Best Anime for Children and Adults

Plush Totoro and Cat bus
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When the first big-name animated films were created, they were not thought of as "kid's shows," but entertainments for all ages. The best anime for all ages is just that: for all ages, one where parents and children can sit side by side (and where the parents won't be nodding off!).

Here is a list of some of our favorite anime that offers something for everyone, young and old—and which in many cases reward repeat viewings on growing up.

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Astro Boy

Adult audiences may have a hard time thinking of Osamu Tezuka's classic creation as anything but a nostalgia item, but there was a time when it was entirely new to Western audiences—in fact, it was the first anime shown on TV in the United States, albeit with a great deal of reworking. Multiple iterations of the show have been issued since then, in both black and white and color, but they all hew fairly closely not only to Tezuka's original storylines but his gentle humanism. That and they're grand fun for the little kid in all of us. (The 2009 CGI film, unfortunately, doesn't hold up as well despite a lavish animation budget.)

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The Cat Returns

There's no way Studio Ghibli and its founder Hayao Miyazaki can't be in this list: so much of what they've produced deserves to be seen by most anyone who can. But not everything they've produced is for all audiences—the PG-13 rated comes to mind—and so The Cat Returns is one of the several titles in their catalog that is wholly all-ages friendly. When a girl named Haru saved a cat from being hit by passing cars, she ends up becoming a guest—and also a prisoner—of the Cat Kingdom, where she has to fight not only to escape but to remain fully human. This is one of a number of Studio Ghibli productions that was adapted from another source—in this case, Aoi Hiiragi's manga of the same name (she also produced the source material for Whisper of the Heart, also profiled here).

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Children Who Chase Lost Voices

When young Asuna picks up strange transmissions on her crystal set, she finds they're emanating from a cavern far below her country town where a grand adventure awaits for her. Director Makoto Shinkai (5 Centimeters per Second) created this adventure as an explicit homage to the Studio Ghibli films—so much so that many of the individual touches, like the shadow creatures, seem overly familiar, and the film also runs a tad long for its storyline. But it works by dint of its sheer wide-gauge visuals, and for having a plucky heroine younger viewers are likely to identify with.

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Croisee in a Foreign Labyrinth

This charming series is set not in Japan, but Paris at the end of the 19th century, where a girl named Yune finds herself living with and helping an ironworker. Both Yune and her new adoptive family have their respective culture shocks: Yune's first experiences with cheese are hilarious, and Claude (the ironworker's grandson) is taken quite aback by the way Yune habitually prostrates herself at first. It's an introduction to both Japanese and French culture, for audiences both young and old, with a great-looking evocation of the period to boot.

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Kiki's Delivery Service

A Studio Ghibli adaptation of a beloved children's book from Japan (now also in English), the Kiki of the title is a young witch-in-training who has to prove herself when she moves to a new town. There, she uses her broomstick-riding skills to work as a messenger—and finds new friendships and even a chance to save the day. The movie's fictitious European-town setting has a flavor the adults in the audience will appreciate (the level of detail is amazing), but the story definitely doesn't leave anyone out in the cold.

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My Neighbor Totoro

Perhaps one of the finest moments in the whole of the Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki catalog. A retreat to the country for two little girls becomes a doorway into a fantasyland of wonder and beauty, as they discover the house they're living in has a host of supernatural playmates. The magical atmosphere this movie conjures up may well be the most heartwarmingly realized of its kind; it's the sort of movie that feels like a warm gust of summer air.

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Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror

This full-scale CGI feature film starts with a clever concept: what if there was a magical underworld where everything we've lost is scavenged by a race of magical beings? A girl named Haruka stumbles across this world when she loses a mirror that belonged to her late mother and embarks on an adventure to retrieve the mirror from the Baron of Oblivion Island—who has designs of his own for it. The PIXAR-esque Animation is by Production I.G, the studio normally associated with such high-tech productions as.

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We've written elsewhere how Ponyo is not only a film for children but feels a bit like a film made by a child, in its wide-eyed innocence and wonder (even in the face of disaster). A young boy rescues a goldfish that's actually the daughter of a magician who lives under the ocean, and when he accidentally imbues it with a drop of his own blood, it takes on the form of a rambunctious human girl. Too bad her father wants her back—and he's prepared to unleash all kinds of chaos to make it happen. The movie's ecological message is a common theme among Studio Ghibli films, although there's nothing that says it only has to resonate with parents in the audience rather than kids, too. Best recurring moment (in English): Ponyo says "Ham!"

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Spirited Away

Miyazaki emerged from retirement to direct the film (and reboot his career) after an encounter with a friend's sullen child inspired the main character in this film. Chihiro's gloomy because she's moving to a new neighborhood, but after becoming trapped in a giant resort-like palace for supernatural creatures, she has to work (in more than one sense of the word) to free her parents from having been transformed into pigs. The PG rating for this Ghibli production is for "some scary moments"—the black-clad No-Face is spooky, and the scene where Chihiro's parents devolve into porkers is jolting even for some adults—but the sense of exotic wonder that pervades this story more than balances it out.

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Welcome to the Space Show

A gaggle of kids from a rural school are swept up into space when they save an alien that looks like a dog. Their galaxy-spanning adventure ultimately becomes a mission to return home, but they find themselves facing many obstacles, both within and from outside their group.

This remarkable movie is hampered somewhat by two problems: it's only available in English in the U.K., and it runs a bit long in its third act. But it's never boring, the sheer inventiveness and energy of the movie as a whole is a big plus, and it has a sense of wide-eyed wonder—always a great thing for such a movie—that never quits.

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Whisper of the Heart

Another of Aoi Hiiragi's works adapted for a Studio Ghibli movie, and a wonderful one at that. Whisper of the Heart involves a girl at that awkward period where she's out of childhood but not quite into adolescence, and how during that time she chance-encounters a boy around her age who has a transformative effect on her life. This is the kind of film that can be watched when young and savored, and then returned to again and again in successive ages of one's life, each viewing yielding up something new.