There are so many anime films out there that it can confuse newcomers. When newcomers to anime ask where to start watching, most fans usually shove a series at them or a manga and call it a day. While this might work, most people don't have the time or the attention span to really dedicate themselves to a series that may go towards 100 chapters or anime episodes.
So, why not movies? Movies are typically short, at maybe an hour and a half to two hours, and are focused enough to offer a complete experience.
These are 10 anime films that newcomers will enjoy, and that older anime fans may want to revaluate or just enjoy.
Note: This article reflects the author's opinions and contains spoilers.
10 films like Akira and Your Name to introduce newcomers to anime
One of the most infamous anime films of all time, Akira tells the Mad Max-style story of a post-nuclear apocolypse earth and survival on it. It's cherished for its amazing animation, especially for the 1990s, its popularization of anime in the US (or at least helping it along), and its cyberpunk and dystopian world.
For what it's worth, it was also one of the most 'truly-adult' animated films at the time that didn't try to censor itself. This aided the idea that animation wasn't just for children. It is rather graphic, however, so be prepared for body horror towards the end if you watch it for the first time. This one is recommended for cyberpunk fans, of Blade Runner and the like.
2) Studio Ghbili films
Studio Ghbili is an animation studio akin to Disney in Japan, with Hayao Miyazaki even citing several Disney films as inspirations.
If one must start a newcomer with any mainstream anime film, pick any Ghibli film and they'll be set! Whether it's the odd-but-wholesome Spirited Away, the more challenging Princess Mononoke, or even Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, there's sure to be a classic for almost everyone.
3) Your Name
Does anyone remember the film Freaky Friday? It was about a teenage girl and her mother swapping bodies and getting a handle on the pitfalls, trials, and tribulations of each other's lives.
Your Name is that, but in the romantic genre, where a city boy and a girl in the countryside swap bodies. Aside from the relatable story of love despite class differences and the fantastical elements, the musical score is heartbreaking. It is also the third highest grossing anime film of all time.
4) The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Similar to Tokyo Revengers and other similar time travel stories, The Girl who Leapt Through Time may have an odd time travel story, but it's still a heartfelt anime film about making mistakes and trying to fix them.
It's a story of a girl who gains the ability to travel through time and uses it for frivilous actions, and being left to deal with the consequences afterward. Similar to Back to the Future or Doctor Who, newcomers and older anime fans who love time travel stories will love this one.
5) Perfect Blue
For newcomers willing to explore the anime medium and particularly seeking for a darker anime, Perfect Blue is the perfect choice. It is a psychological thriller in the vein of Face/Off or Fatal Attraction. It recounts the horrifying ordeal of a Japanese idol being stalked and suffering psychosis after a series of brutal murders are committed in her name. Similar to the Stephen King novel Misery, the killer is at first believed to be a stalking fan but the conclusion wrecks that assertion.
The film deals with murder, mental health issues, and attempted s*xual assault. It's perfect for thriller and murder mystery fans (and Death Note fans), plus the animation still holds up. It effectively delves into the less glamorous aspects of celebrity life, following Mima Kirigoe's career as a pop idol turned actress. As her mental health deteriorates, she becomes her own worst enemy, resulting in a captivating drama that will keep viewers guessing until the end.
6) Cowboy Bebop
One of the franchise entries here, Cowboy Bebop movie is a must for sci-fi and bounty hunter fans. Though it's part of a series, no prior knowledge is required to enjoy the film since it's a prequel to the original series.
Fans will recognize the characters and newcomers will get introduced to everyone from Faye to Spike. Sci-fi and bounty hunting tropes are also flipped in the movie.
7) The Wind Rises
The Wind Rises is a different kind of anime film, being an animated autobiography of the Mitsubishi A5M and A6M Zero aircraft designer, Jiro Horikoshi. It's also one of the last films Hayao Miayaki (of Studio Ghibli fame) made before he retired.
Though Miyazaki has since come out of retirement as of 2017 to direct How do you Live? (releasing in 2023), The Wind Rises is still worth watching as an animated autobiography. As it's an adaption and not a straight documentary, there will be edits or omissions, but it's still a film worth watching for the simple idea of seeing someone who wants to fly.
8) Ghost in the Shell
Like Cowboy Bebop, this is the second franchise anime film that requires no prior knowledge. While Ghost in the Shell as a franchise is older than the film, it's still worth watching for the cyberpunk visuals, narration, and musical score.
It's based in 2029's Japan, and follows Motoko Kusanagi as she hunts down a mysterious Puppet Master. It's got cyborgs, hacking, and philosophical themes about self identity in a technologically-advanced world. Fans of cyborgs and futuristic themes would love this one.
9) Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
The third and final franchise anime film on this list, Lupin III is a series about thieves, caricatures and cartoons trying to make money while avoiding detectives. The Castle of Cagliostro anime film was the first ever project that was directed by Miyazaki and is still considered great due to its narration and sense of humor.
The plot involved Lupin, Jigen, and Goemon being sucked into disrupting an arranged marriage after trying to get counterfiet money made real.
It's a fun ride from beginning to end for everyone that loves Robin Hood and James Bond combined.
10) Tokyo Godfathers
From the same director as Perfect Blue, but very different, Tokyo Godfathers is a film about three homeless people raising a baby. It's more positive and upbeat then Perfect Blue and definitely says a lot about the human condition with the protagonists being homeless.
It helps that the story is also good and heartwarming to watch. This one is for people that like comedy and magical realism in their films.