Japanese animation (anime) is such an integral part of modern-day Japan that it makes sense to watch some before going to Japan, even if you don’t like animation. These are 10 of the best Japanese animation movies and series you can see.
This is part of my continuing guide to Japanese culture.
The Japanese make some of the best animations in the world.
With so much Japanese animation movies and series, it’s just not going to be possible to list them all, especially if you’re looking for some anime to watch I’m guessing you might be new to the animation scene and just want a place to start.
You can actually learn some things about Japanese life in this as well.
I have been watching Japanese animation since 1991 and that’s also when I became fascinated with Japanese culture.
In that regard, this is a personal choice of what I recommend to watch (like all my reviews).
If you know about Japanese animation already you may disagree with some of these choices, but this is about what animation is good to watch for the first-timer or just the curious that are interested in it.
So this is what I recommend.
Normally I don’t do these with favourites in order but this time I have for this animation movies list.
After spending several months travelling around Japan and writing travel guides for the places visited I decided to write articles about Japanese culture, books, movies, and more so if you’re planning a trip to Japan or are just interested in Japan, then these will all give a good insight into the Japanese way of life.
Best Japanese Animation
10. Samurai Champloo
Samurai Champloo is directed by Shinichirō Watanabeto and is a really fun (you guessed by the title) samurai anime.
A rather undisciplined samurai runs into a more traditional style samurai. They meet a girl looking for her father who hires them to protect her as they travel across Japan looking for him.
Chaos ensues along their journey with an epic hip-hop soundtrack to go along with it.
Mugen in Samurai Champloo is one of the best Japanese characters for anime.
Trailer for Samurai Champloo:
9. Howls Moving Castle
Howls Moving Castle is beautiful to watch.
A young girl is turned into an old woman by a witch, and her new wizard friend, Howl, who wanders in his walking castle, helps her with his magic against the witch.
Directed by the legendary Japanese anime director, Hayao Miyazaki.
Trailer for Howls Moving Castle:
8. Ghost in the Shell
This is the original Ghost in the Shell anime from 1995.
If you’re into cyberpunk and futuristic anime then this is the one to watch. It was part of the inspiration for the Matrix movie.
It follows a cyborg agent searching for a hacker who hacks into the minds of cyborg/human hybrids.
The movie is a good exploration of how humans and future technologies may interact with each other.
Also about exploring the soul and who we are.
Trailer for Ghost in the Shell 1995:
7. Your Name
Your Name is the highest-grossing Japanese animation, which says it all right there.
It’s also one of the best new animated movies you can see, released in 2016.
Boy and girl teenagers swap bodies and go in search of each other. It’s comedic, romantic, time travel based and full-on fun.
I don’t normally like romance style anime but this one was one I enjoyed a lot.
Critically acclaimed coming of age Japanese anime movie.
Trailer for Your Name:
6. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is one of the oldest on this list, released in 1984. It has aged well though and the effects and message in the movie are still good today.
Long in the earth’s future the planet is destroyed and the few humans left are battling each other.
Nausicaa is a young princess who tries to bring them together, along with communicating with the large insects that live in the toxic wastelands.
This has a strong environmental message throughout the movie.
Trailer for Nausicaa:
5. Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies could be one of the best anti-war movies of all time. The famous film critic Roger Ebert rated it at just that.
Set at the end of World War 2 a young boy must care for his younger sister as they are separated from their parents.
They struggle to survive amongst the chaos and destruction all around them.
A heartbreaking story and one of the best American Japanese war movies you can see. Technically one of the best Japanese historical movies as well.
Trailer for Grave of the Fireflies:
4. Princess Mononoke
If you wanted one anime about protecting the environment then Princess Mononoke is it.
It follows a prince in 16th century Japan, although it is largely a fantasy movie.
It’s a fight between forest gods and the humans looking to destroy their land.
Visually my favourite and easily one of the best Japanese animation movies of all time. Another Hayao Miyazaki film.
Trailer for Princess Mononoke:
Akira is the movie that got me into Japanese anime.
Set in Tokyo in the future after it suffered nuclear devastation, the city rebuilds itself.
Amongst the modern city biker gangs fight it out. One member of a biker gang has an accident with a strange child who possesses special powers and he takes on those powers.
His old friend from the gang must track him down to try and save him.
Cyberpunk at its absolute best.
Trailer for Akira:
2. Spirited Away
Most regard Spirited Away as the best Japanese animation of all time.
It won an Oscars out of all the best-animated movies. To be honest, if there was just one Japanese animated film to watch before going to Japan then I would say to watch this.
When a 10-year-old girl and her parents stumble upon an abandoned theme park her parents are turned into pigs and she must work at a massive nearby bathhouse for the gods to release them from the spell.
This anime will suck you into its magical land.
Trailer for Spirited Away:
1. Cowboy Bebop
I love Cowboy Bebop. It’s so much fun!
A group of bounty hunters in their spaceship Cowboy Bebop travel across the galaxy hunting down criminals and have non-stop adventures along the way.
It’s also great at slow character building across the 26 episode series, with some tragic backstories.
It actually gets quite deep.
Trailer for Cowboy Bebop:
Best Animation From Japan
So that gives you a rundown of 10 of the best anime to watch before going to Japan.
Again it’s a personal list but I hope you find something in it that you will enjoy watching.
If you’re ever in Tokyo then be sure to visit the Studio Ghibli Museum there. A must-visit for animation fans!
If you want more movies about Japan then check out these 10 more movies to watch before going to Japan.
And if you like samurai movies these are 10 of the best Japanese samurai movies.
*I own none of the images in this post. They are used under fair use terms to discuss the movies.*
*This post contains affiliate links to Amazon where you can stream or purchase the movies. I get a small commission if you purchase the item at no extra cost to you. It helps keep my site running and I really appreciate it.
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