Eight Anime Films Worth Watching That Aren't By Studio Ghibli

Paprika

What are your favourite anime movies? Spirited Away? Princess Mononoke? My Neighbour Totoro? Eh, I could see that coming. These Studio Ghibli movies are masterpieces. They're also not the only anime films out there. Crazy, right?

This story has been updated since it originally appeared in April 2017.

It's safe to say that Ghibli corners the market for 90-minute escapist anime that makes you feel very nice and good by the end. But there are psychological heights some Ghibli movies don't hit. Below are my top picks for non-Ghibli films. Many are pretty disturbing. All of them are genius.

Perfect Blue

After seeing Perfect Blue, I went outside to my porch, buried my head in my hands and smoked like five cigarettes. I sat there for nearly an hour. If you're the kind of person who dug Requiem for a Dream, Perfect Blue is up your alley. Actually, Requiem director Darren Aronofsky bought the rights to Perfect Blue so he could replicate a scene in it.

Perfect Blue is about a pop idol and her stalker. To make the leap from middling idol to noted actress, she's offered to film a rape scene that could compromise her pure, sweet image. The more famous she becomes, the more boundaries get crossed. Eventually, the boundaries of reality itself melt away.

Your Name

Your Name is a brilliant, tender film about body-swapping teens. It's the highest-grossing anime movie ever. And, if you're quick, you can probably still catch its U.S. run in your local movie theatre.

Rural shrine attendant Mitsuha is sick of her boring life. One day, she yells that she wants to be a handsome Tokyo boy. And, in her dreams, she becomes one. Every once in a while, her mind travels to hard-headed Tokyo boy Taki's body, which she controls for a day.

He also body-swaps with her and clumsily takes the role of a teenage girl. Soon, they fall in love with each other through their swapped lives. Then, a disaster threatens to take everything away.

This movie is a masterpiece. It moves from a gentle slice-of-life to a high-stakes battle for survival. You'll be invested in every moment.

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Skip the live-action movie. The original Ghost in the Shell film is a classic for a reason. Its world-building is superb, and paints the picture of a bombed-out, environmentally-unstable Japanese city where any concept of "nature" is overshadowed by tech. Long, thoughtful pans of the setting break up exciting action scenes. It's got rhythm.

Protagonist Motoko has a cybernetic body, but a human brain that's been wiped of its memories. She's a Major in the Public Security Section of her city and possesses beyond-human fighting abilities. But when the cybernetic hacker Puppet Master threatens the city, Motoko struggles to stay on-mission. She and her enemy have too much in common.

Akira

Probably, you've seen Akira. Even if you have, it's the kind of movie you need to watch twice. Its plot is a little hard to wrap your head around the first time. And, it helps that Akira has one of the best anime soundtracks in history. Its action scenes are so grotesque and so well-animated that they will stick with you for years.

Akira is iconic. It's about a teen motorcycle gang in 2019's "Neo-Tokyo" (remember — it was made in 1988). When one of the more unstable gang members develops ESP-like powers, he attempts to release Akira, a psychic force that once destroyed Tokyo. It's guarded in a storage unit under Tokyo's Olympic construction site. Drunk on power. he threatens to destroy everything he's known and lived in the process.

Mind Game

Where have you seen director Masaaki Yuasa's animation style before? Maybe, that one "Food Chain" episode of Adventure Time? Or a few of the more psychedelic Space Dandy episodes? It's unmistakable. He mixes bare-bones character designs with real-life textures and undulating, strange environments. There's nothing like it.

Mind Game is about a loser named Nishi. One day, runs into his childhood crush, who is about to get married. They go to a bar together, where the crush's fiancee is. There, Nishi gets into a fight with some gangsters. And, after the fight, he transcends into a strange spirit world where his bodily form is liquid.

This movie is an acid trip. If you're looking for 100 minutes of unforgettable animation, there aren't many movies that surpass Mind Game.

Paprika

Paprika isn't for everyone. It's a little difficult to understand and its animation really, really busy. It's maybe my favourite anime movie.

Paprika takes place in the near-future, when psychologists have developed a technology to enter patients' dreams. That way, they can alter and address their subconscious thoughts from inside them. Paprika is a dream doctor of sorts, a fun and mysterious woman who guides patients through their innermost thoughts. Her practice seems promising until the dream-diving tech is stolen by terrorists. Then, nightmares make their way into the world of the awake.

You just can't beat that plot. And the animation sequences are fever-dream wild. The dialogue is fantastic and the characters are well-written. My warning: You don't walk away from Paprika feeling awesome. You will feel disturbed, moved and inspired.

A Silent Voice

A Silent Voice is a movie about a deaf girl and her elementary school bully attempting to find common ground years after they ruin each other's lives. In trying to understand each other and overcome years' worth of guilt, the two protagonists battle some nasty demons that end up bringing them closer together. A Silent Voice depicts the cruelty people with disabilities can face and how unselfconsciously children can act out when they don't understand something.

This movie will fuck you up. Man. I cried, like, twice.

A Silent Voice won a half dozen "anime of the year" awards in 2017, although its successes weren't as widely sung as Your Name's. Its animation is simply stunning. Its most climactic moment is conveyed with a spastic series of emotional vignettes, flashing from an egg yolk splashing around a bowl to Ishida's mother with a stack of pancakes to a burst of fireworks.

In This Corner of the World

World War II insinuates itself on Hiroshima-born protagonist Suzu's mundane life in this haunting movie about coping with forces beyond your control. Suzu marries a near-stranger in a distant town and takes on wifely duties she's not naturally accustomed to. As the war escalates, Suzu's focus shifts from mastering cooking to mastering rice rationing.

In This Corner of the World ping-pongs between a slice-of-life and disaster movie, always focusing on the human victims of war. Yet, it's pleasant to watch. It's whimsical, despite its louder and more emotional moments. Its animation has a vintage feel, but innovates in ways I'd never seen before, like melting bombs into splatter paint.


Comments

    Nothing by Mamoru Hosoda listed? Really?

    Also would add Redline if you want something amazingly well animated.

      I'd just list everything by Hosoda and Sato Kon and call it a day ;)

      Last edited 18/04/17 8:02 am

      Watched Redline so many times. Great action and an even better soundtrack.

    I second everything @wizz-fizz mentioned. Also, The Garden of Words is pretty good too.

    If anyone is interested, The Garden of Words, Wolf Children and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time are on Animelab at the moment (for paid accounts only though.)

    Even two sittings won't do Akira justice. It is a masterpiece.

    Also, any of the GITS series be it the films or Stand Alone Complex.

    Errrrrrrrmmm Ninja Scroll

      was just about to comment that one.
      salute to you sir.

      GEMMMAAAAAAA - BURN IN YOUR GOLDEN HELLLLLLL

        20 years later and every time I see one particular friend one of us will say to the other "come to the land of Buddha with me".

    another movie i enjoyed was called Spriggan

    Your.name is utterly incredible - Lucky I read nothing about the film except that it was worth watching - its was a great surprise (and another god-damn tear-jerker) and I wish I hadn't watched it on the plane (I should have bought that bluray and watch it at home!)

    Paprika's soundtrack is also incredible

      Oh man, de ja vu. I just jumped onto this article to say this exact thing. Hadn't realised it was an update/repost

    One of the big problems with Hollywood is their refusal to see animation as anything but kid's fare (or gross out humour a la Sausage Party). Japan knows that deep and mature stories can be told as well, or even better in an animated medium.

      I don't think it's entirely that, if you watch the shows aimed at kids you'll find they're a lot more respective of their audience than the West. I've been watching Kamen Rider religiously for years, which is the Japanese older brother to Power Rangers and this year's series has already doubt with murder, fugitives and face-swapped identities.

      There's even that recent Pokemon episode that was a really beautiful look at death and companionship, it's a different culture. You get the feeling that kids are sort of seen more as "adults of tomorrow" rather than a completely different segment of society.

      In the west however, cartoons are basically just ways to get your kid to shut up so you can have that second cup of wine in the afternoon.

    The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is one of my favourite movies. Not favourite anime movies, or even favourite animated movies. Movies, period. I believe that there is not a piece of narrative that better manages to tackle the topic of choices and consequences and it does it with style, humour and cleverness. Highly recommended.

      Such a fantastic film. I don't even remember the circumstances about how I came to watch it for the first time but it is also one of my favourite films. It gives me the feels every time I watch it.

    Sword of the Stranger

    The Professional Golgo 13.
    Cowboy Bebop movie.
    Fist of the North Star.
    Spriggan.
    Ninja Scroll.

    @alexwalker and team, it'd be great if when listicles like this are reposted you could make it obvious whether they were updated at all, and that they are actually reposts.

      There was a note in bold after the jump - This story has been updated since it originally appeared in April 2017.

        Yeah but I don't know what changed. :)

          A Silent Voice/Perfect Blue, pretty sure (this is a very late lunch reply)

    Anyone know of a place to stream Anime movies? It seems to be a thing that is sadly missing from the internet...

      Animelab has been uploading movies recently, not many but they are there

    I was always a big fan of "Royal Space Force: The Wings of HonnĂȘamise" after seeing it as a kid.

      The recent Bluray remaster is fantastic.

        Oooh, didn't know it had been remastered. I think I've still got a VHS of it around somewhere though. :P

    I don't know if the movies-made-from-series count, but Patlabor 1 & 2 (2 especially) were pretty god damn great stand-alone pieces. (Feels like they're damn near prescient on some points.) I guess being linked to a series is why the Cowboy Bebop movie didn't turn up? Though that didn't particularly stand up so well on its own...

    Surprised to not see a mention for Jin Roh, Tokyo Godfathers, or Millenium Actress.

      The first 2 patlabor movies were fantasic a definite must see.

      And at first read I didn't see you mentioned Jin-Roh as well, oops

      Last edited 19/12/17 5:03 pm

      Tokyo Godfathers is best goshdanged Christmas movie there is. The take on "family" was simply genius.

    Other than the ones mentioned: Castle of Cagliostro and I didn't mind some of the Evangelion movies. Also, the Rurouni Kenshin OVAs were very good

    Bookmarking this page because there's some good suggestions in here. Just watched Your Name and it was lovely.

    There's a lot of films other people have mentioned here that I agree with, but with Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue and Paprika on the list, I HAVE to mention my all-time favourite movie ever made in any medium: Millennium Actress. It is quite literally the Citizen Kane of anime. And funnily enough, I don't even like much Citizen Kane because I found it ultimately too bleak and depressing, but while Millennium Actress tells a similar story (a lot back at the life of a famous celebrity through flashback revolving around a single big secret), it's in other ways the antithesis to Citizen Kane, being uplifting, inspiring and beautiful while still being profoundly sad. It helps that Kon's cinematography is every bit as good as Orson Wells', something you'd already know if you saw Perfect Blue and Paprika.

    You MUST see Millennium Actress. Even if you're not an anime fan, if you're a CINEMA fan you should see it. It's an all-time classic.

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