Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki is known for complex, multi-layered characters that put many other animated characters to shame, and the creations that come out of Studio Ghibli are typically nothing short of masterpieces. Even so, characters like Howl Jenkins Pendragon of Howl's Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke of her titular film and Totoro of My Neighbor Totoro often get all of the love when there are so many wonderful yet underrated characters in the Ghibliverse.
Any one of these characters from Miyazaki's movies, from Porco Rosso to Ponyo, deserve just as many merch promos and subscription box nods as any of his other more well-known creations.
10 Fio Piccolo
Miyazaki's characters often include plucky, strong young girls and women who exhibit bravery and hard work in spite of their own fears. Fio Piccolo is one of his best examples. The gifted aircraft designer from Porco Rosso defies stereotypes against both her gender and her age, taking over her grandfather's company, Piccolo S.P.A., at the end of the film. By the way, she's only 17 years old when she does this!
Like many of the women in the film, she has a crush on Porco Rosso, and there's some disturbing accounts of adult men fighting over a teenager, but she's still one of his most interesting and underrated characters.
Ponyo, the young fish in the titular film that is loosely based on the story of the Little Mermaid, is so powerful yet adorable that many fans copy her intonation of "HAM!" when they eat her favorite food. Young Sōsuke, the human who tempts Ponyo into joining the mortal world, is such a wonderful character.
The kind-hearted boy not only rescues Ponyo and attempts to keep her alive in fish form, but he agrees to be her human caretaker to ensure her success as a human alongside him. The two enjoy a grand adventure both atop and within the sea together and the entire time, he keeps a calm and steady head, guiding them through precarious situations and teaching Ponyo along the way.
8 Anna Sasaki
When Marnie Was There may not be the most beloved Studio Ghibli film in the world, but it's still a cinematic masterpiece that tackles complicated, tough issues with magic and grace. Anna Sasaki, the protagonist of the film, meets her own grandmother's spirit through a summer of living near her old home.
At first, Anna seems like a petulant, even mean, tween girl, much like Chihiro started out in Spirited Away. Throughout the film we witness her grow and mature as the truth about her family slowly unravels in front of her, and by the end of the mystical movie she's transformed into a much happier, healthier child who is excited about her future.
While the gorgeous film The Secret World of Arrietty may not be the first Studio Ghibli film to come to mind for many fans, film is ranked 95% positive on Rotten Tomatoes and is the fourth best-selling Anime movie in the United States, beat only by video games, so it could arguably be the most popular.
Still, Pod, Arietty's quiet father, is rather reserved and forgotten in the film when he should be hailed as a fantastic father. He acknowledges mistakes without vilifying his daughter for making them, supports her own choices (including her wardrobe), allows her to explore dangerous environments with full confidence in her and teaches the young Borrower the skills she needs for survival despite her mother's protests.
6 Captain Dola
Castle in the Sky is filled with colorful characters, most of them wanting a piece of Laputa for themselves. The air pirates, who aren't nearly as pirate-like as they seem at first when they capture young Sheeta, are led by Captain Dola, and at first she seems like she's only after treasure.
Throughout the film, Dola transforms into a kindly, if rough around the edges, guardian figure who cares for both Sheeta and Pazu, ultimately helping her and helping her leave Laputa behind. Miyazaki is known for creating great villain-like figures who turn out to be much more sympathetic, like witches Zeniba and Yubaba from Spirited Away.
5 Lady Eboshi
The ruler of Irontown in Princess Mononoke, Lady Eboshi is meant to be a villain, and she is cruel and violent in many ways. That's not the crux of the character, however, and like many antagonists in Ghibli works, Eboshi represents both the best and the worst of human nature.
Eboshi is a feminist who is good and kind to her own people, and would gladly sacrifice herself for them. While she destroys the forest and calls for the ending of those who hold it dear, she also provides employment and shelter for many people, including those who are shunned by society. According to Miyazaki, she resembles a shirabyōshi, or traditional dancer. Kushana of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind has similar characteristics.
Whisper of the Heart is often considered one of the most underrated Studio Ghibli movies, and the flawed yet inspiring character Shizuku is definitely one to admire. The young character has a bad temper and is on the stubborn side, but she turns lots of movie tropes on their heads.
For example, when Shizuku's love interest leaves out of country, instead of following him or wallowing in despair like some young women in even modern movies do, she revels in her own imagination, writing a book and proving that at 14 she can be a capable young person, using her sensitivity and gifts for positive growth.
Spirited Away is far from an underrated film, as it is often cited as a favorite among Studio Ghibli fans. It's full of characters people adore, with Haku, Chihiro and No-Face making the top of the list. It's one of the most transformative of the studio's pictures, as it should be as a coming-of-age film.
The film also contains several cool underrated characters who first appear hateful or cruel when, in reality, they only need be given a chance at displaying their humanity to portray kindness. Lin, the fox-like spirit who is placed in charge of Sen, is a great example who not only helps the girl succeed at the bath house but becomes protective of her over time. Even Boh, the hateful giant baby in the movie, transforms into a gentler character.
2 Tatsuo Kusakabe
When it comes to My Neighbor Totoro, little Mei Kusakabe and her friend Totoro are the primary focus of the award-winning film. Her sister, Satsuki Kusakabe, is also a main character, but their father Tatsuo gets very little limelight despite his being the epitome of healthy, positive masculinity.
Mr. Kusakabe is not only an intellectual university professor who still values the power of play as children's most important work, but he moves to an old house just to be closer to his sick wife. He teaches his daughters body positivity, to use laughter against fear and believes them when they tell him stories.
1 The Witch Of The Waste
While the main antagonist of Howl's Moving Castle seems to be the Witch of the Waste, there's much more to the spurned ex-lover of Howl. Sure, she curses Sophie Hatter into her old woman form, but over the course of the story we realize that the woman is a victim of not only Howl's callous nature but of Madame Suliman as well.
Fans should note that there are enormous differences between these characters in the book and the film, but the witch ultimately becomes a member of Howl and Sophie's motley family in the film. Once her magic has disappeared, she is revealed as a sweet, if a bit eccentric, old woman.