TULIKA BOSE: If you've never been introduced to the fantastical world of Hayao Miyazaki, now is the time to start. Miyazaki, often called the Walt Disney of Japan, has been making fantasy anime films for over 35 years beloved by people all over the world.
Miyazaki's films are known for featuring strong female characters, complex world building, and unbelievable attention to detail. Luckily for you, all of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli's films are streaming on HBO Max right now.
I fact, we're such die-hard fans at Mashable that we've decided to give you a personal rundown of our top picks that you can stream right now.
ALISA STERN: I saw "Spirited Away" for the first time when I was a budding animator and I was not familiar with Miyazaki, nor the Studio Ghibli films when I saw it.
"Spirited Away" is about a young girl named a Chihiro who is moving with her parents into a new home, and her parents eat some food that they shouldn't eat. They turn into pigs and Chihiro gets trapped in this world.
And she discovers a bathhouse that is for the spirits and Chihiro has to work inside this bathhouse to try to free her parents, turn them back into humans, and eventually get back into the human world with them.
The animation is so incredibly detailed. The atmosphere, the bathhouse, the steam, it's like nothing you've ever seen before, and you just want to crawl up inside of the film and stay there.
PROMA KHOSLA: You know how some movies become your childhood favorites just because they were on a loop and you would watch them every time you went over to that one friend's house? Well, that was Kiki's Delivery Service" for me, and I'm very, very grateful.
Kiki is a 13-year-old witch who leaves her hometown to embark on the customary year of solitary training. Kiki doesn't know what her specialty will be as a witch, and she's not even that comfortable flying yet. But in a town that hasn't seen witches in generations, she notices that there might be something she can help with, deliveries.
She learns that a witch is only as strong as the community around her and the people who she wants to help. As a child, I couldn't wait to be a grown up 13-year-old like Kiki and fly off on my adventures.
- Here we go, whee.
PROMA KHOSLA: I'm still waiting on that by the way.
DANICA D'SOUZA: One of my favorite Miyazaki films is "My Neighbor Totoro." The story is about two young sisters, Satsuki and Mei, who, along with their dad, move to this beautiful, rural countryside.
We later find out that the mom is in the hospital and the kids, along with the dad, have moved here to be closer to her. Totoro is like this really majestical beast who the girl's befriend.
There's such beautiful creatures that have been developed in this film. Totoro, the Catbus the soot spreader, cute, cuddly, small, fuzzy, black balls that go around.
- I caught one.
DANICA D'SOUZA: Miyazaki made sure that everything was hand-drawn frame by frame. There's a whole different charm to that.
RAY WHITE: One of my favorite Miyazaki films is "The Secret World of Arrietty." And it's an adaptation of the novel "The Borrowers," which follows tiny people who are about four inches tall as they live inside houses.
- We borrow things like soap and cookies and sugar, things that humans don't miss if they're gone.
RAY WHITE: So Arrietty is a young girl who lives with her mother and father, and the film follows her as she pretty much starts her own borrowing journey.
The thing I like about it is that the animation style with the scale of the borrowers and the humans is really cool, because you get to see how they utilize small human objects.
I just love the film. It's something that I think all ages can enjoy. I watched it with my little sister, and it's a cool take on the whole "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, " type of thing, but in more of a magical, beautifully drawn way.
ELVIE MAE PARIAN: "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, " definitely in my top list it comes to talking about favorite Studio Ghibli films. At that point in time the founders of Studio Ghibli were working for a different studio. And "Nausicaa" was so successful that they just ended up breaking away from that and making Studio Ghibli as we know it today.
It's very dirty. It's very grungy. It takes place in a postapocalyptic setting where everything is poisonous and dangerous and resources are scarce.
Its protagonist, Nausicaa, it really sets her apart compared to I think, a lot of the other heroines that show up in the rest of their films. She is not only a princess, she has to get down and dangerous. She has to kill.
A huge, huge theme in "Nausicaa" specifically, is the environmentalism. And that's a theme that they continue to explore in the rest of their films later on, when they do officially become Studio Ghibli.
JESS JOHO: "Princess Mononoke" is set in 14th-century Japan, where the forces of nature and industrialization are at literal war. As a human warrior princess raised by the wolf god, Mononoke begrudgingly works alongside protagonist and soldier Ashitaka to restore peace and bring balance to the natural world, whose spirits are being ravaged by human greed.
There isn't enough time in the day to list everything that's amazing about "Princess Mononoke," but the best part to me is that this 1999 movie was just so prescient about our current climate crisis. It used this beautiful and fantastical story to show how capitalistic human greed not only destroys the natural world, but also alienates us from our own humanity.
Also, there is a group of unapologetically horny women workers with double-C thick thighs that are absolutely iconic.
ALI FOREMAN: Miyazaki's eighth film produced under Studio Ghibli, "Ponyo," was reportedly inspired by a whole bunch of different stories. But Disney fans are likely to compare it to "The Little Mermaid" first, and with good reason.
The 2008 film follows the adventures of a fish named Ponyo who longs to be a little girl after her landlocked love interest, a little boy named Sosuke, introduces her to life on land. The pair's burgeoning friendship causes a lot of complications between the sea and earth realms, resulting in an exquisite blend of adorable and the ethereal animation that is at once enchanting and endearing.
The relationship between Ponyo and Sosuke is precious.
- It's ham.
- Careful, it's hot.
- Oh, ha, ha.
ALI FOREMAN: Plus, it's got a credit track that you'll be singing for hours once the movie ends.
SASCHA SEGAN: So I decided to go up to my castle in the sky to talk about "Castle in the Sky." It's just a delightful adventure romp where a bunch of people chase this magic, ancient MacGuffin through this delightful steampunk world, while being pursued by a hilariously villainous Mark Hamill.
It's got so many of the key Ghibli elements, like crazy transportation, OK. There's sky pirates. There's a battle on a train. There's a giant mechanical floating city.
I've watched it with my daughter, it's got to be 20 or 30 times now. We even got swag from it.
- Look, my stone's glowing. It's been in my family as long as I can remember.
TULIKA BOSE: "Grave of the Fireflies" is probably Studio Ghibli most serious film. In fact, it's often considered one of the most famous anti-war movies of all time.
"Grave of the Fireflies" takes place in post-World War II Japan, and follows 14-year-old Seita and her sister, four-year-old Setsuko. After their home is firebombed, Seita is tasked with keeping himself and his little sister alive after they've been separated from their parents.
In one really moving scene, Seita helps illuminate a cave that the two are staying in with fireflies. I was so struck by the beauty of the scene that, I will admit it, I cried a lot.
At the end of the movie, the two siblings die of starvation and their souls are illuminated forever as fireflies. If this film doesn't haunt you from the beginning to the end, I don't know what will.
"Howl's Moving Castle" takes place in a fictional Kingdom where both magic and technology coexist. It follows the story of a young girl named Sophie who is one day cursed by a witch and turned into an elderly lady. Sophie sets out on a quest to break this curse, and along the way runs into a couple characters who help her do so.
What I love the most about "Howl's Moving Castle" are the visuals. It does a great job of not only building this world, but at making even the darkest scenes seem so vibrant. You could literally pause the movie at any point in time and appreciate all the details that are in that single scene. Each frame could literally be its own painting.
TULIKA BOSE: Wow, that's a really big list.
- Yay, we did it. We did it.
TULIKA BOSE: Once you get through these, you can actually binge the rest of Studio Ghibli's films on HBO Max afterwards. In fact, I'm probably going to go watch "Howl's Moving Castle" right now.