The best Studio Ghibli films, ranked

When Netflix announced that Studio Ghibli’s entire filmography would be made available to stream, social media went into a frenzy. The cross-generational, international adoration for the Japanese animation powerhouse is easy to understand; from the animation’s wonderful artistry and the compelling stories, to the immersive realism and universal themes of love, trauma, relationships and the environment (to name but a few), there’s something for everyone.

There is no exaggerating the influence of co-founders Isao Takahat and Hayao Miyazaki on popular culture. Blending realism and fantasy, their magical world has impacted swathes of directors and storytellers, including none other than Wes Anderson, who praised the directors and their style for inspiring his 2018 animation epic, Isle Of Dogs. He took the opportunity during his speech at the Berlin Film Festival to honour the Ghibli founders: “[Miyazaki] brings the detail and also the silences… With Miyazaki you get nature and you get moments of peace, a kind of rhythm that is not in the American animation tradition so much. That inspired us quite a lot.”

Curious? The films are being unloaded onto Netflix in three batches of seven, on the first day of each month from February to April. The first tier (which dropped February 1st) already includes some of the studio’s most beloved classics and will be available to watch across Europe, the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand in their original Japanese with 28 different language options for subtitles (alternatively, you can also change the language option).

If you don’t know where to start or just don’t have time to watch the whole all 21 films, we’ve conveniently chosen the seven best films from the Studio Ghibli catalogue.

7. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Don’t hate us, because Grave of the Fireflies is the only Ghibli feature film that won’t be making its way to the streaming platform… however, it’s one of the studio’s best and should be sought out regardless. Set in the dark times of WW2, Grave of the Fireflies is an anti-war film that tells the story of two siblings’ devastating journey as they navigate life through one of the most horrifying periods of history.

6. Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Our apologies for holding steady on such a sad streak, but this is another of the studio’s best. Though the film’s character designer and animation director, Yoshifumi Kondō, sadly died shortly after Whisper of the Heart was released, this beautiful story is testimony to his talent. The detailed clutter in every interior, the stunning countryside illustrations, the adorably grumpy cat and the heart-warming love story are just some of the things which make this a must-watch.

5. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

An online video essay on YouTube compares Kiki in Kiki’s Delivery Service to the young “millennial starving artist”; and once you re-watch this film with that in mind, you’ll undoubtedly find that it indeed reflects the painful reality of being a creative. Or a young person generally, in today’s economy. In the end though, the encouraging moral of the story is to never give up. Everyone experiences burnout at one stage or another, even Kiki.

4. Laputa: Castle In The Sky (1986)

Being the first feature film to be released under the Studio Ghibli name, this is an almost compulsory mention. Obligation aside however, this is a wonderful action-adventure that set the tone for what was to come. Robots, pirates, a romantic interest and an imperial government all make for an exciting debut. Fun titbit, the village in this film was inspired by Welsh mining towns.

3. Only Yesterday (1991)

The film is virtually plot-less; and though that may sound boring in theory, that is absolutely not the case. It is a film that is incredibly introspective, sometimes sad and nostalgic, but inspiring. Only Yesterday’s exploration of the growing pains and tender agonies of adolescence is beautifully portrayed in a series of flackback events that eventually catch up with the main protagonist. The beauty of this film is in the detail, particularly in the script’s wry observations. It’s both heartbreaking and healing, a refreshing twist on the coming-of-age story that will throw you into emotional turmoil… in a good way.

2. My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

One of the franchise’s most popular entries, My Neighbour Totoro is a fine example of how Studio Ghibli thrives at the intersection of brutal reality and wondrous fantasy. When sisters Saskia and Mei move into a decrepit country cottage to be closer to their ill mother, the two learn to coexist and grow in ways they could not have anticipated, all while navigating relationships with spirits and creatures (potentially imaginary) that help them on their way. It all turns out okay in the end. Just like a fairytale.

1. Spirited Away (2001)

A portal into a child’s worldview, this film feels like the product of boundless imagination and a mixture of psychedelics. Add to that the unavoidable hunger this film will provoke, and you have this masterpiece. In all seriousness, what else was going to be number 1? Spirited Away is a mesmerising and enchanting coming-of-age film with immaculate and detailed animation featuring witches, spirits, monsters and all kinds of mystical beings. Without being too obscure, the narrative takes an in-depth look at the rites of passage to growing up, the importance of looking after our natural world, the power of kindness and the value of community. Spirited Away is a consciousness-expanding masterpiece.