8 Outstanding Books That Inspired Studio Ghibli Films

From the 'Grave of Fireflies.'

Drawing on Akiyuki Nosaka’s semi-autobiographical novella of the same name, Isao Takahata’s masterpiece tells a story of Seita and Setsuko, two Japanese siblings struggling to survive in the dying days of World War II. (Image: via Studio Ghibli)

Fans were ecstatic when Studio Ghibli made its entire back library (save for the World War II drama Grave of the Fireflies) accessible on Netflix in Europe.

This historic win for Netflix provides fans with a new opportunity to delve into works that are among the finest films ever created, not just in Japanese animation but all cinema.

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Titles like The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Howl’s Moving Castle are masterpieces in their own right. Still, they also draw inspiration from various sources, from Japanese comics to Greek mythology. 

8 films Studio Ghibli has adapted from the written page into anime

1. ‘Grave of the Fireflies’

Japanese author Akiyuki Nosaka wrote this semi-autobiographical short tale in 1967. It was later published as a novel that included other short pieces, and Studio Ghibli adapted it for the big screen in 1988. Based on the author’s experiences before, during, and after the firebombing of Kobe in 1945, this horrible story describes those events.

2. ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’

Witches Express Home Delivery, a well-known Japanese children’s book written by Eiko Kadono and drawn by Akiko Hayashi, served as the inspiration for Kiki’s Delivery Service. The novel was first published in 1985 and won several literary prizes in Japan. In 1989, it was transformed into the beloved anime film that we know and love today.

The most current book in a series and four further novels by Kadano were released in 2009.

The core plot of the book and the movie are the same: Kiki, a 13-year-old witch, and Jiji, her black-talking cat, must spend a year together in a town without any other witches. However, the plot in the movie is more prosperous than it is in the book.

From the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ is the beloved story of a resourceful young witch who uses her broom to create a delivery service, only to lose her gift of flight in a moment of self-doubt. (Image: via Studio Ghibli)

3. ‘Whisper of the Heart’

Based on the same-titled manga by Aoi Hiiragi, Whisper of the Heart is a romance drama with fantastical elements. In Japanese, it is known as Mimi wo Sumaseba.

The story centers on a young reader who learns that the library books she regularly checks out have all been read by the same boy. She starts to develop feelings for this enigmatic stranger. After being led to a shop by a mysterious cat, she encounters someone who inspires her to start writing.

4. ‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’

This film is based on a Hisaichi Ishii comic strip in the Asahi newspaper since 1991; a book of these strips has been published.

The Yamada family’s activities are shown in brief “slice of life” scenes in both the movie and comic strips.

5. ‘Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro’

With his first-ever feature picture, which he created before Studio Ghibli was established, Hayao Miyazaki got off to a fast start. The protagonist, Lupin the Third, is a well-known figure in Japanese popular culture who can be found anywhere from Pachinko parlors to multiplex theatres.

The literary roots of the character run deep. The late, great Kazuhiko Kato, best known by his pen name Monkey Punch, created anime in 1967 for the first time in a manga.

Lupin is portrayed in the manga as the great-grandson of gentleman thief Arsene Lupin, the protagonist of several Maurice Leblanc books. The contemporary Lupin is a sex-obsessed, immoral robber in the manga and its various animated adaptations. Violence and sensuality are prevalent.

‘Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro’ is a 1979 Japanese animated action-adventure comedy co-written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. (Image: via Studio Ghibli)

6. ‘The Cat Returns’

Since it involves Baron the cat from the narrative of Whisper of the Heart, this is based on the Aoi Hiiragi novel Neko no Danshaku and might be viewed as a spin-off.

When a little girl saves a cat on the way home from school in this more imaginative tale than Whisper, the royal cat family honors her and proclaims her to be the next cat princess.

7. ‘Gulliver’s Travels’

The 1986 film with the same name as the first Studio Ghibli production pays homage to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), whose third section is set on the mysterious floating island that gives the book its title.

There are apparent similarities between the two pieces. Swift even gives the third chapter the appropriate title: “Part III: A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan.”

As an uncredited screenwriter of Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon, a 1965 animated picture from Toei Company studios, Miyazaki has a long and illustrious background. Additionally, he provided extra artwork, which caught the eye of Toei studio management and gave him a significant boost in the animation business.

8. ‘Only Yesterday’

The manga novel of the same name by Hotaru Okamoto inspired the 1991 film Only Yesterday. A young Japanese lady who has traveled from hectic Tokyo to visit the countryside has nostalgic daydreams in this play, unlike many previous Ghibli films, and was created for adults.

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