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Travel back to your childhood with these 7 classic anime films

There’s something about old Japanese animations that appeal so much to the public. Even with its blurry visual quality, the stories and the music is something awfully familiar that people can’t help but be reminded of their childhood days. There’s nothing like waking up early in the morning with your breakfast warm and ready, then turning on the TV to watch your favorite show.

Even now, people are obsessed with Japan’s contemporary anime. The popularity of titles such as “Your Name” and “Weathering With You” prove that the country’s animation industry still has what it takes to draw viewers in, no matter their age. They just have that quality that captures childlike notions of grandeur and imagination.

If you’re looking for some modern classics to watch on your off-days, here are 7 anime films you can check out. Ranging from the ‘80s to the early 2000s, these titles are sure to evoke nostalgia and bring you back to your younger years.

1. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Film totoro
via Studio Ghibli

Set in 1950s Japan, “My Neighbor Totoro” is a film about two young girls, Satsuki and Mei, who move with their father to the countryside to be closer to their ailing mother’s hospital. One day, Mei meets a big, fluffy spirit deep in the forest. He introduces himself in a series of roars, which she interprets as Totoro. He eventually meets both children in the rain, where Satsuki offers him an umbrella and starts an unlikely friendship.

The film’s titular character, Totoro, became such a cultural icon after its release. This is one of Japan’s most well-known classics, and one of the best works from Studio Ghibli. It perfectly encapsulates the magic and innocence of childlike imagination. It also speaks of connections between the human realm and spirits of nature.

2. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Film grave of the fireflies
via IMDB

A heartbreaking story of two siblings, “Grave of the Fireflies” narrates the struggles of 14-year-old Seita and 4-year-old Setsuko during World War II. The film is told as a flashback to the events that led to its very first scene. The original novel from which it was derived is a quasi-autobiographical account of the author’s experiences with his sister during the war.

The movie was produced and released together with “My Neighbor Totoro” as a double-feature film. “Grave of the Fireflies” received critical acclaim for its emotional telling of the consequences of war and tragedy to children.

One of its promotional posters also trended after fans discover a hidden element that marks the heartbreaking nature of the story. The poster features Seita and Setsuko in a grass field admiring the fireflies. After bringing up the saturation of the photo, a B-25 bomber plane is revealed overhead and some fireflies are actually incendiary bombs.

Film bomber plane poster
via Twitter | @comicloverhouse

3. Akira (1988)

Film akira
via Cine 21

“Akira” is a dystopian action film set in post-apocalyptic Japan. In the year 2019 after World War III, a man named Tetsuo becomes injured due to a motorcycle accident and is taken to a top-secret government facility. He develops powers similar to Akira, an esper who destroyed Tokyo in 1988. His friend Shōtarō Kaneda, together with his biker gang and other espers, band together to stop Tetsuo’s psionic psychopathy.

This cyberpunk anime is widely credited in introducing Japanese animations to the West. It is also one of the first Japanese anime to have the dubbing recorded prior to the animation and has a record-breaking number of colors used during that time due to its mostly nighttime setting.

4. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Anime Film Classics kiki
via Studio Ghibli

Another one of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli classics, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” tells the story of the 13-year-old witch, Kiki, who is preparing to set off for her one-year independence to complete her training. She settles in a seaside European town and is hired to aid a pregnant baker in exchange for food and lodging. Kiki establishes her flying delivery business.

This movie is a coming-of-age classic for teenage girls as it talks about growing up, gaining confidence and becoming independent. It retains its uplifting and lighthearted quality as Kiki encounters difficulties but eventually overcomes them on her own.

5. Perfect Blue (1997)

Anime Film Classics perfect blue
via The Classics

A haunting psychological thriller, “Perfect Blue” is about a popstar named Mima, who announces her departure from her idol group “CHAM!”. Together with her manager Rumi and her agent Tadokoro, she gears for a career change into becoming an actress. However, a lot of her fans seem to be against this decision. All the pressures from work, getting stalked, and a series of murders seem to be causing Mima to spiral into insanity.

“Perfect Blue” is a cult favorite in the horror and thriller genre, and even served as inspiration for the famous bath scene in the film “Requiem for a Dream”. The satisfying succession of twists within this anime perfectly delivers the feeling of losing one’s grip on reality.

6. Ocean Waves (1993)

Anime Film Classics ocean waves
via Studio Ghibli

Coming home for a high school reunion, college student Taku travels back to his sleepy hometown when he catches a glimpse of a familiar woman in the train station. “Ocean Waves” narrates his high school days, back when he was enamored by the beautiful transfer student that drove him and his good friend apart.

This film was Studio Ghibli’s attempt to give the reins to their younger staff, granting them the opportunity to showcase their talents. The result features a quaint, slow-paced love story between young students. Its muted and soft approach to storytelling is well-praised by viewers, but is also the reason why it is easily overlooked.

7. Spirited Away (2001)

Anime Film Classics spirited away
via Studio Ghibli

Arguably the most successful and well-known anime film, “Spirited Away” follows the story of Chihiro, who is moving to the countryside with her parents. Along the road, they encounter an abandoned theme park, and a restaurant with its owner nowhere to be found. After darkness descends, the girl finds out that she has entered the world inhabited by spirits.

This film boasts a fantastical telling of Chihiro’s adventures as she works in the bathhouse of spirits, trying to win her parents’ human forms back. She meets a lot of interesting characters in her journey, which adds to the magical feel of the whole piece.

“Spirited Away” held the title of highest-grossing Japanese film of all time for years until it was taken by “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train” in 2020. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards back in 2003, being the first and only hand-drawn and non-English language animated film to win in that category.




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