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12 Japanese animated films to stream before Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘The Boy and the Heron’

From ‘Akira’ to ‘Spirited Away,’ check out these animated classics

A scene from the 2001 animated film "Spirited Away" by Hayao Miyazaki. The director's latest film, "The Boy and the Heron," is in theaters now.Handout

After more than a decade, director Hayao Miyazaki returns to the big screen with his latest feature film, “The Boy and the Heron.”

The movie, which Globe critic Odie Henderson called a “triumphant film” in his 3½ star review, is just the latest entry in the Japanese director’s catalog of animated masterpieces. In addition to the work of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, many other acclaimed animated films from Japan are ripe for exploring across streaming services.

From “Spirited Away” to “Akira,” here are 12 Japanese animated films to stream as “The Boy and the Heron” hits theaters.

1. ‘Akira’

Director, writer, and animator Katsuhiro Otomo brought his beloved 1982 manga to the big screen with the 1988 animated classic “Akira.” Cyberpunk biker gangs roam the streets in an alternate, dystopianTokyo in the wake of a world war. The story centers around gang leader Shōtarō Kaneda and his pal Tetsuo Shima, who winds up with telekinetic powers following a motorcycle accident. The movie has become a cult classic over the years, with the iconic “Akira slide” often earning homages from filmmakers like Jordan Peele, who paid tribute to the technique in 2022′s “Nope.” Available on Hulu

2. ‘Belle’

Offering an updated take on the classic “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale, the 2021 animated film “Belle” earned a 14-minute standing ovation when it premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Director and writer Mamoru Hosoda tells the story of shy high schooler Suzu (voiced by Kylie McNeill in the English dub), who, despite her meek demeanor, is actually an internet pop megastar known as Belle when she logs onto the virtual reality setting called “U.” Instead of the usual furry beast, though, Belle gets entangled with a horned online troll called The Dragon, voiced in the English dub by Paul Castro Jr. Available on Max

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3. ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’

Following the success of 2001′s “Spirited Away,” Miyazaki returned to the silver screen with another instant classic in 2004′s “Howl’s Moving Castle.” The film follows a woman named Sophie who gets an elderly transformation thanks to a witch’s curse before getting caught up in a war alongside a wizard named Howl and his walking castle. The voice cast for the English dub of the film features an impressive list of stars, including Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, and Billy Crystal. Available on Max

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4. ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’

This whimsical 1989 animated adventure by Miyazaki received a second English dub in 1997 thanks to Disney, who brought in star Kirsten Dunst to voice the titular character. “Kiki’s Delivery Service” tells the tale of a young witch and her talking cat as they work as broomstick-flying couriers. The film is based on the 1985 book of the same name by children’s author Eiko Kadono. Available on Max

5. ‘My Neighbor Totoro’

Miyazaki’s 1988 film about a pair of young sisters who befriend woodland spirits is a celebrated classic by the acclaimed director. In addition to its poignant story about siblings who move to the countryside with their sick mother, the titular Totoro has turned into an icon in his own right, with the spirit character becoming the official mascot for Studio Ghibli. Sisters and actors Dakota and Elle Fanning voice the film’s siblings in Disney’s 2005 English dub. Available on Max

6. ‘Ponyo’

This fish out of water tale from 2008 was another hit for Miyazaki, becoming the eighth-highest grossing Japanese animated film of all time. “Ponyo” centers around a goldfish who magically becomes a human girl and falls in love with a helpful boy named Sōsuke. The 2009 English dub of the film features another impressive cast list, including Matt Damon as Kōichi, Sōsuke’s father, plus voice-over contributions by Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, and Betty White. Available on Max

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7. ‘Princess Monoke’

An environmental allegory for man’s impact on nature, Miyazaki’s 1997 fantasy epic was the highest-grossing film in Japan the year of its release. “Princess Monoke” follows prince Ashitaka, who gets involved in the battles between the forest gods and the people who use up its natural resources. Writer Neil Gaimanpenned the script for the film’s English dub, which released in US theaters in 2001. Available on Max

8. ‘Spirited Away’

Miyazaki’s 2001 acclaimed classic catapulted the director to international superstardom. The film long held the title of the highest-grossing movie in Japan, until 2020′s “Demon Slayer,” and won the Oscar for best animated feature at the 2003 Academy Awards. “Spirited Away” tells the story of Chihiro, a young girl who must work at a magical bath house for the wicked witch Yubaba in hopes of freeing her parents, who’ve been transformed into pigs. Available on Max

9. ‘Suzume’

Fans flocked to see 2022′s “Suzume” by acclaimed director and writer Makoto Shinkai, which became the highest-grossing film in Japan that year. The movie is a coming of age tale about a teenage girl named Suzume who must team up with a stranger named Souta in order to quell otherworldly disasters from occurring around the country. The animated adventure is up for best animated film at the 2024 Saturn Awards. Available on Crunchyroll

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10. ‘Weathering with You’

Shinkai’s 2019 fantasy film follows young Hodaka, who decides to run away from home and ends up becoming friends with an orphan girl who has the power to control the weather. The film was a worldwide hit for Shinkai, and was even selected as the Japanese entry for the Oscars’ best international feature film category at the 2020 Academy Awards. The “Weathering with You” English voice cast includes Lee Pace, Alison Brie, and Riz Ahmed. Available on Max

11. ‘When Marnie Was There’

The 2014 animated drama by director Hiromasa Yonebayashi centers around a young girl with asthma named Anna, who is sent to live in the country with relatives. While there, she forms a bond with a mysterious girl named Marnie. Actor and singer Hailee Steinfeld voices Anna in the English dub, which also features voice-over work by Kiernan Shipka, Catherine O’Hara, and John C. Reilly. Available on Max

12. ‘Your Name’

Shinkai won over critics and moviegoers with his 2016 romantic fantasy “Your Name,” the third-highest-grossing Japanese film of all time. The film is a story about two teens who start to magically swap bodies, leading to “Freaky Friday”-like shenanigans. The movie won the excellent animator of the year award at the 2017 Japan Academy Film Prize. Available on Crunchyroll


Matt Juul can be reached at matthew.juul@globe.com.