The 15 best anime movies to make you feel like a pro otaku

The best anime movies - like any other films - are the ones that make us laugh, cry, and squeal with excitement when we can tell something big is about to go down. But there's also something inherently unique about anime, a certain flair you can't find anywhere else. Make no mistake, the influence of Japanese animation on pop culture is as prevalent today as ever (if not more so since the medium's explosion into mega-popularity in the '90s). In 2019, Netflix is slated to debut a new original series, 7SEEDS, and add the giant robot favorite, Neon Genesis Evangelion, to its expansive library.

To celebrate, we've put together a list of the best anime movies you should watch, whether you're just stepping into this world for the first time or are a lifelong otaku. Below you'll find a wide selection of films, from age-old classics to modern-day masterpieces, as well as where you can watch them right now. So pop a bag of popcorn, style your blue hair into wildly impractical shapes, and enjoy the best anime movies of all time. 

15. Ninja Scroll (1993)

Where you can watch: HIDIVE (subscription required), Hulu (subscription required)

Releasing in the West around the same time as Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll is a stylish, hyper-violent flurry of over-the-top battles and geysers of blood. Ex-ninja Jubei is coerced under threat of death by a Tokugawa spy to hunt down and defeat the Eight Devils of Kimon, each with its own mystic set of powers. In an hour and a half, Jubei fights a dude whose skin can turn into stone, a naked snake lady, a guy who can melt into shadows, and a woman who plants gunpowder in people's bodies and uses them as living time bombs. Ninja Scroll is relentless and requires a strong stomach, but it's a film with influence still being felt in modern action films the world over.

14. Wolf Children (2012)

When anime first made it big in the West, it was all giant robots, sexy ninjas, and hyper-violent spectacle. Wolf Children is the polar opposite, showing just how wide and varied the stories that anime tells can be. In this modern fairy tale, college student Hana falls in love with a charismatic man who turns out to be a werewolf. Hana gives birth to two children, and struggles to raise them (if you're a parent who's ever felt like your kid was basically a wild animal in human clothes, you'll relate). The film is a sweet, though at times heartbreaking, portrayal of what it's like to be a mother struggling to be a good parent, and to be a child fighting to find their place in the world.

13. Patlabor: The Movie (1989)

Where you can watch: HIDIVE (subscription required)

Many of the films on this list are here because they're landmark films for their directors, or that they move the artform of Japanese animation forward in meaningful ways. Patlabor is just a good-ass movie made by a bunch of talented people, including future Ghost in the Shell collaborators Mamoru Oshii and I.G Tatsunoko (the early name for the production company that would become Production I.G). Set in the far-off future of... um, 1999, Patlabor's hard-boiled sci-fi police procedural explores the connection between humanity and technology, and how we approach law enforcement in an age of automation. Also, this film features giant robots in spades, and they fight a bunch. It's pretty cool.

12. Redline (2009)

Where you can watch: TubiTV (free with ads)

Equal parts Mad Max, Wacky Races, and the pod-racing scene from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Redline is a film that will make you gasp and laugh in equal measure as you ask, "Did they really just do that?" Set in the distant future, the story focuses on "Sweet" JP, a human man with style, flair, and a truly obscene pompadour hairdo. He's entered the galaxy's most infamous underground race - the titular Redline - alongside a colorful cast of aliens, cyborgs, villains, and weirdos. Oh, and while this is all going on there's subplots about an interstellar war, secret bio-weapon experiments, and a mob boss secretly manipulating the race. To say much more would spoil the adventure, so just trust us when we say that it's all so very, very extra, but it's also so very, very fun.

11. Vampire Hunter D (1985)

Where you can watch: HIDIVE (subscription required)

Vampire Hunter D is often credited as being one of the first anime films specifically targeted for an older audience, and its success paved the way for many of the entries on this list. It's a slow, haunting burn that follows the titular, monosyllabic vampire hunter as he aids and protects a young woman from a demonic menace. Watching the movie, it's easy to see how it paved the way for the likes of V for Vendetta, and even Castlevania. Featuring the brooding character design of none other than Final Fantasy concept artist Yoshitaka Amano, Vampire Hunter D is dark glimpse into the maturation of anime as a genuine theatrical artform.

10. Paprika (2006)

Where you can watch: Crackle (free with ads)

Warning: do not watch this film while inebriated. You just might go mad trying to understand it. In Paprika, there exists an illegal technology which allows a user to view and interact with a person's dreams. As with any morally questionable scientific revolution, things go wrong. It's almost impossible to discuss Paprika without spoilers, but we'll just say that it features some incredibly trippy visuals, shocking twists, emotional whiplash, and more than one instance of straight-up face-melting. Paprika shows how anime can bend the rules of animation or just outright break them.

9. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

Where you can watch: Funimation (subscription required)

Studio Ghibli commissioned director Mamoru Hosoda to make Howl's Moving Castle, but sent him packing after rejecting his initial concepts. Hosoda then turned around and directed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, a bounding and inventive dramedy that's as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. Based on a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, the film follows high schooler Makoto Konno as she learns that she has the power to quite literally leap through time. First, she uses these powers to get good grades, but she quickly learns that her actions have consequences. It's a wildly imaginative slice of life, and marked the emergence of an important voice in animated films.

8. Princess Mononoke (1997)

Where you can watch: Home video

One of Studio Ghibli and director Hiyao Miyazaki's most critically-acclaimed movies, Princess Mononoke is a gorgeous film set in feudal era Japan that weaves together multiple points of view, showcasing man vs. nature, man vs. man, man vs. himself, and man vs. tentacled boar demon spirit. It's an impressive and epic-scale adventure, dark and foreboding one moment, lighthearted and jolly the next. Unfortunately, no Studio Ghibli films are currently available to stream online, meaning you'll need to purchase or rent a copy (your local library can be a great resource for this) if you want to watch. But if you somehow haven't seen this classic by now, don't worry: your efforts will be rewarded.

7. Your Name. (2016)

Where you can watch: Home video

Since the release of his first short film Voices of a Distant Star (which he wrote, directed, and animated by himself over seven months), Makoto Shinkai has been described by multiple critics as the next Hayao Miyazaki. With his most recent film Your Name. (yes, the period is part of the title), Shinkai finally steps out of the shadows and finds his own voice. To describe it as a mere body-swapping film does it a great disservice, as it finds the humor and humanity in a situation where two young high schoolers find themselves in each others' shoes. But then, Shinkai pulls the rug out from under you halfway through and Your Name. turns into a different kind of film entirely. That it doesn't lose its footing or confidence and instead discovers continued meaning and purpose shows that Shinkai is a directorial force to be reckoned with.

6. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Where you can watch: Home video

Hiyao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, is perhaps second only to Walt Disney in terms of cultural relevance and worldwide recognition in animation, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is where he made himself known. Nausicaa's story follows the eponymous young woman as she navigates a post-apocalyptic future where venturing outside small population centers means having to contend with giant insects and a deadly miasma. Here, you will see many of what would become Ghibli's trademark themes on full display; humanity, community, mortality, and environmentalism converge, accompanied by lush hand-drawn animation and swashbuckling action. Again, you won't find this movie on any streaming service, but it really deserves a permanent spot in your home anyway.