The most beautiful animated films of Studio Ghibli

Yes Studio Ghibli is known for everything, it’s for its magical stories and jaw-dropping animation. Their 2D animation style is so evocative and detailed, and there are so many individual movie moments that stick in people’s minds long after they’ve seen them. The design of the Borrowers’ House Arrietty’s Secret Worldor the bus stop sequence of My Neighbor Totoro are great moments that come to mind when you think of visually captivating moments from Studio Ghibli movies.


While every movie has its moments, and most can absolutely be called beautiful without any argument, some movies stand out above the rest in the visual imagery department. It’s hard to pick just a few to talk about because each film is so rich in eye candy. The movies’ messages also serve to enhance the visuals, as the stunning animation is made all the more gorgeous by a magical or emotional story. So which Ghibli movies have stood the test of time and continue to be some of the greatest stories ever brought to animation?

Updated April 16, 2022 by Jillian Unrau: There are so many Studio Ghibli films out there that could be strong contenders for “most beautiful”, as even some of the weakest films in their catalog would still be considered beautifully animated. The studio set a benchmark for animation not only in Japan but also in the entire film industry, and has done so since the 1980s. To reflect this, this article has been expanded to include three new starters, because it’s far too difficult to narrow it down to just five.

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The visual style of The Story of Princess Kaguya is so different from all the other Studio Ghibli films, which really sets it apart. It looks like a watercolor painting come to life, which only adds to the fairy tale quality of the story. The whole film is filled with art, but one sequence in particular is so eye-catching that it’s the most memorable part of the film.

In this one, the titular character runs away in a moment of growing emotion, and as she runs and gets more and more angry, the on-screen art becomes less and less defined until that the image is essentially line drawing. It’s a sequence that perfectly captures Kaguya’s mental state and it’s also one of the most striking visual media ever filmed.

This film is one of the few Ghibli films that really appeals to an older audience, mainly because of Princess Mononokethe most serious themes and the violence that invades it. However, it’s also one of their best looking ones and has a ton of brilliant visuals. The spirits of the forest have fantastic designs and every shot of this movie is beautiful, especially the scenes that take place in the forest.

Due to the story’s environmental message, special care was taken to portray the natural world as rich and lush, and it adds such a unique element to the visual style. Even the film’s violence looks beautiful in an odd way, perhaps because it’s simply striking rather than overly crude or gory.

This film, unlike Princess Mononokeis definitely a film with a light tone and aimed at children. Ponyo is an absolute pleasure to watch, partly because of its levity and fun nature, but also because of the animation. Ponyo really stands out from its more serious or complex Ghibli brethren due to its brightness and color, though the design is a little simpler overall.

While it has that more childish tone (which is iconic of Ponyo herself), there are a number of scenes that showcase this iconic Ghibli art. One of the most famous is the scene of Ponyo running on water which also takes the form of a fish. It’s a gripping moment not just because of the animation, but because of the intensity of the scene and the strong emotion that accompanies it. Although it’s a little less austere than some of the other Ghibli movies on this list, Ponyo is still incredibly charming and has a very understated and memorable animation style.

Another kid-friendly Ghibli movie, My Neighbor TotoroThe bright visuals of are some of the studio’s most iconic. It’s the movie that some of Studio Ghibli’s most famous symbols came from, and this release ended up kind of representing the studio as a whole. The shot of Totoro and the kids standing at the bus stop in the rain is well known for a reason; it’s incredibly striking, and it’s actually a moment where the visuals are a bit darker than the rest of the film.

Add to that the emotional story and My Neighbor Totoro instantly becomes one of best studio ghibli movies has to offer.

Everything on Howl’s Howl’s Moving Castle feels expansive and romantic, from the script, to the bloated score, to the character of Howl himself. This movie also has great animation and some of the most intricate visuals to be found in a Ghibli movie. First, there’s the design and animation of the titular moving castle itself, which is complex but works perfectly to convey a sense of the grandeur of the mechanism and the story as a whole.

Then there’s the secret garden which seems grand and peaceful at the same time, or the intricacy of Howl’s bedroom, where every frame is full of detail and whimsy. “Whimsical” really is the best word to describe the style of this film, as it feels like watching a fairy tale come to life.

Rather than being a sweeping epic like some of the studio’s work, Arrietty is more of a quiet, contained story, which works in its favor. It’s simple and quiet, and more about the relationships at the center of the story than anything else.

The visuals are also quite memorable; in particular, the design of the Borrower’s House is striking and incredibly detailed. The whole thing is made up of small human objects and plants, and it looks so magical and like it’s straight out of a storybook.

It’s a slightly lesser-known Ghibli film, but it was one of acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki’s earliest works. It has the environmental theme that many Miyazaki films share, and it also has some truly stunning animation. From the intricate design of the giant Ohmu, to the haunting blue glow of the toxic jungle, to the lush beauty of Nausicaa’s workshop full of flora and fauna, this film is full of stunning images that stay in the viewer’s mind. long after they saw it.

Miyazaki’s films in particular are known for their beautiful landscape photography, and his ability to create an environment that feels real and lived in but also magical and otherworldly at the same time is truly masterful.

Taken away as if by magic is probably the most widely heralded Studio Ghibli film for its beautiful animation and story, which was significant enough to earn it an Oscar. Every environment and setting is so fleshed out and detailed, and full of magic. There are the big sequences, sure, like Chihiro riding Haku in her dragon form, or any scene in the bathhouse (which is absolutely jaw-dropping), but Taken away as if by magic also stands out in its quieter moments, like the train sequence.

The character designs for the spirits are also incredible, and so wonderfully unique and otherworldly. This film is truly one of the studio’s greatest masterpieces, and it shows in every frame.

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