1. Perfect Blue
Summary: Mima is a young woman who is frustrated by her career as a mid-tier pop idol and decides to leave her girl group to pursue acting. Soon her life is turned upside down by the negative backlash from her fans and she begins to uncover the obsessive lengths people will go to preserve their own vision on "Mima-Chan", including murder. A true psychological thriller that hits upon the isolation of show business and instability of modern life. This is the directorial debut of Satoshi Kon, whose entire filmography could populate this list with his attention to detail and brilliant use of animation to merge the internal world of the mind with the familiar world around us.
Why it's NOT for kids: Nothing particularly "waifu-worthy" about watching a grown woman slowly descend into a total ego meltdown, terrorized by the threats around her. Violence comes quickly and brutally as well as some unsettling themes of sexual violence (both real and fictitious). If you're looking for anime staples like robots and high schools, look elsewhere.
Why YOU should watch it now: Besides having a real solid 90's anime aesthetic (oh man you guys remember the 90s? What's that? You don't? Shit.) Perfect Blue is more prescient than ever in the year 2016. As the concept of 'celebrity' has shifted from rockstars to YouTubers, the line between fan and performer (and between performance and self) has never been blurrier. Anybody who dreams of fame will have second thoughts after watching this self-contained anime masterpiece.
2. Waltz With Bashir
Summary: Hailed as the "first feature-length animated documentary" the movie follows filmmaker Ari Folman's journey to recall his memories about a horrific night during the 1982 Israeli war with Lebanon in an attempt to help his recurring symptoms of PTSD. Flashing back and forth between the past and present, Ari talks to his friends who shed light on the events, which are stylistically reenacted in dreamlike animation sequences.
Why it's NOT for kids: The realities of war are presented to the audience in very stark terms. This is a film not about scrappy heroes of war, but scared 19-year olds asked to follow the flawed plans of flawed men.
Why YOU should watch it now: In 90 minutes Folman presents one tiny slice of the century of warfare that has defined the middle east. It's also a calm and sober reflection on the duty of individual soldiers, and how their service affects them long after they leave the battlefield.
3. It's Such a Beautiful Day
Summary: Animated (and filmed) by hand over the course of several years by a single creator, this absurdist film by Don Hertzfeldt (yes, the same animator who gave the world 'MY SPOON IS TOO BIG') mixes fast paced goofy humor and truly contemplative philosophizing in a way that is singularly unique. We follow Bill, a stick figure everyman who may or may not be dying of a mysterious disease that affects his mental health and ability to relate to others. As he struggles to make amends and confront the possibilities of life and death, his journey takes on mythic proportions, are they real or merely a side-effect of his illness?
Why it's NOT for kids: While the silly sense of humor that made Hertzfeldt's earlier work Internet famous is there, The film also diverges into long stretches of almost meditative stillness that would cause even the most perfectly-medicated of children to gnaw their own foot off in boredom.
Why YOU should watch it now: Animation is an artform that provides the creator with near-infinite creative freedom, and this level of timing, tone, and intellectual intimacy could only come from a person in direct control of every single frame presented to the audience. This movie is as funny and deep as an all-night conversation with one of your oldest friends.
4. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Summary: Set years after the events of the (much more popular) first Ghost in the Shell movie, Batou is tasked with investigating a series of murders related to malfunctioning sex robots. The mystery takes him through a series of locations along with his partner where he uncovers clues, gets into intense fights, and philosophizes on the meaning of humanity. There is also a lovingly animated old basset hound and he's adorable. A technical achievement in animation at the time that pushed famed anime director Mamoru Oshii to his limits.
Why it's NOT for kids: Sex robots, machine guns, and lots of bright red Yakuza blood makes this not safe for Toonami. Also the film was criticized for having overly heady dialogue and the absence of popular/sexy character Major Kusanagi made this film divisive in anime circles who wanted a more direct sequel to the first movie.
Why YOU should watch it now: The entire Ghost In The Shell series is rife with important questions about our increasingly digitized future, and this one makes many parallels to the very-real world problem of sex trafficking. On a technical level the film is marvelously detailed and will make for some really eye-pleasing fodder for High Definition displays.
5. Mary and Max
Summary: An unlikely friendship emerges when an eight-year old Australian girl decides to become pen pals with a troubled 44-year old Jewish New Yorker. As the two exchange letters sharing the details of their very different lives they grow and change in unexpected ways. A lovingly animated portrayal of dysfunction, mental illness, and the redemptive power of acceptance and friendship, this film reinvigorated the lost art of claymation and is one of the most highly-acclaimed productions to ever come from The Land Down Under.
Why it's NOT for kids: Though a quirky and fantastical portrayal of the human condition, Mary and Max addresses issues involving depression, chronic anxiety, alcoholism and even suicide.
Why YOU should watch it now: In a world filled with silky smooth faces (from CGI blockbusters and flashy anime) the craggled and ugly clay figures are as flawed and ugly as the people we know and love in our actual lives. These are characters that get overwhelmed and fall short, but still care for others around them. On a technical level it rivals stop-motion powerhouses like Aardman Animation and Studio Laika.
6. 5 Centimeters Per Second
Summary: Takaki and Akari are close childhood friends who eventually fall in love each other, but are separated by circumstances beyond their control. The movies three acts track their relationship as they grow older and try to forget the connection they once shared. Almost the antithesis of traditional anime plots, this film eschews fantasy and larger-than-life tropes in favor of relatable moments and fleeting beauty.
Why it's NOT for kids: Nothing blows up. Nobody uses an ultimate attack. There isn't even a sequence where the protagonists enter a VR world where they can fight a cyberhacker with the power of friendship. It really is a romantic drama about looking back on lost moments.
Why YOU should watch it now: The level of craftsmanhip on display is simply nuts, this is one of the most beautiful animated films ever made. The backgrounds are so striking that the film was embroiled in an international controversy when a Chinese educational film was caught STEALING the artwork.
7. When The Wind Blows
Summary: Based on the graphic novel by Raymond Briggs (whose style you might recognize from The Snowman) this is the story of a married couple who must cope with surviving after the Soviet Union launches a nuclear attack on Great Britain. The two strive to maintain a sense of normalcy even as their situation grows dire, calling upon the famous "Keep Calm and Carry On" spirit that arose from the Blitzkreig. The film is a darkly comical look at the cold war era attitudes of the 80s and a damning statement on the slow horror of nuclear war.
Why it's NOT for kids: Jesus, England! What is it with you and depressing-ass animated films!? Between Watership Down and The Plague Dogs can you guys just CHILL for a second?
Why YOU should watch it now: Let's just say that the current political... situation has made it neccesary for people to sit down and really take in the fact that NUCLEAR WARFARE IS BAD. Another reason to dig this one up is because in a world full of "edgy" and "twisted" humor, this movie is a real deal "dark comedy" that makes "Rick and Morty" look like "The Angry Beavers" by comparison.
8. Cat Soup
Summary: Two anthropomorphic cats go on a journey to the land of the dead after one of them accidentally drowns in the bathtub. A psychotropically trippy animation full of bizarre characters and sequences that rival even the most LSD-influenced blacklight posters
Why it's NOT for kids: Full of religious iconography and scatological humor, the two cats are mostly silent as they wreck havok across the spirit world.
Why YOU should watch it now: It's a cult classic example of Japanese animation breaking its genre confines as well as a bizarrely funny viewing experience. Plus at only 30 minutes, it's the shortest entry on this list.
Summary: Marjane Satrapi's best-selling graphic autobiography about coming of age during the tumultuous period of the Iranian Revolution is lovingly animated. Young Marjane is at first confused and unaffected by the political machinations around her, but soon finds herself bumping against the new regime as she grows into womanhood. Humorous and humanizing, the movie won multiple awards at international film festivals.
Why it's NOT for kids: A black and white movie about Islam AND Women? Talk about box-office poison! In all seriousness the film only garnered a PG-13 rating for war imagery and brief drug content. Chances are it's being shown right now by a substitute social studies teacher in a high school as we speak.
Why YOU should watch it now: It's a genuinely charming and endearing movie and a stands out from other animated films in style, perspective, and subject matter. A must-watch if you've ever went through a black-and-white indie comics phase even once in your life.
10. Waking Life
Summary: A man finds himself trapped in the dreamworld where he finds himself meeting philosophers, scientists, and everyday people who are all trying to figure out the true nature of the world around them. The protagonist drifts from discussions about free will, the mind, and the meaning of life itself in a unique rotoscoped animation style that amplifies the ideas being discussed by an unlikely combination of actors and non-actors. One of Director Richard Linklater's most beloved cult classics.
Why it's NOT for kids: Depending on your age/education this is either an eye-opening introduction to metaphysical discourse or the most painful sub-scientific navel gazing you've ever heard. But the intensely kinetic animation and the untraditional narrative framework makes it a singular work in the animated canon
Why YOU should watch it now: Richard Linklater's digitally rotoscoped masterpiece, is a stoner classic for any self-respecting 19-year old who thinks they "get it". And upon rewatching you might find yourself hypnotized by the swirling visuals and topics just enough to revisit those heady days of young adulthood once again.