers.
Some of the most touching anime are infused with traditional motifs and Japanese soul, and A Letter to Momo is no exception. From its natural scenery, to its old weathered buildings, the film resonates with the modern spiritual side of Japan; one that balances the natural and man-made. These factors alone make A Letter to Momo a great movie, but its themes of regret and innocence lost make it truly special.
Watch the trailer: A Letter to Momo trailer
Tekkonkinkreet is Batman meets Oliver Twist. Based on a cult manga with a distorted art style and heavy themes, the film follows orphaned brothers Black and White as they protect the streets of their beloved Treasure Town. White, the younger of the pair, makes up for his empty head with innocence and heart. In contrast, the dark and brooding Black is wise beyond his years and shoulders the responsibility of protecting both his brother and the city.
Movie posters and video box art can't do Tekkonkinkreet justice. The film embraced the manga's dark themes, juxtaposing its colorful, childish imagery. Studio 4•C gives Treasure Town such personality that it becomes the third protagonist. When you start to fall in love with Treasure Town, you become deeply invested in Black's quest to protect it. As a result Tekkonkinkreet achieves a rare level of personal investment and suspense. The film also represents an interesting cross-cultural collaboration: American-born Michael Arias directing an Anthony Weintraub script with a Japanese studio and production team. The unique source material, themes, and production team combine to make Tekkonkinkreet something truly unique.
Watch the trailer: Tekkonkinkreet trailer
7. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is the anime film version of the famous Japanese novel that has been adapted into live action movies, manga, and TV series. A slice-of-life story with a shot of sci-fi, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time gives Makoto, an average Japanese girl, the not-so-average ability to go back in time. At first she treats her newfound power as a gift – something to enjoy. She sings extra karaoke, studies longer, and corrects mistakes in her classes and love life. Eventually things start going wrong and Makoto faces the old adage – with great power comes responsibility. But where did her power come from anyway?
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is the perfect fusion of literature and animation. Mamoru Hosoda's charming art style and compelling storytelling create the most heartfelt incarnation of the popular story. What's more, no movie on this list better represents the Japanese concept of seishun 青春, a term that directly translates to "springtime of life." A touching film brimming with youthful energy, positivity, and possibility, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time will remind you of younger years, and make you wish you could leap back to them just for a moment.
Watch the trailer: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time trailer
Akira is still one of the best looking, best sounding, most provocative and iconic anime films ever made.
When the West was still wet behind the anime-ears, Akira showed us what Japanese animation could achieve. The vastness of the environments, the cool motorcycles, the hip subculture fashions, the shocking violence, the riveting multicultural soundtrack, the deep thematic elements – all these factors and more warrant multiple viewings, and then some.
A bosozoku bike gang battling on the streets of Neo Tokyo tangles with the Japanese military and becomes part of the government's darkest secret – a human experiment called Akira. Kaneda, the film's iconic, red-jacketed alpha male finds himself up against the military, his former friend, and a calamity threatening to engulf (wink, wink) the entire city.
Based on Katsuhiro Otomo's award-winning manga, Akira became the author-turned-director's labor of love – a project that actually lived up to its epic budget and production time. It showed a generation that cartoons aren't just child's play. Moreover, the cyberpunk classic became a forefather of the Western anime boom. Despite its age, Akira is still one of the best looking, best sounding, most provocative and iconic anime films ever made.
Watch the trailer: Akira trailer
5. Your Name
Makoto Shinkai gained notoriety among anime fans with films like 5 Centimeters Per Second and The Garden of Words. Anyone who experienced his early work knew it was only a matter of time before his nuanced beauty would "wow" the masses. That time finally came with Shinkai's breakout hit, Your Name.
When it was released in 2016, Your Name transcended the usual niche-anime audience and conquered Japan's box offices. The little movie that could beat out established franchises like One Piece and Godzilla.
What makes this movie so popular? Director Shinkai's careful plot development and uncanny attention to detail are important ingredients. Your Name's characters move with a poetic fluidity. The movie's primary locations, Itomori and Tokyo, are so well-developed they become important characters themselves.
Shinkai's trademark use of distance takes on surprising and rewarding dimensions this time around. The clever plot sets the protagonists impossibly far apart yet impossibly close – in both distance and time. Confused? I hope so. You'll have to watch to find out what we mean.
But perhaps the main reason for Your Name's monumental success is its heart. Few teen romances are so endearing or suspenseful. The film sets the stakes higher than Shinkai's previous offerings and leads to a gut-wrenching, edge-of-your-seat feeling that sets it apart from other films in the genre. This tragic love story's striking originality and popularity with audiences makes it not only the anime hit of 2016, but one of the best anime films ever.
Watch the trailer: Your Name trailer
Paprika is a visual feast, and was a huge inspiration (aka blueprint) for Hollywood's blockbuster Inception. But where Inception paints a dreamworld that is gray and rigid, Paprika turns it into rivers of dance, flight, and joy. Set partly in this dreamworld, the film weaves plot, theme, and social commentary in generous layers of colorful imagery.
The story follows Dr. Atsuko Chiba and dream detective Paprika, who use the newly invented DC Mini – a machine that can enter and see people's dreams – to help clients overcome psychological issues. With the DC Mini still in its experimental stages, its true capabilities are not yet fully known, and its liabilities have not yet been discovered. Although Dr. Chiba and company hope to slowly explore their invention's potential, the sudden disappearance of the DC Mini forces Paprika to delve deep into the dreamworld to retrieve it.
As Satoshi Kon's final film before his unfortunate death, Paprika puts the director's visionary genius on full display with mesmerizing editing, shocking visuals, a provocative soundtrack, and stunningly beautiful (yet creepy) human characters. Paprika's journey is a spectacular, daring trip through the human mind and imagination – more mind-bending than any dream I've ever had and with a better soundtrack. By taking the realm of film to rare heights, Paprika transcends animation and is a masterpiece of world cinema.
Watch the trailer: Paprika trailer
3. Wolf Children
Wolf Children is a modern fable about expectations and self-exploration.
What's harder than being the single mother of two children? Being the single mother of two wolf-children, the predicament of Hana, Wolf Children's struggling protagonist.
After her wolf-man husband passes away, Hana is forced to raise her children Yuki and Ame alone. Things take a difficult turn when social workers inquire about the children's welfare and start poking around the family's private life. Instead of revealing her children's secret to the world, Hana flees to a remote house in the countryside, hoping to escape prying eyes and bring the half-wild children closer to nature.
Wolf Children is a modern fable about expectations and self-exploration. It offers valuable lessons in an age where globalization, gains in civil rights, and expectations of political correctness have forced many of us to face questions of self-identity (in regard to religion, race, sexuality, and life in general). All this combines with warm, organic colors and soulful, hand-drawn animation, making it a standout animated film, Japanese or otherwise.
Watch the trailer: Wolf Children trailer
2. Ghost in the Shell
It's finally happened. Cybernetic bodies have become a reality and 100% biological humans are a thing of the past. Although this technology opens worlds of possibility, it also has its downsides. Like brain hacking.
Enter the Puppet Master, a mysterious being capable of hacking networks to get access to cybernetic bodies. Cybernetic human Major Kusanagi and her law enforcement team are tasked with apprehending the Puppet Master. But confronting the Puppet Master and its motivations will force Kusanagi (and the audience) to confront the nature of sentience and mortality.
Ghost In the Shell's provocative themes and art made it a cult hit and one of the earliest anime successes abroad. The detailed animation style mixes the mechanical and biological for raw, haunting imagery. A stirring soundtrack of singing, chanting, and traditional instruments adds melodic depth rare in modern cinema's parade of uninspired soundtracks. All these elements contribute to the overall theme and build to a conclusion that makes Ghost in the Shell a complete, satisfying experience.
Watch the trailer: Ghost in the Shell trailer
1. Tokyo Godfathers
Satoshi Kon lends his impeccable cinematic sense and trademark art to taboo subjects that inspire acceptance.
It may surprise you to see this, a film about three homeless people, top a list permeated with explosive action, colorful beauty, touching romances, and soul-rocking drama. But that's precisely what makes Tokyo Godfathers so special.
Unlike other anime movies that exploit "Cool Japan" tropes, Tokyo Godfathers delves into things Japanese society likes to cover up. From the homeless to immigrants, Tokyo Godfathers humanizes the dehumanized, creating great empathy for the ignored and abandoned.
The story begins before Christmas, on the frigid streets of Tokyo where a family of circumstance (made of a bum, a transgender woman, and a runaway) stumble upon a baby in the trash. With a train station locker key as their only clue, the three decide to search for the baby's mother, a task that forces them on a journey of personal reflection and possible redemption.
Tokyo Godfathers' linear narrative makes it director Satoshi Kon's most accessible work. This time around, he lends his impeccable cinematic sense and trademark art to taboo subjects that inspire acceptance. This makes Tokyo Godfathers a unique treasure among unique treasures, a work that challenges its medium while offering an incredibly rewarding experience.
Despite the straightforward plot, the characters' journey is so compelling and so complex that it feels fresh even after repeat viewings. The writing displays expert balance and gives enough time to each main character, subplot, and event. You never walk away unsatisfied.
Tokyo Godfathers is the full package – a beautifully animated, carefully paced film with gorgeous art and genius directing. There's so much to love (and see!) in the characters, setting, and story. But most importantly, it chooses difficult subject matter over the cool and flashy, helping us relate to the forgotten and reminding us of our own human condition.
Watch the trailer: Tokyo Godfathers trailer
More Best Anime Movies Ever?
That's it. The best anime movies of all time. The end, period.
We definitely did our research, comparison, and film watching (poor Rich had to watch the most, how awful!) All our picks have great animation, stories, and characters. But we made sure each movie on the list offered something insightful or profound, because that's what makes quality cinema, no matter the medium.
This may be the final answer to the "best anime movies" argument, but we still want to hear what your favorite anime films are. Just because we made the definitive list doesn't mean you can't make the second best list. If you've got some different favorites or a different ranking, shout at us on:
And there are new anime movies being made all the time. Maybe another movie will get wedged in here someday (maybe). Until then, get started watching the twenty films listed here. Then move on to explore the vast anime landscape.