As streaming services like HBO Max have grown bigger and tried to appeal to more fans, they have tapped into the anime market, making classic anime films readily available for fans to watch. Now that HBO Max has dramatically expanded the amount of content available, they know they cannot miss out on this key audience.
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It was not so long ago that anime lovers had a difficult time finding their favorite shows and movies online, or even being taken seriously as there was a major stigma against animated content. Thankfully, that has changed, and HBO, a company that has long been ahead of the curve on many things, is providing anime fans with some amazing movies to enjoy.
Updated by Sage Ashford, December 31st 2022: Though HBO Max isn't the service it once was, it still has an impressive amount of anime in its library. People looking for some amazing anime films to check out could find a trove of incredible content available to them there. We've updated this list with even more great anime movies on HBO Max.
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My Neighbor Totoro Is A Gentle Exploration Of Childhood Magic
Director Hayao Miyazaki and the production company Studio Ghibli have become synonymous with all that is great about anime. Their films are timeless classics, each one with a sense of magic and wonder to them even as they depict realism in every facial expression, every background detail, and every piece of food.
No film better exemplifies the childhood magic of Ghibli than My Neighbor Totoro, the story of two little girls who befriend a magical woodland spirit. This is the sort of movie that nurtures the soul.
Spirited Away Explores The Spirit Realm
Another film that grandly displays the legacy and influence of Studio Ghibli is Spirited Away. Like My Neighbor Totoro, the movie’s protagonist is a little girl who encounters magical spirits.
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In this case, Chihiro becomes trapped in the spirit realm, encountering all sorts of kami as she works to try and save her parents, who have been transformed into pigs. She befriends a boy named Haku and encounters some truly terrifying kami, including a monstrous creature called No-Face. This film feels like a love letter to Shinto traditions, presenting nature and spirits on their own terms, even as it asks important questions about human nature.
The Animatrix Adapts A Classic Series
After the success of the first Matrix film, the Wachowskis expanded the franchise to include two sequels, a number of video games, and an anime set in the Matrix universe. This last one is quite appropriate, as one reason for the original film’s success was its ability to adapt anime styles and action sequences to live-action.
The Animatrix consists of a series of short vignettes, each a separate story that expands upon some element of the Matrix's larger grand narrative, including the war between humanity and the machines and the events that led up to The Matrix Reloaded. All the different stories have a unique tone, both in their writing and their animation styles, ensuring that each will resonate with audiences in its own unique way.
Castle in the Sky Is A Classic Steampunk Film
Another excellent film from Studio Ghibli, Castle in the Sky first released in 1986. In this alternate history world, two young teenagers attempt to find the legendary castle in the sky, Laputa. There's just one problem: Sheeta is being hunted by the government for a special crystal amulet she has. The government wants to find its way into Laputa as well.
The very first film from Studio Ghibli, Castle in the Sky established the studio as a force in the anime industry. More than that, these days it's regarded as a classic amongst steampunk creators and fans alike.
Promare Covers Social Topics With Grace
This mecha anime is pure robot-fighting fun, but it is also one of the most surprisingly deep and moving movies released in 2019, once again raising the bar for the mecha genre. With its amazing psychedelic color palette and blend of classic 2D animation with newer digital 3D animation, this film is visually stunning. It is also emotionally resonant and politically relevant.
Set in the far future, Promare follows Galo Thymos, an arrogant but idealistic young man who puts out fires raging through the city while fighting against a group of arsonists called the Mad Burnish. After he captures the Burnish leader Lio Fotia, he is forced to confront his assumptions about everything he believes in. Promare does a brilliant job addressing everything from climate change to the impotent rage people feel about living in a broken world they do not know how to change.
Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind Focuses On Humanity's Struggle To Survive On A Hostile Earth
In 1984, Hayao Miyazaki created a film that would impact the anime industry for generations. Based on his own manga, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is set on a post-apocalyptic Earth. After humanity has wrecked the planet with nuclear weapons, all that's left are a small number of humans existing in an environment that's grown toxic to humans because of their own behavior.
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The lead protagonist is Nausicaa, a young girl who lives in the peaceful Valley of the Wind. Her peaceful life is disturbed though when the kingdom of Tolmekia appears, aiming to find a weapon that can destroy the toxic jungle encroaching on the Earth. Though this film existed before Studio Ghibli, its influence has led it to be seen as one of the greatest anime films ever made, even decades later.
Kiki’s Delivery Service Is A Delightful Slice Of Life Film
For obvious reasons, witches have always been some of the most magical characters in fiction of all kinds, from ancient folk tales to modern TV dramas. Kiki’s Delivery Service follows the titular character, a witch who makes deliveries on her broomstick.
Accompanied by her adorable black cat Jiji, Kiki operates out of the city of Koriko, interacting with various residents, including an aviation-obsessed boy named Tombo. Kiki’s anxiety, ambition, grief, and vulnerability make her a truly relatable character as she journeys not just through the city, but also into adulthood.
Weathering With You Is A Beautiful Romance Film
As expected of Makoto Shinkai, Weathering with You is a visually stunning anime film with a bittersweet romance featuring an element of magic in an otherwise grounded world. The story is set around first-year high school student Hodaka Morishima who travels to Tokyo to build his own life. While there, Hodaka meets a young girl named Hina, who has the power to make the sun shine at a time when Tokyo has been suffering from a deluge of rain.
Though Hodaka and Hina make a connection, Hodaka encourages her to use her powers to become the "sunshine girl." However, repeated use of her powers brings troubles to both of them.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya Is Based On A Folk Tale
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is based on the Japanese folk tale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a story that begins when a man cutting bamboo in the forest finds a baby girl concealed in one of the plants and adopts her. It has a classic fairy tale feel, enhanced by the unique artistic style of the animation, which evokes brush-stroke Japanese paintings with its watercolor effects.
As the little girl grows into a woman, she is driven by her depths of pain and yearning and spurred on by her moral convictions. Interestingly, this is the most expensive Japanese film ever made.
Howl’s Moving Castle Explores The Horrors Of War
A lot of the classic tropes of a great Ghibli film are present in Howl's Moving Castle. A young female protagonist befriends an enigmatic young boy. There is a magic spirit being, in this case, an animated scarecrow called Turnip Head. The world of magic and old traditions comes into conflict with the mechanization and sensibilities of modernity.
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Despite all this shared DNA, Howl's Moving Castle is unique and is in many ways a departure from some of Hayao Miyazaki's earlier works. His focus transitions from nature and spirituality to themes of war and pacifism. One of the biggest reasons this movie was made was Miyazaki's opposition to the Iraq War, specifically to reach American audiences and make them reflect with discomfort upon the nature of the war.
Whipser Of The Heart Centers Around Teenagers Working Towards Their Goals
Whisper of the Heart isn't talked about nearly as much as some of Miyazaki's other films, which is a shame because it's a great film. The movie focuses on Shizuku Tsukishima, a young writer who's still in middle school. After she notices people have been checking out her books, she meets a young boy named Seiji Amasawa.
From there, Whisper of the Heart focuses on the passions of the two protagonists. While Shizuku wants to be a writer, Seiji wants to be a master violin maker. Whisper of the Heart shows the sacrifices involved in truly devoting oneself to something.
The Wind Rises Brings The Early 20th Century To Life
Based on the life of the Japanese engineer Jiro Horikoshi who designed the fighter jets used in World War II, The Wind Rises is a tale of hope and failure. It is a beautifully animated masterwork of visual storytelling that brings the early 20th Century to life.
Hayao Miyazaki came out of retirement to make this film--a piece about how Horikoshi's desire to build airplanes as beautiful machines was perverted by forces beyond his control. While Miyazaki has frequently depicted flying machines in his movies, The Wind Rises recontextualizes airborne vehicles within a historical framework where the magic and metaphor of them are torn down by ugly realities.
Batman Ninja Shows DC Still Knows How To Have Fun With Its Characters
Batman has always been something like a ninja, so this movie makes more sense than it does on first glance. In 2018, DC released Batman Ninja, directed by Junpei Mizusaki and animated by studio Kamikaze Douga. During the film, a battle with Gorilla Grodd leads to many of Gotham's most dangerous villains and best heroes being transported to the distant past of feudal Japan.
Once there, Batman discovers that Joker is trying to take over feudal Japan, having already built an entire clan of warriors around his name. Working alongside all of his Robins as well as Catwoman, Batman battles against not just Joker, but several of the most dangerous villains in Arkham in the hopes of getting back to the present.
Princess Mononoke Is Miyazaki's Best Film
Princess Mononoke was way ahead of its time. It has been called Hayao Miyazaki's best film, which is no small feat, given the director's incredible body of work, almost all of which are considered masterpieces. The story is about a conflict between a community of humans destroying the natural world to amass resources necessary for their survival and expansion and the violent pushback of nature.
Princess Mononoke is not a kid's movie. It has a violence and potency to it that shows the cruelty of human industrialization and the raw unrelenting force of nature. There are no heroes here. There are no villains. There are different sides with different needs and different people with their own perspectives. Princess Mononoke is a film about facing the inevitable and confronting real-world conflicts through magic and metaphor. Even still, Mononoke manages to fit in a moving forbidden romance story.
Seven Samurai Inspired Countless Anime Films
Seven Samurai is not an anime film, but most anime fans will certainly love this classic. Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai is the source of inspiration for literally hundreds (if not thousands) of anime that came after.
One cannot overemphasize the impact Seven Samurai has had. Its influences can be seen directly or indirectly in almost every samurai anime ever made. Everything from the team of seven warriors uniting around a cause to many of the famous battle scenes has been recreated time and again by Japanese studios and Hollywood alike. The fight scenes stand the test of time, and the story even more so. Anyone who has not seen it should watch Seven Samurai immediately, and anyone who has seen it will no doubt want to rewatch it.
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