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The 37 best anime movies of all time, ranked

Our list of the best anime movies goes from Studio Ghibli to Pokémon and Hayao Miyazaki to Satoshi Kon for the greatest films in the medium.

Best anime movies: Belle. Paprika, and Ghost in the Shell

Japan has been producing world-leading animation for decades thanks to the variety and genius of the best anime movies, and to this day, some of the most inventive, creative, and forward-thinking studios are based there.

In short, anime is the playground for numerous masters of cinema, who’ve graced us with some of the best movies of all time, period. Sadly, a lot of their work gets overlooked in English-speaking territories, overpowered by the best animated movies from the likes of Disney and DreamWorks. So, to help you broaden your horizons, we’ve collected the best anime movies you can watch right now.

Best anime movies: When Marnie Was There

37. When Marnie Was There (2014)

Honestly, we’re still a little mad that this one lost the Best Picture Oscar to Inside Out. Not that we don’t love Inside Out around here, but there’s an inherently beautiful sadness to When Marnie Was There that beats out even a movie about emotions. It’s raw, moody, and explores more adult themes of depression and loneliness.

When Marnie Was There is the story of Anna, a girl who lives with her foster parents after her family died. For health reasons, she’s encouraged to go and stay with relatives in a seaside town, where she soon meets a young girl, Marnie, who is mysterious and unknowable in the most tantalizing of ways.

Best anime movies: Porco Rosso

36. Porco Rosso (1992)

It’s a pig flying a plane. How could it possibly get better than that? Porco Rosso was a World War I fighter pilot who now lives as an anthropomorphic pig after being subjected to a strange curse. After the war, he spends his time tracking down air pirates as a bounty hunter, setting himself up as the star of one of the best adventure movies to come from Studio Ghibli.

Yes, it may be animation, but don’t let that fool you. Porco Rosso has some of the best action sequences to be found in the genre, with some genuine edge-of-your-seat dogfights and a flashback scene that’ll have you reaching for the tissues. That’ll do pig, that’ll do.

Best anime movies - Weathering With You

35. Weathering With You (2019)

Makoto Shinkai has made at least one bona fide masterpiece – more on that later – but Weathering With You runs it very close. It’s a teen romance with an environmentalist message, making a potent point about the pressure we’re putting on young people to solve the climate crisis created and then ignored by their elders.

The movie weaves together the raw emotions of its romantic subplot with magical elements about “sunshine girls” who can control the weather, as well as its very serious underlying argument. We found ourselves absolutely shattered by the race-against-time sequence towards the end. It’s devastating.

Best anime movies - Pokemon The First Movie

34. Pokémon: The First Movie (1998)

For movie fans of a certain generation, Pokémon: The First Movie will be the first time they cried at a film. For kids who had a Pokémon card collection too heavy to carry and had grown up guiding their own team of critters through the Game Boy games, the sight of Pikachu crying over the petrified form of Ash Ketchum was absolutely too much. Heck, we still cry about it as adults when we rewatch the movie.

But even beyond the emotional torture of its ending, this film is a ton of fun. There are plenty of hijinks with Team Rocket and our heroic characters, as well as a surprisingly powerful anti-war message. Pokémon might well be the biggest entertainment franchise on Earth, but it arguably never bettered its first journey to the big screen.

Best anime movies: Castle in the Sky

33. Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

As the first movie animated by Studio Ghibli, Castle in the Sky was setting a precedent for just how popular these movies would become. While it underperformed at the box office to begin with, it would later earn acclaim through re-releases and found a boost when it was adapted into English language. These days, hardcore fans will dub it as one of the best animated movies of all time, and it’s since achieved cult status.

Exploring themes of environmentalism and humanity, Castle in the Sky follows the story of two orphans who are being hunted down by the army (and a band of pirates) over the necklace they possess. The necklace then leads them to Laputa, a castle floating in the sky. This is one of those adventure movies that would have had your imagination running wild as a kid.

Best anime movies: Mary and the Witch's Flower (2017)

32. Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017)

Based on the 1971 book, The Little Broomstick, Mary and the Witch’s Flower is an adorable fantasy film that takes a playful approach to the usual fairytale tropes. When a young girl called Mary finds a flower that gives her the powers to become a witch for just one night, she embarks on a delightful coming-of-age adventure in which she encounters unexpected creatures, spells, and houses that come alive.

With plenty of imagination and lots of stunning visuals, it’s a joy to look at, but also has the potential to touch your heart with its lovely characters. It’s not a movie that’s critically or financially managed to match the Studio Ghibli catalog, but it’s just as worthy of a place on this list.

Best anime movies: Ninja Scroll

31. Ninja Scroll (1993)

If you’re looking for something a little edgier, you might find that Ninja Scroll is exactly what you’re looking for. Now stay with us, because things can get a little complicated, but Ninja Scroll is set in feudal Japan and follows a swordsman called Kibagami Jubei. He basically battles a team of supernatural ninjas known as the Eight Devils of Kimon. Exciting stuff if you like the most brutal of anime tales, right?

Well, it went on to be considered one of the most influential anime movies of all time. It put adult-leaning anime on the map, and would even go on to inspire elements of The Matrix, according to The Wachowskis. And, if you end up loving the movie, there’s even a stand-alone anime series that came out in 2003 for you to follow up with.

Best anime movies: Kiki's Delivery Service

30. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Turning away from the violence now, Kiki’s Delivery Service will serve as a delightful respite. Kiki, a young witch, moves to Koriko to be more independent. While she’s there, she meets Osono, who gives her a place at his bakery in exchange for becoming his flying courier. It’s fantastical without being overwhelming, youthful without being childish, and all-round an adorably wonderful time.

It was quite an important movie in the history of Studio Ghibli since it marked the first movie to be released under their 15-year distribution partnership with Disney. It explores how adventure can be for everyone, and is considered to be one of the most soothing anime around.

best anime movies: Perfect Blue

29. Perfect Blue (1997)

Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Satoshi Kon, Perfect Blue is one of the best movies ever made, period. Not only is it on our lists for the best horror anime and the best animated movies as well, but it is a film that has inspired the likes of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.

By the time the credits roll, you will be questioning your own reflection, scared of your own dreams, and left an unsettled mess. Yep, that is right, Perfect Blue is truly that good. The film follows the young Idol Mima Kirigoe’s transition from singing to professional acting and the subsequent psychological mystery that plagues her career shift. From stalkers to a murderous self-reflection, reality is blurred, and you are left with pure tension and unease. It’s a masterpiece.

Best anime movies: Wolf Children

28. Wolf Children (2012)

Wolf Children is one of the most underrated picks on this list. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, the film is centered around family, as a single mother must help her two half-human, half-wolf babies find their own path. After falling in love with a werewolf who passes away, Hana must navigate motherhood.

However, when you have two supernatural babies to care for, everyday issues become mountains to climb, and you are thrown into the unknown. Hana has to uproot her life to care for her children, she has to try and understand half of their upbringing alone, and she has to come to terms with her own dreams, too. The story is surprisingly emotional, and you’ll be bawling by its end. So yeah, definitely put Wolf Children on your radar, folks!

Best anime movies: The First Slam Dunk

27. The First Slam Dunk (2022)

Written and directed by Takehiko Inoue, The First Slam Dunk isn’t just one of the best anime movies of all time, but it’s also one of the best sports movies you’ll ever see. Based on Inoue’s manga Slam Dunk, the film follows the lives of Shohoku High School’s basketball team as they defy all odds and go head-to-head with the long-running champions Sannoh Kogyo High School.

With a special focus on the anime character Ryota Miyagi, The First Slam Dunk combines heart-racing athletics with touching backstories as flashbacks from every team member dissect dreams, trauma, and their determination. The film puts sport at the forefront but still manages to pull on your heartstrings as sneakers squeak on the court and players run toward the ball.

In 2023, The First Slam Dunk also won the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year and is the fifth highest-grossing anime movie of all time. So, even if basketball isn’t your thing, this new anime flick is a must-see.

Best anime movies: Ponyo

26. Ponyo (2008)

Although Ponyo is technically for children, it’s one of the most enjoyable and heartwarming anime out there. For anime newbies, it doesn’t get much more accessible than Ponyo, an adorable retelling of The Little Mermaid. You’d be hard-pressed to find an adult or child alike who wouldn’t fall in love with the perfect animation.

To this day, it’s still the eighth-highest-grossing anime movie of all time, and one of the best Studio Ghibli movies around. It’s the story of a goldfish named Ponyo who desires to become a human girl and who meets Sōsuke. The two form a beautiful bond, and throughout the movie, you feel as if you’re part of their secret adventure.

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25. Bubble (2022)

Wit Studio quietly released this film on Netflix in 2022. Gorgeous and post-apocalyptic, there’s nothing desolate about this depiction of the future where mysterious bubbles that defy the laws of physics cause cities to be abandoned.

Two young people are destined to change that, intertwined as their lives are. Stereotypical, that may be, Bubble’s the kind of Netflix anime that you wish you could’ve seen on the biggest screen imaginable.

Best anime movies: Inu-Oh

24. Inu-Oh (2022)

There are actual live concert films that have less energetic cinematography than the musical performances of Inu-Oh. The rock opera focuses on an unusual pairing, a blind biwa player and a physically deformed dancer, who form a band that produces the kind of riffs and melodies Freddy Mercury dreamt about.

Enthralling as is, Masaaki Yuasa’s film offers grace and substance in the ties that bind within music. The core friendship is beautifully rendered, all within the solace of good old-fashioned rock and/or roll. You can find out more in our Inu-Oh review here.

Bets anime movies: Dragobn Ball Z: Resurrection F

23. Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’ (2015)

Dragon Ball Z movies are a bit of a mixed bag, but Resurrection F is an underrated gem. Why? Well, this is the movie that brought back one of the best anime villains of all time and a firm favorite Dragon Ball character. We’re talking, of course, about the one and only Frieza.

Featuring breakneck action, funny character moments, and a genuinely surprising twist, Resurrection F is a must-watch for any Dragon Ball fan. And if you are after the complete timeline, here is our guide on how to watch all of Dragon Ball in order.

Best anime movies: Only Yesterday

22. Only Yesterday (1991)

Based on the manga of the same name, Only Yesterday is one of Studio Ghibli’s most critically acclaimed films, boasting an impressive 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes.  The film follows Taeko Okajima, a young woman living in Tokyo who decides to visit the countryside and finds herself reminiscing about her past.

Down to earth and remarkably poignant, Only Yesterday isn’t as fantastical as the likes of Spirited Away or Kikii’s delivery service, but there’s a universal charm to the film that makes it incredibly relatable in a wistful sort of way.

Best anime movies: Tokyo Godfathers

21. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

A Christmas tragicomedy, Tokyo Godfathers follows a trio of misfit homeless people living on the streets of Tokyo who one night discover an abandoned baby while rifling through the trash. With nary a clue as to the baby’s identity, the three decided to reunite the young child with its missing parents.

Heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time, Tokyo Godfather is an exquisite feature that serves as a powerful reminder that you don’t have to be related to be a family.

Best anime movies: Princess Mononoke

20. Princess Mononoke (1997)

If you’re into Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, you’re probably going to find yourself right at home with Princess Mononoke. This anime movie is an epic historical fantasy, building upon a deep-rooted lore and heavily steeped in mythology. It’s also gorgeous to look at.

Set in the late Muromachi period of Japan, it follows a prince named Ashitaka as he becomes entangled in a battle between the humans who ravage the natural resources of the forest and the gods who rule it. Princess Mononoke has plenty of mythical creatures, rich visuals, and a big blockbuster feel.

Best anime movies: Belle

19. Belle (2021)

A modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in a world where the internet has become a holographic 3D playground; Belle is a remarkable update to a tale of old as time. The anime movie boasts bold and creative visuals, grand character design, and a touching story about coming to terms with one’s own insecurities.

Written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda, Belle follows the story of the 17-year-old Suzu Naito. Suzu is plagued by trauma but finds her voice in the virtual world “U,” where she basically becomes a pop star.

However, her time online leads to an encounter with an outcast user called The Dragon, and the two bond, heal, and struggle to find the courage to expose their true identities for the world to see. It is downright beautiful. For more information, you can read our full Belle review here.

Best anime movies: Your Name

18. Your Name (2016)

A body-swapping romance anime and a time travel rom-com, we may not be entirely sure what genre Your Name belongs in, but we do know that it’s an absolutely sensational film. You wouldn’t think that a film that combines high romantic melodrama with awkward teen shenanigans would work, but trust me, they come together like peanut butter and bread in what’s director Makoto Shinkai’s most commercially successful film.

It’s worth mentioning as well just how gorgeous this film looks and sounds, especially during the climax. The colors are dazzling, and the music sweeping. If you’ve not seen Your Name, you need to track it down.

Best anime movies: The Wind Rises

17. The Wind Rises (2013)

The Wind Rises is both a gorgeous anime and a (somewhat) biographical retelling of Jiro Horikoshi’s life. Horikoshi designed the Mitsubishi A5M fighter aircraft, which was used in WWII by the Empire of Japan. During the year of its release, it became the highest-grossing Japanese film in the country, and was met with critical praise around the world.

Since it’s release, its been called the the greatest animated film ever made by some, and it’s developed quite a legacy despite only being a decade old. It’s visually stunning, emotionally transporting, and historically important piece of work, and isn’t one to be missed.

Best anime movies: Metropolis

16. Metropolis (2001)

Humans and robots may live together in Rintaro’s study of futurist architecture, but that means they integrate well. The multi-layered society, split across a growing number of levels, suffers from enormous inequalities and financial hardship.

Not that Duke Red, the richest inhabitant, cares. A number of plotlines look at the ways established order is an extremely fraught construct in this reality, chief among a scientist and his nephew trying to help an artificial young girl. A lot gets packed into Metropolis; perhaps a lot is packed into the unending city. It’s a technical marvel that still finds something warm to cling onto.

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15. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

It remains truly mind-boggling that Studio Ghibli ever thought pairing this and My Neighbor Totoro was a good idea. A whimsical fairytale about the rabbit holes of nature and a war movie that absolutely shatters the soul.

Two siblings, Seita and Setsuko, lose their home during the bombing raids on Kobe, Japan, during WWII. Their father MIA, and their mother are killed in the firestorm; they have no choice but to brave a crumbling society. Staying with relatives becomes untenable, and as they struggle for shelter, Setsuko’s health deteriorates.

One almost wells up just thinking about Grave of the Fireflies, a crushing example of Isao Takahata’s craft. But that feeling you’re left with in your gut? That’s the sign of powerful filmmaking.

Best anime movies: Memories

14. Memories (1995)

The three chapters of Memories form one cohesive notion: the future and space are terrifying, and we should probably avoid both. Magnetic Rose gets much of the attention for Memories, a superbly animated haunted spaceship chiller, but Stink Bomb and Cannon Fodder have their merits as well.

The former has a strange, almost funny look at bioweapons innovation, and the latter imagines our cities as perpetual war machines. If the ghosts up above don’t get you, our need for bigger and bigger cannons will.

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13. Pokémon 3 The Movie (2000)

There have been nearly two dozen animated Pokémon movies since the first in 1999. Most require some knowledge of the Pokémon games or anime series to fully understand. Pokémon 3: The Movie eschews this barrier to entry by delving headfirst into the mythical side of the franchise, involving alternate places of reality, dimension-altering monsters, and the legendary Entei.

When Professor Spencer Hale disappears while investigating the elusive Unown, his daughter, Molly, deciphers a code to summon them. She uses their powers to fulfill her deepest desires, with predictably troubling consequences, and Ash, Pikachu, and the usual gaggle of regulars get stuck in the middle of it.

Best anime movies: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

12. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

Working in animation since 1961, Isao Takahata has an extensive filmography full of highlights. Yet, it’s this late-career fairytale made with Studio Ghibli that gets him on our list. Using beautiful watercolor paintings, Iasao retells The Tale of Bamboo Cutter, a tenth-century Japanese story about a magical young girl from the moon who’s raised by a bamboo cutter and his wife.

The art style gives everything a relaxed sense of wonder, like hearing it from a beloved grandparent, all kept swaying by Ghibli regular Joe Hisaishi’s score. Despite some length, it always feels disappointing when the credits roll and you’ve to return to the real world.

Best anime movies: Akira

11. Akira (1988)

Starting with an obvious one, Katsuhiro Otomo’s futuristic cyberpunk science fiction movie is a standard-bearer for the marriage of technique and storytelling. In a dystopian 2019, biker gangs rule the streets of Neo-Tokyo. During one clash, Tetsuo Shida rides straight into an esper that gives him strange powers.

What happens next is best left for you to witness for yourself, but it’s dazzling if more than a little disturbing. The flow is exhilarating, and the technological landscape is recreated in striking detail such that you’ll be rewatching just to visit.

Best anime movies: Angels Egg

10. Angel’s Egg (1985)

A decade prior to Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii wrote and directed this piece of gothic dystopian surrealism. Largely a tone piece, it follows a young woman who cares for an oversized egg in a derelict building in a rundown city under military lockdown.

Moving from street to street, she avoids roving biomechanical forces, and increasingly dreamlike sequences provide a loose recollection of what has led up to now. Strange, mesmerizing, and worth your time if you’ve never explored Mamoru’s other work.

Best anime movies: Paprika

9. Paprika (2006)

Director Satoshi Kon’s last feature film before his passing is a powerhouse in psychological storytelling that uses animation to capture people’s innermost thoughts. Experimental devices designed for therapy through a person’s dreams become a gateway for people to invade each other’s psyches, completely shattering what it means for anything to be “real”.

A very literal parade of reality-questioning concepts; every time you think you’ve got it all figured out, another set piece blossoms forth and changes everything. Sitting in the middle is the titular alter-ego of Doctor Atsuko Chiba, one of the creators of said dream exploration tech. But who’s who? Well, that’s for you to decide.

Best anime movies: The Castle of Cagliostro

8. The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

Chances are you don’t need anyone to espouse the virtues of director Hayao Miyazaki. However, his first directorial outing in 1979, The Castle of Cagliostro, is an under-appreciated gem. Based on Lupin the Third, an ongoing Japanese franchise about a career thief of the same name, it follows Lupin and his partner Daisuke Jigen, who try to rob Cagliostro but wind up pivoting to stop a politically motivated sham marriage.

Energetic from the opening chase, Hayao’s signature sense of motion is immediately evident, as is his penchant for alluring characters. Slapstick comedy, romance, and even some coercive stealth are involved, making it a romp that’s relatively distinct within Miyazaki’s oeuvre.

Best anime movies: Howl's Moving Castle

7. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

There are plenty of fantasy anime on this list, but Howl’s Moving Castle may just be the most well known, and for good reason. Based on the novel of the same name, it’s another Studio Ghibli classic that explores a fictional world in which both magic and technology co-exist. Sophie is a young milliner who gets turned into an old woman by a witch, an encounter which sets her off on a journey that finds her joining a resistance.

The film is a poignant anti-war tale, inspired by Miyazaki’s opposition to the Iraq War which started just a year before. It wound up being one of the most successful anime movies in history, earning over $236 million at the box office and earning the highest of critical acclaim.

Best anime movies: The end of Evangelion

6. The End of Evangelion (1997)

We have Neon Genesis Evangelion as one of the best TV series of all time, and as we pointed out there, explaining the narrative elements of Hideaki Anno’s mind-bending mecha show is a tall order. The gist is that after a major global event leaves us with a stream of interstellar invaders, humans rely on giant robot suits called Eva to protect us.

When the initial ending proved divisive, Hideaki decided to redo it in feature-length form with more nuance. No longer bound by the structure and scope of episodic television, Evangelion becomes yet more pathological and inscrutable. Being up-to-date beforehand is advised, so give our Evangelion order guide a read before sticking it on.

Best anime movies: 5 centimetres per second

5. 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007)

Makoto Shinkai has rightfully become well-known thanks to the critical and commercial success of the aforementioned Your Name, but 5 Centimeters Per Second has topped his best-performing movie on this list. Broken into three parts, each about a particularly important relationship or memorable period for the main character, Takaki Tono, we’re given a portrait of Tono’s growth from childhood to adulthood.

The segments vary in backdrop and dramatic thrust; Makoto’s multi-faceted animation and brilliant colors are employed in different ways for each. They’re held together by loneliness, unrequited love, and the invisible ways we grow and stay the same. Stirringly humanist. For more from Makoto, check out our Suzume review to hear all about his new movie.

Best anime movies: Little Prince and the Eight headed dragon

4. Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon (1963)

Something classic now – a standard-setting production that featured several pioneers and inspired a few more. Drawing from ancient Japanese myth, the young deity Susanoo cannot handle the death of his mother, and sets off to find heaven and get her back, rabbit companion Akahana by his side. Landing in another province, Susanoo vows to help a family being terrorized by a multi-headed serpent.

Roundly shaped talking animals and odd-colored plants surround Susanoo and his people, whose broad movements give the aesthetic an enchanting pop-up book feel. Recurring Pokémon animator Yoichi Katabe and regular Lupin the Third filmmaker Yasuo Otsuka got key credits, and Isao Takahata served as animation director.

Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of Samurai Jack, and Tomm Moore, director of Song of the Sea and Wolfwalkers, both name-dropped it as an influence. Limited releases thus far have made it frustratingly hard to find, but this is history that warrants the effort.

Best anime movies: Belladonna of Sadness

3. Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

Sometimes, ‘cult classic’ means a movie took a while to find its audience. Other times, it’s because the thing was so hard to come across; doing so made you a member of a pretty exclusive club. Before a 4K restoration in 2016, the latter was true for this erotic, psychedelic horror anime.

In France during the Middle Ages, Jeanne started practicing witchcraft after neighboring villagers sexually assaulted her and nearly murdered her husband. She has fever dreams and encounters the Devil, all depicted in stylized images that are moved across the screen with music and dialogue. Slightly impenetrable, director and co-writer Eiichi Yamamoto’s experimental, arthouse approach yields something incredibly singular.

Best anime movies: Ghost in the Shell

2. Ghost in the Shell (1995)

The seminal ’90s anime feature. In 2029, technological upgrades and augmentations on the human body have become common, and the internet can be accessed through special headsets that provide neural links. Much of the police force has been mechanized, and Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg cybercrime investigator, is on the tail of a mysterious hacker called The Puppet Master.

Adrift in loneliness, director Mamoru Oshii captures a future where tech does little to fix our systemic issues, merely creating new avenues for us to feel isolated. Stunningly detailed, body horror captures the way our body as we know it is a facade, something to tinker with as we see fit.

Best anime movies: Spirited Away

1. Spirited Away (2001)

Just like Citizen Kane on our best movies list, this is a very typical answer, but in our defense, Spirited Away is a masterpiece. Director Hayao Miyazaki’s eighth feature-length production is gorgeous, delightful, sometimes terrifying, a little distressing, and spiritually nourishing.

Young Chihiro and her parents are moving across Japan, and she’s not too keen on it. During a pit stop, they explore an old theme park, which becomes a bathhouse for spirits that trap the parents. Alone and afraid, Chihiro is assisted by some kind-hearted inhabitants and works to free her parents, untangling some personal grudges while she’s at it.

Never more beguiling in his world-building or amiable in his characterization, Miyazaki sculpts a realm beyond our own that feels as warm as it is unfamiliar. We may not have mystical beings watching over us like Chihiro, but this is a worthy substitute.

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If you love anime, you’re in the right place. Explore the best of the best with our lists ranking the most important One Piece characters and One-Punch Man characters. We’ve also rounded up the best shounen anime and revealed how Netflix just saved one of the best anime ever.

Still want more? Well, you should check out our guides on the Dragon Ball Super season 2 release date, the One-Punch Man season 3 release date, and Demon Slayer season 4.