Animated movies have been capturing the hearts of kids, adults, and critics alike since 1917. They’ve taken the art of storytelling to a whole new level, giving us some of the most wholesome, surreal, and horrifying films to date. So, after all the years of psychedelic trips and vibrant landscapes, the big question is: what are the best animated movies you can watch right now?
Be it realistic CGI worlds, colourful hand-drawn scenes, or even some quirky stop motion characters, animation is a genre bursting with creativity. With giants like Studio Ghibli, Disney, and Aardman constantly being recommended; and acclaimed new artists and films getting rave reviews in recent years, we’re definitely spoiled for choice, and (let’s not lie) picking out the best movies can seem like an impossible task. Well, challenge accepted. After looking at the giant pool of fantastic films, we’ve rounded up ten of the best animated movies that every animation lover should watch at least once.
Before we begin, please keep in mind we’ve omitted Disney and Pixar from the list, because we believe they deserve their own articles. To see whether your favourite Disney and Pixar animated films made it into our top picks, be sure to check out the best Disney movies and best Pixar movies.
What are the best animated films ever?
- Only Yesterday
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
- Spirited Away
- Chicken Run
- Your Name
- Song of the Sea
- Perfect Blue
Only Yesterday (1991)
Only Yesterday, is (in true Ghibli fashion) a sure-fire way to feel emotionally moved and left sniffling in your seat. Directed by Isao Takahata, known for other animated classics like Grave of the Fireflies and The Tale of Princess Kaguya, the film is significantly more optimistic than his past titles but still hits you right in the feels.
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Only Yesterday is a slice of life drama following 27-year-old Taeko Okajima’s holiday in the countryside harvesting safflower. There she reminisces about her childhood, sifting through forgotten memories as she begins to discover what she wants out of life. The film has garnered universal acclaim for its touching story, sporting the ever-impressive 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Probably the best Spider-Man movie in years, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse breathes new life into the beloved superhero with its fresh story and distinct comic book art style. It’s the first film to feature Miles Morales as the wall-crawler and shows his struggle in coming to terms with his new identity and powers. After Kingpin accidentally transports several alternate Spider-Men and Spider-Women into Miles’s dimension, the spider team must join up to save the multiverse before it collapses in on itself.
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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is full of love and reverence for the comics; down to its art style, and self-referential humour, it’s a superhero fan’s dream. It also has some of the most creative and dynamically choreographed action scenes seen in animation today.
Spirited Away (2001)
Nearly every Studio Ghibli movie is an animated gem. Still, no one can deny Hayao Miyazaki’s runaway success, Spirited Away, stands out as one of the best animated movies of all time.
The film is full of imagination, creating one of the most whimsical and detailed fantasy worlds ever seen. Spirited Away is almost impossible not to love. Its story of a young girl stumbling into a bathhouse in the spirit realm to save her parents is a touching tale of courage that feels monumental while also warming hearts.
After witnessing the beautiful art, links to Japanese mythology, and all its likeable characters, it’s easy to see why this film has so many awards and is almost always on everyone’s top ten animated movies list.
Chicken Run (2000)
“Mrs Tweedy, the chickens are revolting!” Sometimes you just want to watch an animation that you know will make you laugh, and thankfully Aardman Animations’ claymation, Chicken Run, never fails to tickle our funny bone.
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In fact, Chicken Run is one of the most quotable, well-written, and best examples of dry British humour you can watch. In an effort to avoid being turned into pies, a group of chickens set out to escape from Mr Tweedy’s farm. Enlisting the help of a mysterious ‘flying’ rooster, they hatch an escape plan and work together to survive.
With messages like the triumph of the underdog and constant references to the wartime “keep calm and carry on” mentality, Chicken Run is not only hilarious but (thanks to its themes) also a clever reflection of British culture.
Akira is the film that fully brought Japanese animation to a western audience, and if you’re an anime fan of any kind, it’s a must-watch. Taking place after World War III, Tokyo (now named Neo-Tokyo) has become a bustling dystopian hub full of high-tech gangs, civil unrest and brutal violence.
The film tells the story of two close friends in a biker gang Kaneda and Tetsuo. After Tetsuo acquires telekinesis, he sets out on a destructive rampage putting himself and the fate of the world at risk.
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Akira is a visual masterpiece, full of meticulous detail that you’ll struggle to see topped even in modern anime today. The art feels alive, it’s unapologetically gory, and perfectly matches the action-packed and savage cyberpunk setting of the film.
Based on Neil Gaiman’s dark fantasy novella of the same name, Coraline is equal parts charming and disturbing. Since its initial release, the stop motion animation has gathered international recognition and a massive cult following. It’s a film viewed by many as the pinnacle of childhood horror, thanks to its bleak aesthetics, and striking character designs.
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Telling the story of a young girl and her journey to an ideal world that turns out to be more nefarious than she could’ve ever imagined, the film feels complex, combining magical fantasy with chilling and morbid themes. Although it may cause a few nightmares, it’s safe to say Coraline is a spooky standout in both story and style.
Your Name (2016)
Who doesn’t love a romantic drama about star-crossed lovers and the space-time continuum? Produced by CoMix Wave Films, Your Name is about a high school girl in the countryside who keeps swapping bodies with a teenage boy in Tokyo. As the pair try and figure out what’s happening to them and live days in each other’s lives, the two grow to appreciate one another and form a bond that transcends distance, time, and even the aftermath of tragedy.
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The romance anime is full of classic anime humour and tropes that anyone familiar with Japanese animation will recognise and love. Whether you’re an anime fan or not, Your Name stands as a stunning hand-drawn piece of storytelling that’s, a must-watch, especially for couples looking to feel sentimental on date night.
Song of the Sea (2014)
Song of the Sea takes Irish folklore and turns it into one of the most charming films to hit the big screen in recent years. Coming from Tomm Moore, the director behind The Secret of Kells and Wolfwalkers, and studio Cartoon Saloon, it’s filled with magic, allegory, and is a surefire favourite for any soft-hearted movie-lovers out there.
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The hand-drawn animation intertwines the exciting mythology of Celtic legends with a simple story about a brother and sister on a mission to return home. It’s a carefully crafted and universally relatable film, about grief and coming to terms with things beyond your control.
This coming-of-age animated drama tells the story of the Iranian revolution in 1978, through the eyes of a young woman. Based on the autobiographical graphic novel of the same name by Marjane Satrapi, the movie gives a thorough look at the history of the politically charged time. As we see Satrapi growing up during the revolution and its aftermath, the film introduces themes that will stay with us for life.
From politics, gender, religion, war, and culture, Persepolis is an immensely impactful film filled with meaningful subtext that never feels forced or overwhelming.
Perfect Blue (1997)
Here we have an animated psychological thriller that’ll leave you questioning what’s real, what’s a dream, or if everything around you even exists. Perfect Blue was the legendary Satoshi Kon’s directorial debut, and it’s a brilliant feature that leaves you in a perpetual state of fear, constantly looking over your shoulder and jumping when you see your own reflection.
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At first glance, the film appears to be about an idol’s transition from singing to acting, but when she starts receiving threats from an obsessed fan, Perfect Blue turns into something much more disturbing. Not many movies can garner as strong emotional reactions as this, and if you are a fan of psychological horror, it’s absolutely unmissable.
That’s your lot for animated movies, with our definitive top ten. If you want something a little different, why not check out our list of the best live-action Disney movies.