Hayao Miyazaki has helped create countless memorable characters over the years. But only a handful stand out above the rest.
Every person in the millennial generation has dreamed of, one day, abandoning modern life and being lucky enough to wander off into a Studio Ghibli film. And even though such things are, sadly, not possible, one can still spend their days enjoying the films the beloved studio has to offer. Studio Ghibli has produced several truly awe-inspiring and heartwarming films that left an impact on all those who watched them. We could not forget the soft scenery, the way they romanticized the everyday aspects of our lives, and the characters that filled the screen and stories.
Note: though each and every character from the entire Studio Ghibli movie are memorable in their own way, this article features a select few that have been prominent in modern pop culture as well as with people outside of the Ghibli fandom online. One could write an endless article praising each and every character but this piece focused on 10 memorable and truly iconic characters from the Studio Ghibli films.
10. Kaonashi – Spirited Away
Kaonashi, or “No Face” as North American audiences may know them, is one of the most iconic Studio Ghibli characters. People who have seen very few or even no Ghibli films would be able to recognize their mask due to their prominence in online culture. Kaonashi is a spirit from the film Spirited Away who is rumoured to exist as a metaphor for the repressed libido that exists within all humans. This character does not have the same cultural and societal reservations that humans do so it acts upon its every lust and urge, which makes it rather destructive (literally and to the social order) at times. But they are not all bad, just uninhibited.
9. Catbus – My Neighbor Totoro
If every bus looked like this, public transportation would be much more popular. The character of Catbus has become a rather popular figure with those who love the Studio Ghibli films and has become a mainstay in Studio Ghibli merchandise lines internationally. Within the film from which it hails (My Neighbor Totoro) the Catbus exists as a secondary character and helps the characters along their journey by acting as their method of transportation. Fun fact: some people believe that the Catbus was inspired by the Chesire Cat from the Alice in Wonderland series due to its striped body, wide smile, and guide-like nature (due to its transportation role) in the film.
8. Kiki – Kiki’s Delivery Service
The film Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of those Studio Ghibli films that makes viewers want to leave their busy lives and find a home in a small and quiet town in order to find themselves and pursue the passions that drive them. In this film, Kiki moves away from her home in order to honor her village tradition of isolating witches while they hone their powers. But self-doubt robs her of her powers and she must embark on a journey of self-love in order to recapture her lost magic. A message that any 20 something who feels lost and unsure of what they want to do, or what they are even able to do, can relate to. This is why Kiki is such a memorable character. Because at some point in our lives, everyone is Kiki.
7. Princess Mononoke – Princess Mononoke
Princess Mononoke is one of the more mature Studio Ghibli films. Though wonderful and beloved, it does cover some more intense themes and can be a bit too much for younger audiences. This film follows the conflict between humans and the animals of the world. The peace that existed between these two species has broken down and things get out of hand very quickly. Princess Mononoke (or San) was raised by the wolves and has positioned herself with the animals and against the humans. Fans of Studi Ghibli who grew up in Western Culture were fascinated to see a princess character that was portrayed in this more aggressive and animalistic way. And many related to the film’s themes of human destruction as the millennial and gen Z generations have been known for their compassion to animals, the environment, and preserving the only planet on which we can survive.
6. Totoro – My Neighbor Totoro
There are few characters who are more iconic than Totoro. Totoro is one of the most beloved and well-known Studio Ghibli characters of all time. My Neighbor Totoro follows two young sisters as they adjust to their new home, deal with their mother’s illness, and spend their days with the spirits that surround their home. This film exudes a playful, childlike, and whimsical nature similar to the Western Alice in Wonderland or Winnie The Pooh as it explores the importance of never losing one’s childlike imagination and the magic in the mundane (meaning how special everyday life can be if we only choose to stop and admire it.) Audiences fell head over heels for this fuzzy forest friend and is one of the most recognizable Studio Ghibli characters.
5. Sheeta – Castle In The Sky
Who has not dreamed of finding out that they were secretly the rightful heir to a magical world? Who has not dreamed of escaping their everyday life and going on a wonderful adventure that would change their lives forever? Sheeta, from Castle in The Sky, lived those dreams herself. Her character is known for being polite, kind, and quite intelligent which makes her the kind of character that many people gravitate towards and see themselves within. She seeks to separate from the group out of the fear that her presence endangers them but learns the importance of relying on those around when needed and that is a journey that resonates with many who love the film.
4. Seita – Grave Of The Fireflies
This is the one Studio Ghibli film that people try to avoid at all costs. It is known as being one of the most emotional films released from the studio and should only be watched if the viewer is in the mood to shed a tear or two. However, despite the emotional nature of the film, the character of Seita is a truly relatable figure to many people who have experienced hardship in their lives. After losing his mother, Seita has to grow up very quickly in order to take on the parental role in order to care for his sibling. In the same way that people gravitate towards Studio Ghibli’s romantic portrayal of everyday life and the magic in the mundane, the film’s theme of protecting those who mean everything to us resonated with those who had to take on different families roles due to tragedy in their own lives.
3. Haku – Spirited Away
In both his human and dragon form, Haku is one of the most beloved and recognizable characters from the Spirited Away film. After having his name taken from him by the sinister owner of the bathhouse, he loses his identity and becomes a servant to her every whim. Haku is a river spirit who does everything within his power to protect Chihiro and back to her mortal world as soon as possible. Though he can be harsh at times, it comes from a loving place and his direct nature is helpful when guiding Chihiro through the fantastical world as it contains many rules that cannot be broken.
2. Ursula – Kiki’s Delivery Service
There are few characters who are as relatable as Ursula from Kiki’s Delivery Service. She spends her day painting birds and living far away from the rest of the world. She dedicates her life to her passions and has no time for society itself. Every person who has watched a Studio Ghibli film and wished that they could run away from their responsibilities and live amongst the trees and the forest creatures idolizes Ursula and her simple yet wonderful life.
1. Chihiro – Spirited Away
Some of the best stories are the ones that include normal people discovering magical worlds and saving them from those who seek to destroy them. This is why Studio Ghibli films are so beloved. Because they feature regular folks who lead recognizable lives, that we can all relate to, who go on adventures that seem entirely within the realm of possibility. Chihiro is just an ordinary child who wants nothing more than to return home with her parents in tow. And in the attempt to do so, she saves the people who were trapped in this fantastical bathhouse. Chihiro is kind, curious, determined, and someone that the audience can easily relate to as we follow her through the world; neither of us has any clue what might come next.