Recommends: Top 20 Anime Films That Have Influenced Me
Updated: Dec 12, 2020
Anime had produced some of the best visuals, characters and storytelling since the dawn of cinema. But it currently isn’t as highly regarded as its western contemporaries, with an undeserved stigma that although semi-well-earned hardly does it justice. We have some superiority complex still ingrained deep within us that it’s only for children. But what of the brilliant family films that are timeless? What of the mature series and films that have been produced, tackling heavy themes with impressive visuals and amazing storytelling. Because animation has something over live-action; an animator can make a character feel a multitude of emotions in a single frame that the human being is unable to portray. Can bring to life worlds we could only dream of, achieve amazing feats, emote even the most unusual of creatures. It’s why I cry over a group of dinosaurs (The Land Before Time of course).
Yes Japanese animation is different to us, but rooted in philosophies, history and culture of japan it’s not surprising that it may be strange on first viewing. After a while, you begin to see we’re not all that different. Under the thumb of greats such as Hayao Miyazaki, Mamoru Hosoda and Satoshi Kon to name a few, the stories come alive, the characters unforgettable with art and animation that can leave you blown away. Anime is some of the most exciting output currently available. Some of it is family friendly, desiring to capture the child within, some of it enlightens us of a culture far more complex than our own, some of it makes us laugh until our sides hurt proving a joke is a joke no matter where you go and some of it tackles dark subject matter that gets right down deep into our souls. There is so much to choose from.
That is why today I want to list my most influential anime. Only in recent years have I rediscovered a deep love for it and appreciated it on an artistic level and a writer POV. It inspires me, makes me think outside of the box with my own storytelling. It can be the highest form of art. And it means a lot to me. I hope from reading this maybe it can pique your own interest.
20. Hal (Dir. Ryoutarou Makihara, 2013)
I start this list off with a short film. Running at about an hour, it tells the tale of young woman mourning the loss of her husband, Hal. Sent to help her though her grief is an android, which has been crated to take on the appearance of her lost love, who must learn what it means to be human. It’s a bittersweet story that truly captures the array of heartache one must face when coming to terms with the loss of a loved one, making the most of its short run time and packing plenty of intrigue and heart into it. Hal isn’t a favourite of mine but I find I think of it more often than I expected.
19. Pokemon: The First Movie (Dir. Kunihiko Yuyama, 1998)
I did say this list was influential, that doesn't always mean high art. The gateway series when I didn’t even know what the term meant. I loved and still love Pokémon. Commercialism at its finest, the original series still managed to be funny and heartwarming all in one with epic action sequences and a fabulous soundtrack (of which I know most of the words – I own it and I carry no shame in admitting to that). But the film was a landmark moment. Especially for my fragile childhood constitution. I can recall seeing this in the cinema as a little girl with family friends, so excited by the idea that a show I liked could have film too, up in a box at the back and feeling like royalty… royalty that was reduced to tears. You know what bit. The film just lingered with me for far too long, my tiny mind blown. Ash Ketchum is summoned to a mysterious Island where he must face his toughest opponent yet, the Mighty Mewtwo. It explores the lore of the Pokémon world further, the deviousness of team Rocket and even gets pretty philosophical. It was the first anime I ever saw, I still lap it up.
18. I Want to Eat Your Pancreas (Dir. Shin'ichirô Ushijima, 2018)
Sounds like a horror movie right? If I told you it wasn’t would you believe me? An introverted young man, whilst attending a routine check-up at the hospital, runs into a popular classmate of his and discovers she is dying of a pancreatic disease. She befriends him as her confidant, keeping her secret from everyone else and asking him to join her in all the things she wants to do before she dies. I suppose it’s a horror movie for your tear ducts. This heartwarming film despite being rather upfront about its conclusion somehow draws you into the lives of these two people and how they change one another for the better. I cried. The characters are sweet and likeable with touching scenes between the two protagonists.
17. Magnetic Rose (Dir. Koji Morimoto, 1995)
This one kind of is a horror movie; a psychological nightmare. The first of three in Katsuhiro Otomo’s anthology film Memories, it’s highly regarded as not only the best of the bunch but one of the best Anime films of all time. It follows a salvage freighter crew who respond to a distress beacon somewhere deep in space, but upon boarding what appears to be an abandoned ship, paranormal happenings begin to occur. Written by the late, great Satoshi Kon and directed by Studio 4 co-founder, Koji Morimoto, it explores the cusp of delusion and desire, the torments of the past. Magnetic Rose is eerie and Gothic, with distinctive visuals so different from modern Anime and an amazingly developed crew of characters despite its brief forty-five minute runtime. Not a minute is wasted and the story is perfectly confined, you won’t forget its unsettling imagery and powerful conclusion and feels very much like Kon’s work.
16. Barefoot Gen (Dir. Mori Masaki, 1983)
Unfairly compared to the later Grave of the Fireflies (Takahata, 1988), but both amazing in their own right, Barefoot Gen takes another perspective on the horrors of war. This time an adaptation of the manga and true-life experiences of the director, Hiroshima survivor Mori Masaki, it follows the aftermath of history’s biggest crimes against humanity. Gen must maneuvere his way through a ravaged landscape in search of food and shelter for his mother and newborn sister, unable to mourn the family they lost as they struggle to survive.
This isn’t an easy watch, all the childhood innocence and tender family scenes, despite the fact that they are struggling with food-shortages and malnutrition (yeah, this is still the happier part) are indulged in the introduction to make way for a truly upsetting and harrowing story. Although famous for its sequences of the bomb eradicating everything in its path, the image of Enola Gay as it falls gives me chills, it is the scenes after that are truly haunting; the Gen desperately trying to recover his father, older sister and younger brother as the latter cries in pain, the gruesome depiction of radiation poisoning and the decay in the world surrounding them. I urge everyone to see Barefoot Gen, listen to the story from a true survivor, and learn from the history we should never forget.
15. The Night is Short, Walk on Girl (Dir. Masaaki Yuasa, 2017)
Something lighter, methinks. I think this came out pretty late to the West so I have only had the pleasure of seeing it recently. Experimental in visuals, distinctively bright in colour and outlandish, it follows ‘Senpai’ as he seeks out the girl of his dreams, never able to keep up with her on the longest night of their lives as she goes from one exciting event to the next. About enjoying the bloom of youth and reigniting that vitality within yourself, everyone the girl meets lives change for the better. Meanwhile, ‘Senpai’ moves from conundrum after the other, never seeming to catch a break. This film was a lot of fun, satisfying and exciting with great characters and designs, relentless in its pace and full of funny scenes for all to enjoy.
14. Anthem of the Heart (Dir. Tatsuyuki Nagai, 2015)
We’ve all felt like our words have had a cataclysmic impact. That it was better if we never said anything at all. Anthem of the Heart explores that further in this tender fairy-tale. A talkative, whimsical girl witnesses her father’s affair as a child and is blamed for the erosion of her parents’ marriage after telling her mother what she saw. Feeling guilty, a spell is cast on her by a magical egg which means if she ever speaks out she will suffer crippling stomach pains. As an adolescent, she is now an introverted and lonely person who carried the guilt of the effects of her words had on those around, her but is forced to take part in the charity committee which is planning on holding an original musical. She must come out of her shell, make friends she’s never been able to make and learn that she can have a voice. I love this story, taking a very simple concept and weaving something imbued with magical realism and heart. If you’re as gobby as me, it gets you right to the bone and brings a little tear to the eye along the way.
13. The End of Evangelion (Dir. Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki, (1997)
It all comes tumbling down. Anno is a genius… and possibly a massive troll. His Neon Genesis Evangelion series is infamous, considered one of the greatest and most influential anime of all time, followed by two significant films and now a new Re:Build series expected to conclude next year. But his finale to the acclaimed series, or alternative finale to some as he initially attempted a more optimistic ending in the series, full of such misery and self-loathing, is his masterwork. Anno suffered with severe mental health issues throughout production of the series and the film and that turmoil is captured here. Yet it makes the work so much rawer and heartbreaking.
Following Shinji as he is unwillingly recruited by NERV to pilot one of a series of Synthetic Mecha Angels known as Evangelion's and of which only fourteen-year-olds can synchronise with, he must help the government to fight the apocalyptic ‘Angel’ beasts that have been sighted with ever more frequency since the First Impact, fifteen years prior. A lot happens before the finale, with an array of characters trying to help him come to terms with his duty whilst being neglected by his genius, maniacal father and suffering from what is quite clearly crippling depression and low self-esteem. Poor Shinji. There’s a lot of themes, a lot of great scenes, brief moments of joy that are overwhelmed by pure misery (It also has one of my favourite couples in the form of Kaji and Misato - Close second Kaji and his Watermelons).
It’s a huge franchise, with an excellent cast that people still discuss twenty-five years on. But good luck finding anyone who can agree on which ending is definitive amongst the various re-imaginings and alternative takes Anno has chosen to explore. I know what I took from the show and this is my favourite conclusion. Picking up where we left off in the show and a little in the prior film Death and Rebirth, The End of Evangelion is a series of unsettling imagery, Fanta-deaths, epic irony and mental trauma for every character who survived the series finale. Not to be watched on its own because it will make absolutely no sense, the amazing visuals from the show are even more breathtaking here with its bigger budget. You’re favourite characters are brutalised psychologically and physically in every which way in grand fashion and its soundtrack is pretty addictive; I’ve listened to Komm, Süsser Tod eight times today already.
12. Into the Forest of Firefly Lights (Dir. Takahiro Ômori, 2011)
Another short film running at just forty-five minutes, they’re minutes that will break you and prove that the Japanese are master storytellers. A young girl is lost in the woods and comes across a mask-wearing spirit, appearing as a young man, who helps her find her way out again. But she must not touch the spirit, for human contact can make him vanish from the world. As the years go by, visiting her uncle every summer, the young girl grows into the young woman, spending her holidays meeting up with the man who saved her. And then one night he invites her to the festival of the spirits. It’s a powerful tale of love and longing made all the more enticing by its beautiful score. I can’t say much more, but if it doesn’t move you, I’m sorry but we can’t be friends anymore.
Note: It’s a travesty that it has never had a DVD release over here, however it’s widely available through online sources. Let’s pray they’ll give it the release it deserves.
11. The Castle of Cagliostro (Dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1979)
Lupin III is at it again. One of the inspirations for character of Spike Spiegel (Cowboy Bebop - Yeah I mentioned it again, and it won't be the last time either), one of Miyazaki’s biggest hits outside of his native Japan, his feature-film debut and doesn’t count as a Ghibli film so I can put it on here! I love this madcap adventure based on the popular series Lupin the Third. Lupin discovers the money he has won at the casino is counterfeit and goes in search of the original forger. During his investigation, he is taken to Cagliostro where he comes across a plot involving a reluctant princess betrothed to a villain, legendary treasure and a dastardly Count. This one’s a great adventure, incredibly fun and exciting and not to be missed by Miyazaki fans.
10. Perfect Blue (Dir. Satoshi Kon, 1997)
Eat your heart out Black Swan. Aronofsky borrowed plenty from Satoshi Kon’s first feature film, the psychologically disturbing Perfect Blue. Following the story of an Idol who leaves her girl group to pursue an acting career and shed her ‘good girl’ image, she is stalked by a creepy fan and the lines between reality and nightmare seem to blur as her world comes undone at the seams. With Striking Kon visuals, an entity all of their own and a threat so unsettling you won’t be able to go a week without seeing his face in your dreams, I sincerely recommend this to anyone who is a fan of psychological horror. It’s the best of its kind and the perfect example of how Anime can tell grown-up stories with as much skill and impact.
9. Akira (Dir. Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988)
Speaking of Grown-up Anime, here’s the most influential film of all time that introduced the concept to the West. Ground-breaking in visuals (all drawn by hand, it used more frames per second than any Anime before, going grossly over budget but giving that seamless look that later films would imitate), big in story and epic in every sense of the word, Akira is legendary. Directed by the original Manga creator, Otomo masters the powerful bond between his characters as they face a dystopian future where the government has been conducting experiments on children to draw out their psychological abilities. Tetsuo, the underdog of the biker gang and best friend with the leader, Kaneda, is taken for these experiments which eventually unlock a power so great, it’s similar to the power of a mysterious figure Akira, an experimental child that ultimately brought on devastating destruction some years before. In an attempt to stop him, they turn their forces against him all the while Kaneda gets pulled into a massive conspiracy on the mission to save his friend.
An amazing film, its major flaw being that it was an adaptation of a five-hundred page manga that did not reach its conclusion until 1990. Therefore the film eventually loses the plot a little and decides to focus more on Kaneda and Tetsuo’s friendship. I’m fine with this; it’s what resonates most with me, made ever stronger by the striking visuals and an interesting, emotive soundtrack drawing from Indonesian gamelan origins and Japanese Noh theatre. It shouldn’t’ be missed, leaving you unsettled on its epic conclusion.
8. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (Dir. Yoshiaki Kawajiri, 2000)
One of the first non-Ghibli anime movies I watched and became obsessed with, this one has a soft-spot for me. Based on the third novel in the series by Hideyuki Kikuchi and the second of the minimal film incarnations D has had, it is set in the future where the dead have risen during a vast apocalypse. Now the residence of earth fear the night, Vampires and other monsters stalking the wastelands, live parasites leeching from the few towns that remain. But their numbers dwindle, with vampire hunters threatening their extinction. This tale follows the vampire hunter known only as D, a Dhampir (a half human/half vampire) who is contracted to retrieve the kidnapped daughter of a town official rumoured to have been abducted by the Vampire, Meirer Link. What follows is a race across the apocalyptic landscapes, facing various gruesome and grotesque battles in the quest to fulfil his contract.
Bloodlust has a visualisation I wish was more prominent in modern animations; moody and dark. Hard angles, that nineties aesthetic, Neo-Gothicism… it all deserves a renaissance. We deserve more Vampire Hunter D adaptations. This is my favourite of the two films, taking an unexpected turn and exploring an alternative vampire lore I find fascinating. I really wish they had made a cinematic series of these.
7. Tokyo Godfathers (Dir. Satoshi Kon, 2003)
Kon again; this time in a Christmas miracle comedy. Three homeless people made up of a former drag queen, a middle-aged alcoholic and a teen-age runaway, find a baby during the holidays and travel across Tokyo in search of its birth mother. They meet strange people along, learn more about themselves and have to face the past so that they can move on with the future. All the while the baby seems to be a blessing in disguise, a very lucky miracle. This really is a funny film, with brilliant characters that you’ll fall in love within the blink of an eye and the only festive anime I can think of that deserves a place as a holiday classic.
6. Ninja Scroll (Dir. Yoshiaki Kawajiri, 1993)
Excessive Violence – check. Thin Plot – check. Overtly Sexual scenes for little to no reason – check. Super awesome 90’s aesthetic – check. Fan favourite –check.
Gosh, I love this film! It’s hard to hate Ninja Scroll, it’s so wildly entertaining, brought to us by the same director as aforementioned Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and 1987’s rather famous Wicked City (A film that does not appear on this list for reasons including spider women shooting webbing from their *clears throat* - crazy stuff). Following the warrior Jubei and as he faces demonic Ninjas involved in a plot to overthrow the government or something, we are welcomed to a variety of amazingly executed fight scenes and brilliantly designed, incredible opponents gifted with various grotesque supernatural powers. It’s pretty impressive. Ninja Scroll is classier than its predecessor but not as refined as Kawajiri’s later hit. But it’s why we all love it. Everything is so extra. But it’s so cool in how it does it, you can be forgiving and just sit back and enjoy. Be ready for the particularly disgusting hornet Ninja – he makes my skin crawl no matter the occasion.
5. Wolf Children (Dir. Mamoru Hosoda, 2012)
Watch this, look me in the eye and tell me you didn’t cry. The story of woman falling for a wolf man and having two little wolf babies with him… Gosh I wish that was it. But after a tragic accident, she is left to raise the children on her own. She must deal with the challenges of motherhood, single parenting and raising wolves, allowing her children to choose their own destinies all the while worrying if she’s doing the right thing. Hosoda’s film is a love letter to all mothers and the influence they have over us; it’s heart-warming and emotional with a great soundtrack and lovely characters. I think we all appreciated our mothers a little bit more after this one.
4. Your Name (Dir. Makoto Shinkai, 2016)
Epic in every sense of the word, Shinkai’s greatest achievements is Your Name. His talents in composing stunning visuals (Also refer to his 2013 short film Garden of Words – that is crazy pretty) to awesome pop soundtracks whist taking well-known tropes and making it original, all come together in this body-swap romance. A pair of High school students, Taki and Mitsuha, starts switching bodies for no apparent reason, despite the fact that they live miles away from one another and have never met. They attempt to make the best of the situation, trying to improve each other’s lives, although very different and keeping one another updated with it. And then, one day, it all stops. Taki goes in search of Mitsuha to try and discover what happened to the girl he shared a life with.
I saw this in the theatres when it first came out and I was blown away during the entire thing, its sweeping score, Radwimps great original songs (Sparkle is the anthem for the film and un-skippable on every playlist – what a finale it provides, my heart skips a beat) and beautifully detailed animation was on a scale I hadn’t seen in an Anime. The story carries such a weight to it with characters you learn to love deeply and a romance that swells your heart, it’s the most perfect Shinkai ever gets.
3. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Dir. Shinichioro Watanabe, 2001)
I may be biased. It still doesn’t change the fact that this is a powerful film.
The Bebop crew are back; it’s like they never went away. A feature length episode really, what seems like a regular bounty for the team becomes an insidious opponent when the man they’re after is a mentally unstable ex-military officer now harbouring a large quantity of fatal nano-bots, that’s he is ready to release in a mass bio-terrorism incident on the Mars. They must stop him before his plan comes into fruition at the Halloween parade.
A bigger-budget and a brand new soundtrack (Gotta Knock A Little Harder is on par with any of the shows Kanno/Yamane/The Seatbelts collaborations, perfectly encapsulating the feel of the movie, the characters predicament and the melancholy any one who completed the show before watching this would have felt), the Bebop movie is awesome in every sense of the word. Watanabe gives us a better insight to the character of Spike (MY BOY!) by rivalling him against a man similar to himself, a man living in dream he can’t seem to wake up from. A great story, brilliant visuals even more lush than that of the series – those fight scenes are perfection – and satisfying character development for all the crew, it’s one of my favourite movies to revisit again and again. The film can be viewed on its own (sort of, it doesn’t introduce the characters – go watch the anime for that), with a completely new adventure for the Bebop crew, my only other recommendation it that it’s best viewed before episode 23, Brain Scratch, as watching after that doesn’t fit in the canon and watching after the series is for people in denial like myself.
2. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Dir. Mamrou Hosoda, 2006)
I think it’s clear from my rather long essay on the film and its director (check it out here) that I really love this film. Hosoda’s adaptation Yasutaka Tsutsui 1967 book of the same name, following a high-schooler who is suddenly given the ability to go back in time is a wonderful story of responsibility, coming-of-age and romance. The overall message of ‘Time Waits for No One’, he perfectly captures the idleness of youth and the fear of change as our protagonist wastes ‘Leaps’ on trivial matters to make her days a little easier and avoids otherwise difficult encounters. She’s who we would all be if given the ability as a teen; of course we would waste it. This comes at a weighty price and Hosoda avoids sentimentality as he forces our heroine to confront it. Always on the edge of my seat with each viewing, always deeply moved by the final act and playing the soundtrack on repeat after finishing: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is still my favourite Hosoda film.
1. A Silent Voice (Dir. Naoko Yamada, 2016)
Forgiveness, redemption and atonement. This is Shoya’s journey in Yamada’s powerful adaptation of Yoshitoki Ōima manga series of the same name (In Japanese’s its title, Koe no Katachi directly translates as The Shape of Voice which is beautiful). We open with the protagonist attempting suicide, a deeply unhappy and troubled high-schooler. Due to events in school years before, in which he bullied a deaf transfer student, Shouko, to impress his friends and eventually drove to her leave, he harbors weighty regrets, self-loathing and deep rooted shame. Although the other children participated, he was ostracised and since then has spent his school days isolated and alone. But a meeting with the girl he once bullied encourages him to reconnect with her and make up for a past.
This film heals me like none other can. Shoya’s tender relationship with Shouko, her ability to open herself to him despite his mistakes is truly heartwarming and along the way he is able to slowly reconnect with people again. The cast of characters have their own personal battles they have been coming to terms with since the events long ago. It’s a patient film, more reserved much like its cast and beautifully animated. It’s epic in small-scale, embracing tiny moments and movements, exploring the characters psyche just as much as the story they share.
Coming out around the same time as Your Name and equally as iconic, this film is softer, exploring internal struggle, a battle with self-hatred and depression. Its biggest message is learning to forgive oneself. I relate to Shoya more than I care to admit and its why resonates so deeply with me. I cry every time, it restores something in me I fear I’ve lost, and it’s everything that makes modern anime incredible.
There we go, my Top 20 Most Influential Anime. I hope you find something worth watching and don’t hesitate to check out my other lists of live-action Japanese cinema and Ghibli films! Look out for my future list exploring my favourite anime series, almost a companion piece to this one.
*Note: I’ve made the decision to exclude Studio Ghibli from this list because as I was drafting the films out, they began to take up at least six of the spots, rather unfairly, so this list is looking outside of them. We have to give the others a chance. They’re getting their own anyway - check it out here.
**Further Note: if you do decide to take me up on my recommendations, and this goes for series as well, hang about for the credits. A lot happens in anime and the credits more often than not conclude the story or there’s an after-credit scene, unlike a Marvel film that use it for teasers and gags. It actually sums up the story and only occasionally teases for more to come. So be patient as with any Japanese media and wait for the credits or you may miss something satisfying.
Akira. (1988). Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo. [DVD]. UK: Manga Entertainment
Anthem of the Heart. (2015). Directed by Tatsuyuki Nagai. [DVD]. UK: All the Anime
Barefoot Gen. (1983). Directed by Mori Masaki. [DVD]. UK: Optimum World.
Castle of Cagliostro. (1979). Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. [DVD]. UK: Optimum World.
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. (2001). Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe. [DVD]. UK: Manga Entertainment.
The End of Evangelion. (1997). Directed by Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki. [DVD]. UK: Manga Entertainment.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. (2006). Directed by Mamoru Hosoda. [DVD]. UK: Manga Entertainment.
Hal. (2013). Directed by Ryoutarou Makihara. [DVD]. UK: All the Anime
I Want to Eat Your Pancreas. (2018). Directed by Shin'ichirô Ushijima. [DVD]. UK: Manga Entertainment
Into the Forest of Firefly Lights. (2011). Directed by Takahiro Ômori.
Memories: Magnetic Rose. (1995). Directed by Koji Morimoto. [DVD]. UK: Sony Pictures
Ninja Scroll. (1993). Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. [DVD]. UK: Manga Entertainment.
Night is Short, Walk on Girl. (2017). Directed by Masaaki Yuasa. [DVD]. UK: All the Anime
Perfect Blue. (1997). Directed by Satoshi Kon. [DVD]. UK: All the Animes
Pokemon: The First Movie. (1998). Directed by Kunihiko Yuyama. [DVD]. UK; Manga Entertainment
A Silent Voice. (2016). Directed by Naoko Yamada. [DVD]. UK: All the Anime
Tokyo Godfathers. (2003). Directed by Satoshi Kon. [DVD]. UK: Sony Entertainment
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. (2000). Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. [DVD]. UK: Optimum World.
Wolf Children. (2012). Directed by Mamoru Hosoda. [DVD]. UK: Manga Entertainment.
Your Name. (2016). Directed by Makoto Shinkai. [DVD]. UK: All the Anime.