From girls with big eyes and multi-color hair to fans who dress up in elaborate costumes, anime can seem like an impenetrable fortress of weirdness. However, don’t let that impression fool you into thinking anime is just for geeky teens and creepy basement dwellers. There are genuinely good anime that are comparable to the best of American entertainment. Even if you don’t become a hardcore fan, there are quite a few movies or shows that you might enjoy. Here are an assortment of movies that will definitely get you (at least partially) into anime!
The Garden of Words
In Hollywood, there aren’t many directors who specialize in tragic romance. In the anime industry there’s only one: Makoto Shinkai. He has a certain obsession with relationships being torn apart, so much so that it’s the focal point of every work he’s made. The Garden of Words is the most optimistic of his movies, but in no way has a happy ending. It is the shortest movie on this list, clocking in at 45 minutes. Though what The Garden of Words lacks in length, it makes up for in beauty. It’s incredibly gorgeous, so detailed and colorful that it practically transcends reality. This beautiful hyper-reality amplifies the emotions involved, leaving even the most stone-cold viewer a little teary-eyed.
What to watch next: The Wind Rises, Five Centimeters per Second
Out of all the movies on this list, Summer Wars is the biggest crowd-pleaser. It’s the movie you watch with your kids (be they 8 or 18) or, conversely, the movie you watch with your parents. It’s well made and entertaining, a genre piece and yet accessible. Summer Wars’ best scenes, its emotional core, rest in the family drama, but its action scenes are still exciting. It pulls you in with sci-fi intrigue, holds you there with a beautiful family dynamic, and rewards you for your time with an over-the-top, yet worthy, climax.
What to watch next: Wolf Children, Porco Rosso
In four movies and a TV series, Satoshi Kon pushed the boundaries of storytelling by fully exploiting the unique abilities of animation. His remarkable works are known for bending reality, but despite this he manages to be a remarkably humanistic director. Even if you’re not sure where or when you are in the story, you’ll always connect with who you’re watching. Millennium Actress is the best blend of the two, finding a near-perfect balance between mind-bending and heart-breaking.
What to watch next: Tokyo Godfathers, The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Like any culture, Japan has its own history of legends and beliefs. Part of anime’s appeal is the foreignness of it- it’s something you can’t get in America. Most anime are somewhat Western influenced, but there are many works that stick to very Eastern stories and ideas. Typical Western Tolkien-esque fantasy gets tiring, but the story and style of Spirited Away can provide a refreshing break. If a peek into the style of Japan’s unusual legends and fantasies intrigues you or your kids, then this is a great place to start.
What to watch next: Princess Mononoke, Mushi-Shi
Anime fandom in the US grew mostly out of the sci-fi community and with good reason: most of what was created was sci-fi or fantasy. Decades later, anime has more genre diversity, but there is still a backlog of great sci-fi and fantasy works. The king of all sci-fi anime is easily Akira. Katsuhiro Otomo’s masterpiece set a new benchmark for animation when it came out, being the most expensive anime movie up to that point. Akira‘s cyberpunk style is certain of its time, but the visuals are still breathtaking and the story engaging to this day.
What to watch next: Ghost in the Shell, Arcadia of My Youth
My Neighbor Totoro
Finding good children’s media is rather hard, and finding good children’s media that’s tolerable for adults is even harder. Disney movies may be the most beloved kids movies here, but in Japan the movies of choice are Studio Ghibil’s. My Neighbor Totoro is one of their movies that is more distinctly for kids, however its fantasy images are so heavily steeped in childish wonder that adults are sure to be charmed too. (Don’t let the trailer fool you, there is an english dub)
What to watch next: Kiki’s Delivery Service, Welcome to the Space Show
Japan is weird. We all know this. Our country’s weird too, but Japan is that special variety of weird. In anime there is no limitation to what can be shown and therefore no limit to potential weirdness. Redline is a simple paint-by-numbers racing movie story-wise. Everything else, from the characters to the world to the animation itself is very weird. However, this is, in no way shape or form, a bad thing. Rather, this weirdness fuels the movie, projecting it forward with all the speed and intensity a racing movie should. If you can get past the unusual design of Redline, you have quite the unique experience ahead of you.
What to watch next: Gurren Lagann, Space Dandy
The Castle of Cagliostro
Clear-cut bad guys and good guys. Big stakes and bigger action scenes. Battles across the globe, be it in the air, sea, or land. All these elements are key to creating a certain spirit of adventure that’s rare in cinema today. You feel like a kid again when you experience the blood-pumping thrills of movies like Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and even Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The Castle of Cagliostro has adventure galore, with car chases, counterfeiting, and condemnable counts! Its goofy, yet swashbuckling, gentleman thief hero, Lupin the Third, has an established franchise behind him, but this movie boils things down enough that anyone can enjoy it. It has a special blend of wonder and excitement that is sure to bring a goofy smile to your face.
What to watch next: Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Steamboy
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise
There are many movies on this list that qualify as great dramas, but Wings of Honneamise particularly excels in this genre. The filmmakers carefully craft a familiar sci-fi world to tell a very human story about space exploration. Wings of Honneamise is less story-driven and more a character piece about a reluctant astronaut who doubts the reasons for going into space. If it were live action, it would probably star Dustin Hoffman and definitely sweep the Oscars. Like a lot of the movies on this list, there’s far more to this Wings of Honneamise than its genre elements.
What to watch next: Grave of the Fireflies, Patlabor/Patlabor 2
Anime used to be known as extreme, far more violent than Western animation ever dared to be. This reputation has long since expired, as nowadays anime is better characterized as lots of cute girls in high school. Although, for those who love some fun and bloody action, Ninja Scroll will always be in our hearts. The struggle of a samurai to stop eight powerful demon ninjas may seem generic, but mixed in with unhealthy doses of sex and violence degrades into some of the finest pulpy schlock in anime. Certain to satisfy the most blood-thirsty horror hound or action addict.
What to watch next: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, Hellsing Ultimate
I think we’ve covered a sufficient variety of tastes, so hopefully you’ve found one to your liking. Let me know in the comments below what you thought or if you have any suggestions of your own. Happy viewing!