There have been several memorable characters in the Studio Ghibli universe over the years, but some of the protagonists really stand out.
One of the most beloved animation studios in the history of cinema, Studio Ghibli has steadily grown a huge fanbase outside of its native Japan over the years, with audiences worldwide becoming swept up by their beautiful animation, colorful worlds, and memorable characters. Despite their worlds being populated by all manner of fantastical and magical creatures, Studio Ghibli’s ordinarily human protagonists still manage to shine through brilliantly.
Though the studio is incredibly versatile in its storytelling – you’re just as likely to come across a slice-of-life drama as a sprawling, fantasy epic, for instance – it’s protagonists remain lovable regardless. With that in mind, here are Studio Ghibli’s ten best protagonists, ranked.
10. Princess Kaguya – The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya
Sure, Princess Kaguya may be based on a character from Japanese folklore, but Isao Takahata’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya does a fantastic job of making its protagonist both relatable and tragic – with Kaguya feeling incredibly human despite her status as an otherworldly being.
Watching Kaguya grow from a magical bamboo shoot to a highly sought-after princess is unlike anything else in Studio Ghibli’s filmography, with the movie’s gorgeous watercolor animation heightening the emotion of Kaguya’s heart-breaking journey.
9. Shizuku – Whisper Of The Heart
One of the most underrated protagonists in one of the most underrated Studio Ghibli movies, Whisper of the Heart’s Shizuku is the kind of optimistic character that’s likely to inspire action in your own life. A teenage girl with a strong passion for books and writing, the story sees Shizuku shed her creative anxieties and begin writing with the support of her friends Shiro and Seiji – ultimately deciding to pursue the craft in higher education.
Shizuku’s initial reluctance to write – and fear of judgment regarding her work – is relatable to anybody even remotely creative, and watching her blossom into a more confident writer over the course of the movie is immensely satisfying.
8. Mei & Satsuki – My Neighbor Totoro
Sure, they may come as a pair, but sisters Mei and Satsuki are undoubtedly both the protagonists of the Hayao Miyazaki masterpiece My Neighbor Totoro, playing equally vital roles in the movie’s unfolding events. While the younger Mei is more whimsical – with her being the one to discover Totoro in the first place – the older Satsuki is notably more pragmatic. It’s this dynamic that serves as the heart of My Neighbor Totoro, with both sisters reacting very differently to the news of their increasingly sick mother.
7. Ponyo – Ponyo
One of the more ‘out there’ protagonists Studio Ghibli has ever produced, Ponyo isn’t a cursed prince or a seasoned warrior, or even an ordinary young girl – but a goldfish. Ponyo sees its titular hero develop feelings for a young boy named Sosuke after becoming separated from her family – becoming human in the process.
One of the purest protagonists in all of Ghibli, the only thing Ponyo fights for is love, with her bright, rebellious energy making Ponyo one of Miyazaki’s most magical efforts to date.
6. Jiro Horikoshi – The Wind Rises
The only character on this list based on a real-life historical figure, Jiro Horikoshi is one of Ghibli’s most beautifully conflicted characters. After his poor eyesight dashes his childhood dreams of becoming a hotshot pilot, Jiro instead designs planes for the Imperial Army.
Jiro eventually experiences guilt at the thought of his planes being used for acts of war. Still, The Wind Rises isn’t too heavy-handed with its message – instead focusing on the beauty of Jiro’s creations and how even something born of passion and creativity can be misappropriated for the wrong reasons.
5. Ashitaka – Princess Mononoke
While the movie’s title may suggest otherwise, the protagonist of Princess Mononoke is actually a prince named Ashitaka – who attempts to broker peace between the animal gods of a local forest and a human settlement who seeks to use its resources. What makes Princess Mononoke so compelling is that neither side of the brewing war is painted as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ with Ashitaka’s intervention in the conflict being a result of unfortunate circumstances rather than unwavering altruism. This sets Ashitaka apart from other fantasy heroes, with his journey feeling like that of an everyman rather than a ‘chosen one’.
4. Porco Rosso – Porco Rosso
Bearing a remarkable similarity to Casablanca’s Rick Blaine, the titular porcine pilot of Porco Rosso has a distinctly old-school feel, echoing the older, more jaded protagonists of the film noir era – albeit with a much more optimistic slant.
A pilot cursed to look like a pig, Porco Rosso’s reputation is in no way tarnished by his appearance, with his tremendous skill, warm heart, and opposition to fascism, making him one of Studio Ghibli’s most endearing characters.
3. Kiki – Kiki’s Delivery Service
Arguably amongst the most iconic of all Studio Ghibli’s movies, Kiki’s Delivery Service is essentially a magical coming of age story. Following a young witch named Kiki as she sets up her eponymous delivery service, the story explores Kiki’s burgeoning adolescence – which involves her losing her abilities to fly and converse with her black cat.
Dealing with issues of identity, acceptance, and confidence, Kiki is tenacious in her pursuits despite the obstacles in her path – making her a great role model for kids across the globe.
2. Nausicaä – Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind
Based on the beloved character from Hayao Miyazaki’s manga, what separates Nausicaä from many other animated heroes is her lack of conformity to one particular archetype. Both a pacifist and a skilled warrior, a roaming wanderer as well as a princess, the character is a fascinating mishmash of traditional heroic tropes who serves as the ultimate force for good. Described by many as a messiah-like figure, Nausicaä’s aversion to violence and commitment to environmentalism makes her perhaps more relevant today than she’s ever been, cementing her as one of Studio Ghibli’s most enduring heroines.
1. Chihiro – Spirited Away
Spirited Away’s iconic protagonist Chihiro was actually conjured up by director Hayao Miyazaki during a retreat with his friends. Hoping to create a character that would appeal to his friends’ young daughters, Miyazaki envisioned Chihiro as an inquisitive, but ultimately very normal young girl, and that’s exactly what makes Spirited Away so special.
Through her adventure, Chihiro manages to grow up and overcome her precarious circumstances despite having no special abilities to speak of – learning to work, problem solve, and even travel all by herself. It’s all of this that makes Chihiro one of the most likable and relatable characters Studio Ghibli has ever produced.