In these tough times, I have turned to the gentle ASMR of Miyazaki’s creations to quieten my nerves. These films have been ordered from most stressful to least, in terms of viewing. Some people, like myself, are all about escapism, while others like to lean into difficult subject matter as a way of making sense of the world. So whichever the two categories you fall in, Ghibli has got the goods - a true comfort in this wild world.
22. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
This is the Requiem for a Dream of the animated world. It’s a stark and powerful depiction of the horrors of war. You will need to be in a good headspace to take on the bleak tale of two siblings made homeless by the bombs. Like Requiem, it’s a true masterpiece, but you won’t want to watch this twice.
21. The Wind Rises (2013)
A young man dreams of being a pilot, but his poor eyesight pushes him into building WWII fighter planes instead. Another war-centric piece from Miyazaki, but unlike Grave of the Fireflies, it will leave you feeling bittersweet, rather than plain bitter.
20. Nausicaä: Valley of the Wind (1984)
Given that this film is essentially about the fallout from an apocalypse, it may be a triggering watch at this time. Despite not being anxiety-reducing, it’s frequently ranked as one of the greatest animated films ever made, so once you’ve practised enough mindfulness, please add it to your viewing list.
19. The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (2013)
From the outset, you may expect this film to be another Ponyo. A bamboo-cutter finds a tiny girl inside a piece of bamboo and soon discovers she’s a princess from another world. But, If you’ve watched E.T., you know they’ve always got to go back to their home planet. Mentally prepare yourself for this one, because the beginning is deceptively soft, but it comes with a hard landing. Like a Care Bear with a rusty razor blade stuffed inside.
18. Princess Mononoke (1997)
A solid fan-favourite that is often revered as Miyazaki’s best - but this isn’t about the best, it’s about what will make your soul feel gentle. Witness the dark side of human nature as Princess Mononoke takes on a mining town to protect her forests. Fun fact, this was co-written by Neil Gaiman.
17. Tales from Earthsea (2006)
Earthsea starts off with young Prince Arren, chilling in his castle, living his best life and then BAM he kills his father without explanation and runs off. What Tales from Earthsea gets right is it’s portrayal of how one navigates grief, but in these weird times, you might prefer the portrayal of cute bunnies instead.
16. Only Yesterday (1991)
This is where the anxiety levels may be subjective to some viewers. While this film is gentle, (TimeOut described it as ‘gorgeously uneventful’), there’s a lot about regret and disappointment and shame, so this is one I would save for when you want to cry over a lost love.
15. Ocean Waves (1993)
A beautiful exchange student challenges Taku and Yutaka’s friendship, leading to a slow, melancholic unravelling of everything they thought they knew. At its core, Ocean Waves is a story about isolation, which is hella relatable, but perhaps not something you want to be reminded of right now?
14. When Marnie Was There (2014)
Each twist and turn in this haunting story prove to be sadder than the last. A lonely girl growing up in the foster care system meets Marnie, a mysterious woman who’s closer to her than she could ever expect. Despite the emotional ride, it has a very sweet pay-off, so all the crying will be worth it in the end (promise!).
13. From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
A young girl who lives in an old boarding house, rises early every morning to raise a naval flag for her father who died in the Korean War. It’s a film about shaking off the shackles of the past, and despite the heavy subject matter, it’s ultimately about coming together for the greater good; a message the world needs right now.
12. Spirited Away (2001)
This is THE Ghibli film. Spectacular on the eyes, warm on the heart, nourishing on the soul. It’s a film everybody should watch once, even if animation isn’t your thing. Every single character, no matter how small the cameo, is drenched in personality. However, it’s not without some tense and dark scenes that will disturb your thoughts for some time.
11. Castle in the Sky (1986)
A mysterious girl with a mysterious, glowing necklace is kidnapped by the men in black and then kidnapped from them by - sky pirates! A riveting steampunk adventure that’ll make you forget you’re trapped inside.
10. Whisper of the Heart (1995)
As the title suggests, this is a very gently uplifting and simple story, of an aspiring writer and an aspiring violin-maker falling in love. Watching this film is like browsing an antique store, while David Attenborough narrates - it’s just sublimely nice.
9. Porco Rosso (1992)
Porco Rosso offers up serious Tintin vibes, as we follow the adventures of a flying-ace that’s also a pig. My personal favourite in the Ghibli repertoire; this film has everything you could want in a classic action/adventure, but above all, it’s an empowering watch. It won’t just comfort you, it will inspire.
8. The Cat Returns (2002)
Haru Yoshioka is living every girl’s dream because she can speak to cats. One day she rescues one who turns out to be a Cat Prince, and as a thanks he offers her his hand (paw?) in marriage to which she’s like ‘uhhhh… I think we should just be friends’. But no, she’s forced to get engaged to a cat, but apart from that… and all the cat politics in this film, it’s a pretty chill watch.
7. Pom Poko (1994)
This film was also released as ‘Heisei Tanuki Gassen Pompoko’ which translates in English to ‘The Raccoon War’. Adorable critters work together to thwart the evil developers plan’s to build over their home. Tanuki, the mythical creatures these are based on, have big, swinging balls, so it’s impossible to ever feel that stressed watching this.
If you were a fan of the Redwall series or Watership Down, but you thought they were a little too heavy, then this is right up your alley.
6. Arrietty (2010)
Large sequences of this film are cute tiny people (known as ‘Borrowers’) making little houses out of tissue paper and breaking up sugar cubes to make their meals. It’s full ASMR and very soothing.
5. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
Just as Howl’s castle floats through the sky, you too, will float through this tale of magic and imagination. Like many of Ghibli’s other works, there are plenty of mouth-watering meals to feast your eyes on.
4. Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
A young witch sets off on a year-long apprenticeship to a seaside town, smart-talking cat in tow. After being taken in by a kindly baker, she uses her powers to deliver baked goods across town on her broom, which is as charming as it sounds. Like Howl's Moving Castle, the food sequences are delectable. Your only concern will be what to eat while watching.
3. My Neighbours the Yamadas (1999)
A delightful series of vignettes revolving around each member of the Yamada family. The most conflict you can expect from this film is arguments over the remote control.
2. Ponyo (2008)
A goldfish princess turns herself into a human and eats lots of ham. Sure, there’s more to the plot than that, but this aquatic fairytale is essentially a triumph of how darn cute Studio Ghibli can be.
1. My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
Coming in at the top spot, watching My Neighbour Totoro is the ultimate self-care. It is the La Mer face mask of Miyazaki's work. Sweet, pure childhood innocence coupled with adorable forest creatures make for the most splendid cinematic experience.
Written by Sophie Chandler. More from her here.