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Movies Like Spirited Away Every Anime Fan Needs To See

It's not easy for an international film to become a household name in the U.S., but Studio Ghibli's brilliant animated film Spirited Away crossed those boundaries with its inspired, magical storytelling and gorgeous animation. Back in 2002, Pixar's John Lasseter helped bring the film to an English audience, further cementing its place in 21st-century pop culture.

Spirited Away follows the melancholy, nervous young girl Chihiro (voiced by Daveigh Chase in the English dub) as she and her parents move to the country. When they get lost and find an abandoned town, her parents are turned into pigs, and Chihiro is left alone in the unfamiliar, scary bathhouse of the spirit world. A young boy, Haku (Jason Marsden), helps her while she's forced to survive and rescue her parents.

Beloved by critics and fans alike as one of the greatest animated movies of all time, Spirited Away definitely earns its Oscar for Best Animated Feature. So if you've just finished watching it on HBO Max and are hungry for more anime movies like it, check these films out.

Princess Mononoke

Before Spirited Away, there was Princess Mononoke.

If you've only seen one Studio Ghibli movie, it's probably writer-director Hayao Miyazaki's most famous film Spirited Away, but he has a whole host of spectacular anime movies to his credit. The harrowing, fantastical Princess Mononoke is one of the best from Studio Ghibli. It's a violent tale about the conflict between industrialist humans and the gods of the forest they're plundering for resources. At the center is the earnest prince Ashitaka (Billy Crudup), who's corrupted and looking for a cure, and the wild, wolf-riding San (Claire Danes), who's fiercely protective of her forest home.

The environmental and fantastical elements of Spirited Away carry over into Princess Mononoke, though the latter has a more violent bent to it with its fast-paced action scenes. The forest is fighting back, viciously, and doesn't play by the fairy-like rules of name-stealing, but by the blood of either side of the conflict. It's epic but grounded, where Spirited Away feels like stepping into another realm entirely.

Pom Poko

Though it shares the fantasy and environmentalism of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, 1994's Pom Poko is one of the most underrated of Miyazaki's films. This is perhaps because it flirts with being truly bizarre at times or maybe because the main characters are all talking raccoon dogs. However, while it spends more time in comedy than those films, it's also a wonderful, emotional tale about the urbanization and loss of Japanese countryside as told through the eyes of the spirited raccoon dogs who live there — the English dub calls them raccoons, but they're actually a different animal known as "tanuki" in Japanese.

A narrator tells the story over the course of several years, in a style emulating a war documentary. There's no central character as the film focuses on unique tanukis bent on preserving their forest by scaring away the construction crews encroaching on their home. To do this, they must resurrect the lost art of tanuki transformation and contort their bodies into everything from convincing human personas to giant floating skeletons. While Chihiro was taken against her will into the spirit world, the tanukis of Tama Hills bring the fantastical and weird to their unsuspecting neighbors in these creative changes.

Pom Poko has the flair of Japanese folklore that makes Spirited Away so enchanting, though in an entirely unexpected way that's sure to surprise and amuse viewers. Plus, it puts Miyazaki's common theme of environmentalism on the front lines of an unlikely battle that's in complete opposition to Princess Mononoke.

A Whisker Away

While Netflix's A Whisker Away's Japanese title directly translates to the very descriptive, "Wanting to Cry, I Pretend to Be a Cat," its English title is much more evocative of Spirited Away, albeit with a feline theme. That's not an entirely inaccurate description, though the two films differ in many ways. We won't spoil too much, but like Spirited Away, the anime film features a beautifully illustrated, yet dangerous fantasy world that the young protagonist, Miyo (Cherami Leigh), finds herself enveloped within.

The story begins with the bubbly and exuberant Miyo's enormous crush on her classmate Hinode (Johnny Yong Bosch). She isn't afraid to show it, which can be a little uncomfortable to watch as it borders on harassment, but this is mostly outweighed by the emotional strength of their very teenaged, but relatable struggles at home. Because while Miyo may present herself as an ecstatic ball of sunshine at school, she's not having an easy time adjusting to living with her stepmom and father. To cope, Miyo uses a gift from a mysterious cat to change into a cute kitten herself. She befriends Hinode in cat form, learning more about his own home life in the process, but there's a catch to the transformation that leads to an exciting adventure.

A Whisker Away has similar spooky fantasy and teenaged family dynamic elements to Spirited Away, though with a heavier emphasis on the romance.

Mirai

While Chihiro's adventure begins with her unwilling move to the country, 2018's Mirai takes a fantastical look at a different kind of big life change common for kids: the birth of a new sibling. The 4-year-old Kun (Jaden Waldman) tries to be a good older brother but becomes distressed and jealous after Mirai's arrival. However, a series of strange encounters with his family members from other time periods, including a teenaged Mirai and his young great-grandfather, give him a new perspective as he bounces through time.

Mirai brings magic to everyday life with its quite literal childlike wonder but is rooted in strong emotion. The charming family story comes from a place of heart, as writer-director Mamoru Hosoda wrote the story inspired by his own children, according to the Los Angeles Times. Plus, it was the first non-Studio Ghibli produced anime film to be nominated for the Academy Award of Best Animated Feature (via Deadline), though it lost to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

It's available for streaming on Netflix.

The Cat Returns

Made only a year after Spirited Away, 2002's The Cat Returns is one of the first Studio Ghibli films to not be directed by Hayao Miyazaki, but it has every bit of charm that his films have. Directed instead by Hiroyuki Morita, it's actually a fantastical spinoff of Miyazaki's 1995 romance Whisper of the Heart, with a mysterious cat figurine called the Baron connecting the two movies.

When high school student Haru saves a cat one day after school, she's thrust into an unwelcome engagement when it turns out he's the Prince of the Cat Kingdom. To get out of the alarmingly insistent arrangement, she seeks the help of the large, grumpy white cat Muta, the charming living cat figurine Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, and the living stone raven Toto. However, they're soon sucked into the Cat Kingdom, an alternate dimension that Haru must escape or forever be trapped in.

It's got the human in an alternate fantasy world storyline of Spirited Away combined with the amusing animation of cats talking, wearing cute outfits, and fighting each other. All around, it's a ton of fun and perfect for anyone who likes cats.