Best Studio Ghibli movies for kids

Totoro Bus Stop
(Image credit: Studio Ghibli)

If you're looking for the perfect way to spend time with the family, a good movie is always a solid choice. Narrowing down the best film to watch, however, can be a bit of a challenge. Luckily, HBO Max (US) and Netflix (UK) have nearly the entire Studio Ghibli catalog. These animated classics have timeless stories, loveable characters, and incredible visuals, and they'll easily become go-to favorites. However, not every Ghibli film is "little kid" friendly. We can help you there. 

Our best overall pick for the whole family is My Neighbor Totoro. It's a sweet and unforgettable story about sisterly love with a little touch of imagination. All of our picks have a burst of magic...

Best overall: My Neighbor Totoro

Totoro Sleeping

Source: Studio Ghibli (Image credit: Studio Ghibli)

My Neighbor Totoro is easily the best pick for the entire family, whether you're young or old. Our story follows young Satsuki and her sister Mei as they make a big move to live closer to their ailing mother. However, it comes as quite a surprise when they discover spirits haunt their new home. It's a heart-warming story of sisterhood captured in beautiful animation, and it's a coming-of-age tale that reminds us of the delight of childhood.

With a run-time of 86 minutes and full of colorful details, this movie will easily capture young kids' attention (my two-year-old loves this movie). However, if you're looking for a film with a little more action, you might want to look elsewhere. Plenty goes on here, but it may not be fast-paced enough for the adrenaline junkies in the family. My Neighbor Totoro is a genuinely touching story and is worthy of the top spot.

Reasons to watch:

  • Charming characters
  • Heartfelt, family-focused narrative
  • Wonderful animation and soundtrack
  • Great pick for all ages
  • Shorter run-time for young ones

Reasons to avoid:

  • Not exactly "action-packed"

Best fairy tale: Ponyo

Ponyo Screenshot

Source: Studio Ghibli (Image credit: Studio Ghibli)

Based on the classic Hans Christen Anderson story, The Little Mermaid, Ponyo is an adorable story of friendship and love. Young water-dweller Brunhilde gets trapped after she swims away from her wizard father, only to be saved by five-year-old Sōsuke. He names her Ponyo, and the pair form an unbreakable bond. However, Ponyo's innate magic power stirs a tsunami and brings danger to the entire island.

Ponyo is fun, whimsical, and a sweet little love story that will captivate the whole family. With crisp, clean animation, vibrant environments, and cute characters, it's worth the watch. Clocking in at 101 minutes, it's a great length for young ones as well.

Reasons to watch:

  • Charming story
  • Adorable characters
  • Good run-time for young children
  • Vibrant animation

Reasons to avoid:

  • Maybe too sweet?
  • Story may confuse younger audiences

Most magical: Kiki's Delivery Service

Kikis Delivery Service

Source: Studio Ghibli (Image credit: Studio Ghibli)

Thirteen-year-old Kiki is striking out on her own — as is a tradition for all young witches — to complete her training in a brand new town. This coming-of-age tale may have a touch of magic, but the themes it shares are true to life. Balancing new friends, work, and self-improvement is a full-time job, and the trials of life can be tough to handle.

Kiki's Delivery Service is a relatable story that captures not only daily struggles but the difficulties of finding your place in life. Featuring classic Studio Ghibli animation and an incredible voice cast including Kirsten Dunst and Phil Hartman, this is a wonderful family film. Again, it's more of a character piece, so if you are looking for something with more action, it might not be what you're looking for.

Reasons to watch:

  • Relatable story
  • Charming characters
  • Decent run-time at 101 minutes
  • Great voice cast

Reasons to avoid:

  • Not a ton of action

Smallest world: The Secret World of Arrietty

Arrietty Screenshot

Source: Studio Ghibli (Image credit: Studio Ghibli)

Another Studio Ghibli film based on classic literature, The Secret World of Arrietty is a reimagining of The Borrowers. Two kindred spirits from different worlds meet by chance during a summer that will change both of their lives. Arrietty is a Borrower, a tiny girl that lives with her mother and father who try to keep hidden from the large humans that reside in a summer home. Shō is an ailing young man who is spending the week in the same house before facing an operation. In a heart-warming tale of courage and inspiration, the two must leap into the unknown and face an uncertain world before them

Like all Ghibli films, the animation is perfection. With charming scenes and tense moments, the film strikes a good balance. It also runs at about 95 minutes, which is perfect for little ones. However, some of the themes might be difficult for younger viewers.

Reasons to watch:

  • Great character development
  • Classic story-telling
  • Uplifting message
  • Good run-time

Reasons to avoid:

  • Some themes may be difficult for young viewers

Best award-winner: Spirited Away

Spirited Away Screenshot

Source: Studio Ghibli (Image credit: Studio Ghibli)

The Academy-award-winning Spirited Away should be on every movie enthusiast's list. It's the gripping story of young Chihiro who finds herself trapped in a world full of spirits. Forced to ask for a job in the witch Yubaba's bathhouse, Chihiro must trust in herself, discover who she is to save her parents and return home.

This movie has everything you could want — action, excitement, amazing characters, quiet moments, and excellent story-telling. Paired with a stunning soundtrack and spectacular animation, director Hayao Miyazaki shines with this film. As great as this pick is, the runtime is a little over two hours and it does have moments that might be too frightening for young children. Still, it is by far, one of the best movies in the Studio Ghibli catalog.

Reasons to watch:

  • Strong protagonist and characters
  • Amazing, action-packed story
  • Stirring soundtrack
  • Award-winning animation

Reasons to avoid:

  • 125-minute run-time may be too much
  • Contains some scary scenes

Best adventure: Castle in the Sky

Castle In The Sky Screenshot

Source: Studio Ghibli (Image credit: Studio Ghibli)

Pirates, military power, a mysterious sky castle; what more could you want in a story? In Castle in The Sky, the young orphan, Pazu, catches adventure as it falls from the sky. Princess Seeta is on the run, and she has the dangerous Dola gang and the entire military on her trail. The two heroes must escape and find their way to the legendary floating city of Laputa before their enemies get there first.

Castle in the Sky is an excellent blend of action and adventure peppered with a little sci-fi and mystery. It has some unexpected twists and great character development. Miyazaki has a way of writing strong female leads and building a solid narrative. At 124 minutes long, it may be tough for little ones to sit through, but the action may keep them glued to their seats. Also, it should be noted that some scenes may be a bit scary for young viewers.

Reasons to watch:

  • Action, adventure, and excitement!
  • Well-developed characters and relationships
  • Incredible animation

Reasons to avoid:

  • Runs a little long
  • May be too scary for little children

Bottom line

When it comes to Studio Ghibli films, any pick is fantastic. I had a hard time finding any fault in these movies; it all comes down to a matter of mood and taste. If you are looking for a great animated film, a wonderful story filled with incredible characters, and moving soundtracks, any one of Studio Ghibli's movies will fill that void. However, when it comes to family viewing, our favorite is My Neighbor Totoro. It's a flick that's great for all ages and at any age. It captures the magic of childhood and the bonds of family in a simple tale that will dazzle your whole family.

But be warned, once you watch one Studio Ghibli movie, you may want to binge them all.

More Studio Ghibli

Sara Gitkos
Staff Writer

Sara Gitkos is a writer, editor, and Studi Ghibli fan. She'd have a difficult time picking her favorites from the Ghibli catalog. When not watching Studio Ghibli films, she's busy working on something Nintendo, tech-related or spending time with her family.