The 10 best movies like ‘Spirited Away’

Spirited Away
Image via Studio Ghibli


It has been two whole decades since Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away took the world by storm. The acclaimed fantasy story is often cited as one of the greatest animated films of all time and was just recently dethroned as the highest-grossing Japanese film ever. 

An inspiring story about adventure, love, loss, and magic, Spirited Away continues to receive acclaim and recognition even today and is credited as one of the films that brought anime to the forefront of cinema. It is the only non-English film to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and spurred immense interest in the anime art form, as well as the work of director Hayao Miyazaki.

While fans of the film have fallen in love over and over again with the antics of Chihiro and Haku, there are several other films (by Studio Ghibli and more) that offer an amazing escape story and beautiful animation. If you loved Spirited Away (who didn’t?), be sure to check out these other exciting tales with similar plots.

Ponyo On the Cliff by the Sea 

Ponyo is the magical story of a boy and a goldfish. When five-year-old Sosuke rescues a goldfish he finds trapped in a bottle, little does he know that the goldfish is actually the daughter of a powerful sea wizard. Ponyo falls in love with Sosuke and uses her father’s magic to transform herself into a young girl with human features. She does her best to remain in Sosuke’s home and become a part of his family, but her disappearance from the sea brings misfortune, and her father has to do everything within his power to bring her home. It’s a remarkable tale about magic, and family, and is adored by fans and critics of all ages. 

Arrietty the Borrower

Acclaimed for its stunning animation and music, Arrietty spurred not one, but two English language versions and tells the heartwarming tale of an adventurous 14-year-old girl, Arrietty Clock. She lives with her family in the recesses of a suburban house without the homeowners’ knowledge. For years, the physically tiny Clock family has come out only at night to “borrow” items from their unofficial landlords. Young Arrietty is eventually discovered by Shawn, the son of the homeowners, and a wonderful friendship is born. While Shawn is somewhat of an outcast within his own family, he and Arrietty’s new friendship could pose a great risk for the rest of her family. 

The Cat Returns 

Another Studio Ghibli classic, this movie tells the story of a young girl named Haru, who saves a supposedly simple cat from an accident. She is alarmed to find out that not only can the cat speak, he is the crown prince of the Cat Kingdom, and the son of the Cat King. Word of Haru’s heroics have impressed the feline kingdom so much that she is taken to the Cat Kingdom to marry the prince. Haru plans to find a way to prevent the marriage and escape the Cat Kingdom, as she slowly begins transforming into one herself. Much like Spirited Away, The Cat Returns focuses on a heroine who is transported to another world and must face various challenges in order to escape and return home.

Howl’s Moving Castle 

Yet another classic and critically acclaimed blockbuster from Studio Ghibli, director Hayao Miyazaki has said that Howl’s Moving Castle is his favorite creation. The 2004 film follows a young hatmaker, Sophie, who is cursed by a mystical witch and becomes an old woman. Hellbent on returning to her youthful appearance, Sophie begins a journey to find a cure, and all roads lead to the wizard Howl, who is apparently her key to breaking the curse. Unfortunately, the proud wizard has other matters of his own and enlists the old Sophie in his plan to take down the king. 

Mary and the Witch’s Flower 

Mary Smith, a 10-year-old, girl comes to live with her aunt but soon finds her new home to be quite dull, but soon, in a bid to find a missing cat in the woods, she discovers a magical garden and a broomstick. The broomstick picks Mary up and whisks her up to the sky and into Endo College, a secret magical school for witches. Although the headmistress of Endo College welcomes Mary with open arms, Mary soon finds out that the school and headmistress are not at all what they appear to be.

A Whisker Away

Miyo, who is secretly in love with her classmate Hinode, uses the powers of a mysterious mask to transform into a cat. Miyo believes that Hinode cannot love her in her human form because she is too big a personality, in contrast with his gentle and soft persona. Trouble eventually ensues when Miyo begins to lose herself, becoming more and more like a cat, and now she must find a way to free herself before she is permanently transformed.

My Neighbor Totoro 

The story follows two sisters, Satsuki and Mei, who have just moved to the countryside. During their adventures in the forest, they find and befriend a large and gentle forest spirit named Totoro. Totoro introduces Satsuki and Mei to the spirit world of the forest. One day, Mei goes missing and Satsuki calls on the help of her new friends to find her, as a journey of kindness, love, and family takes over. A movie filled with magic and adventure, My Neighbor Totoro may have been released in 1988, but will still pull modern watchers into another reality.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

High school student, Makoto Konno, finds out she has the ability to time travel to a few seconds before an incident and decides to use her newfound powers to her advantage. Just as Konno becomes comfortable with time jumping, she notices a number tattoo on her arm, which indicates how many more times she can leap. Konno begins to plan how to put everything in order before she is unable to time travel again.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices 

This remarkable story tells the tale of Asuna, a young girl that takes her leisure out in the woods. She uses her favorite possession, a blue crystal, as a diode to help her pick up radio signals. One day, she is saved from a bear attack by a mysterious boy named Shun, who tells her that he is from Agartha, a land where the dead can be resurrected. At school, she finds that her substitute teacher, Mr. Morisaki, is obsessed with finding the country Agartha, and the two venture out on an adventure to locate it.  

Into The Forest of Fireflies’ Light 

The story centers on Hotaru, who visits her uncle for the summer. The six-year-old gets lost in the forest outside the village and is saved by a kind yokai named Gin. Gin is burdened by a curse that causes him to disappear if he is touched by a human, but regardless of the curse, Hotaru and Gin become close. After a few years, Hotaru realizes that Gin ages slower than humans while she grows and ages. She then begins to struggle to find a balance for her growing emotions towards Gin as their ages gradually converge.