This time of year, when the weather has turned frosty and the long dark is creeping in, what I want to do most is curl up in a cozy blanket with a mug of hot tea and a heartwarming story. Perhaps the same is true for you?
Some of my very favorite stories to comfy up with are Hayao Miyazaki’s magical Studio Ghibli movies and graphic novels or manga adaptations. Stories like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service warm my heart and feed my soul with stories of young people learning how to navigate the world they live in and discover their own unique abilities and strengths, sometimes fantastic but mostly mundane—like the ability to persevere and try again after failing, to offer and accept help when it’s needed, to show compassion for others no matter how different they may seem, and to take joy in and learn to care for our beautiful natural world. These stories inspire in me a sense of wonder and my own ability to make the world a better, kinder place.
If you are unfamiliar with Studio Ghibli films, here is a short list of my personal favorites to get cozy with:
On their way to their new house, Chihiro and her parents take a wrong turn and end up at an abandoned theme park that is much more than it seems--spirits inhabit it, and humans are not meant to be there. Chihiro must find a way to save her parents, herself, and the friends she makes along the way from the powerful witch Yubaba. Only then may she return to the human world and to her home.
When hat-maker Sophie gets cursed by the Witch of the Waste and is turned from a young woman into a very old one, she sets off in search of a cure. In the countryside, she runs into the dilapidated, fantastical traveling castle of the powerful young wizard Howl. She makes a deal with the fire spirit who powers the castle, Calcifer, that he will break her curse if in return she can break his bond with Howl. Also check out the excellent book it's based on, Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones!
One thousand years after an apocalyptic war that destroyed civilization and created the Toxic Jungle, Nausicaa, a princess of the Valley of the Wind, seeks to find ways to understand the jungle and the ferocious giant insects that live in it so that they and her people can coexist. Other factions want to destroy the jungle, or use its insect inhabitants to destroy each other, and it's up to Nausicaa and her friends and allies to stop the war and save the life that still lives on the planet. In addition to the film, there is also a graphic novel series by Hayao Miyazaki himself: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
A young orphaned girl, Sheeta, escapes from an airship on which she is held captive by Colonel Muska, who seeks to find the lost floating city of Laputa and its powerfully destructive weaponry. Sheeta is a descendant of Laputa's royal line and the crystal around her neck is special -- it can awaken the power of Laputa. Watch and see if Sheeta and her friends are able to beat Muska to Laputa and keep its power from falling into the wrong hands!
Studio Ghibli's take on The Borrowers, by Mary Norton, about a family of tiny people living in the walls of a house, who borrow items from the humans who live in the house to survive. One summer, a young boy named Sho sees a tiny girl slip into the floor vent at his great aunt's house. Her name is Arrietty and she is a Borrower, and although she is cautioned that their kind is to be kept secret from humans, she and Sho begin to form a friendship. While Sho is good-hearted and well-meaning, other humans are more of a threat...
If you've already watched these films and want to read or watch something different but with a Ghibli vibe, give one of these a try:
This is a beautiful and heartwarming manga series by Yuki Midorikawa. Natsume, a young teen boy, has always been able to see and talk to spirits called youkai, an ability which he inherited from his grandmother. Upon her untimely death, she bequeathed a book to Natsume--her Book of Friends, in which she had collected the names of youkai by subterfuge. Possessing their names allowed her to command the youkai she had tricked. Now Natsume is on a mission to give the names back to each youkai and release them from their obligation. The gentle atmosphere, magic, and the compassion and friendship that Natsume shows are all very Ghibli-like.
This YA novel is a retelling of the Korean legend The Tale of Shim Cheong. For generations, deadly storms have ravaged Mina's homeland, which people attribute to the Sea God's wrath. In order to appease him, each year a young woman is thrown into the sea to be his bride, in the hopes that one of them will be chosen as his "true bride". One year, the girl that Mina's brother loves, Shim Cheong, is chosen to be sacrificed and he goes after her, though doing so means death. Mina dives into the sea instead of Cheong to save her and her brother and ends up in the Spirit Realm, where she must wake the sleeping Sea God and convince him to calm the storms. It's a good Ghibli readalike with its heart, spirit, magic, and love.
In this movie, a young human woman, Hana, falls in love with a wolf-man they start a little family. When he tragically passes away suddenly, Hana must raise their two wolf-human children to the best of her abilities on her own. It’s a magical, beautiful, and sweet story about love, family, and identity, all very much also themes in Ghibli films.
In this science fiction novel, robots left human society after gaining sentience and have not been seen since. Dissatisfied with city life, Dex chooses to become a tea monk that travels the rural lands beyond. They set out toward a hermitage in the wilderness to find solitude, and end up running into a robot named Mosscap. Mosscap only wants to know one thing: What do humans need? This story is a contemplative exploration of the nature of consciousness and how technology and nature can coexist. Very Ghibli in that way.
Mushi-shi is a gorgeously animated series that follows a man named Ginko, who is a traveling mushi-shi, or mushi master, as he treats conditions caused by the mushi. What are mushi? Think of them as elemental natural forces or creatures, so ethereal that most humans aren't aware of their existence. Mushi are not evil; just trying to survive like everyone else. Mushi-shi is very Ghibli-esque in its depiction of everyday life and how people interact with the natural world and all its magic. And the music in the series is just as magical as the art and stories!
Have fun warming yourself to your very heart with these recommendations!