Movies & TV Shows

Studio Ghibli: 10 Movies Based On Books & Manga

Studio Ghibli is renowned for their innovative and whimsical movies, rendered on-screen in their distinctive animation style, but what is perhaps not so well-known about the studio is just how many of their stories are actually adaptations from books and manga.

Whether these initial works were made by the same creators transforming the story for the screen, or else came from the imagination of others, Studio Ghibli always brings a unique perspective to the tales they adapt.

Updated on June 6, 2022 by Stacie Rook: Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki has come out of retirement to make what he’s said will be his final film, titled How Do You Live?, inspired by the 1937 novel of the same name by Yoshino Genzaburō. However, this is far from the first time that works of literature have been used as the basis for the studio’s movies, with novels and manga proving popular source material.

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10 Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

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Split image showing Kiki from Kiki's Delivery Service and the nvoel it's based on

Adapted from Eiko Kadono’s 1985 children’s fantasy novel of the same name, Kiki’s Delivery Service follows one of Studio Ghibli’s most likable characters, the young witch Kiki, as she moves away from home with her cat companion Jiji in order to complete her magical training. Given that her main skill is flying, she sets up a delivery service in her new town to help out the locals.

RELATED: 10 Best Characters From Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ranked

After the success of both the novel and movie five more novels have been written in the Kiki series, published in Japan between 1993 and 2009. A new English translation of the first novel was published in 2020.


9 Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

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Split image showing Howl's moving castle and the novel that inspired it

One of Studio Ghibli’s most beloved movies, Howl’s Moving Castle was adapted from the 1986 novel by British author Diana Wynne Jones. It tells the story of Sophie Hatter, a young woman cursed by the Witch of the Waste, who pursues the wizard Howl and his magical castle in order to find a cure. While the fundamentals of both stories are the same, though, there were some Howl’s Moving Castle book scenes impossible to adapt for the movie.

Wynne Jones’ book is the first of three in the Howl series, followed by Castle in the Air — not to be confused with Ghibli’s own, unrelated Castle in the Sky — and House of Many Ways. Though the sequels introduce new protagonists, Howl and Sophie do return, often in unexpected ways.


8 Tales From Earthsea (2006)

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Split image showing the Tales from Earthsea novels, the movie of the same name, and the manga The Journey of Shuna

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son Gorō, Tales from Earthsea takes its inspiration from more than one place — first and foremost from its namesake, the Earthsea Cycle by acclaimed American author Ursula K. Le Guin, but also from a one-volume manga written by Hayao Miyazaki, titled The Journey of Shuna.

The adaptation diverged from Le Guin’s source material considerably, and received a mixed reception both from the author herself and critics. One of the biggest differences comes about because of how much the movie focuses on war, while the novels are far more concerned with internal struggles.


7 Grave Of The Fireflies (1988)

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Split image showing the lead characters from Grave of the Fireflies and the short story of the same name

Centered on brother and sister Seita and Setsuko in the aftermath of World War II, Grave of the Fireflies is based on a short story of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka, which in turn was influenced by the author’s own experience with his family during and after the war, more particularly surrounding the bombing of Kobe.

A harrowing story, this adaptation nonetheless features some of Studio Ghibli’s most stunning frames of animation and has been praised as one of the most important war movies of all time. The story was also adapted into a live-action movie in 2005, in order to commemorate the 60-year anniversary of the end of World War II.


6 The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

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Split image showing a scene from The Secret World of Arrietty and the cover to the book The Borrowers

The Secret World of Arrietty — known as Arrietty the Borrower in Japan, and simply Arrietty outside of North America — is an adaptation of 1952 novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton.

RELATED: 10 Best English Dub Voice Actors In Studio Ghibli Films

The movie follows Arrietty and her family, a group of miniature people who live within the floors and walls of houses, taking what they need from its human inhabitants while trying to avoid discovery. Since its theatrical release, the Arrietty movie has itself been adapted into a manga series of four volumes.


5 Only Yesterday (1991)

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Split image showing a scene from Only Yesterday and the cover to the novel of the same name

Based on the 1980s manga of the same name by Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone, Only Yesterday is one of the studio’s less fantastical stories, absent of any of Studio Ghibli’s non-human characters. Instead, it focuses on protagonist Taeko Okajima, and her childhood recollections as she travels home to visit family.

Though it was certainly a different direction for the studio, Only Yesterday received critical acclaim, both for its story and its director, Isao Takahata.


4 Whisper Of The Heart (1995)

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Split image showing a scene from Whisper of the Heart and the mangas of the same name

Whisper of the Heart is based on a manga with the same title by Aoi Hiiragi. It follows young teenager Shizuku Tsukishima as she deals with her first crush, as well as her love for writing and music, and attempts to balance these pursuits alongside her schoolwork.

RELATED: 10 Unpopular Opinions About Studio Ghibli Movies, According To Reddit

A minor character from the film, The Baron later became the inspiration for Ghibli’s 2002 movie The Cat Returns, which was also based on a manga by the same author.




3 Porco Rosso (1992)

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Split image showing a scene form Porco and the Hikōtei Jidai manga

Porco Rosso, considered one of Hayao Miyazaki’s top films, was based on his own watercolor manga, titled Hikōtei Jidai, which was published in 1989. The story follows retired World War I pilot Porco Rosso — real name Marco — now working as a bounty hunter who has been cursed to resemble a pig.

Similarly, Miyazaki’s own manga series was the basis for Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and The Wind Rises, though the latter was also influenced by other source material too.


2 The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya (2013)

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Split image showing a scene from The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and a depiction of the Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya takes its inspiration from a far older source, a traditional Japanese tale titled The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, thought to have been written between the late ninth and early tenth centuries. Its author remains unknown.

A very popular tale in Japan that has been adapted many times, the story follows a princess from the moon, found as a young girl inside a bamboo shoot by a bamboo cutter, and the subsequent life she has with her adoptive family. Studio Ghibli’s adaptation received a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards in 2015.


1 From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

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Split image showing a scene from From Up on Poppy Hill and the cover of the book of the same name

Based on a manga of the same name written by Tetsurō Sayama and illustrated by Chizuru Takahashi, From Up on Poppy Hill centers on protagonist Umi Matsuzaki, a high-school student in 1960s Japan. Alongside schoolmate Shun, the two decide to clean up their school’s disused clubhouse, which is threatened with destruction.

The movie focuses on the pair’s complicated relationship, as well as the naval forces and ships that are a crucial part of life in their port town.

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