One of the great things about having a kid is getting the opportunity to share all of the things about the world that you love with them. You hope that sharing your passions will inspire joy in their heart too. Sometimes it works and sometimes it really, really doesn’t. This is why we’re talking about the right order to watch Hayao Miyazaki movies in, specifically, with kids. A ton of these movies are now on HBO Max, but which order should you watch them in?
After having my 3-year-old watch a bunch of Miyazaki, she can now can recite her favorite characters – she even has developed a fondness for movies where Miyazaki only assisted in story-concept, like The Cat Returns! (Not included on this list) I think a huge part of why she loves Miyazaki’s movies is because of the worlds he creates: vivid, rich escapes from reality set often in everyday reality, rife with magic and adorable and memorable critters.
Now, to be clear, she hasn’t watched every single one of his movies yet, because as fans of Miyazaki know, while his movies are all cartoons, they don’t all exactly deal with issues and stories that appeal to the average 3-year-old (I’m looking at you, The Wind Rises). But as she grows up, you can rest assured she will be introduced to them all.
While there is a lot to be gained for the adult armchair film critic to watch Miyazaki’s films in the order in which they were made, that’s not necessarily the best way to introduce them to kids and inspire a lifelong love of them. To that end, I’ve made a list of Miyazaki’s films that grows with your growing family. A note! I’ve only included the films Miyazaki both wrote and directed! He’s got a lot of shorts and has collaborated with loads of folks over the years, those aren’t included here.
In terms of how to stream these movies, the vast majority of Miyazaki films are on HBO Max, but we’ve included direct streaming links for each film just in case. (And because as of this writing, one of the movies is on Netflix.)
START HERE for the most kid-friendly
This movie came out in 2008 and instantly became central to Miyazaki’s oeuvre, in my humble estimation. The story follows a sea princess named Ponyo, who leaves the sea to befriend a 5-year-old boy named Sosuke. Ponyo herself is enough to capture even the youngest viewers, with her ability to shift from goldfish to little girl in the blink of an eye. Got fans of the Little Mermaid in your house? Show them this first!
A classic for a reason! Two little girls meet an adorable rabbit-bear forest spirit named Totoro when their father relocates their home to be closer to the hospital where their mother is being treated for a long-term illness. The beautiful depiction of rural Japan is captivating – but not as captivating as the nightly antics of Totoro and his magical friends, including a bus which is a cat. You know, a cat bus! Totally normal!
If your kids are all about cats – this one is where it’s at! The story centers on Kiki, a young witch who wants to be her own woman but is woefully ill-prepared for the rigors of daily life – my 3-year-old can relate. She’s got a black cat (naturally) named Jiji who can talk, in my experience, that’s really all any movie needs to succeed with a toddler.
NEXT STEPS (If you dare!)
This will terrify your kids. I’d wait until 6 or 7 to hit them up with this one – unless you think your kids can stomach the idea of you being turned into a pig and her having to work at a bathhouse owned by a witch in the hopes of one day undoing the spell. If they’re already cool with it – have fun! If not, wait for a spell, and watch them discover the world of Kami with all the wonder of the film’s protagonist Chihiro. This flick also weaves examples of Miyazaki’s passion for environmentalism throughout the story.
This is my personal favorite, and it’s one you’ll want to wait until about age 10 to share with the kids that you love. This historical fantasy centers around a young prince going up against forest spirits being displaced by deforestation. I just sucked a lot of the magic out of it with that description, but I promise you – it’s a beautiful, sad, wonderful movie, an ode to nature and man’s evolving role in climate change.
An ordinary girl is transformed into an old woman when a witch is jealous of the passing attentions of a handsome wizard, Howl. She is whisked into Howl’s, you know, moving castle, and becomes as intrigued with the moody and tortured Howl as she does the magic all around her. It’s like Beauty and the Beast plus Twilight minus vampires and werewolves. I know, but go with me, won’t you?
This is another one of his earlier films, being released in 1982. This one is also inspired by a manga, but fits much more into the Miyazaki world thematically: Princess Nausicaa fights against an enemy who would destroy a forest full of mutant insects with whom she shares an intense bond. I’d have put this one earlier, but the violence and the, you know, mutant insects.
Super-Advanced Miyazaki For Kids
Oh man, so – this movie is a real celebration of the only thing Miyazaki cares about as much as the environment – planes! The story centers around a WWI fighter pilot who is now a pig because of a curse (very Miyazaki). The war is over and he is now making his living chasing down pirates of the air. Michael Keaton voices Rosso in the American dub and it’s just splendid. Perfect beginners’ action flick.
I was one of two minds about including this one on the list, but ultimately went for it since it technically fell into the parameters I set up at the start – Miyazaki is both the director and a co-writer. This was his first movie, and it centers around the manga character Lupin, a James Bond-esque spy character. If you’re a completionist, this is where I suggest including the flick in your watching.
You could show this to your kid at any time, but I think save this for last if you want it to pack the appropriate wallop. The story is a real departure for Miyazaki – it’s a loose biopic of the man responsible for the inception of the famous Japanese fighter jets, the Zero, Jiro Horikoshi. Yes, it’s about war, but it’s also a love story in every sense of the word. Make sure they’re a bit older so they can appreciate the nuance. In the meantime, you can always watch Totoro again.