A collage of anime movies: 'Kiki's Delivery Service,' 'Spirited Away,' 'Princess Mononoke,' 'Weathering With You,' and 'Castle in the Sky'

The Best Anime on Max Right Now

I really hope you don’t mean anime series … Why? Because there’s literally only six of them currently streaming on Max. Some are great! Some are … bad. So I can’t in good conscience recommend you watch any anime series that I think are just eh. That would be a violation of my nindo, my ninja way.

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But if you’re looking for anime films … oh, senpai, I’ve got you covered. The streaming platform formerly known as HBO Max has some of the finest anime movies of any service—EVER. So if you’re looking for a good anime flick to tide you over until Suzume comes to a theater near you, scroll to your heart’s content.

Kiki’s Delivery Service

kiki on a broom!
(Studio Ghibli)

Witches! Talking cats! Flying broomsticks! If you’ve been disappointed by J.K. Rowling’s transphobic antics and you’re looking for an anime to fill that Harry Potter-shaped hole in your heart, look no further. Kiki’s Delivery Service is a coming-of-age story about a young witch who sets off on her own to start a delivery service. She finds a small coastal town that is looking for an enterprising young magical capitalist like herself to help deliver mail. And of course, she meets a boy who is totally crushing on her. Wist, magic, and romance abound.

Promare

Lio from Promare
(Studio Trigger)

Promare is set in a not-too-distant future, when a race of flaming humanoids called the Burnish have laid waste to half the planet with their pyrokinetic powers. But regular humans are fighting back! A young man named Galo Thymos is a member of an elite team of firefighters who use totally over-the-top technology to fight against the Burnish threat. After a series of arson attacks, Galo meets a young Burnish named Lio Fotia, whom he initially blames for the crime. The two then realize they are—gasp—not so different after all and that someone else may FRAMING the Burnish people. But who???

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Kaguya reaching for cherry blossoms
(Studio Ghibli)

Do you want to ugly cry? Good. This is the movie for you. The Tale of Princess Kaguya is inspired by one of Japan’s oldest and most famous folktales: A childless old bamboo cutter and his wife live in the woods, barely eking out a living. One day, the bamboo cutter discovers a beautiful baby girl inside a stalk of bamboo, along with a ton of gold. The girl, who the couple name Kaguya, grows rapidly into a lovely young woman. And soon all the fanciest men in Japan wish to marry her. But where did she come from? Who are her real parents? And will they come looking for her?

The Secret World of Arrietty

Arrietty says goodbye
(Studio Ghibli)

Have you ever lost your phone or your keys? Even though you swore you put them down in the same place you always do? Ever noticed bits of food going missing from the pantry? If so, your house may have borrowers living inside it! In The Secret World of Arrietty, borrowers are diminutive humans who live in the houses of regular-sized people and “borrow” their stuff in order to survive. Arrietty and her family are borrowers who live in a house in rural Japan. Everything is going fine for them, until Arrietty is accidentally discovered by a sickly boy her age. It’s the romance that can never be … sigh.

Castle in the Sky

Sheena and Pazu with a robot!
(Studio Ghibli)

You ever wish that the love of your life would just fall right out of the sky? Live vicariously through this movie! Castle in the Sky is about a young girl named Sheeta who carries a mysterious crystal that allows her to defy gravity. After she is attacked on an airship by sky pirates, she falls out of the sky and into the arms of a young orphan boy named Pazu. She tells Pazu that the crystal is a relic of Laputa: The Castle in the Sky (title drop!) and the pair set out on a quest to find the mysterious floating castle before the sky pirates and some shady government agents can beat them to it.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

nausicaa flying on her glider
(Studio Ghibli)

Ever wonder what Hayao Miyazaki’s first film was? Look no further than Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind! And then look away if you’re afraid of bugs. In Miyazaki’s debut feature, humanity has been pushed to the brink of extinction by a toxic jungle filled with nasty insectoid creatures. Nausicaa is the princess living in the Valley of the Wind, one of the last places on Earth that remains untouched by the jungle. War soon breaks out between the Valley of the Wind and a neighboring kingdom, and Nausicaa has to set out on a journey to stop it. And in doing so, she may uncover a way to stop the spread of the toxic jungle for good.

Spirited Away

Chihiro and Haku
(Studio Ghibli)

An anime classic, and arguably Studio Ghibli’s finest work. Spirited Away is the story of a young girl named Chihiro who is transported into a bizarre spirit world after she and her family stumble into an abandoned town in the Japanese countryside. Her parents are transformed into pigs for the crime of eating food they didn’t pay for, and Chihiro has to attempt to save her mother and father from a witch named Yubaba.

Princess Mononoke

San with blood on her face
(Studio Ghibli)

Princess Mononoke is my fave anime film of all time. Nothing comes close. Set in an ancient age where gods and demons walk the Earth, the banished prince Ashitaka must go on an epic journey to purge himself of a fatal curse. On the way, he meets a young woman named San who has been quite literally raised by wolves—well, wolf gods. San and her family are at war with the village of Iron Town, who are destroying nearby forests in search of iron to use in an endless war. Ashitaka attempts to broker peace between the humans and the gods of the forest, but that peace is threatened when an elderly monk appears to hunt for the head of the most powerful god in the land: the Forest Spirit.

The Wind Rises

Jiro and Nahoka kiss
(Studio Ghibli)

The Wind Rises is an aeronautical romance flick that takes place in pre-WWII Japan. The film is loosely based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, a young engineer credited with creating the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane used by the Japanese military in World War II. During a quest to achieve his dream of building a beautiful aircraft, he meets a young woman named Nahoko. The pair fall in love, but their relationship is threatened by a world on the brink of war.

Weathering With You

Hodaka and Hina
(Toho)

Weathering With You is about a young writer named Hodaka who runs away from home to start a new life. After moving to Tokyo, he meets a young woman named Hina with the ability to control the weather. Hina and her brother make ends meet by running a business using Hina’s powers to stop the heavy rain that plagues Tokyo and bring sunshine to people’s lives. But soon her powers begin to spiral out of control, and Hodaka might be the only one who can stop it.

My Neighbor Totoro

Cuddly monster Totoro celebrates in the moonlight with their babies and two little human girls in "My Neighbor Totoro"
(Studio Ghibli)

My Neighbor Totoro is by far the most adorable film to come out of Studio Ghibli’s oeuvre. My apologies for using the word “oeuvre” I swear I’m not a pretentious film schooler, honest. The film is about two young girls who move into a woodside cabin with their father, and begin uncovering strange phenomena around the property. Not “spooky” strange stuff, more like fun strange stuff! The house is filled with adorable little dust bunnies with eyes! And in the woods there lies a giant teddy-bear-raccoon-monster-guy named Totoro that wants help the girls grow trees in their backyard and ride around in a cat bus! Seriously, it’s so wholesome.

Porco Rosso

Fio from Porco Rosso stood on top of a plane with her crew members
(Studio Ghibli)

Porco Rosso is one of Ghibli’s weirder titles (yes I am aware this is Ghibli we’re talking about. The story is set a few years after World War I, and concerns a flying ace named Porco Rosso who was cursed to have the head of a pig. Despite his transformation, he is still an inexplicable hit with the ladies. After his plane is destroyed while battling an American pilot named Curtis, he teams up with a young aeronautical engineer who can help him rebuild his plan and get the better of his rival.

Pom Poko

A small tanuki hides next to  maneki-neko cat statues in "Pom Poko"
(Studio Ghibli)

Studio Ghibli’s Pom Poko is the story of a family of tanuki who are attempting to protect their woodland homes from encroaching human development. What’s a tanuki? It’s basically a raccoon dog that has magical powers in Japanese folklore. What kind of powers? They can shapeshift their appearance! They can create illusions! They can stretch their testicles to comically large size! No, I’m not making that last one up. In the film the tanuki refer to their magic balls as their “tanuki sacks” which I’m not sure if it makes it better or worse. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Ponyo

Two kids stare excitedly into steaming bowls of ramen in "Ponyo"
(Studio Ghibli)

Ponyo is the Studio Ghibli tale of the titular goldfish who wishes to become human. After she escapes from her underwater home, she is discovered by a boy named Sosuke. As the pair begin to bond, Ponyo slowly begins to transform into a human girl (albeit with magical water-based powers). Her transformation begins to upset the natural order of things, and she and Sosuke have to team up in order to combat the environmental anomalies her caused by her fish-turned-human nature.

Housing Complex C

A young girls gasps in horror while looking into a stewpot in "Housing Complex C"
(Akatsuki)

What’s this? An anime series? And a HORROR anime no less? It’s like striking gold! Or zinc! Or some other valuable heavy metal! As far as horror anime go, Housing Complex C is good but not great. Clocking in at only four episodes though, it’s worth a watch. The story is about a little girl named Kimi, who lives in the titular housing complex. After a mysterious new family move into the complex, funny things start to happen. But not “funny haha”, I mean “is that a mummified corpse of that missing dog?” kind of funny. Which is to say, not funny at all. While the anime suffers from some pacing issues, it features perhaps one of the most brutal, nauseating, and disturbing deaths in all of anime history. The good news is that the person really did deserve it.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl and Sophie in 'Howl's Moving Castle'
(Studio Ghibli)

Love Studio Ghibli but wish that Miyazaki’s work had more hotties? Look no further than Howl’s Moving Castle. Inspired by a magical romance novel of the same name, Howl’s Moving Castle centers around a young woman named Sophie who is cursed into the shape of an old woman by a dastardly witch. How will she ever become young again? Love, duh. And boy does she know how to pick ’em. After wandering the wilderness, Sophie falls under the care of the hot wizard Howl and takes up residence in his sweet moving castle. The only problem is that Howl keeps turning into a giant bird monster when he gets emotional, but every relationship has problems.

The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl

Sequence from Night Is Short, Walk On Girl

(Science Saru)

The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is a kaleidoscopic romance film that takes place over the course of one magical night in Kyoto. Two unnamed university students venture out into the night and encounter its whimsical denizens. They hang with new friends, play drinking games with supernatural beings, and even have an encounter with the God of Used Book Sales. Throughout the course of the night, the male student attempts to nonchalantly run into the titular “girl” in order to ask her out. It doesn’t go as planned. The film is a surrealist urban odyssey, and a total must for the city dwelling romantic.

Batman Ninja

Batman and friends riding horses into battle in Batman Ninja.

(Warner Bros.)

It’s a Batman set in Samurai Era Japan, what more do you want? The plot of Batman Ninja begins with Batman confronting Gorilla Grodd in Arkham asylum, where the college educated primate is messing around with a time machine. Nothing good can come of that. After the machine goes haywire, Batman is sucked into Japan’s Warring States period. To make matters worse, Batman’s Rogues Gallery of villains arrived there sometime before, and have established themselves as feudal lords. As a result, Batman gears up to do what he does best – take down his enemies ninja style.

Belle

Pink haired protagonist Belle spreads her arms in a cityscape in "Belle"

(Toho Co.)

Also known as The Dragon and the Freckled Princess, Belle is a fantasy film that centers around a young woman named Suzu who is reeling from the recent death of her mother. Suzu withdraws from the world in grief, and seeks solace in the digital realm. She enters a massive digital world called “U” where she creates an avatar named Belle. What does Belle do? She becomes a pop star! She begins to express herself in the digital world in ways she can’t in the real one. It’s all going great! That is until an avatar known as The Dragon shows up and sets her off on a journey to discover herself and resolve her less-than-positive emotions.

Ninja Kamui

Higan lights a match in a still from 'Ninja Kamui'.

(Adult Swim)

Ninja Kamui is one of the few anime series available on Max, and it is arguably the best. The series centers around a modern day ninja named Joe Higan, who got out of the ninja game by fleeing to rural America with his family. His ninja clan was none too happy about that, and as a result they murder Joe’s family. Joe was none to happy about that either, and decides to take revenge on his old clan John Wick style. It’s a ruthless, bloody, and thrilling series replete with high octane fight sequences and a plot to keep even the most experienced ninja on their tippiest of tippy toes.

(featured image: Studio Ghibli / Toho)


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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.