From kid-friendly adventures to watch with the whole family to gritty animated movies with adult themes, no matter your preference, here is a simple list of films that provide that ever-so-important first step into Japan’s animated movie world.
6) Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
When finding out the money he heisted from a casino was in fact counterfeit, gentleman thief Lupin the 3rd, based on the character created by Monkey Punch, heads to Cagliostro, the rumored source of the counterfeit bills. There he finds more than he bargained for. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki as his feature film debut, this, the second movie in the Lupin film franchise depicts a more heroic version of Lupin rather than the more ruthless version shown in the comics. This approachable take on the character gives the movie license to throw in more gags and jokes making it fun for the whole family.
5) The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)
A science fiction romance film with some hilarious comedic moments, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time follows the main character, Makoto Konno, as she mysteriously gains the ability to leap back in time after accidentally falling onto a walnut-shaped object. The premise, strange, but the movie is excellent at showing how a high school student would, in reality, react to suddenly gaining such an ability. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time won numerous awards including Japan Academy Prize For Animation Of The Year and even bagged Hosoda the best director award. A film for the whole family, take a trip back in time with this 2006 instant classic.
4) Summer Wars (2009)
Another movie directed by Mamoru Hosoda, Summer Wars is a beautifully animated film with a captivating story. This slice of life story suddenly becomes a sci-fi adventure when our protagonist, math prodigy Kenji, accidentally releases an evil AI into the world. Kenji must together with love interest Natsuki and her family defeat this online foe before its plans for world destruction become a reality. Battling in both the real and virtual world, this action-adventure blends hyper-realistic situations with a sci-fi theme to create an adventure with immense rewatchability.
3) Ninja Scroll (1993)
An absolute classic, Ninja Scroll was for a lot of people the first introduction to animated feature films with an adult edge. The story follows Jubei, a highly skilled swordsman, as he attempts to defeat the eight evils of Kimon, a group of ninjas with extraordinary powers who are attempting to overthrow the government of Japan by toppling its military. Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, the film popularized adult-themed animated movies in the West and is held to the same high regard as Akira or Ghost in the Shell. A must-watch for fans of animated movies, as the animation style still holds up today almost 30 years later.
2) Porco Rosso (1992)
The Studio Ghibli movie Porco Rosso gets less attention than the studio’s mega-hit Spirited Away, which is a shame as Porco Rosso is a beautifully animated movie that touches on themes of loss, love, curses and redemption. Set in 1930s Italy, we follow our main character, World War I fighter pilot ace Porco Rosso, as he defends the seas from sky pirates in his red fighter plane. Somehow cursed during the war to walk the earth with the face of a pig, Porco constantly struggles between his deeper human nature and his outward appearance, as he believes that he must act the way he looks – like a pig. This movie is an instant favorite for anyone who opens their heart to Porco and his little red plane.
1) A Silent Voice (2016)
Produced by Kyoto Animation, A Silent Voice touches on sensitive social issues such as bullying, divorce, suicide and disabilities. This emotional movie focuses on two main characters: a deaf girl Shoko Nishimiya and Shoya Ishida, who bullied her during their elementary school days. Now, in high school Shoya is a social reject, gripped with grief as he laments his past sins. He commits to find Shoko once again and make amends for his past sins. The smooth animation style brings the characters to life. The manga and the movie adaptation are fan favorites in the anime community, and A Silent Voice won numerous awards, including Animation of the Year at the 2017 Tokyo Anime Award Festival.