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Home > Top 10 Strongest Studio Ghibli Characters

Top 10 Strongest Studio Ghibli Characters

Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures

From Wizards to Gods

Few film studios in the world match the whimsical and daring atmospheres as Studio Ghibli. Founded in 1985 by filmmakers Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese studio would spend the next thirty-nine years captivating audiences with stunning animations that draw influence from both Eastern and Western cultures. The films that have come out of this studio solidified Japanese animation to a world stage. Even those who have never watched anime have at least been familiar with Ghibli’s work.

With the recent release of The Boy and The Heron (2023), it is time to look back on Studio Ghibli’s history of creating strong characters. While the Oscar-winning Spirited Away surely shows some powerful beings, strength doesn’t always lie in supernatural forces. It is often that strength lives in the endurance of the mind and the eccentric magic portrayed. After decades of artfully crafted hand-drawn films, there have been many characters that stand out as the strongest. 

10. Kiki

Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures
Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures

In 1989, Studio Ghibli released Kiki’s Delivery Service, a story about a young witch discovering her independence through her new flying courier service with her friends and loveable talking cat, Jiji. Though she is still somewhat new to her witch powers, she quickly masters the art of flying. This power proves useful for her new job in a town that she is not used to. She also proves herself to be very agile which comes in handy as she often finds her mind floating in the clouds. Often relying on others, she eventually learns to find her own path and becomes a trusted friend for others to rely on. Despite the doubts she originally puts on herself, she becomes the town’s favorite neighbor and becomes a hero through her skills. Her strength not only comes from her magic, but also her compassion and will power. Kiki is played by Minai Takayama (1989), Lisa Michelson (1990), and Kirsten Dunst (1997).

9. Ponyo

Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures
Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures

Described by some as the Japanese version of The Little Mermaid, Ponyo tells the story of a goldfish princess who ventures into the human world and accidentally brings magic with her. Released in 2008, the light-hearted fairytale features the titular character with an immense force of power despite her small size. The young half-fish/half-human child spends the movie discovering the human world much to her parents’ displeasure. After coming into contact with a human’s blood, her hidden magical powers come forth. She then figures out that she can shapeshift herself and transform objects like toys into ships. Her influence over the ocean and her large family also help to restore nature’s balance after Ponyo accidentally causes the ocean to surround her friend’s home. Though the film can be seen as childish, Ponyo’s fish powers give her strength and agility that are unlike any humans. Ponyo is played by Yuuri Nara and Noah Cyrus.

8. Ashitaka

Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures
Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures

Ashitaka may not have magical powers like others on this list, but he makes up for it with his courage and determination. Princess Mononoke, released in 1997, tells the story of the Gods of the forest and the humans fighting for territory. Ashitaka is the heroic prince of the Emishi Village who is sent away after being cursed while trying to save one of the giant boars of the forest. His cursed arm transforms into an ugly purple limb that writhes and gives Ashitaka an immense advantage to kill with efficient aim. Tasked with a mission to find out who cursed the boar with iron, he is led on to try to balance the worlds of humans and nature. Ashitaka is the voice of reason in the film and bravely throws himself to save others at any opportunity. Despite his reluctance to resort to violence, aside from his occasional usage of bow and arrow, his strength shines through his determination to protect his world from the forces of evil. Ashitaka is played by Yoji Matsuda and Billy Crudup.

7. Yubaba

Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures
Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures

Released in 2001 and awarded Studio Ghibli’s first oscar, Spirited Away tells the story of a young girl named Chihiro, who fights for her parents freedom after getting lost in the spirit world. Chihiro is forced to work for Yubaba’s bathhouse to earn her chance at her normal life again, but it quickly becomes more challenging than she had anticipated. With very questionable morals and motives, Yubaba, as the sorceress proprietor of the bathhouse, soon becomes the antagonist for all the characters in the film. She possesses the abilities of shapeshifting, flying, and fire casting. Despite this, however, she is easily swayed by money that she takes from clients and the adoration she has for her very large baby, Boh. And though she does hold great power, even she becomes scared of the creature known as No Face who becomes a dangerous client for her. Yubaba (along with her twin sister) is played by Mari Natsuki and Suzanne Pleshette.

6. No Face

Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures
Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures

Unlike the other spirits and gods in the film that are inspired by real Japanese mythos, No Face was an original idea created by Hayao Miyazaki. No Face is a tall semi-transparent shadow of a creature with a white and purple mask that floats around the bathhouse and mirrors others’ temperaments. Though he initially appears as an antagonist for a large portion of the film, he ends the film as a misguided and unusual spirit. Despite not possessing the vast magic of Yubaba, he instills fear in her after he proceeds to swallow her employees whole and kidnaps them for their personalities. He gains the ability to leap, float, swim, and consume large quantities of food. Most notably, he has the ability to produce gold pieces seemingly out of nowhere which is what entices the bathouse’s employees into his trap in the first place. A troublesome character, his strength and unusualness have made him a favorite among Studio Ghibli fans. No Face is played by Akio Nakamura and Bob Bergen.

5. Totoro

Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures
Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures

Another heartfelt family movie, My Neighbor Totoro released in 1988 and follows two sisters, Satsuke and Mei, who move into a new home and discover spirits living in the nearby forest. Totoro is one of these forest spirits who resembles something akin to a large owl-raccoon beast. He is part of the Totoro Tribe which is near extinction along with the other spirits thanks to humanity’s greed. Despite this, he represents himself as a protective and cuddly being who wants nothing more than to spread cheer. However, his appearance should not be underestimated. Totoro is an ancient being who holds great strength and agility. Numerous times throughout the film he is seen jumping through the trees and roaring happily like a wild animal. His abilities also allow him to grow plants later in the film through his singing and dancing. Though he is essentially a big cuddly bear, he has the strength of a beast not made for the mortal world. Totoro is played by Hitoshi Takagi (1988) and Frank Welker (2005). 

4. San and her Wolf Family

Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures
Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures

Between the humans and the gods in Princess Mononoke is a young woman named San who was adopted by the Wolf Goddess. With a human body, but the values of the world’s spirits, the princess is a compassionate yet wild character who challenges everyone who disrespects her family and her forest. She wields a spear though she doesn’t always need one. Her life amongst powerful supernatural wolves had given her a beastly style of fighting using tooth and nail. Alongside her are her two wolf brothers and her mother, Moro, who form a small pack against the unpredictable nature of the human and boar armies. Alone, each family member is a formidable foe, but together they challenge some of the hardest competitors in order to keep their peace in their forest. San is played by Yuriko Ishida and Claire Danes while Moro is played by Akihiro Miwa and Gillian Anderson.

3. Howl

Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures
Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures

Released in 2004, Howl’s Moving Castle tells the tale of Sophie Hatter and her journey to release herself from the curse placed upon her. Howl is the wizard who the townsfolk believe to be evil, claiming that he steals womens’ hearts. Truthfully, he is no more than a dramatic and romance-driven young man who had made unfortunate decisions in his life. As a child apprentice to the great Madame Suliman, Howl made a deal with the fire demon, Calcifer, on a night full of falling stars, agreeing to give up his heart in exchange for stronger magic. To stay alive, he must keep Calcifer burning, or he will perish. Howl is depicted in the film as a cunning shapeshifter and spellcaster who can make castles transform and trivial spells such as changing his hair color at will. With a war raging on where his wizard comrades have been turned into beasts, he alone takes out dozens of them to push against the “pointless” war. Howl is played by Takuya Kimura and Christian Bale.

2. Madame Suliman

Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures
Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures

Howl had to learn his magic from someone. Madame Suliman, from Howl’s Moving Castle, plays Howl’s old teacher and serves as the King’s Royal Sorcerer. The main antagonist of the film, her duties include manipulating young and powerful witches and wizards into mutated monsters to serve for the King’s army. Though she is depicted as an older woman confined to her wheelchair, she sees beyond Howl’s magical disguises and nearly transforms him into a hideous beast just like she had to others. It’s evident that Howl had learned from a strong teacher, so much so that the king specifically requests for only her magic to be used. With her position of power, no sorcerer in the kingdom can decline her invitations to the palace without facing consequences. Unfortunately, her character does not take up a large chunk of the film. What we do see of her seems to be just a fraction of the powers she could conjure. Madame Suliman is played by Haruko Kato and Blythe Danner.

1. The Forest Spirit

Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures
Image courtesy of Studio Ghibli, Toho, and Walt Disney Pictures

In the center of all the good and evil in Princess Mononoke lies The Forest Spirit. An elk-like being with a human face, The Forest Spirit is known as the God of Life and Death. The genderless being is unlike some of the others on this list as they are not a main character of the film, but more of the catalyst that brings the cast of characters to convene for the final battle. The Forest Spirit possesses the powers of immortality, reincarnation, healing, water walking, shapeshifting, and the ability to kill a creature with just one breath. Notably, they heal the protagonist, Ashitaka, from his bullet wound, his curse, and the lepers of Irontown. The desires of The Forest Spirit are unknown as their actions appear very intentional only when they want something to occur. He hesitates to heal Ashitaka’s curse as if he could foresee the events that needed to play out where his curse would be useful. Sincerely, this god is the very representation of nature’s viability through the battles between the spirits and humans. The Forest Spirit does not have a voice actor for they do not speak.

Princess Mononoke (1997) Official Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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With a bachelor's degree in Film and Media Studies from Arizona State University, Ashley has a passion for the history of filmmaking and how audiences share a relationship with publicized media. Her love for the horror genre as well as feminist themes runs deep.

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Hi! I am a Dramatic Writing and Performing Arts major at SCAD from Puerto Rico. I have an intense passion for all things film, tv, and music. I believe everyone has a story to tell, and putting it out there is the most important.