Hayao Miyazaki has helped create countless memorable characters over the years. But only a handful stand out above the rest.
Every person in the millennial generation has dreamed of, one day, abandoning modern life and being lucky enough to wander off into a Studio Ghibli film. And even though such things are, sadly, not possible, one can still spend their days enjoying the films the beloved studio has to offer. Studio Ghibli has produced several truly awe-inspiring and heartwarming films that left an impact on all those who watched them. We could not forget the soft scenery, the way they romanticized the everyday aspects of our lives, and the characters that filled the screen and stories.
Note: though each and every character from the entire Studio Ghibli oeuvre is memorable in their own way, this article features a select few that have been prominent in modern pop culture as well as with people outside of the Ghibli fandom online. One could write an endless article praising each and every character but this piece focused on 10 memorable and truly iconic characters from the Studio Ghibli films.
Kaonashi – Spirited Away
Kaonashi, or “No Face” as North American audiences may know them, is one of the most iconic Studio Ghibli characters. People who have seen very few or even no Ghibli films would be able to recognize their mask due to their prominence in online culture. Kaonashi is a spirit from the film Spirited Away who is rumoured to exist as a metaphor for the repressed libido that exists within all humans. This character does not have the same cultural and societal reservations that humans do so it acts upon its every lust and urge, which makes it rather destructive (literally and to the social order) at times. But they are not all bad, just uninhibited.
Catbus – My Neighbor Totoro
If every bus looked like this, public transportation would be much more popular. The character of Catbus has become a rather popular figure with those who love the Studio Ghibli films and has become a mainstay in Studio Ghibli merchandise lines internationally. Within the film from which it hails (My Neighbor Totoro) the Catbus exists as a secondary character and helps the characters along their journey by acting as their method of transportation. Fun fact: some people believe that the Catbus was inspired by the Chesire Cat from the Alice in Wonderland series due to its striped body, wide smile, and guide-like nature (due to its transportation role) in the film.
Kiki – Kiki’s Delivery Service
The film Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of those Studio Ghibli films that makes viewers want to leave their busy lives and find a home in a small and quiet town in order to find themselves and pursue the passions that drive them. In this film, Kiki moves away from her home in order to honor her village tradition of isolating witches while they hone their powers. But self-doubt robs her of her powers and she must embark on a journey of self-love in order to recapture her lost magic. A message that any 20 something who feels lost and unsure of what they want to do, or what they are even able to do, can relate to. This is why Kiki is such a memorable character. Because at some point in our lives, everyone is Kiki.
Princess Mononoke – Princess Mononoke
Princess Mononoke is one of the more mature Studio Ghibli films. Though wonderful and beloved, it does cover some more intense themes and can be a bit too much for younger audiences. This film follows the conflict between the humans and the animals of the world. The peace that existed between these two species has broken down and things get out of hand very quickly. Princess Mononoke (or San) was raised by the wolves and has positioned herself with the animals and against the humans. Fans of Studi Ghibli who grew up in Western Culture were fascinated to see a princess character that was portrayed in this more aggressive and animalistic way. And many related to the film’s themes of human destruction as the millennial and gen Z generations have been known for their compassion to animals, the environment, and preserving the only planet on which we can survive.
Totoro – My Neighbor Totoro
There are few characters who are more iconic than Totoro. Totoro is one of the most beloved and well known Studio Ghibli characters of all time. My Neighbor Totoro follows two young sisters as they adjust to their new home, deal with their mothers illness, and spend their days with the spirits that surround their home. This film exudes a playful, childlike, and whimsical nature similar to the Western Alice in Wonderland or Winnie The Pooh as it explores the importance of never losing one’s childlike imagination and the magic in the mundane (meaning how special everyday life can be if we only choose to stop and admire it.) Audiences fell head over heels for this fuzzy forest friend and is one of the most recognizable Studio Ghibli characters.