Chihiro and Kaonashi in 'Spirited Away'

Movies To Watch if You’re Obsessed With ‘Spirited Away’

I have this very odd memory of being at some guy’s party when I was younger, and as it was winding down, he put on Spirited Away. I commented that in my house, we grew up with Ghibli movies and that I was happy he was putting it on. But this guy was trying very hard to be cool, so he just rolled his eyes and told me to be quiet. I remember feeling so stupid at that moment, yet also so annoyed—why did this random white guy get to claim ownership of a thing he only liked to appear cool?

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Yes, it’s petty I bring this up now, but I can’t help but feel vindicated in a way. Whereas for some people, getting into Ghibli movies was just another niche way to feel different from the herd, for myself and other Asian kids, it was just another rite of passage. I’m not trying to gatekeep here: I’m trying to re-open the gates, to remind everyone that artsy and nerdy white kids aren’t the only ones who can watch these movies!

Spirited Away is a special movie, and everyone deserves to enjoy it—because it was made for everyone to enjoy. And, luckily for us, there are quite a few other movies like it!

The Boy and the Beast

Following a similar-ish story as Spirited Away, The Boy and the Beast tells the tale of a quasi-orphaned boy who ends up becoming involved in a separate world: the Beast Kingdom. Part kung fu movie, part found-family movie, and part coming-of-age movie, it does a lot of different things, and with an enchanting flourish.

What really connects it to Spirited Away, for me at least, is the fact that it also just kinda keeps going on, and on, and on. When the A-plot is done, you think things will wrap up with the B-plot, but then suddenly the C-plot comes in and takes the stage. Still, it plays out like a fairy tale and leaves you feeling inspired.


My personal favorite Mamoru Hosoda film is about a feisty little boy who’s having a hard time growing up—mostly because he’s spoiled and has a penchant for temper tantrums. His parents are young and trying their best, but with the addition of a newborn baby (the titular Mirai), everything is suddenly chaotic in the house.

His way of coping is through a sort of nostalgia magic: he begins to play in alternate realities and times, where his mom is a kid again and his new best friend (and his dog) is a vagabond-looking guy who just hangs out in his backyard. It’s so utterly charming and sweet—you can’t help but love the main character (even when he’s screaming his head off).

The Wolf Children

Hosoda really seems to like two things: stories about kids and stories about beasts. In this case, he combined the two via a family story about a young woman who falls in love with a wolf-man and has two hybrid-werewolf babies with him. When the wolf-man tragically dies, the family must persevere on their own.

It might sound like an iffy premise, but this movie always gets me teary-eyed. It’s utterly magical in its execution, and the visuals are gorgeous—from the rolling hills to the busy cityscapes. And hey, there’s something incredibly cute about watching babies turn into puppies on the fly.

Turning Red

Yes, I am biased and love this movie to little bits and pieces. But it still deserves a spot here, especially because it takes so much inspiration from Ghibli movies. Turning Red is all about what happens when you lose your way and your sense of control, which is the crux of Spirited Away‘s overall plot.

Plus, just like in Spirited Away, the imagery in Turning Red is largely reflective of Asian culture, and it honors this imagery in profound (and, at times, silly) ways. It’s definitely not as serious and grim as Spirited Away, but that’s one of its strong points: it captures a pre-teen girl’s wild range of emotions perfectly.

The Cat Returns

As one of the most underrated Ghibli movies, The Cat Returns also deals with an “Other World” plot. But instead of scary monsters, it raises a cuter alternative: cats! When a girl accidentally saves the prince of the Cat Kingdom, she becomes a sort of honorary guest there, and a delightful string of mayhem ensues.

It has a different artistic style from other Ghibli films, but softer and cuter, and it’s still animated (with phenomenal attention to detail). The Cat Returns is full of fantastical charm and will leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling (no pun intended).


Looking back on it, Ponyo got kind of a bad rap compared to other Ghibli movies. Yes, a lot of it was strange, abstract, and superfluous, but the same could reasonably be said about Spirited Away. Ponyo was just more directly aimed at little kids (although, ironically, I appreciate it more as an adult than I did as a kid).

There’s a lot to love about this little movie, from the gorgeous seascapes to Ponyo’s endless fascination with ham. Miyazaki really got creative with this movie, to the point where its imagery still sticks with me today—for instance, whenever it’s really hot outside, I always remember the part of the movie where Ponyo makes Sosuke’s toy boat grow bigger, and they sail around their flooded town, powering this toy boat with nothing but a candle. It’s utter magic.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Ah, yes, TikTok’s favorite Ghibli movie. Again, lemme just say: we Asian girls were on this movie wayyyyy before the cottagecore kids found out about it. Also—again, not gatekeeping—just, you know, remember your roots.

Howl’s Moving Castle has the same mature vibe to it as Spirited Away, but it somehow feels more grounded as a story. It’s romantic and adventurous, and I would say it’s one of Miyazaki’s most visually creative films to date. Everything about it is captivating, from the various worlds that were carefully designed, to the delightful dynamic between Howl and Sophie. It’s one of those movies I have to stop myself from rewatching, or else I’ll get sick of it, like baking your favorite cake and making sure you don’t eat it all yourself.

Where the Wild Things Are

Known colloquially as “that kid’s movie that isn’t really a kid’s movie and is more for adults who love kids,” this movie truly matches Spirited Away’s atmosphere like no other. Watching a little boy run around unprotected in a world of monsters gives you that same sense of anxiety. And it also gives you that same sense of awe and wonder, seeing the world through his eyes.

Yes, it’s a little weepy at times, but there really is something special to this movie. Not even just because Karen O worked on the soundtrack.

The Sea Beast

Maisie bonds with Baby Blue

I wrote a review on this film that better encapsulates my thoughts, but the short and sweet of it is: I haven’t felt such pure, creative joy watching a new kid’s movie in a long time, yet The Sea Beast managed to perfectly recreate these feelings.

Not only is the film beautiful to look at, it also plays on so many classic tropes in a way that feels neither derivative nor chaotic. It just works.

My Neighbor Totoro

I couldn’t not put Totoro on this list! If any Ghibli movie had to be saved as the best for last, it would be this one. Totoro made my and my sibling’s entire childhood. And unlike Spirited Away, which faces the darker fears of childhood, Totoro celebrates the highest, most whimsical points of those innocent days. There’s just nothing quite like it, and it will always have the hearts of anyone who watched it at any point.

Also, fun fact: did you know the Fanning sisters voiced Mei and Satsuki in the English dub? I always thought that was a pretty cute detail, and they did a fantastic job.

Princess Mononoke

A Girl standing in front of a large wolf like animal in 'Princess Mononoke'
(Studio Ghibli)

Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke is by far Studio Ghibli’s bloodiest and most disturbing film. I believe that it is also the best film the studio has ever produced. After being cursed by a boar demon, a young hottie named Ashitaka has to journey to a faraway land in order to find the Forest Spirit and lift the curse. Instead, he finds a town of ironworkers at war with a girl who was quite literally raised by wolves.

Your Name

Ryûnosuke Kamiki and Mone Kamishiraishi in 'Your Name'
(Toho Co., Ltd.)

Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name will spoon-feed you all the romance that your heart hungers for. The story centers around a boy and girl who mysteriously begin to switch bodies after the approach of a strange comet in the sky. They begin to bond with one another and realize that they are connected by both the comet and a past disaster.

Pan’s Labyrinth

A mythical faun with horns emerges from the shadows in a scene from 'Pan's Labyrinth'
(Warner Bros.)

Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is the R-rated version of Spirited Away. A little girl in the woods? Check. Her shitty parents cause trouble for her? Check. She is whisked away to a magical world by the spirits and given various tasks to complete. Check. Check. Check. The only difference is that this film is set in Civil War-era Spain, her stepdad is a murderous fascist, and the magical creatures she meets are equally bloodthirsty.

Patema Inverted

A boy and a girl hold on to each other tightly, the girl is upside down because gravity is reversed for her in "Patema Inverted"
(Studio Rikka)

Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s Patema Inverted is a fish-out-of-water story just like Spirited Away. More accurately, it is a story about a fish who swims up to the surface of the water and discovers that the sky is ALSO water but gravity pulls in the opposite direction. Now replace those fish with people and the water with land. Yes, a young girl climbs out of a cave and then meets a boy on the world’s surface for whom gravity is reversed.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

(Studio Ghibli)

Isao Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya is inspired by one of the oldest and most well-known stories of Japanese folklore. The story is essentially the reverse of Spirited Away. Rather than a normal girl falling into the spirit world, a spirit girl falls into the normal world. After a lonely woodcutter and his wife find a magical baby girl inside a bamboo tree, the pair decide to raise the child as their own. Her beauty and wit bring them riches and renown, but it’s only a matter of time before the real mystery of her magical parentage is solved.

(featured image: Studio Ghibli)

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Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).
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Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.