Studio Ghibli is one of the most famous animation studios in the world. Founded in 1985, the company is well known for the quality of its anime films, having won awards for the likes of Studio Ghibli films, Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro.
The quality of Studio Ghibli’s output is undeniable, often thanks to the masterful eye that co-founder Hayao Miyazaki brings. It’s a tricky task to rank all of the Studio Ghibli films in order, but we’re going to do just that with the studio’s feature-length releases.
This article ranks all of the Studio Ghibli films from worst to best…
22. Tales from Earthsea (2006)
It’s hard to call any Studio Ghibli movie terrible, but Tales from Earthsea is undoubtedly the worst. It’s adapted from Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea fantasy novels and directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki. In retrospect, the younger Miyazaki was probably too inexperienced to tackle this.
Le Guin was disappointed with the end result as it strayed too far from her book’s story. Everyone else enjoyed the visuals, but were otherwise baffled.
21. Ocean Waves (1993)
Ocean Waves was made for TV by a group of younger Studio Ghibli members on a budget. While the film isn’t terrible, it’s not particularly memorable either. The animation is fine, but lacks flourish, and the teenage love triangle story doesn’t offer anything unique.
While there are some touching moments, it’s not enough to elevate this piece to the standard set by other Studio Ghibli films.
20. From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
From Up on Poppy Hill is set in Yokohama, at a time when the war is over and the Olympics are on their way. It’s a simple story of young love, partnered with students trying to save their clubhouse from being knocked down.
There’s not much substance apart from that and there’s some odd character beats, but the film is elevated by its moral of how history can shape the future.
19. My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999)
My Neighbors the Yamadas is a series of vignettes with a comedic spin on everyday family life in Japan. The humor works regardless of where you live, since dysfunctional family dynamics are universal.
The watercolor style here would go on to be perfected in The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, but it’s still lush. Its only problem is the episodic nature of the film; the chunks work individually, but there’s no plot to tie everything together.
If you want more laughter, check out the best comedies to watch on Netflix .
18. When Marnie Was There (2014)
When Marnie Was There tells the story of an anxious young girl who discovers an abandoned mansion while staying with relatives for the summer. There she meets Marnie and the pair form an unlikely friendship.
This is a ghost story with heart, though it ultimately lacks the dramatic power or complete enchantment of other Studio Ghibli films.
17. The Cat Returns (2002)
After rescuing a cat that turns out to be a prince, a young student called Haru finds herself showered with gifts from the Cat King. He declares that she must marry his son and live in the Cat Kingdom, where she begins developing feline features.
The Cat Returns is an indirect sequel to Whisper of the Heart. It’s less ambitious than other Studio Ghibli films and not very emotionally involving, though not without its charm. Definitely one for cat lovers.
16. Arrietty (2010)
Arrietty is the Studio Ghibli take on Mary Norton’s book The Borrowers, a story about a miniature family who live under the floor, making their way through life by borrowing human trinkets. Arrietty is one such creature, and she forms a friendship with an ill human boy who lives above.
The story is gentle, but the difference in scale and perspective offers some captivating scenes.
15. Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Shizuku is a young girl who loves reading and dreams of being a writer. She’s enjoys spending time with friends, but retreats when with her family. When she meets Seiji, a boy incredibly determined to build violins in Italy, she begins to wish for a more interesting life.
The film may seem simple on the surface, but it’s excellently observed, with a real sweetness and sincerity. There’s also flying and talking cats for those who like reality sprinkled with fantasy.
14. Only Yesterday (1991)
It took a long time for Only Yesterday to get a theatrical release in the US, but it was well worth the wait. Miki Imai has lived in Tokyo her whole life when she travels to rural Yamagata to visit her sister. On her trip she thinks back to her younger self, questioning whether she’s stuck to her childhood dreams.
While the poignancy may be lost on younger viewers, this is a delicate and calm film that offers a meaningful reflection on the value of one’s own story and how to live in the moment.
13. Ponyo (2008)
Ponyo is definitely not Studio Ghibli’s maturest film, but accept that going in and you’ll have a whale of a time. That said, it’s more likely to be a hit with youngsters thanks to its reliance on visual splendor over deep storytelling.
Nevertheless, this film about a goldfish who wants to be human is bright and dazzling, with the water and the creatures within it brimming with character. It’s the very definition of charming.
12. Princess Mononoke (1997)
Ashitaka lives in the 14th century, in a world shared by humans, animals, and gods. Unfortunately, he has been infected with a curse. He seeks a cure and ends up in a war between the animals of the forest and a mining colony. It’s here that he meets Princess Mononoke, a human raised by wolves.
This is an epic and violent film, with imaginative monsters that will take you aback and a story that will keep you hooked. Reportedly, Miyazaki personally redrew around half of the film, and the dedication shows.
11. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is set in an apocalyptic future, where a few humans remain in a toxic jungle populated by huge insects. One of those humans is Nausicaä, who tries to bring peace to the world.
This film spawned Studio Ghibli, so it’s worth watching for that historical fact, but it’s also a rousing and relevant story that boasts a strong female lead. Miyazaki was still finding his feet, but this is a cracking early effort.
10. The Wind Rises (2013)
Director Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises is less wild than his other films, but no less worthy. This is about a talented airplane designer who adores flying, but creates a deadly fighter plane used in World War II.
There’s a running theme of aviation throughout many of Miyazaki’s creations, but he’s always able to bring something new. This story shows us the difference between dreams and reality; and how we can be grounded by the latter. This is a personal, quiet, and powerful tale.
9. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
If there’s one Studio Ghibli film you’ll need to get your tissues ready for, it’s Grave of the Fireflies. This film is designed to make you weep, though is perhaps too manipulative. Seita and Setsuko are two siblings who find their house bombed during World War II and set out on a journey of survival as everything around them burns.
Whereas much of the Studio Ghibli oeuvre is about dreamlike fantasy, Grave of the Fireflies is all too real. A resolutely bleak and affecting watch.
8. Pom Poko (1994)
Despite the age of Pom Poko, its core topic of environmental destruction remains every bit as relevant today. This is about shape-shifting raccoon dogs (tanuki in Japanese) who try to protect their forest by tricking the real estate developers into believing the land is haunted.
Pom Poko deftly bounces between humor and tragedy—just try to overlook the fact the tanuki get their special powers from their testicles.
7. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya doesn’t look like most of the other Studio Ghibli films. In fact, it doesn’t look like other films, period, opting for a delightful watercolor style that morphs to reflect the character’s emotion.
Kaguya is the lead, discovered by a bamboo cutter inside a bamboo shoot. He decides to raise Kaguya with his wife, giving her a life of nobility they think is necessary. This was director Isao Takahata’s last film, the perfect send-off that encapsulates the joy of living.
6. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Kiki’s Delivery Service follows a young witch as she finds her place in the world, sent with her cat on a year-long apprenticeship. She lands in a coastal town and makes friends while jobbing as a flying delivery service for a bakery.
You can’t not feel good watching the film, as it’s overflowing with personality. There’s a meaningful message here about self-discovery and that awkward age of transition that gets better on repeat viewings.
If you liked Mary and the Witch’s Flower, a 2017 animation that can be downloaded from Netflix, you’ll likely enjoy Kiki’s Delivery Service.
5. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Director Hayao Miyazaki has previously said that Howl’s Moving Castle is his favorite creation, strongly influenced by his anger about the Iraq war. In the film, a girl called Sophie becomes friends with a magician named Howl, who roams around in his gigantic mechanical castle. Envious of their friendship, a witch curses Sophie with old age.
If nothing else, you’ll remember the castle long after watching—it’s a remarkable steampunk creation—but there’s much to love in the wide landscapes and morals of acceptance too.
4. Porco Rosso (1992)
The titular Porco Rosso is a former World War I pilot, now bounty hunter, who has been turned into a pig. It’s one of the most fun and thrilling films from Studio Ghibli, more of an all-out action flick than the others, with a Hollywood-cool lead character and some fantastically directed aerial sequences.
Amusingly, Porco Rosso shares similarities in themes and characters with Casablanca, but we’ll leave you to decide which is better.
3. Castle in the Sky (1986)
Castle in the Sky was released over three decades ago, but it remains a timeless and superb adventure film that has inspired countless films since. The story follows a boy and girl who try to protect a crystal while hunting a castle.
It builds its world at a perfect pace, showing the contrast and connectivity of nature and technology, and keeps things engaging with all the classic action tropes: fighting, chasing, and a sprinkling of magic for good measure.
2. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Even if you’ve never seen a Studio Ghibli film, the chances are you recognize Totoro—a cuddly forest spirit that’s essentially the studio’s mascot. He’s excellent, but My Neighbor Totoro is also so much more.
It’s a film about childhood imagination and how the power of family and storytelling can help you through dark times. There’s pain, joy, hope, and everything in between here.
1. Spirited Away (2001)
Spirited Away is considered by many to be the pinnacle of animation, let alone the best of the Studio Ghibli films. It even won the Best Animated Feature at the 2003 Academy Awards, and it’s easy to see why.
A young girl called Chihiro enters an abandoned theme park and finds herself working in a bathhouse full of supernatural creatures. In any single moment it’s scary, exciting, beautiful, and imaginative.
There’s commentary on old versus new Japan if you want to analyze it at a deeper level, but it’s equally enjoyable as a visual feast. You’ll be drawn in and won’t want it to end.
How to Stream the Studio Ghibli Films
Now that you know what all of the Studio Ghibli films are and how they rank from worst to best, you probably want to watch some. Luckily, the Studio Ghibli films are coming to Netflix and other streaming services in 2020.
Whichever Studio Ghibli films you watch, you’re bound to find something positive in them. Whether it’s the gorgeous animation or the fantastical storytelling, Studio Ghibli films offer a great escape from the real world.
If you’ve caught the anime bug and want to explore some more anime films, here are the best anime sites on the web .