Have you ever come across an unknown piece of film or television and absolutely fell in love with it? Anime is no exception. There are some crazy good films out there that few people have ever heard of and unfortunately don’t get the recognition they deserve.
In the world of anime films, some of them get blasted into infamy, while others sort of fizzle out. A handful of genuinely good animated movies have been floating around in the forgotten anime films category for years. We put together a list of the ones you need to watch today. Yes, today. Mainstream and successful anime is great and all, but some of those little indie gems could change your life. From incredible animation techniques, to beautifully unique art styles, to emotionally engaging plots, there’s a film on this list that can please everyone.
Here are 15 Forgotten Anime Films That You Need To Watch.
15. Paprika (2006)
The very underrated director Satoshi Kon has quite a few films on this list, starting off with the science fiction film Paprika.
The titular Paprika is the alter-ego of Dr. Atsuko Chiba, a therapist who illegally uses revolutionary psychotherapeutic technology to help her patients by entering their dreams and helping them overcome their anxieties. Things become messy when the dream infiltration device proves to be unstable and dreams begin to merge with reality. Despite being hard to follow at times, Paprika is an enjoyable film with stunning artwork, an interesting love story, and vulnerable characters.
Based on the 1993 novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui of the same name, Paprika won several awards and received mostly positive reviews upon its release. Time Magazine included the film on its list of the best animated films of all time. However, like many of Kon’s films, it became fairly overlooked and forgotten after its initial release.
14. Mind Game (2004)
If you’re a fan of bizarre movies, you’ll probably enjoy Masaaki Yuasa’s acid trip of an animated film, called Mind Game.
Mind Game‘s protagonist is the awkward Nishi, a young man who dreams of being a comic book artist. He runs into his schoolboy crush, Myon, and after confessing his love for her is met with the disappointing realization that she is engaged to another man. Regardless, the two decide to dine at the restaurant Myon’s father runs. Family and yakuza drama ensues while Nishi descends into some sort of strange altered state where he can see everyone’s physical form begin to change. It just gets crazier from there. There’s a belly-of-the-whale situation, alternate realities, and other bizarre goodness.
Mind Game isn’t just unique for its wild storyline. The film features quite a variety of animation styles typically reserved for anthology films.The soundtrack to the film is also fantastic.
Mind Game saw some success after its release and won Best Director, Best Film, and Best Script at the Canadian Fantasia Festival in late 2005. Regardless of its initial success, the film still remains mostly unknown by anime fans and foreign film buffs alike.
13. Colorful (2010)
Keiichi Hara’s adaptation of a novel written by Eto Mori is an interesting take on the experience of the pressure to succeed as a young adolescent.
The film follows the story of a miserable spirit who is, against his wishes, allowed to have another shot at being alive. The soul is sent to the body of a teenage boy named Makoto who had committed suicide. During his six month stay in Makoto’s body, the soul is given a mission. He must find out what his worst mistake from his former life was, why Makoto tried to kill himself, and how to properly enjoy another chance at being alive.
Colorful has themes of suicide, reincarnation, and righting wrongs. Makoto’s character may be hard to understand to at times, with his violent mood swings and contempt for pretty much everyone, including his family, but his character development throughout the film is something to see. The ending is exceptional too.
12. Redline (2009)
If Tank Girl and Cowboy Bebop had a movie baby that really liked racing, that baby would be Redline. This 2009 science fiction anime was Yakeshi Koike’s directorial debut. Redline took an entire seven years to create and its release was delayed several times, but it was well worth the wait.
On a futuristic planet ruled by humanoid dog creatures, JP, a dude with some serious duck’s hair, participates in the planet’s Yellowline auto racing competition. Victory in the Yellowline race paves the way to the biggest interstellar race in the galaxy, the titular Redline. While participating, JP’s vehicle is tampered with and explodes. Despite losing the race, JP is voted in to participate in the Redline race by popular demand. There are cyborgs, hovercrafts, comically long pompadours, and lots of other good stuff typical for car racing anime. The animation style is as insane as the storyline.
Redline’s release was generally successful, with some reviewers praising Koike’s homage to ’70s and ’80s comics as well as his ability to create an animated film that is both different and exhilarating. Redline may lack an engaging plot, but its high-energy goofiness and sensory overload animation makes it worthy of the list.
11. A Letter to Momo (2011)
A Letter to Momo is a 2011 drama directed by Hiroyuki Okiura. The film tackles the experience of grief from the perspective of a child.
At the film’s introduction, Momo and her mother move from the city to a rural town after the death of Momo’s father. She carries with her the unfinished letter written by her dad, which hauntingly states only “Dear Momo.” Upon arriving, Momo finds a book about strange goblin-like creatures called yokai in the attic of her new home. Soon after, some yokai show up to her mother’s estate and start antagonizing Momo. Still trying to adjust to living in a new place, she continues to go out with her relatives and new friends in town, all of which seem oblivious to the presence of the yokai.
In a coming-of-age adventure with themes similar to Spirited Away, Momo struggles to mourn her father’s death and adjust to new friendships, while trying to prevent the yokai from royally screwing up her life. The ending is something special, heartwarming, and well worth watching.
10. Memories (1995)
The Neon Genesis Evangelion-era animation! The Hellsing-esque violence! Memories is the 1995 science fiction anthology creation produced by Katsuhiro Otomo, whose manga short stories series were the basis of the film.
Memories is a classic anthology anime that brings fresh interest with each story that begins. “Magnetic Rose” is a deep space story reminiscent of one or two Twilight Zone episodes as well as the science fiction horror classic Event Horizon. Upon boarding a spaceship graveyard that sent out a distress signal, two astronauts battle violent hallucinations, haunting memories, and the vast terror of space. “Stink Bomb” follows a lab technician in a scenario very similar to the real life Gloria Ramirez event. Without spoiling the story, we can say there’s a lot of deadly fumes, strange body chemistry, and biological horrors that make up the theme of this story. “Cannon Fodder” is centered around a city dependent upon firing huge cannons that compose most of the city to maintain its survival. It is an uncomfortable story with themes of mystery and the unknown.
9. Metropolis (2001)
This 2001 science fiction anime had quite the loaded team of creatives. The film was directed by Rintaro (Galaxy Express 999), written by Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), and based on the Osamu Tezuka novel of the same name. While the central plot differs, the novel and the anime were inspired by the silent German classic Metropolis, circa 1927.
The plot of Metropolis takes place in a city where humans and robots share their lives together. Robots are heavily oppressed by humans and are forced to live in the bottom levels of the city. In Metropolis, a detective and his nephew hunt down a dangerous scientist who has created a robot named Tima who ultimately controls the fate of the world. The two try to unravel the mystery surrounding Tima. The theme of the film is the importance and power of human emotions.
8. Garden of Words (2013)
The Garden of Words is a 2013 animated drama that was the brainchild of Makoto Shinkai, who wrote, edited, and directed the film.
The Garden of Words follows Takao and Yukari, two strangers who seem to keep meeting each other at the same garden every rainy day. Takao is a young student who dreams of being a shoe designer. Yukari is a young woman who is stuck in a bad situation at her job. The two both skip their responsibilities to come to the garden and eventually form a friendship.
The Garden of Words focuses on people who don’t quite have it together and how awkward the process of maturity can be. The film has a ton of stunning visuals that really paint the poetic beauty of rain and Japanese gardens well. It has also been heavily praised for its beautiful animation and artwork, yet reviews of the film’s plot and climax have been very mixed. Even if you can’t get down with the story, the dazzling artwork makes The Garden of Words well worth a watch.
7. Appleseed (2004)
You can’t have a list of great anime without a few cyberpunk films sprinkled in.
Appleseed is a 2004 anime adaptation of the novel of the same name by Masamune Shirow. Directed by Shinji Aramaki, the film shares only the universe and central characters with the manga. The actual film has a completely different storyline.
World War III happens. In a futuristic utopia appropriately called Olympus, humans and cyborgs live safely together. Genetically created creatures called bioroids are essentially slaves to humans within the city. A soldier named Deunan is reunited within the walls of Olympus with her ex boyfriend Briareos, who has now become a cyborg after being nearly killed in the war. Deunan discovers that something is impairing and killing the bioroids within the city, so she decides to uncover the mystery.
The original 1998 version of Appleseed received mixed reviews for its plot while the 2004 remake has been generally favored over the original for a more engaging story. However, if you love nostalgic anime and awkward English dubs, you’ll probably be able to get down with the original film as well.
6. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
What do you get when you put together an aging alcoholic, an ex-drag queen trans woman, a young runaway, and an abandoned baby? A heartwarming, hilarious good time. Satoshi Kon wrote and directed this 2003 comedy-drama. The film is very loosely based on the novel Three Godfathers by Peter B. Kyne.
Upon finding a newborn baby in some garbage with clues pointing to the child’s origin, three derelicts set out on a mission to find the baby’s parents. After naming the child Kiyoko (meaning “pure child”) and beginning their search, the trio run into yakuza members, a dying homeless man, and other interesting characters.
The film brings to light the ugly reality of homelessness and the beauty of human beings helping each other. There are many twists and turns throughout the story, and this film has one of the best endings to an animated film this writer has ever seen. Tokyo Godfathers is one of those rare films that stays in your heart for a long time.
5. Millennium Actress (2001)
This 2001 comedy-drama is another banger from director Satoshi Kon. The film is somewhat based on the lives of actresses Setsuko Hara and Hideko Takamine, who graced the Japanese silver screen until their deaths in 2015 and 2010, respectively. Millennium Actress is considered a postmodernist piece of art.
In Millennium Actress, a well known movie studio from the past is being torn down due to bankruptcy. Professional interviewer Genya decides to find the studio’s most beloved actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara, for an interview. Chiyoko is now a retired hermit, but reluctantly agrees to tell her story. What ensues is a dramatic walk through Chiyoko’s life and a tale of how the journey is usually more important than the goal.
Millennium Actress had a very small advertising campaign and did not see a lot of success in the US. However, the film was widely favored by those who saw it and it was praised for its touching story that transcended animation. Unfortunately, Millennium Actress came out the same year as the immensely successful Spirited Away and sort of became forgotten.
4. Perfect Blue (1997)
If you’re addicted to psychological thriller films, your standards are probably pretty high. The 1997 animated film Perfect Blue from Satoshi Kon is an old school psychological thriller in a vein similar to Neon Genesis Evangelion and other classic frightening anime films.
Perfect Blue is a story about Mima, a famous girl group idol with an enormous fan base who decides to quit the music business and become a professional actress. She gets a role in a crime show called Double Bind. She proves herself as a successful actress and gets cast in a higher role as a rape victim. The scene is horrible and leaves Mima deeply disturbed. Reality becomes warped from Mima’s perspective as she becomes more and more involved in her role as a result of the trauma she was put through. Murders happen, a stalker shows his ugliest side, and and some serious twists and turns occur.
3. The Cat Returns (2002)
If you love cats and a good fantasy film, The Cat Returns will definitely be your thing. This 2002 animated film from Hiroyuki Morita of Studio Ghibli fame is based on a manga by Aoi Hiiragi.
The film follows Haru, a shy student with the rare ability to talk to cats. This ability ends up being more of a problem for Haru after she saves a cat from being hit by a car. This cat is apparently the prince of the cat world, and her kind gesture gets misinterpreted as an acceptance of marriage. Haru is then thrown into a brand new fantastical world that belongs to and is run by cats. She befriends cat criminals, dodges a pretty much arranged marriage, and gains the confidence in herself that she’s always wanted.
The Cat Returns was one of very few Studio Ghibli films to not be directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The film succeeded immensely in Japan and received good reviews in the US for its believable and relatable portrayal of a character that lacks confidence.
2. Dead Leaves (2004)
This 2004 anime science fiction film has one of those rare animation styles that is so chaotic and so entertaining to watch. The film is so fast and so spastic in all the right ways.
A couple of rebel amnesiacs find themselves on planet Earth with crazy physical powers. Retro and Pandy devastate the local dystopian metropolis in an attempt to find clothes and a ride but are quickly captured by police. They are then sent to the titular Dead Leaves, an ultra intense prison on the moon. There are some bizarre characters inside this prison, including one inmate with an electric drill where his genitals should be.
Dead Leaves deserves a lot more love than it has. The visuals alone are engaging and bright, with elements similar to FLCL or Jet Set Radio. The plot is meant to be goofy and weird. Anything more would probably compromise how entertaining this film is.
1. The Sky Crawlers (2008)
The Sky Crawlers is a unique anime film by Mamoru Oshii. The film was adapted from a Hiroshi Mori novel of the same name.
In Sky Crawlers, a gang of genetically engineered immortal fighter pilots, appropriately called Kildren, engage in battles in the sky. While the battles are very real, there is no war. To placate a society normally used to intensely violent wars, the government decides to pay fighter pilots to fight each other to the death. The Kildren’s lives are filled with horrors and the destruction of innocence. Some of the Kildren begin to question their existence and start to catch on to a more insidious mystery.
The Sky Crawlers was an official selection in many film festivals around the world, where it won awards for its original soundtrack and for the film as a whole. Reviews were generally good and a video game based on the film was released in 2008 for the Wii.