(Credit: Studio Ghibli)

From Hayao Miyazaki to Makoto Shinkai: 10 best coming-of-age anime films on Netflix

The transition from childhood to adulthood marks an awkward phase of self-discovery and tension, known as adolescence, where one is stuck in a limbo between being too old to be treated as a child yet too young to be taken seriously as an adult. What is better than this adolescent coming-of-age story being amalgamated into an anime film set? Spoiler alert, nothing! 

The history of anime can be traced back to the early 20th century, but Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli revolutionised the genre with his ingenious and creative mindset. Ghibli films propagate “immersive realism”, which makes the films so all-encompassingly beautiful and enigmatic. 

Following Ghibli’s oeuvre, quite a handful of anime film directors have managed to portray beautiful coming-of-age stories. They come complete with detailed narrative, rich visuals and a heightened sense of love, nostalgia and more, trying to emulate the wondrous works of their predecessor Miyazaki. 

If you too are caught on the cusp between melancholy and nostalgia and your soul is in dire need of a feel-good anime or coming-of-age film, worry not! 

We have a concoction of these two and have created a list of the ten best coming-of-age anime films that you can watch on Netflix apart from the usual fan favourites like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and more.

10 best coming-of-age anime films on Netflix 

10. A Whisker Away (Junichi Sato, Tomotaka Shibayama, 2020)

Miyo is haplessly in love with her classmate Kento who is not interested in her. In a desperate attempt to gain his attention, she stumbles upon a magical mask that allows her to transform into a cat to get closer to Kento, but this transformation has longstanding consequences that might threaten Miyo’s entire existence.

A simple setting of a teenage crush culminates into an escape from reality adventure that is heightened by stellar visuals. A light-hearted, feel-good coming-of-age story dominates the narrative with a wonderful soundtrack. The film is seen through the eyes of an adolescent and is light, breezy and emphasises discovering one’s own self and emotions.

9. The Place Promised in Our Early Days (Makoto Shinkai, 2004)

The narrative is set in an alternative historical timeline in a divided Japan where three middle school students cross the border to find out the mysteries in the tower on the other side. They resuscitate their forgotten plans yet again when one of the friends goes into a comatose state years later.

The film takes place in an alternate timeline where love and friendship triumph geopolitical divides with several allusions. The friendship that is torn apart by war and divides is dealt with delicately and elegantly with grace, poise and sensitivity and poetic beauty, which is Shinkai’s trademark feature.

With the conglomeration of alternate realities embedded in sci-fi fantasy and politics, the overall sense of loss and isolation is wonderfully explored by the adept mind of Shinkai.

8. Flavours of Youth (Yoshitaka Takeuchi, Haolinh Li, Jiaoshou, 2018)

With an anthology of three separate stories, namely Hidamari no Choshoku (The Rice Noodles), Chiisana Fashion Show (A Little Fashion Show), and Shanghai Koi (Love in Shanghai), the film is complemented by stunning visuals amidst a cityscape that is haunted by the vigour of life.

The intimate setting of the stories provides a delicate insight into love and life in general while being a bittersweet concoction of loss, longing, regret, redemption and renewal. The three narratives feature characters who are on the brink of adulthood, trying to grapple with the meandering nature of life.    

7. Ocean Waves (Tomomi Mochizuki, 1993) 

While travelling to his hometown for a high school reunion, the young protagonist reminisces about his time in high school. It was a moment in his life that was filled in abundance with mirthful innocence, friendships, a Tokyo trip, as well as a blooming love for a certain girl, the memories of which accompany him on his journey back home.

The film is raw, simplistic and sincere, drenched in the nostalgia of home. It focuses on a love story that blooms in the senior year of high school while taking a fond look at evolving friendships and relationships. With intriguing conflicts of interest and dramatic tension, the film is a subtle and mellow reflection of human emotions and feelings where silence is sometimes more eloquent than steady dialogue.

6. 5 Centimetres Per Second (Makoto Shinkai, 2007)

The film spans nearly two decades and follows the heart-wrenching love story of two star-crossed lovers Takaki and Akari, who have been friends since elementary school. Their love and friendship are put to the test when Akar’s family moves away, and soon they find themselves pining for each other without any concrete way of reaching out.

The film is beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time, with wonderful musical composition heightening the feeling of love, longing and emotional disconnectedness. The story flawlessly examines how difficult it is to move on from one’s past and how that provides a sense of solace. It deconstructs the relationships that we forge from our childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood with incredible visuals and a climax that shall leave one weeping long after the credits stop rolling.

5. Whisper of the Heart (Yoshifumi Kondo, 1995)

A young Japanese middle schooler is an avid book reader and soon finds herself tangled in a blossoming romance with a boy who harbours a dream of becoming a violin maker and manages to check out all the books that she chooses in the library.

It is refreshing to hear the Japanese rendition of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in the film as it heightens the sense of displacement and nostalgia. The film is filled with moments that reek of simplistic presentation and add immense beauty to the project — an endearing and soulful tale of adolescent dreams, aspirations and love.

4. Kiki’s Delivery Service (Hayao Miyazaki, 1989)

Young witch Kiki and her cat Jiji go on an epic adventure as she starts her delivery service and slowly transforms from a naive and sheltered girl to a strong and independent woman.

The film traces Kiki’s well-rounded journey from teenage to adulthood as she sheds off her naivete and embraces her strong character, trying to find a place for herself in the world. This coming-of-age story shows how Kiki finally begins to accept herself and develop self-confidence that rises from her ability to conquer indomitable challenges in her everyday life. Her emotional and spiritual evolution is beautiful and inspiring. Her love for Koriko renews her love for life despite severe disillusionment, which further emphasizes the film’s beautiful underlying message

3. From Up On Poppy Hill (Goro Miyazaki, 2011) 

Two individuals, trying to find closure to their personal tragedies that engulf them, find themselves coming together to save a rundown yet wonderful clubhouse that serves as a source of escapism from the quagmire of life.

A brilliant sketch pits the rapid modernisation against the beauty and sanctity of traditions, love and nostalgia while also emphasising the pain and tragedy induced by wars and heartbreak. The clubhouse is the epitome of their imagination that the youth try to guard fiercely. The emotional depth of every character set in a beautiful and mellowed backdrop is explored via their trauma-ridden past and family tragedies.

2. A Silent Voice (Naoko Yamada, 2016)

The film deals with sensitive topics such as bullying, physical disabilities, failing mental health, depression and suicidal attempts. Despite the heavyweight themes, the blend of realism and fantasy embedded in the symbolic imagery of cherry blossoms, koi fish, carnivals and fated meetings, the film is heartbreakingly beautiful. It is a tale of love and redemption and is hugely relevant as it deals with ubiquitous issues plaguing adolescence.

A well-rounded and fulfilling film focuses on a class bully, Ishida, becoming an outcast after he crosses a line and compels the deaf yet amicable Shoko to transfer to another school. That’s all before reading her notebook and realising her true feelings, which brings about an epiphanic moment that causes him to change for the better.

1. Your Name (Makoto Shinkai, 2016)

Shinkai is an expert in showcasing the coincidental love between “star-crossed lovers” and does the same quite dexterously in this film with a strange and beautiful poetic vision that makes the strange sense of transposition quite impressive. With wonderful soundtracks adding to the feeling of disconnectedness, the hyper-real anime shows the characters trying to look for a purpose greater than their microcosmic selves. 

This fantasy film is a story of longing, love and loss where, just like Freaky Friday, two teenagers find themselves switching bodies and having to live each other’s life, following respective daily routines while trying to seek each other out. 

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