As the son of an artist and an illustrator myself, I have been deeply interested in animation as far back as I can remember. Chances are, if you are reading this, you are a nerd and you love animated films like I do. With the rise of Disney+ and Apple TV, there are more places to watch animated films than ever before. But let’s face it, Netflix still provides more options than any other streaming service—so many options in fact, that it can be difficult to sort through them all and Netflix makes it hard to find what they actually have, much less find what’s actually worth your time. So here’s a list of 20 animated movies on Netflix you might have missed, each of which is worthy of the necessary time commitment. This list features films with gorgeous art that tackle all sides of the human experience from the glorious to the profane.
It should be noted that a few of these, while thematically profound, are not for the faint of heart. Additionally, it should be said that not all of these films are family friendly—I recommend parents read reviews on Common Sense Media before determining whether to watch any particular film on this list with their children.
A Whisker Away
Written by Mari Okada (Anohana, O Maidens In Your Savage Season), this is about a girl who becomes a cat to get closer to the boy she likes. Hijinks and sadness and a wild adventure ensue.
19) Modest Heroes (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Akihiko Yamashita, and Yoshiyuki Momose, 2018)
A selection of three shorts in the format Katsuhiro Otomo uses in Memories, Neo Tokyo, and Short Peace, proving the talent present in Studio Ponoc.
A dark film about a dark time, made more palatable for children by a series of deus ex machina salvations. It’s a good film, beautifully drawn, but not quite a great film.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower
Made of Ghibli alumni, Studio Ponoc’s first film struggles under the weight of Ghibli’s influence and from a critical vantage looks like a pastiche jumble of What We’ve Seen Before – but for kids, it’s still pretty wonderful.
16) Blame (Hiroyuki Seshita, 2017)
Taking a brief moment from within Nihei’s comic and expanding it into a full story, giving lightly brushed characters more to do and more to want, injecting a bit of warmth into Nihei’s world.
15) Miss Hokusai (Keiichi Hara, 2015)
A series of scenes from the life of Katsushika Oi, daughter of famous Japanese artist Hokusai. It’s a funny, pretty film.
April and the Extraordinary World
While I hotly anticipated this for it’s illustrations by French comics legend Jacques Tardi, it turned out to be a solid alt-history adventure with steamships, talking cats, and lizard people.
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse
While I’m still upset by how shabbily they treated Peni Parker, Spider-Verse is pretty handily the greatest superhero movie out there. Animation makes this everything the MCU movies could never have been.
12) Mirai (Mamoru Hosoda, 2018)
While this isn’t my favourite Hosoda film, it does offer some of the director’s most sublime moments, presenting vignettes of both parenthood and childhood that should resonate with most viewers.
I Lost My Body
A severed hand tries to find the body that it was unceremoniously removed from. A big adventure bildungsroman.
My Life as a Zucchini
About a young boy orphaned and life in the home and how he manages to live in hope. As a zucchini.
The Garden of Words
A very short film, both dodgy and sweet (in its depiction of a 16yo boy who falls in love with a 20-something unemployed teacher), but mostly about how pretty Tokyo can be when it rains. 100% stay away from the terrifically awful English dub.
Song of the Sea
Cartoon Saloon’s second film follows a boy and his younger sister and their journey through worlds of faeries, giants, and selkies. While I slightly prefer Secret Of Kells, Song Of The Sea is very good and CS’s second best film.
Boy & the World
Almost without dialogue, Boy & The World relies on musical cues to shape its narrative. Absolutely beautiful.
Castle of Cagliostro
Miyazaki’s take on the rascally thief is, of course, beautifully animated. It’s a lively caper, a lot of fun, and visually holds up well for something animated four decades ago.
5) Funan (Denis Do, 2018)
This is a hard movie because the four-year rule of the Khmer Rouge was marked by unbelievable atrocities, resulting in ~2 million murders. Funan is about a family and the struggles they face throughout. Grim.
Children of the Sea
Sublimely directed adaptation of Daisuke Igarashi’s world-class comic, the story of a girl who discovers a world layered under our own rather quickly dives into the cosmic. Maybe the most beautiful animated film I’ve seen.
Lu Over the Wall
A Little Mermaid riff with Yuasa’s own interests making this a wholly unique mermaid experience. A ton of fun *and* I can heartily recommend the English dub, esp for the big song in the climax.
A Silent Voice
Gorgeously directed adaptation of Yoshitoki Oima’s comic, A Silent Voice explores a suicidal former bully years later seeking to make amends with the deaf girl he once bullied before ending his own life.
In this Corner of the World
Lovingly adapting Fumiyo Kono’s comic, Katabuchi brings to quiet life the story of a young Hiroshima woman recently moved to Kure for an arranged marriage in the war years, spanning the late ’30s through the war’s end. A film of daily life in a warring nation.