Top Anime Directors in 2000s – Movies / OAVs

After having learnt how to put pictures on the blog and make it look more attractive, I want to present the top movie directors again in a more accessible, non-technical format. I have mentioned most of the top ones to death but it never hurt to actually highlight them out again since they all deserve as much attention as I can give them. For this exercise , I will combine both movies and OAVs together. The next eight directors (with multiple films in the list, ranked in order of how many times their works are being mentioned in all of the lists used to compile the results) are definitely among the best short-format anime directors you will find in 2000s.

1). Shinkai Makoto

Why he is listed: 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007), The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004), Voices of a Distant Star (2002)

My one-title recommendation (if you want to check one of his works out, I recommend this): Voices of a Distant Star

Other noteworthy works: She and Her Cat (1999)

Affiliated studios (studio that the direct has done the most works with): Comix Wave Inc.

Comment: The way this guy used lighting is as good as it gets. The quality of his animation is always top-notch. He can be quite a one-trick pony with his story-telling but when it’s told this well and look so good, I don’t consider that such a bad thing:) Hailed as ‘the next Miyazaki’ I really hope he can live up to such title for years to come! If anyone has not seen it yet, I would really urge you to check out Voices of the Distant Star for what this guy is capable of. This is the 25 minutes OAV that he, other than music and voice acting, essentially create by himself. It’s so well-done and the animation looks so great that it is pretty unbelievable that this is a one-man effort. Plus, it’s pretty short too so you won’t be wasting too much time if you happen not to like it!

2). Kon Satoshi

Why he is listed:  Millennium Actress (2002), Tokyo Godfathers ( 2003), Paprika (2006)

My one-title recommendation: Tokyo Godfathers

Other noteworthy works: Perfect Blue (1997),

Affiliated studios: Madhouse Studios

Comment: Another director with a pretty spotless track record. All of his directorial works are very well-received. His film tends to really explore a lot about human’s psyche and the blur between dream, imagination and reality.  As for my recommendation,  I really struggle with this one. What is his most accessible film? I would have to say Tokyo Godfather. It is probably the most straightforward piece of works he has done. To a Hitchcock type fans or lovers of a good thriller, I would recommend Perfect Blue, which is also a good piece to check out how serious and dark anime can get. I personally prefer Millennium Actress the best. It just gave me the best aftertaste after the credit rolled. On the side note, I just found out that Wolfgang Peterson (Troy, Poseidon) is planning a live-action remake of Paprika. Hmm, that would certainly be one to keep check out…

3). Miyazaki Hayao

Why he is listed: Spirited Away (2001), Ponyo on the Cliff By the Sea (2008)

My one-title recommendation: Laputa: The Castle in the Sky

Other noteworthy works: Lupin: The Castle of Cagliostro, Nausicaa of the Valley of WInd, My Neighbour Totoro, Princess Mononoke,

Affiliated studios: Studio Ghibli

Comment: If there is any one anime director a general public might have heard of and an anime fan certainly know, then it has to be Miyazaki so I don’t really need to harp on too long about how amazing this guy is.A little difficult for sure to recognize a film to watch but I go with Laputa since it probably offers the most accessible by most audience with its blend of  amazing adventures and incredibly exciting action . Also, to go more into the directors and his works, do check out Rice Bunny’s Ghibli Month series. It is a pretty cool and in-depth look into all of the studio’s work and a neat way to celebrate the studio’s 25-year anniversary.

4). Hosoda Mamoru

Why he is listed: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006), Summer Wars (2009), One Piece: Omatsuri Danshaku to Himitsu no Shima (2005)

My one-title recommendation: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Other noteworthy works:

Affiliated studios: Madhouse Studios

Comment: Shame he never got to fulfill his potential with Studio Ghibli. It would have been so fascinating to see his vision in Howl’s Moving Castle. Saying that, he has done really well for himself with the next three outings. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, ranked two in the 2000s blog ranking, has a very simple premise but really delivers on that in a very fun and touching manners. Summer Wars is also another great film and his latest piece of work. It did not rank so high in the 2000s list (15 with only 2 mentions) because I don’t think many people have yet had time to check it out. But it did win the latest Tokyo Anime Award as well as being the fifth best rated anime movie on Anime News Network (behind Spirited Away, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Princess Mononoke and THe Girl Who Leapt Through Time). Check out Canne’s more in-depth review of this gem of you are not yet convinced:)

5). Tsurumaki Kazuya

Why he is listed: FLCL (2000), Gunbuster 2 (2004)

My one-title recommendation: FLCL

Other noteworthy works:

Affiliated studios: GAINAX (seems to have also followed Anno to Studio Khara)

Comment: protegé of Anno. Best known for I love the Pillows in FLCL. The music in that probably is much more memorable than the title itself to me! He also directed episode 19-26 of His And Her CIrcumstances, after Anno left the project. I don’t think it held up to the first half though and it seems like that project had run out of money by that point anyway…

6). Anno Hideaki

Why he is listed: Evangelion 1.0 (2007), Evangelion 2009)

My one-title recommendation: Neon Genesis Evangelion (1996)

Other noteworthy works: His and Her Circumstances (1998)

Affiliated studios: formerly GAINAX, now Studio Khara

Comment: He may not have ‘directed’ the new Eva, but as far as I am concerned, he is listed as the ‘chief’ director’ so I will give him credit for the work! Regardless, his work is probably pretty well recognized amongst the fans. The Evangelion 2.2 reviews or opinions seem to be the hottest topics around the blogsphere over the last 2-3 weeks or so which speak to the volume of how much this direct really command your attention. The original Evangelion series is probably one of the most popular anime series around and with the most controversial ending ever. I still say it is a must-watch for anyone who is getting into anime, with its perfect blend of mecha action, teen angst and some lots of seemingly deep religious and psychological meanings.

7). Yoshiura Yasuhiro

Why he is listed: Eve no Jikan (2008), Pale Cocoon (2006)

My one-title recommendation: n.a.

Other noteworthy works: Even no Jikan: The Movie (2010)

Affiliated studios: Studio Rikka

Comment: Have not seen any of his work so cannot comment too much. He does have the most amount of OAV ranked in the list of all the directers though so that has to count for something:)

8). Oshii Mamoru

Why he is listed: The Sky Crawlers (2008), Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)

My one-title recommendation: Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Other noteworthy works: Avalon (2001), Angel’s Egg (1985)

Affiliated studios: Production I.G

Comment: This is also another director which most anime fan should recognize. His works tend to be heavy on philosophy (Innocence is just so incomprehensible to me but the visual does more than make up for it) My favourite work of his is probably Avalon. I do like the weird online game feel and atmosphere of that quite a bit and it does come with a little less philosophical babble… For the most daring, do check out Angel’s Egg. I have not seen it yet but it does seem to have

Which of these directors here are your favourites? Are there any movie director that I may have missed out (bear in mind I only include those who have prominent works in 2000s)?

29 Comments on “Top Anime Directors in 2000s – Movies / OAVs”

  1. What a tough choice!

    Put a prog-knife at my throat then I would have to say Anno, because of his role in making one of my favorite shows ever.

    That said, I like everybody here a great deal.

    • Off the top four, it is pretty difficult to rank them. Miyazaki will have to come first if only because his directed more amazing films than the other three combined (helps that he is about 20 years older than each of the other three). Still, if I can only include films from the 2000s, I still rank Spirited Away as one of my favourite films in any format so Miyazaki will still come first. I’ll probably rank the rest in the order of Hosoda, Kon and Shinkai. Saying that, I have yet to see 5cm and that might move Shinkai up a notch:)

      Anno is a little unique amongst these directors in the sense that he has done more series than films/OAV. He is only listed in here because I credited him with the two eva movies!

      And that was an unbelievably fast response time. I barely posted this and you have already commented in like 2 minutes!!

      • LOL the response time is fast because I don’t really browse the internet but rather check Google Reader compulsively. is very good at pushing new posts into my Google Reader feed so I easily become the first commenter in many of the blogs I follow.

        I can’t really criticize your choices, even if they’re on the conservative side. These are all excellent ambassadors of the medium.

      • The list is based on all those blog votings so you hit it right on the head that it definitely leans on the more ‘conservative’ side (what the majority of the blog writers consider to be the best). I imagine it’s the same way if I choose Godfather and Shawshank Redemption as my favourite films. Not a lot one can argue with that but They are pretty ‘safe and boring’ choices:) Although this is not my list per se, mine is definitely going to be pretty close to this.

        Once people get their chance to watch these, then we can start showing them things like Mind Game, Tekkonkinkreet or Detroit Metal City. One step at a time:)

  2. Canne says:

    This is a nice post you o here and, of course, very pretty with all those images 🙂 It reminds me I have not watched any of Yoshiura Yasuhiro’s works despite my being a sci-fi fan. I also notice that the top three director are all masters of visuals. Their works all have signature visual style.

    Side note1: I have just added you to my blogroll.
    Side note2: what is the picture in your header image?

    • digital boy says:

      Not sure about the pic itself, but I believe it’s the crazy priest villain from the late teen volumes of Berserk. aqua can correct me if I’m wrong though 😉

    • It seems that with movies, the directors really have so much more influence on the way their works look, much much more so than in TV series. All 8 I have do have their distinctive visual styles (maybe not Tsurumaki but when you have been understudying someone for so long, that can’t necessarily be helped).

      Thanks for adding me to the blog-roll:) Much honoured. And as digital boy correctly pointed out, it is indeed the Mozgus, the fanatical priest from Berserk. My brother and I are a huge fan of the manga and he does a lot of fanart paintings, a few of which I have raided for personal use on this blog:) I’m trying to convince him to paint me a nice Whisper of the Heart or Planetes pictures at the moment so I will have a few more pictures of my favourite anime to use! I so wish I could draw myself but this is second best I can do…

  3. kadian1364 says:

    For favorite strictly movie/OVA director, Miyazaki is far and away my favorite, then Kon. For directors in general it’s between Miyazaki and Anno. Although not really a movie director, with Eva and Kare Kano, and even his older stuff like Nadia and Gunbuster, Anno contributed the most landmark titles to the medium besides Miyazaki himself.

    • I would say that Anno’s contribution is really in the 1990s. Can’t argue with Eva’s impact on the landscape of anime though. But I’m sure there are a few earlier people (Otomo, Oshii, Leiji Matsumoto etc.) who can also claim that accolade as well:) That actually brings up a very good topic I might try to visit one day. Who have made the most contribution to anime in each decade?

      • Nick says:

        But Anno’s second best work was Gunbuster in 1988 (Though I would call it his and Gainax’s best work). It was influential to later mecha and was very well animated for it’s time.

  4. digital boy says:

    All amazing directors~

    Let’s see. I like Oshii Mamoru, although we’ve had a pretty rocky relationship:

    Anno Hideaki ought to be my number one choice, as End of Evangelion is my favorite movie largely for it’s directing, and the new films are going well, but that’s all he’s done for movies. I’m also not so sure about his sense of movie pacing.

    Kazuya Tsurumaki is a bit of an unfair inclusion because his works were OVAs, and both of them were 6 eps, giving him a lot more time than a movie would have.

    Satoshi Kon is brilliant, and all of his films are top-class but none of them have really resonated with me on a deep level.

    So I feel like I want to pick Mamoru Hosada. I think that Hosada really captures the idea of what makes a ‘great anime movie’ and he does it best. His films are fun, well paced, and never leave a bad taste in my mouth.

    The other directors on this list are all great, but with fewer works that greatly appeal to me personally. Of course, I love me some Miyazaki, but I don’t want to bring him up lol.

    Some other great movie directors are Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), Tomomi Mochizuki (A whole lot of stuff, including Umi ga Kikoeru who might be one of the most underrated directors in anime, Akiyuki Shinbo (Le Portrait de Petit Cossette, Tenamonya Voyagers, Twilight of the Dark Master), I’m sure there are others~

    • Your article certainly shows how important and conflicting Oshii is! Great article to read for sure, to fill up my appreciation of the guy. Thanks for sharing:)

      I do regconize the inherent unfairness of including both OAV and film director in the same list. But if I were to make a list of OAV directors alone using the criteria that a director have to have more than one title in the list (to avoid the ‘fluke’ factor), then only Yoshiura and Tsurumaki would actually be in there! I also combine it just so I can give Voices of the Distant Star to Shinkai too:) And 6 episodes, one could argue that could be like a 3-hour movie…

      Anno in this list just feel wrong but I still have to put him in there for ‘chief directing’ those two films. He certainly has not done much in 2000s though other than Re: Cutie Honey in 2004 I think. Mochizuki is certainly an interesting one. He hasn’t done many outright popular features but I do like Umi ga Kikoeru quite a bit. None of his other works (Ranma 1/2 excepted) really stand out that much though! Totally agree about Hosoda. He and Miyazaki are my current two favourites by quite a long way just due to their story-telling skills and great visuals.

      Others that I have not mentioned in my list but are worth a mention are Rintaro (Metropolis, Harlock, X, Dagger of Kamui; One of the old guards with lots of directorial works, most of which i have not seen…), Ando Masahiro (Sword of the Stranger; nothing else but certainly one to watch out for the the next few years), Morita Hiroyuki (The Cat Returns, Bokurano; certainly another director that can change his style quite a bit based on these two pieces of works!)

      • By the way, Ando Masahiro also did the TV anime Canaan. Opinions on it are really divisive because the plot is pretty silly, but the animation and fights are spectacular. Masahiro is definitely one of my favorite up-and-comers.

      • Very true. My bad. Omitted that one presumably because I was looking for other movies he did… It looks like Sword of the Stranger is his ticket to other directorial features. Excited to see what more he is capable of! Is the action in Canaan enough to justify sitting through the plot then? It certainly did not rank very high in my compiled list – one mention only… Saying that being from 2009, a lot of people probably have not seen it yet.

      • When you did your compiled list, Canaan had only just ended, and it also didn’t have a lot of viewers. I hadn’t seen Canaan yet when I made my list, but it’s one of my top 15-20 favorite anime now. Once again, opinions are divided, but I personally think it’s fucking fantastic.

      • Alas, that’s the drawback of my list since 2009 productions are definitely heavily downwardly biased due to few people having watched it at the end of the decade when the polls are produced . I would like to think that Canaan would place higher if similar poll is conducted at the end of this year. Summer Wars would also definitely get the same boost from its lowly 19th position among all 2000s films with 2 mentions!

        In the meantime, i will definitely look out for Canaan and grab it when it got released as dvd in the US:)

  5. Martin says:

    I can’t find fault in any of your selections here. I’ve not seen much of either Yoshiura’s nor Hosoda’s apart from the most obvious ones (Mizu no Kotoba/Pale Cocoon/Eve no Jikan and Girl Who Leapt Through Time/Summer Wars, respectively). Since neither have put a foot wrong yet in my eyes, they deserve to be on this list despite their recent rise to fame and relative inexperience.

    Similarly I’ve watched pretty much everything Shinkai and Kon have directed, and loved every minute…I’ve watched Angel’s Egg and both GitS movies but despite feeling admiration for Oshii’s talents none of them clicked with me (I know, I know, I need to watch Patlabor). Then I watched the Sky Crawlers. Now I can finally say I think he’s a genius, because that utterly blew my mind.

    S’funny, but as I read down through this post I started to realise how eerily close your selection mirrors my own. Seriously, it’s awesome but kinda unnerving at the same time: if I were to list my all-time fave anime movie directors it would be exactly the same as this!

    The only omission I can think of is Isao Takahata – he’s done some wonderful things (Only Yesterday, Grave of the Fireflies) but has done one or two that I didn’t really ‘get’ (namely Pom Poko). I wouldn’t say he’s less talented than Miyazaki, but he’s certainly less consistent. They’re very different in approach though, so maybe a direct comparison isn’t fair anyway.

    I’m looking forward to reading a companion article on series directors…I had Anno down as more of a series director than a movie one for instance.

    • I still have a dvd copy of Sky Crawlers sitting on my desk to be watched. Now that I have read your recommendation, I should really dig it up and watch it very soon! Same goes for Yoshiura’s works and Hosoda’s earlier films (can’t believe I’m actally implying I want to watch a Digimon film…)

      This list is compiled based on the ‘best of 2000s’ ranking and since Takahata has not done any directing works in that time, he was not included in this. That being said, his works are pretty amazing. I find him to actually be much more experimental than Miyazaki. See the likes of Pom Poko and My neighbours the Yamadas, hence the works could be more of a hit or miss. Would be good to see him come out of his ‘retirement’ and direct another feature soon.

      Glad you like the list. If I have to post a list of my top 10 favourite movie anime directors myself, it would be pretty similar to this too! Just goes to say that certain quality in films are universal and that good movie directors are certainly much more concentrated at the top than series directors:)

      As for the series directors article, I have already written this up in my previous post (‘Top Anime Directors in 2000s – Series’), detailing 16 directors that have put out some good works during the last decade. Unfortunately Anno was not also included in that list since he seemed to have not done any series of note in the last 10 years… Do let me know what you think!

  6. drmchsr0 says:

    Personally, I’d never allow Anno into any of my top 10 lists of anime directors. But then again I hate him simply because of Eva. And his right-wing links.

    And of course, Need I mention (again) Yasuhiro Imagawa?

    • Haha, you definitely have made your stance very loud and clear on that one:) Love it or hate it, Anno is pretty important to most of us anime enthusiast so he should probably be mentioned once at least in either of my movie and series lists…

  7. alua says:

    I am really bad at these “Whose your favourite” questions, at least you want to me to pick just one. I like different directors (and films) for different reasons, so I can’t rank them!

    But of course I love Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli generally, closely following Shinkai because I think there are some things he does brilliantly (yes, light, landscape scenery AND conveying some human feelings, especially loneliness). Loved Hosoda’s The Girl Who Leapt through Time, but Summer Wars not so much, but that’s all I have seen by him so I feel like I can’t make a judgment on him just yet. Have not watched anything by Kon yet, but I’m pretty sure he’ll end up in my list of great directors…

    • To be fair, I would not be able to give you a definite answer on that question either! If I have to choose one, I would say Miyazaki because of his longer track record. Shinkai, Kon and Hosoda, for all their respective brilliances, have only directed between 3-4 films each. Wait until they have more offerings (sadly that won’t be the case for Kon) then we can compare over a longer period.

      I was talking about Shinkai with my friend about two days ago too. We basically agree that Shinkai seems to only be able to do one type of film (teens, relationship, loneliness) but he does it soooooo well! We also just watched Summer Wars as well. I just love the action, the family theme and the general playfulness of the whole film. It makes me feel happy and want to watch more anime and that makes it one to recommend to others in my book:) You definitely should check out Kon’s stuff when you get the chance. His films have a pretty big psychological edge which make it stand out alongside other director’s offerings.

  8. alua says:

    I consider Shinkai and Hosoda as just ‘starting out’ in a sense and still finding their way. (Kon, unfortunately, will have to be evaluated differently, since he was only able to make 4 films and died much too early.)

    Shinkai might be able to do more than one type of film – but it might be better for him to work with a separate scriptwriter, or study storytelling quite intensively. He can keep doing the teens/relationship/loneliness bit, but I think he can take it to different realms, including fantasy (as he tried with Hoshi o Ou Kodomo) if he can figure out how to create a tight plot.

    • It’s probably advisable for him to learn the storytelling skill from someone else like you said. Hopefully he can realize that and move on! Granted, he’s only around 39 and is the youngest of the next crop of talented anime director, so hopefully there is still a lot of good years left ahead of him. Is there any other anime director that you like? Masaaki Yuasa (Mind Game, From Studio 4c) or even more old-school ones such as Oshii?

  9. alua says:

    I haven’t yet ventured into other anime directors. If you have got recommendations, let me know for when I’m through with Ghibli/Kon. 🙂

    I’m not too keen on anything action-based/crime/horror although there are occasional exceptions (if something is well-made and has intellectual depth) – well, except for horror, that’s pretty much a no-go for me, animated or not!

    I did nearly go to see “Cat Soup” which Masaaki Yuasa wrote the screenplay for – that one looked intriguing but I wasn’t able to make it to the special screening it recently had in London.

    • When I go back and look at the anime movie offerings in 2000s, they arer eally heavily dominated by the aforementioned 4 directors (Miyazaki, Kon, Hosoda, Shinkai). Rewinding back to before that, I would definitely encourage you to check out Mamoru Oshii works (if you have not yet). Ghost In the Shell is always a good anime to watch if only to say you have seen it. I prefer the action-based series of the same name but the movie has its fair share of philosophical musings.

      Masaaki Yuasa is also another director to keep a close eye on. his 2004 film, Mind Game, is meant to be very good, surreal and trippy.

      If however you want to venture into anime series director, I can definitely give you a pretty big list to follow!

      • alua says:

        I’m going to work my way through Studio Ghibli and Kon first (have already seen all available Hosoda & Shinkai) and then tackle other directors.

        I will definitely watch Ghost in the Shell, and sooner rather than later – a friend of mine is writing her PhD thesis partially on it, so I’ll get her to watch and discuss it with me.

        I am watching Nodame Cantabile at the moment because a Japanese friend of mine had it – but I’m taking my time (I’m actually pretty busy at uni this and next month).

      • I read Nodame Cantabile as a manga so never got around to watching the anime version. Heard it’s very good though. I have however watched the live-action Nodame Cantabile. Ueno perfectly personifies live-action version of the titular character. She is soooo good.

        As for anime series I recommend you to see, I would say Planetes and Haibane Renmei. If you like fantasy then please give Twelve Kingdoms a try. It may take a few episodes to get in to but it is one of the best I have seen.

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