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The 5 Best Studio Ghibli Films

by Jacki Jing & Zac Bertschy,

Everyone knows the legendary Studio Ghibli– built out of the blood, sweat and tears of such creative titans as Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Toshio Suzuki, and hundreds of other extremely talented animators, composers, production designers, colorists and so much more, Ghibli is world-famous for creating some of the most beloved and memorable animated films of all time. Since Miyazaki has a new one coming out – probably not anytime soon, but he is working on a new film – we decided it's time to rank our favorite films to emerge from the studio that has entertained and challenged millions of people.

5. Howl's Moving Castle

For some people, this adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones' classic fantasy novel represents a turning point for Miyazaki's storytelling style, but for millions of millennials, this movie was one of their first exposures to Studio Ghibli – and is remembered today more than ever before. The journey plucky young (and then – suddenly – old) Sophie takes with the (extremely handsome and tortured) transforming wizard Howl and his stalking, magical palace has left a sincere mark on a generation of young women who saw themselves in our heroine. It's slowly become an often-quoted favorite of people who grew up with Ghibli in the 2000s.

4. Only Yesterday

The late, great Isao Takahata made this gorgeous, nostalgic, and bittersweet remembrance of life in Japan in the 20th century to great acclaim. It is unashamedly for adult women, and was a huge success in Japan as a result. It's a journey through a life, exploring feelings both joyful and melancholy – both love and regret, looking forward and taking control of your life while simultaneously exploring your past. Takahata's legacy was carved into stone with this film – and if you haven't seen it, you probably should.

3. Grave of the Fireflies & My Neighbor Totoro

Originally released in theaters as a double feature (believe it or not) these two films represent Ghibli at their best, with both Takahata – who directed the famously heartbreaking and deeply impactful World War II drama Grave of the Fireflies – and Miyazaki, who directed the famously adorable and touching family fantasy My Neighbor Totoro – standing together in front of an audience that would never forget either film. Grave of the Fireflies will absolutely make you cry – and help you consider the world in a wider context, who the victims of war are, and how we're all human. Totoro, meanwhile, not only gives you one of the cuddliest animal friends of all time, it's a gorgeous examination of the importance of family. They're both classics for a reason.

2. Spirited Away

Famously, this is the first animated feature from Japan to ever win an Academy Award, and was the highest-grossing film in Japan for quite some time. The story of Chihiro's visually stunning journey through the spirit realm – confronting and befriending the eye-popping, ravenous No-Face and finding a heartwarming and beautifully written romance with the cursed dragon boy Haku – captivated the whole world, and doubtlessly created an entire generation of new Ghibli fans. You can put this one in theaters over and over again and people will always pack the house – it has an undeniable draw.

1. Princess Mononoke

You may notice Miyazaki's first masterpiece, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind isn't on this list. It would've been, except he took most of the story ideas he laid out in that film, refined them, and then made what many consider to be his masterpiece – the gorgeous fantasy epic Princess Mononoke, which finds the cursed prince Ashitaka journeying across Japan to find a cure. He encounters San, a feral woman who lives in the forest with her enormous, spectacular wolf friends. The wolves are basically gods in and of themselves, speaking to a primal connection with the natural world – Ashitaka befriends her, eventually trying to moderate peace between San's ferocious defense of her world and the modernization represented by the emotionally complex Lady Eboshi, someone who is both trying to conquer the natural world, and yet shows deep compassion for humanity – caring for lepers and giving the women in her “Iron Town” socially prominent roles. Princess Mononoke hits really hard – it is – maybe - the most thematically complex and beautiful film in the studio's history.

Make sure you give us your top 5 in the comments – and thanks for watching!

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