Studio Ghibli is one of the most renown animation studios on the planet. Their films are among the most beloved pieces of animation in the world, internationally recognized. They are works of art. As is the case with any influential piece of media, individuals who draw inspiration from Studio Ghibli’s work create work of their own in the future, and, very often, contain either subtle or obvious references to the works in question in their own work.
While it may be obvious that Japanese anime draw influence from Studio Ghibli, many western cartoons have, indeed, drawn inspiration from Studio Ghibli. Some references are subtle, while others are overt. However, it cannot be denied: there are countless cartoons inspired by Studio Ghibli.
10. GRAVITY FALLS
This cartoon may owe a lot of debt to shows like Twin Peaks or The X-Files, but Gravity Falls does owe a bit of debt to Studio Ghibli. Its spirits and fantastic elements often draw from the spirits of Ghibli’s films as a source of inspiration.
The most overt example of this is when one of the spirits, the Summerween Trickster, in Gravity Falls resembles No Face from Spirited Away in an overt reference to the Ghbli masterpiece.
9. WE BARE BEARS
We Bare Bears is a soft, fluffy series featuring a trio of bears who live together. It’s simple and light, but this series clearly draws inspiration from Studio Ghibli in its entire aesthetic. A lot of the bears, while illustrated in a simple light, are framed with the matter-of-factness many Ghibli creatures are.
Of note, one episode contains an overt reference to My Neighbor Totoro, when one of the bears flies by inflating itself in a scene modeled after a similar one to the Studio Ghibli classic.
8. ADVENTURE TIME
Adventure Time is heavily inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and western fantasy adventure stories of yesteryear. However, while this typically western influence is omnipresent, it isn’t the only influence on this series. Anime is a clear influence on Adventure Time, with Studio Ghibli being a huge inspiration. The natural environments of Adventure Time clearly draw reference to Studio Ghibli’s landscapes.
7. BOB’S BURGERS
Bob’s Burgers is a slice-of-life cartoon sitcom poised to entertain adults with humor. It isn’t immediately obvious to see how Studio Ghibli could have influenced this western cartoon.
However, in the fifth episode of season three, Bob, sleeping on the job, dreams of a Thanksgiving turkey growing to gargantuan sizes, and moving around on an umbrella — much like Totoro does in My Neighbor Totoro. This overt reference to Studio Ghibli remains proof that Ghibli exists as a source of inspiration for Bob’s Burgers — even if just in a small way.
6. TOY STORY 3 (AND PIXAR IN GENERAL)
Toy Story 3 is the concluding chapter to the Toy Story trilogy. Disney distributed Studio Ghibli’s films in the West for many years. It seems logical that they’d contain a reference to Studio Ghibli in one of their major films.
In Toy Story 3, one of the toys that comes to life is a Totoro plush toy. This fuzzy little creature exists as a shorthand acknowledgement that, without Studio Ghibli, modern Disney and Pixar would lose one of its greatest sources of inspiration.
5. STEVEN UNIVERSE
Rebecca Sugar isn’t subtle about anime being a key influence on Steven Universe. The show draws heavily from magical girl series like Sailor Moon — to the point where a Sailor Moon manga regularly appears in Steven’s room. Another episode copies the “Congratulations” scene from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Yuri and Victor from Yuri on Ice cameo in one of the Steven Universe comics.
But Ghibli may be the biggest anime influence. Several areas are clearly inspired by Ghibli-esque aesthetics — most notably the world inside Lion’s head. The monster designs are Ghibli-esque. The floating castle that appears frequently resembles Laputa from Castle in the Sky. But the most overt reference to Studio Ghibli comes in the episode “Kiki’s Pizza Delivery Service.” The name itself is a reference to Studio Ghibli’s masterpiece Kiki’s Delivery Service. This sort of stuff isn’t very subtle.
4. THE SIMPSONS
The Simpsons as a series owes the animation that preceded it a lot of debt. However, it isn’t immediately obvious how Studio Ghibli had any real impact on The Simpsons, since the show debuted only a few years after the founding of Studio Ghibli.
However, The Simpsons has included various references to the films as icons of pop culture. Most notably, it references the Cat Bus from My Neighbor Totoro in one episode. It also recreated shots from Kiki’s Delivery Service.
3. SOUTH PARK
One very noteworthy reference to Studio Ghibli in a western cartoon is the South Park episode “Mysterion Rises.” In this episode, Cartman encounters the dread eldritch monstrosity Cthulhu, who he aligns with to cause pandemonium. In one scene, Cartman sings a song about his relationship with Cthulhu, which is basically a lyrics-swapped version of the Totoro theme from My Neighbor Totoro.
This scene is a simple tribute to the classic film, and, as such, shouldn’t be taken as a huge deal. South Park is hardly a cartoon heavily influenced by Studio Ghibli. Still, the reference is quite amusing for fans of Ghibli.
RWBY is very much in debt to the various anime that inspired it. The whole series was sold to fans as a “western anime,” so, obviously, it draws heavily from various anime series — sometimes in a superficial manner. While RWBY is more obviously influenced by shonen action sagas and the Final Fantasy series, Studio Ghibli played a clear role in the inspiration process.
Most notably, many of the Grim — the fearsome monsters who roam the world of RWBY — look straight out of a Ghibli film. Of note are the Ursas, who look like they’d be right at home next to the demons of Princess Mononoke.
1. AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER
Avatar: The Last Airbender is often regarded as one of the best western cartoons of all time. This is a title well-deserved. When Avatar first came on, many fans were quick to notice the obvious anime influences on the art style and everything…including, most notably of all, how Appa looked like he emerged straight out of a Miyazaki film.
Appa’s design is very reminescent to that of Totoro and the Cat Bus. It is obvious that Studio Ghibli inspired the creation of Appa. This begs the question how much of Avatar’s nuanced, complicated story was inspired by Ghibli’s films. No doubt a lot of the story was, in part, influenced by Ghibli. After all, both Avatar and Ghibli’s body of work feature the conflicts of industry and nature, humanized villains with understandable motivations, as well as phantasmic spirits that bring myth to life. While Avatar remains its own work — masterful in all respects — fans ought to remember that, without the creative inspiration of other work like that of Studio Ghibli, some great works of art would never be created.