Anime Day - Top Anime Films

For Anime Day, we asked David Ames to come up with another list, this time of his favourite Anime films so here's his top 10... oh, and another top 5... ok, it's another top FIFTEEN list...

I have loved anime ever since I was in the fourth grade. I was diagnosed with a pretty serious auto-immune disease, and so I was only allowed to be at school for half days. I would go to my grandparents’ house every afternoon, and there I would have to lay down and rest. Luckily, I was greeted with Batman: The Animated Series, which was then followed by Ronin Warriors. I had never seen something so intense and deep, while portraying such emotion. From here, I searched out films to fill the void, especially when I couldn’t find a series to watch. My first real exposure was to Ninja Scroll, at the ripe age of 13, which was definitely far too young. That being said, Ninja Scroll caused me to see anime as not just a series format, but a full-fledged feature medium. Here are my top 15 favorite anime films, in no particular order.

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Read David's full review as part of our #Hallow-vent Calendar 


When speaking about anime, there are a very short list of famous films that will be mentioned. Among that list is Akira, which is considered a landmark film in the categories of Japanese animation, animated sci-fi and fantasy films, ad cyberpunk themed works. It is a testament to what anime can be when it is treated as a serious genre, and is considered responsible for the explosion of anime in western culture, especially in the United States. The film follows childhood friends Kaneda and Tetsuo, both members of a Japanese motorcycle gang, as they interact with an oppressive, overreaching government. When Tetsuo accidentally interacts with a young child who has escaped from a government facility, Tetsuo is taken as well because of this contact, and slowly he starts to manifest incredibly powerful psychic abilities. Kaneda has to stop his friend who has grown mad with power, leading to one of the most memorable battles in film history. This movie is a staple and should be seen by everyone, not just anime fans.

Grave of the Fireflies

Have you ever thought to yourself, “Damn, I wish I could be the saddest I’ve ever been?” Well if you answered “yes,” you are in luck. Animated and released under the Studio Ghibli umbrella, Grave of the Fireflies is a stark, brutal portrayal of post-WWII Japan. The protagonist, teenager Seita, cares for his young sister, Setsuko, after their mother is killed in a firebombing. The rest of the film chronicles their journey through the bombed out landscape of Japan, struggling to find food and to stay alive, healthy, and safe. This film is an amazing achievement, but is also arguably one of the most brutally depressing works ever created. When you watch this, because you should, be prepared with boxes of tissues, because this film is unflinching.

Ghost in the Shell

Another film that is lauded as one of the greatest achievements in Japanese animation is Ghost in the Shell. The film is a landmark for sci-fi and fantasy films, as well as cyberpunk works. The most spellbinding aspect of this film is the incredible animation which is a combination of cel animation and CGI. The film follows Major Motoko Kusanagi, an assault team leader who works with the government to assassinate specific targets and help to keep the peace. The film is incredibly poignant, raising serious questions about the dangers of technology, and the existence of the soul. It is beautiful to look at and really causes you to think about the world and your place in it.

Perfect Blue

Read David's full review as part of our #Hallow-vent Calendar 

Ninja Scroll

I know that people looking at this list will just say that I chose all the popular movies, but I can’t help it. Ninja Scroll was my first experience with an anime movie. It is drawn very well, and the music is so good. The story of the film takes place in feudal era Japan, like most ninja films, and follows Jubei, an acclaimed and feared swordsman. Throughout the film, Jubei battles the Eight Devils of Kimon, a group of incredibly powerful ninja with special abilities, as they try to overthrow the shogunate. This film is a must watch, and is part of the wave of films, including Akira and Ghost in the Shell, which caused the explosion of interest in Japanese Anime in the west.

Princess Mononoke

Once again, we visit a studio Ghibli film, my personal favorite, and look at arguably one of the greatest anime directors of all time: Hayao Miyazaki. This film is a treatise on the way humans manipulate and destroy the environment for their own selfish gain. Ashitaka, a prince who has been cursed with a strange sickness which is enveloping his arm and mutating him, travels through feudal Japan looking for a cure. In his journey he encounters the war between the industrialized people of the area and the animal and nature gods. Encountering the noble Lady Ebosha, Ashitaka learns that a young girl, San, has been raised by the wolves of the forest and despises humanity. He falls in love with San, and as his curse worsens, he tries to stop the war, save San, and stop Ebosha and her people from killing the Great Forest Spirit. This film is one of Ghibli’s most critically acclaimed films with a star-studded English voice cast. The animation is striking and the film is a poignant and impressive piece of philosophical fiction.

Blood: The Last Vampire

While this film is the shortest, by far, on this list, Blood: The Last Vampire holds a special place in my heart (and no, it isn’t just because of vampires). The animation is gorgeous and has inspired numerous directors and writers in the genre. It is a short, 45-minute feature that takes place in 1966. Saya, a young girl brandishing a samurai sword, hunts bat-like creatures the film calls Chiropterans. She is tracking a group of them, and so she enrolls in the school on Yokota Air Base, where three have taken refuge. Not only is the film beautiful to look at, it is also written very well, with a tight story that flows perfectly without the use of filler. Also, if you aren’t already sold, just know that the opening scene on the train is one of my favorite scenes in all of cinema.


Have you tried LSD? IF you haven’t, just settle in to watch Paprika and you may get a decent idea of the experience. Paprika is a mind-trip of a movie that follows a research psychologist, Dr. Atsuko Chiba, as she performs a new type of therapy called Dream therapy. This new treatment utilizes a machine called a DC Mini which allows the psychologist to enter the patient’s dreams. Atsuko uses her alter ego, Paprika, to enter into the dreams of her patients and she is very successful, but stumbles upon a crime that has been committed. As the film progresses, things become more and more hectic, dreams begin to merge, and Paprika begins to lose herself. This film is visually impressive and contains enough craziness to keep you interested for its entirety. As the last film of acclaimed director Satoshi Kon (Ghost in the Shell, Perfect Blue), it is a psychedelic trip that is so much fun to witness.


Memories is a science fiction anthology film that actually borders on horror in a lot of ways. The film is made up of three short films. I don’t want to mention too much about each of the shorts but I will say that the very first, Magnetic Rose, is easily the best of the three. Magnetic Rose follows two astronauts who respond to a distress signal and show up to an abandoned space station. The inside of the station is pristine but there are no signs of life. The second film, Stink Bomb, chronicles what happens to a researcher when he takes some pills he thinks are for the flu, but they are actually part of a weapons program. The third film, Cannon Fodder, is a look at a highly armed and militarized society and the brainwashing effect the society has on one of its children. This collection is a marvel and is listed 68th on Animage Magazine’s top 100 Anime films of all time.

Wicked City

This film is one of two on the list that are incredibly adult, sometimes bordering on hentai, but it is such a great movie that I can look past that heavy amount of fan service. The film takes place in the late 90s and exists with the premise that the Earth shares its world with a secret world of Demons. The Black Guard, an elite force of peacekeepers, are tasked with protecting the boundary between the two worlds and stopping the Demons from encroaching and taking over. It is highly sexualized but don’t let that keep you from enjoying the surprisingly engrossing story.

Armitage III: Poly Matrix

Another in the realm of science fiction and cyberpunk, Armitage is another one of those films that raises questions about the nature of humanity and the existence of souls. Policeman Ross Sylibus moves to Mars to escape the memories of his partner’s murder at the hands of a robot. When he joins the Martian police force, he is made partners with a young woman named Armitage. When Ross arrives on Mars, he notices he is on the same flight with the last country singer in the universe, Kelly McCanon, but when Ross and Armitage chase down a strange person carrying a suitcase dripping with blood, they discover the body of the real Kelly McCanon, and learn that there is a new type of android, one that is indistinguishable from humans. The rest of the film shows their partnership as they attempt to save the newest models from being exterminated, as they are sentient and are more human than not. This show is very much a noir and contains a wonderful story and compelling characters.

Armitage: Dual Matrix

A sequel to Armitage III, Dual Matrix continues the story of Ross and Armitage, as their life becomes more complicated. This film takes place several years after the first, and shows the relationship of the couple and the life of their daughter, Yoko. When the government develops newer and more powerful androids, Ross and Armitage must defeat them, even though they appear to be supremely outmatched both in skill and technological advancement. The animation in this film is beautiful and once again mixes classic with CGI. I can’t give away too much without spoiling a lot of the events in the first film but this is one of those rare instances where I feel that the sequel is actually better than the original. Once again, the same existential questions are presented and the existence of humanity and what makes us good is pondered.


Kite is the other of the overtly sexual films on this list, although most people can only find the recut version of this movie, where almost all of the sex is cut. This is actually a good thing because the main character engages in these acts when she is in her early teens. Despite the controversy, the story of the film is great. It follows Sawa, a young girl who is orphaned, through a grizzly double murder, at a young age and is taken in by a police officer who trains her to be an unstoppable and unlikely assassin. While she kills anyone she is told to, she eventually understands that maybe everything she has learned has been a lie, and she has to investigate everything on her own in hopes of finding the truth. If you can find the version without the sex, this movie is definitely one worth watching. While the sex scenes actually do add to the impact of the story, they are somewhat too hard to watch because of the age of Sawa.

Spirited Away

We end this list [and our Anime Theme Day - Ed] by visiting Studio Ghibli for a third time. Spirited Away is once again an incredibly revered, landmark anime film directed by Miyazaki. The film’s protagonist, 10-year-old Chihiro Ogino, is a grouchy young girl who is being forced by her parents to move. While they travel, Chihiro accidentally enters the world of the spirits, and her parents are transformed into swine. The film then follows her as she navigates her way through the Shintoh folklore world trying to save her parents and escape. It is an interesting film that is both beautiful and thought-provoking. The story has been looked at through many lenses and some feel that it is a metaphor for larger ideas, but that is up to the viewer to determine. Just know that there is a reason this film is so popular, and that Disney even agreed to release it in America. It is such an important movie that I use it in my film classes, both at the high school and collegiate level.

Follow David on Twitter @TheDavidMAmes

Image - IMDb (Paprika)
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