the anime movies that perfectly capture coming of age

Put down the Larry Clark boxset.

by Oliver Lunn
17 November 2016, 3:11pm

Don't believe anyone who says that cartoons - that's anything from crudely drawn stickmen to slick manga - can't capture the complexity of human emotions. Those people clearly haven't seen Your Name, the Japanese anime about body-swapping teens, in which hormone-addled students are captured just as vividly in two dimensions as their live-action counterparts.

But Your Name is hardly the first anime to depict coming of age in this way. Others have captured the giddy anticipation of seeing your crush in the school hallway, the brutal blow of hearing the words "just friends." There's a whole slew of manga movies that convey these intense feelings, feelings that hit you just as hard as they do in a Sofia Coppola film. And that's despite the fact that these characters have silky smooth skin, Colgate smiles, and Bambi eyes. Here's a bunch you should definitely see.

Ocean Waves

This supremely 90s Studio Ghibli coming-of-ager proves there's more to the studio than wide-eyed forest spirits. Told in flashback, Ocean Waves is a tale about a boy falling for a big-city girl who transfers to his school. One problem: his friend fancies her too, and sure enough this love triangle threatens the boys' friendship. The anime is rich in detail, zooming in on the minutiae of high school life - boys eye-ogle girls on the tennis court, mouths agape; two teens take a romantic stroll on a street draped in dappled light. Add to that a twinkly score that sends sentimental shivers down your spine, and this a shot straight to the tear ducts.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Like Your Name, this is a teen movie wrapped in a high-concept sci-fi. A scatty high school girl inexplicably discovers the power of time travel and uses her ability to fix minor problems in her life. That only leads to more problems though, like when one of her best friends asks her out. She leaps back in time, desperately trying to avoid his question. Then she learns that there are some things in life she can't avoid, can't change, no matter how many times she 'leaps.' Such is the beauty of life's unpredictability. Also like Your Name, this anime was another smash in its native Japan, raking in a cool 260 million Yen at the box office.

Whisper of the Heart

Don't be surprised when this 1995 anime melts your heart. It was created, after all, by Studio Ghibli head honcho Hayao Miyazaki. Based on the 1989 manga of the same name by Aoi Hiiragi, the film follows 14-year-old bookworm Shizuku. She keeps seeing the same boy's name printed on the inside of her library books. "I wonder what he's like," she dreams. Then she meets him and they start spending time together. He embarrasses her by turning up to one of her classes. Their cheeks glow rosy red. It must be love. But the boy is leaving for Italy to do an apprenticeship, and, well, life just isn't fair. In the film's cymbal-crashing final scene, he turns up outside her window at dawn. She hops on his bike and they ride through town as the sun rises. You reach for the Kleenex.


"14 years old and I already feel like my life is at a dead end." This is the story of naval-gazing teen Yukio, whose life is flipped upside down when he meets 16-year-old guitar whiz Ryusuke. They form a band called Beck (not a tribute to the Beck you know) and Yukio - bearing all the hallmarks of the unpopular loner - finds solace in music. His love of which is only intensified by a crush he has on a girl in his class. Written and illustrated by Harold Sakuishi, the 26-episode manga series reminds you how one friend, one album, can change your entire world.

When Marnie Was There

Self-loathing teen Anna resents her foster parents because, she discovers, they receive money from the government to take care of her. When she's sent to live with relatives, following an asthma attack at school, she becomes obsessed with an abandoned mansion. She meets a mysterious blonde girl there called Marnie, who no one but Anna can see. Is she even real? Is Anna having a mental breakdown? It's less a creepy ghost story than a film about depression and neglect. Anna is emotionally distant, introverted and - for a girl drawn in two dimensions - endearingly complicated. "I hate myself," she says, aggressively pressing a pencil against her book until its lead snaps.

Kids on the Slope

The 'new kid in town' trope is ubiquitous in coming-of-age anime for a reason. It's timeless. And it works especially well in Kids on the Slope, Yuki Kodama's 60s-set manga series in which a bespectacled teen moves to a new town to live with relatives because of his father's work situation. He doesn't like the other kids, he's happy to be the outsider, the nerdy kid, and yes, he thinks he's the center of the universe: "It all makes me want to vomit." But all that changes when a girl shows him around school during lunch break. Through her he meets a badboy jazz drummer who helps loosen him up. Then comes the self-discovery, the teenage brawls, the lake swimming, the joys of jazz in 60s Japan.

From Up on Poppy Hill

The Studio Ghibli anime From Up on Poppy Hill is a 60s-set high-school romance about a girl who falls for a student journalist. They're part of a group of Yokohama teens attempting to save their school's clubhouse from the wrecking ball in preparations for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki's son, Gorō Miyazaki, this is quite literally an old-school romance, equal parts heartwarming and low key.

A Letter to Momo

A Letter to Momo is one of the few coming-of-agers bold enough to throw in some Spirited Away-style escapism. It's about a girl who leaves Tokyo with her mom following the death of her father. She's anxious about her future, glum about her dad, and resents her mom for uprooting her. She has zero friends and boredom soon sets in. Then, when she discovers an old picture book in the attic of their new place, things start to get a little Spirited Away, with spirits appearing that no one but she can see. A Letter to Momo shares the soaring sentimentality of Ghibli's finest without being puke-inducing. Sometimes, like the best coming-of-age anime movies, you forget you're watching a rapid display of drawings on screen.



Text Oliver Lunn

the girl who leapt through time
Whisper of the Heart
your name
when marnie was there
a letter to momo