Top 5 Must See Studio Ghibli Movies

For almost 30 years, Studio Ghibli has produced an impressive array of animated films in a variety of genres. Some have proven to be more popular than others but almost all have been praised for their morality, artistic integrity, and overall quality.

Here's a list of the five Studio Ghibli films that everyone should see. They may not be the overall best, though several on this list are definitely some of the best, but they are the films that anyone who’s interested in Studio Ghibli or quality animation and film should check out.

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Spirited Away

Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away
© 2001 Nibariki - GNDDTM

By far the most popular Studio Ghibli film. Spirited Away follows the story of a bratty young girl called Chihiro who finds herself transported to the world of spirits. Through perseverance and with help from her new friends, she must rescue her mother and father and learn a few important life lessons along the way.

With stunning animation, a cast of eclectic characters and a music score that will stay with you long after the credits have finished rolling, Spirited Away is a film for the entire family that will entertain the young ones and fascinate adults.

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Princess Mononoke

Ashitaka from Studio Ghibli's Princess Mononoke
© 1997 Nibariki - GND

With all the environmental issues facing the world in this generation, few films are more relevant than Princess Mononoke. Set in an old and mystical Japan where gods still walk the earth, Princess Mononoke is an epic fight for survival with a strong conservation message that brilliantly explores the complexities on all sides of the conflict.

As in real life, there are no good guys or bad guys here. What we get instead is a superb blend of strong male and female characters, mesmerizing talking animal gods, adorable little tree spirits and a magical Spirit of the Forest that is more than he appears to be. There are occasional moments of intense violence but these are essential to the storytelling and never gratuitous.

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My Neighbor Totoro

Studio Ghibli's My Neighbor Totoro
© 1988 Nibariki • G

Like Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro also has a strong environmental message. Unlike Princess Mononoke though, My Neighbor Totoro is set during modern-day Japan and follows the story of a father and his two daughters as they move to the countryside and discover several nature spirits, the largest of which goes by the name Totoro. For the most part, the film is a light-hearted experience focusing on the girls and their memorable encounters with the spirits. The dramatic subplot in the latter half of the film concerning their sick mother grounds the story somewhat yet reminds the viewer of the importance of magic and imagination in a child’s life. A classic. 

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When Marnie Was There

Studio Ghibli's When Marnie Was There

Studio Ghibli’s latest film (and possibly their last, at least for a while) is a bit of a departure from their more magical productions with a sense of human drama and emotion that is both unexpected and appreciated. To simplify When Marnie Was There as a basic story of a lonely girl making friends with the ghost of an equally lonely girl would do the film a great disservice. What first appears to be a rather generic ghost story for the first half of the film rapidly evolves in the second half with several revelations that prove to be as shocking for the characters as the audience. When Marnie Was There is a stunning exploration of self-acceptance, race, and respect for family that might be too emotional for young children but older audiences should definitely give it a go. Just make sure you have a box of tissues handy.

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Laputa Castle in the Sky

Studio Ghibli's Laputa Castle in the Sky
© 1986 Nibariki - G

The quintessential adventure Studio Ghibli movie, Laputa Castle in the Sky follows a young boy who discovers a strange girl in possession of a mysterious glowing stone necklace that has magical antigravity properties. With sky pirates, giant robots and a mystery concerning the boy’s father’s disappearance Laputa packs plenty of action and a surprising amount of heart.

Low-level violence and a generous helping of physical comedy make Laputa Castle in the Sky an ideal Studio Ghibli film for the whole family.