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

5. Perfect Blue (1997)

Where you can watch: Home video

After working as an animator on other films, Satoshi Kon made his explosive directorial debut with Perfect Blue. It's about a J-Pop idol who leaves behind a music career to pursue acting, and the further she dives into the role, the more reality and fiction begin to blur together. Kon (who would go on to direct Paprika, from earlier on our list) has a signature style that seems to spring forth fully realized from the first frame, and his unique take on magical realism ensures you never see the seams until he wants you to. Kon's career was cut short due to pancreatic cancer, but Perfect Blue remains a standout and its influence can be seen everywhere, including Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan and Christopher Nolan's Inception

4. Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Where you can watch: Hulu (subscription + Starz add-on required)

Oshii's adaptation of Masamune Shirow's seminal graphic novel series is simultaneously one of the most influential and enigmatic anime films ever made. There's definitely a plot here, as a team of armored police officers lead by Major Motoko Kusanagi attempt to hunt down a mysterious hacker known as the Puppet Master, but Ghost in the Shell is far more concerned with exploring the philosophical ramifications of its transhumanist themes than it is providing any sort of narrative payoff. It's a strange one to watch, packing a lot information and world-building into its brisk 82 minute runtime, but its length and structure allow for repeat viewings that are as rewarding as the first. And that's not even mentioning the stunningly subdued action sequences, which are still as captivating to watch over 20 years later.

3. Grave of the Fireflies (1993)

Where you can watch: Hulu (subscription required)

Lots of entries on this list, even the more serious, typically have some bright spots along the way. Something to make you smile, something to make you laugh. Grave of the Fireflies, meanwhile, is a tragic tale overflowing with sorrow. The film's main character, a teenage boy named Seita, dies of starvation surrounded by people who ignore him - and that's how the movie starts. The majority of the story is told as a flashback, as Seita and his sister Setsuko struggle to survive after their home is firebombed during World War 2. It's heart-wrenching to watch, but it's a powerful reminder of the humanity lost in wartime, and if anyone ever tells you anime is for kids and can't tell a story for grown-ups, this movie will prove them painfully wrong. 

2. Spirited Away (2001)

Where you can watch: Home video

Spirited Away is Miyazaki (and by extension, Studio Ghibli) at the height of his craft, using advancements in animation technology to enhance but not overpower an Alice in Wonderland-esque story filled to the brim with strange creatures and imaginative scenarios. It's a coming of age story about a young girl who finds herself lost in a bathhouse for the spirits, interacting with an assortment of fantastical creatures as she attempts to rescue her parents. Miyazaki still explores his go-to themes of humanity, nature, technology, and mortality, playing them up as a natural progression of the excellent, memorable story. Few movies of any medium carry their weight as well as Spirited Away.

1. Akira (1988)

Where you can watch: Funimation (subscription required), Hulu (subscription required), TubiTV (free with ads)

Finally, we come to what we consider to be the best anime movie ever. Akira is a powerhouse of a film, every frame of animation exploding off the screen with kinetic energy and effortless style, and pretty much the starting point for anime's popularity in the West. It's based off the first half of Otomo's massive graphic novel series of the same name (the second half was created after the film was completed, explaining the wild divergence in plotlines), following a group of delinquent teenagers in Neo-Tokyo decades after the end of World War 3. One of these boys, named Tetsuo, is abducted by a secretive government unit and experimented on, awakening his latent psychic abilities which quickly spiral out of control. What follows is a strange, gut-wrenching landmark of science-fiction, filled with rad bikes and an absurd amount of destruction. Its lavish animation is unrivaled even now, and its tale of militaristic overreach and the hubris of unchecked technological progress remains oddly prescient - especially considering that Tokyo will play host to the Olympic games in 2020, just like it did in Akira.

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