The Best Studio Ghibli Films to Watch on HBO Max

The Best Studio Ghibli Films to Watch on HBO Max

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François Varie
Apr 20, 2023 • 5 min read

Studio Ghibli has been the vanguard of Japanese animation for decades, garnering critical acclaim and international recognition for its breathtaking visuals, complex themes, and unforgettable characters.

We've compiled a list of the top films by Studio Ghibli, delving into the symbology, main characters, plot points, and critical reception that have cemented their place in the annals of cinematic history.

"My Neighbor Totoro" (1988):

My Neighbor Totoro (1988) - IMDb
My Neighbor Totoro: Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. With Noriko Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto, Shigesato Itoi, Sumi Shimamoto. When two girls move to the country to be near their ailing mother, they have adventures with the wondrous forest spirits who live nearby.

This enchanting tale follows two young sisters, Satsuki and Mei, who befriend the magical forest spirit Totoro. The film explores themes of childhood innocence and the bond between siblings, set against the backdrop of post-war Japan. Totoro himself has become an enduring symbol of environmentalism and the power of imagination. The film received universal praise for its heartwarming story and lush animation.

"Grave of the Fireflies" (1988):

Grave of the Fireflies (1988) - IMDb
Grave of the Fireflies: Directed by Isao Takahata. With Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara, Akemi Yamaguchi. A young boy and his little sister struggle to survive in Japan during World War II.

This poignant anti-war film, based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, tells the tragic story of two siblings, Seita and Setsuko, struggling to survive in the aftermath of the bombings of World War II. The fireflies serve as a metaphor for the fleeting nature of life and the fragility of innocence. Critics lauded the film for its powerful storytelling and hauntingly beautiful animation.

"Kiki's Delivery Service" (1989):

Kiki’s vliegende koeriersdienst (1989) - IMDb
Kiki’s vliegende koeriersdienst: Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. With Minami Takayama, Rei Sakuma, Kappei Yamaguchi, Keiko Toda. A young witch, on her mandatory year of independent life, finds fitting into a new community difficult while she supports herself by running an air courier service.

This coming-of-age story centers on Kiki, a young witch who moves to a new town to hone her skills, accompanied by her talking cat, Jiji. The film explores themes of independence, self-discovery, and the importance of community. The picturesque seaside town and Kiki's broomstick flights showcase Ghibli's mastery of animated landscapes. The film received widespread acclaim for its engaging characters and uplifting narrative.

"Princess Mononoke" (1997):

Princess Mononoke (1997) - IMDb
Princess Mononoke: Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. With Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, John DiMaggio. On a journey to find the cure for a Tatarigami’s curse, Ashitaka finds himself in the middle of a war between the forest gods and Tatara, a mining colony. In this quest he also meets S…

Set in the late Muromachi period, this epic film follows the journey of Prince Ashitaka as he becomes embroiled in a conflict between the gods of the forest and the humans who exploit its resources. The titular character, Mononoke, is a fierce, enigmatic warrior raised by the wolf goddess Moro. The film grapples with themes of environmentalism, the duality of human nature, and the consequences of industrialization. Critics praised its sophisticated storytelling, compelling characters, and breathtaking animation.

"Spirited Away" (2001):

Spirited Away: De reis van Chihiro (2001) - IMDb
Spirited Away: De reis van Chihiro: Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. With Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takashi Naitô. During her family’s move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches and spirits, a world where humans are changed into beasts.

This Academy Award-winning masterpiece tells the story of Chihiro, a young girl who inadvertently enters the spirit world and must work in a bathhouse run by the witch Yubaba to save her parents. The film delves into themes of greed, environmentalism, and personal growth, populated by a pantheon of colorful spirits and creatures. The film's critical success and commercial performance cemented its status as a modern classic in the world of animation.

"Howl's Moving Castle" (2004):

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) - IMDb
Howl’s Moving Castle: Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. With Chieko Baisho, Takuya Kimura, Akihiro Miwa, Tatsuya Gashûin. When an unconfident young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent yet insecure young wizard and his compa…

Based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones, this fantastical adventure follows Sophie, a young girl who is cursed with old age by a spiteful witch, and her quest to break the curse with the help of the enigmatic wizard Howl. The film explores themes of love, self-worth, and the consequences of war. Critics applauded the film for its richly detailed animation, complex characters, and engaging narrative.

"Ponyo" (2008):

Ponyo (2008) - IMDb
Ponyo: Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. With Tomoko Yamaguchi, Kazushige Nagashima, Yûki Amami, George Tokoro. A five-year-old boy develops a relationship with Ponyo, a young goldfish princess who longs to become a human after falling in love with him.

A reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid," this film centers on the friendship between a young boy named Sosuke and the fish-turned-human girl, Ponyo. The film examines themes of love, nature, and the balance between humanity and the natural world

Watch studio Ghibli on HBO Max!

Studio Ghibli's films are not only visually stunning but also renowned for their nuanced exploration of complex themes and the emotional depth of their characters. Each film stands as a testament to the mastery of Japanese animation, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of viewers across the globe.