Spirited Away is a very special type of anime movie in that even people who really don’t like or appreciate anime usually still enjoy this film. If you’re here looking for other movies like Spirited Away, you’re probably one of the movie’s many fans.
If you stumbled across this article on accident, though, let me tell you a little about Spirited Away.
The movie premiered in 2002 in the U.S. and was a surprising hit, even among people who aren’t generally drawn to anime. It’s both written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and critics, die-hard anime fans and casual fans alike often refer to it as “one of the best animated movies of all time.”
The movie is filmed in traditional Japanese anime style, although the version made popular in the U.S. uses an English audio track rather than subtitles. It follows the story of a ten-year-old girl named Chihiro Ogino, who goes on a journey to find her missing parents and, along the way, finds herself as well.
While the three are en route to their new home, Chihiro’s parents take a wrong turn, and by a series of unfortunate decisions, are magically transformed into pigs by a witch called Yubaba.
Chihiro sets out to find them and return them to human form. She takes a job in Yubaba’s bathhouse in order to try to rescue them, and that’s when she is thrust into the world of Japanese spirits known as Kami.
There, Chihiro, who’s given the new name of Sen, comes in contact with many spirits and other magical creatures, and she manages to treat each of them with kindness and meet each challenge she faces with strength and goodness, which ultimately leads her to rescuing her parents in the end.
At its core, this movie is a fairy tale, plain and simple. It features all the classic elements of a fairy tale, even if it’s a little stranger than most popular American/English fairy tales.
It’s a beautiful movie with a heartwarming story of good triumphing over evil, and even though it’s now nearly 20 years old, it still stands up well in today’s society.
If you’re looking for other movies, both animated and not, that feature that same fairy tale vibe and/or a young protagonist setting out on an important quest to retrieve something precious, you’re actually in luck. There are quite a few movies out there that fit into those categories. Let’s take a look at some of the best.
Anime Movies Like Spirited Away
*Fair warning: The majority of these movies are going to be part of the Studio Ghibli collection simply because it’s hard for movies animated by the same studio and written and directed by the same person not to be extremely similar.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
While it may seem a little obvious to put another Studio Ghibli movie written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki on the list, there’s no way I could talk about anime movies similar to Spirited Away without bringing up Howl’s Moving Castle. Plus, I did pre-warn you that this would be the case.
Because the two are both filmed by the same studio and written and directed by the same person, the similarities in the way they look and sound are readily apparent. However, there’s more to their similarities than just that.
Both movies also feature strong, young, female protagonists who’re cast out of their regular, everyday lives and into something infinitely stranger and more exciting.
In the case of Howl’s Moving Castle, this protagonist is Sophie, a young woman who despairs that she’s wasting the best and most beautiful years of her life. After being magically transformed into an old woman, though, she soon learns to appreciate her youth and her life just the way they are.
This is similar to Chihiro growing up and becoming more kind, empathetic and grateful as the plot in Spirited Away progresses.
Additionally, there’s a heavy reliance on mythical creatures, magic and monsters in both movies. In both cases, the story lines couldn’t progress without these invaluable characters. Finally, the overall feel of both movies is just very similar. Each one evokes the same feelings and emotions in the viewer that the other one does.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
In typical Hayao Miyazaki form, this movie, too, features a strong, female lead who experiences a coming-of-age event that shapes and changes her life. In this movie, the protagonist is Kiki, a 13-year-old witch who runs a flying delivery service off the back of her broom.
Kiki, who’s living on her own in a rite of passage of sorts before becoming a full-fledged witch, soon learns – like all of us eventually do – that adulting is hard!
When her talking cat begins spending time with another beautiful, female cat, Kiki becomes depressed. Her depression causes her to lose her magical talents, and because she can no longer fly, she’s forced to shut down her delivery service. When danger threatens a friend of hers, though, Kiki must harness her powers once more and coax her broom to life in order to save his life.
The movie is very similar to Spirited Away in visual appearance, pacing and in the personalities of both Kiki and Chihiro. While the plots may not seem that much alike at first glance, on further inspection, even they have some similarities.
They both feature young women, coming of age, thrust into situations beyond their control. Both of them must learn to control their emotions and behave as they should behave, not how their first instincts tell them to behave.
Also, they both feature an underlying social commentary on, as Hayao Miyazaki said himself, the silent, internal war “between independence and reliance” in Japanese teenage girls, and of course, they both have happy, uplifting, fairy tale endings for the main characters.
The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
This is another Studio Ghibli film, but for a change, this one wasn’t directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Instead, it was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and is an anime adaptation of the popular book The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Much like Spirited Away and the other Miyazaki films on the list, this movie, too, features a young, female protagonist.
Her name is Arrietty. She is four inches tall, 14 years old and lives with her family inside the home of humans, from whom they “borrow” the things they need to survive. Arrietty is soon discovered by a sickly human boy named Shawn who lives in the house, and the two become fast, if odd, friends. The housekeeper has also witnessed the borrowers in action, but her intentions concerning them are not friendly.
While Hayao Miyazaki didn’t direct this film, he did produce it and work on the screenplay for it, so there are definitely elements of his style thrown in that’ll remind you of Spirited Away. There are lots of little details thrown in with both the animation style and the sound effects that are also quite reminiscent of Spirited Away.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call them Easter eggs, but you’ll certainly see some similarities and nods to other Studio Ghibli films.
Finally, both movies have that same warmhearted goodness to them that makes you smile while you’re watching them and feel content that there are still good, clean things in the world when the movies are done.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
I’m sorry, but yes, this is another Hayao Miyazaki film. What can I say? The man makes great anime flicks! This one is set in 14th-century Japan and features – you guessed it! – a young, female protagonist named Princess Mononoke. Just kidding!! Actually, this is one of the few Miyazaki stories that features a young male as the film’s main character.
Ashitaka is a young warrior prince who’s cursed while bravely protecting his village from a demon. In order to lift the curse, he must travel across the land to the West in search of a mystical cure. Ashitaka’s journey to and eventual arrival in the West is the time during the movie that reminds me most of Spirited Away.
On his trip, he encounters many strange characters and spirits, much like Chihiro does while in the realm of the Kami. Each one presents him with a task or challenge that he must overcome to continue on his journey.
Both movies also feature spirits from Japanese folklore, and in both movies, the protagonists must choose whether or not to place their trust in these spirits. While Princess Mononoke is a little darker and more adult than Spirited Away, it still has the same underlying sense of good versus evil and the same fairy tale happy ending.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)
We’ve finally arrived at an anime that isn’t part of the Studio Ghibli collection with 2011’s Children Who Chase Lost Voices. The film was directed by Makoto Shinkai, and although he wasn’t directing for Studio Ghibli, it’s obvious he took a lot of inspiration from the Miyazaki films.
It has all the common elements of a Miyazaki film: a young, female lead (Asune), beautiful, breathtaking visual scenery and backgrounds, the protagonist’s journey into an unknown land (the Underworld) to search for something precious (a mysterious boy who disappeared almost as soon as he appeared) and a coming-of-age plot.
All of these things are what make the movie so much like Spirited Away, despite the fact that this one is more romantic in nature.
During her trip into the Underworld to find the spirit of the handsome boy, Asune meets all kinds of other spirits, mystical creatures and monsters.
Like Spirited Away and the other films on this list, these creatures present her with different challenges or tasks she must complete to keep moving forward. It may not be a Studio Ghibli film, but the similarities are strikingly obvious.
Animated Movies Like Spirited Away
These movies aren’t traditional Japanese anime films, but they are animated films nonetheless. While they may not feature the traditional Japanese spirits or other anime-type elements, there’s still something about each one of them that makes it incredibly similar to Spirited Away and many of the other movies on this list.
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
The original Alice in Wonderland film from the 50’s is one of my all-time favorite animated movies. (Admittedly, the book by Lewis Carroll is also one of my top three favorite books of all time.) You already know the story, I’m sure.
Alice, bored and curious, falls down a rabbit hole and ends up in a crazy, nonsense world known as Wonderland. There, she comes in contact with strange, magical creatures like animals and flowers who can talk, weird hybrid insects like bread-and-butterflies and a Queensguard made up of sentient playing cards.
It’s that unexpected entry into an outrageous, magical, fantastical world that reminds me so much of Spirited Away. Both young girls find themselves in these entirely new worlds where they don’t know all the rules but are expected to follow them anyway.
They both have a coming-of-age feel to them, and both movies set the heroes out on quests for something important. In Chihiro’s case, she must find and restore her parents; Alice must simply find a way out in order to save her own life.
The ‘did it really happen?’ endings of both movies are also similar to one another. In Alice’s case, you find out the whole thing was just a dream she had after falling asleep by the water… Or was it? Chihiro and her family find their way back to the car with her parents remembering nothing and the viewer left to wonder if the whole thing was actually real or not.
Although Spirited Away isn’t truly scary, there are a few parts of it that could be considered a little creepy. Coraline, too, has a very creepy vibe for a cartoon, with parts of it being downright unsettling. The spooky vibes aren’t all these two movies have in common though.
Like Spirited Away, Coraline features – yet again – a young, curious female as the main protagonist in the film. This young girl is a little bored and disenchanted with her everyday life, much like Chihiro before her “adventure.” Coraline, too, goes on an adventure, only hers happens within her own house.
Coraline journeys through a magical door into the Other World and meets her Other Parents. (That’s actually what they’re called.) They’re just like her parents save for two main differences: the Other Parents spend much more time with Coraline than her own parents, and they have buttons for eyes.
As Coraline spends more and more time in the Other World, she comes to find out that things aren’t exactly as they seem. Things come to a head when the Other Mother tries to sew buttons into Coraline’s eyes so that she can stay in the Other World forever.
Then Coraline must find a way to stop the Other Mother before she gets rid of Coraline’s real parents forever and makes her new home in the real world.
This quest to save her parents is also very much like Chihiro’s quest in Spirited Away. Both girls triumph in the end, and both have learned very important lessons about gratitude and the importance of appreciating their lives as they are.
Although you’re probably getting tired of reading the phrase “young, female protagonist,” like many of the films on this list, this one features exactly that – a young, female protagonist defying the odds and succeeding.
This one, more than some of the others on the list, also has a true fairy tale vibe to it, complete with a princess, a witch, a magic spell and a happily ever after. This makes it very similar in feel and tone to Spirited Away.
The movie follows Merida, a brave young girl who also happens to be a princess. She’s a bit of a tomboy, incredibly skilled at archery and wants none of the things her mother thinks a “typical princess” should want, especially not a fiance.
She seeks out a witch for a spell to change her mother’s mind about making her get married, but the spell causes a lot more trouble than Merida expected. After the wish is fulfilled and everything goes awry, it’s up to Merida to set things right, fight off the evil she unleashed and save her parents and the kingdom.
There’s so much about this movie that parallels Spirited Away. Even Merida’s personality both before and after her “coming-of-age” moment is very similar to Chihiro’s personality before and after she goes on her adventure as well.
The Sword in the Stone (1963)
This is another great Disney movie that’s similar in many ways to Spirited Away. This one follows the story of a young man, Arthur, who grew up poor and mistreated.
When he accidentally and unknowingly pulls a magic sword from a stone – something that’s never been possible for anyone – his whole world changes. Legend dictates that whoever pulls the sword from the stone will become the rightful king of Camelot.
Arthur is suddenly plucked from obscurity and chosen to be king. Although he doesn’t literally enter a new world like Chihiro and some of the other characters on this list, the incredible change in circumstances is almost like stepping into a different world.
There’s also the magical element to the movie. Once it’s determined Arthur will be king, he’s paired up with Camelot’s resident wizard, Merlin, and his life gets much more magical and dangerous as a result.
This is another goodhearted, coming-of-age tale about a child suddenly finding himself in a whole new world beyond his comprehension. Arthur is also presented with new tasks, challenges and obstacles, just like Chihiro, which is just one more way in which the two films are similar.
Although some people may claim I’m reaching to try to compare Fantasia and Spirited Away, I disagree. I think the two movies are very similar in multiple ways and not just in the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” or “Night on Bald Mountain” portions of the film, which are arguably the most similar to the anime.
The whole film, from beginning to end, is an immersive experience that relies not just on the music but also on the gorgeous, stunning visuals to take the viewer into an entirely different world.
All the magical creatures featured in Fantasia are much like the spirits and creatures found in Spirited Away. When most people think of Fantasia, they think of Mickey Mouse and dancing brooms. They often forget there are a whole host of other characters in the film including dancing mushrooms, faeries, Pegasus, spirits, demons, centaurs and more.
If you can’t really picture the similarities between the movies, go back and give Fantasia a watch with fresh eyes. As an adult, I promise you’ll notice them quickly enough.
Live Action Movies Like Spirited Away
With live action movies, the similarities to Spirited Away are found mostly in the characters’ personalities, the escape to another world and the quest to find something important. Few of the typical anime-style filming or effects are found in live action, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great live action options for people who loved Spirited Away.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
This Guillermo del Toro flick was pretty polarizing when it premiered. Many people, myself included, loved it, but others didn’t really understand it or simply just didn’t like it. It’s a dark fantasy drama about a young girl named Ofelia.
She’s a 12-year-old living in 1940’s Spain with her mother and her unpleasant, neglectful stepfather. She’s unhappy with her life, so she spends as much time away from home as possible. During her nighttime escapades, she meets a magical creature who promises to make her a princess if she can complete (and survive) three dangerous, possibly deadly, tasks inside a massive labyrinth.
This movie is very much a fairy tale, even if people don’t always see it as such. Because of that, it gives off strong Spirited Away vibes just from the plot alone. Additionally, after completing the tasks, Ofelia is promised she’ll be reunited with her real father, much like Chihiro’s tasks end in her locating and returning her parents to human form.
Chihiro and Ofelia will also remind you of one another in the way they react to things. Finally, the movie is just as visually stunning as Spirited Away, possibly more so because it isn’t animated.
The Secret Garden (1993)
Of all the characters in all the movies on this list, I find Mary Lennox of The Secret Garden to be most like Chihiro. There’s something in both girls that makes them seem sweet but sad, naive but wise beyond their years and outwardly timid but with the hearts of lions. Both Chihiro and Mary are studies in contradictions, which is what makes them both such interesting characters to me.
Mary, who recently lost her parents, moves in with her uncle, who doesn’t really acknowledge her presence. Feeling unloved and alone, she begins to explore the estate, eventually coming across a secret garden. In it, she can see the faded beauty that once was, and she seeks to restore it and make it lovely again.
Her discovery of and journey into the beautiful, somewhat magical garden is quite similar to Chihiri’s time in the spirit world.
There are also parallels to be drawn between both girls’ journeys. In seeking to accomplish one goal (restore the garden/rescue her parents), each girl actually discovers hidden parts of herself that help her grow, change and evolve.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Although the plots of Spirited Away and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are very different, the beautiful, fantastical, slightly crazy worlds both main characters find themselves in are actually a lot alike.
Literally, of course, they’re nothing alike. One finds herself in the world of Japanese spirits, while the other is trapped inside a giant chocolate factory. It’s more about the way those places make you feel.
Both the bathhouse/spirit world of Spirited Away and Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory have this magical feel about them that keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what’s going to happen next.
In Chihiro’s world, there are spirits and magical beings around each new corner; in Charlie’s world, there are Oompa Loompas and strange pitfalls instead.
Both children face several unexpected challenges and must use kindness, reason and intelligence to get past them in order to achieve their ultimate goals: the safe return of Chihiro’s parents and Charlie winning the chocolate factory.
I love this movie, and I was so disappointed that it did so poorly at the box office. As someone who teaches the origins of fairy tales, myths and monsters, I was really hoping Pan – basically an origin story for Peter Pan- would do well and spawn more great fairy tale origin stories to follow.
My dreams were quickly dashed when the movie fell flat, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still love it and watch it whenever the mood strikes.
If you’re someone who loved Spirited Away, you should give Pan a chance too. It has that same overwhelming sense of magic and adventure, and it’s the same type of a fairy tale movie, featuring good battling evil, a powerless young person overcoming seemingly unstoppable foes and a heartwarming happy ending.
The visual effects of Pan are also stunning. You won’t believe how gorgeous it is until you see it yourself.
In many ways, Neverland is quite like the world Chihiro stumbles into while working at the bathhouse. Whether it’s all the mystical inhabitants or simply the way both worlds look, there’s something similar about them, even though, on the whole, Neverland is the more beautiful of the two.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but trust me when I say if you’re a Spirited Away fan, you’ll probably really enjoy Pan as well.
If you love Spirited Away, chances are you’ve already seen and also love Labyrinth. There’s just something about the two movies that appeals to the same general type of audience. For those few of you who maybe haven’t seen it, it follows the story of Sarah, who, in a fit of pique and boredom, wishes away her baby brother to the Goblin King.
She must then enter the Goblin King’s massive labyrinth, find her way through and retrieve her baby brother within 13 hours. Otherwise, the Goblin King, Jareth, will turn him into a goblin and keep him forever.
The magical creatures in this movie are portrayed by puppets rather than animation, and Sarah’s searching for her baby brother rather than her parents, but the two movies share a ton of similarities. They both also feature the same basic story of a young girl coming of age and discovering things within herself she didn’t know were there.