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

Chihiro and Kaonashi in 'Spirited Away'

Updated 11/25/22

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 in 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?

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!

In the spirit of diversity, I’m going to not include as many Ghibli movies and try to share some films from other studios, too. Here are the best films to can help you scratch that Spirited Away itch.

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.


Just like in Spirited Away, this movie deals with a truly frightening concept for children: what could happen if you lose your parents. I always thought it was a strange concept to build a children’s movie off of, but when I think about it, the biggest fear for me and my friends growing up was that we’d lose our parents somehow. So I guess it’s fitting?

Either way, Coraline will always be one of those fascinating movies that either freaks kids out or captivates them. It’s visually stunning and thematically clever, and the characterization of Coraline herself is probably one of the best depictions of a girl that age I’ve seen in any movie.

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: us 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.

(featured image: Studio Ghibli)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer, dog mom, and casual insomniac. Her prior experiences with media have taken her down many different roads, from local history podcasts to music coverage & production. Niche interests include folk music, elves/wizards, and why horses are cool actually.