In the first months after we moved to Copenhagen, Iain encouraged me to watch my first Studio Ghibli movie: Kiki’s Delivery Service.
As the rolling meadows, flowers swaying in the wind, and bold and creative female protagonist came on screen, I wondered, how many more movies like this haven’t I seen yet?
Since then, we’ve been slowly working our way through the rest of the Ghibli catalogue and adding more favourites to our list.
Studio Ghibli movies share much of what I love in my favourite wholesome books: a gentleness that helps me to breathe deeper and slow down, respect and admiration for wild nature, and a celebration of simple living.
To accompany movies like Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and my own current Ghibli favourite by Isao Takahata, Only Yesterday, here are some of the best books I’ve read with a Studio Ghibli vibe.
Beautiful books to remind you of Studio Ghibli
1. The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh
Read The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea for… an enthralling feminist retelling of the classic Korean folktale “The Tale of Shim Cheong.”
The cover of this New York Times bestseller for 2022 is stunning – and so is the story. In Axie Oh’s beautiful book, a young girl is swept away to the Spirit Realm to try and bring an end to the storms that have been ravaging her homeland for generations.
But a human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking.
It’s the perfect enchanting next read for you if you’re a fan of Uprooted by Naomi Novik and Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.
2. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Read Norwegian Wood for… a modern classic from the author who writes the closest thing to Studio Ghibli for adults. It’s one of my favourite books that feel like Studio Ghibli.
Kafka on the Shore is probably my overall favourite Murakami novel, although I feel like Norwegian Wood has more of a Ghibli feel to it. It’s also a great entry point to Murakami’s trademark writing style.
Murakami is the master of blending slice-of-life everyday events like cleaning, cooking, and laundry with the supernatural – think cats, deep wells, and otherworldly meetings with people who aren’t quite who they seem.
3. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Read Howl’s Moving Castle for… Diana Wynne Jones’s original imagining of the story behind the Studio Ghibli movie, in which one woman stumbles upon an ever-moving castle in the hills. It’s here that she meets a mysterious wizard with plenty of demons of his own.
What could be more Ghibli than the book version of Howl’s Moving Castle? Published in 1986, over a decade before the animated film was released, this is Diana Wynne Jones’s original story that inspired the movie.
4. Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren
As the only child of Matt, the chief of a clan of robbers living in a castle in the woodlands of early medieval Scandinavia, Ronia is expected to become the leader of the clan someday. But alone in the forest is where Ronia feels truly at home.
However, one day, Ronia meets Birk, the son of Matt’s arch-enemy. What follows is a story that makes it obvious why Studio Ghibli wanted to recreate it for the screen.
5. Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art by Susan Napier
Read Miyazakiworld for… a biography of the co-founder of Studio Ghibli and one of the greatest living animators, Hayao Miyazaki.
This book has a different type of Ghibli vibe, taking a deep dive into the impressive oeuvre that only someone with otherworldly focus and a substantial amount of workaholism could really cultivate.
This is Napier’s story of Miyazaki’s work ethic, but also the themes crisscrossing his work at Studio Ghibli, from empowered women to environmental disasters and dreamy utopian meadows – as well as the life story that influenced them.
6. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Read The Bear and the Nightingale for… a Russian spin on Spirited Away, set at the edge of the Siberian wilderness where winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses.
In this cozy book that reads like a fairytale, Vasilisa doesn’t mind the cold winters – she spends the dark nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales and honouring the spirits that protect their home from evil.
However, when Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father’s new wife forbids the family from their rituals. As danger circles, Vasilisa must call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed to protect her family.
7. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
Read A Single Shard for… a magical and wholesome book about Tree-ear, an orphan who lives under a bridge in Ch’ulp’o, a potters’ village known for its delicate celadon ware.
The local craft of his town fascinates Tree-ear, and he wants nothing more than to watch the master potter Min at work – and perhaps make a pot of his own one day.
When Min takes Tree-ear on as his helper, Tree-ear is elated. That is, until he sees the obstacles in his path that he must encounter to prove himself.
8. Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa
Read Sweet Bean Paste for… a delightful slice-of-life book that speaks volumes about the power of connection and friendship.
In this wholesome comfort read, Sentaro’s life hasn’t gone to plan. His dream of becoming a writer has long been forgotten, and now he has a criminal record, drinks too much, and spends day after day in a tiny confectionery shop selling dorayaki, a type of pancake filled with sweet bean paste.
However, when Tokue, an elderly woman with a troubled past, comes into his life, everything changes for both of them.
9. The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
Read The Travelling Cat Chronicles for… a warm-hearted and life-affirming celebration of how the smallest things can provide the greatest joy.
In this gorgeous book that works its way into your heart like the best of Studio Ghibli, author Hiro Arikawa gives voice to Nana the cat and his owner, Satoru, as they take to the road to visit three of Satoru’s longtime friends.
However, the plan turns out to be different than Nana was led to expect. As they witness the changing scenery and seasons of Japan on their travels, they will learn the true meaning of courage, gratitude, loyalty, and love.
10. The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
Read The Wild Robot for… Wall-E meets Hatchet in a book that asks: can a robot survive in the wilderness?
In this bestselling illustrated middle-grade novel that’s also a wholesome treat for grown-up readers, robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time and discovers that she is all alone on a remote and wild island.
Roz has no idea how she got there or what her purpose is – but she knows she needs to survive. And that depends on adapting to her surroundings and befriending the island’s unwelcoming inhabitants.
11. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Read The Ocean at the End of the Lane for… the whimsical fantasy that makes Neil Gailman’s books such a good choice if you’re looking for a Studio Ghibli vibe.
In The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Gaiman transports us to Sussex – my own home county in England – where a middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral.
The house he lived in is long gone, but he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, which reminds him of a past too strange, frightening, and dangerous to have really happened.
Delicate and menacing, Gaiman summons the haunting and beautiful nostalgia of childhood like no one else really can.
12. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Read A Wrinkle in Time for… a classic described by journalist and author Cory Doctorow as “A book that every young person should read, a book that provides a road map for seeking knowledge and compassion even at the worst of times, a book to make the world a better place.”
A Wrinkle in Time is one of the best childhood classics ever written, and it’s absolutely got some Studio Ghibli vibes too. If you loved the sibling adventure theme of My Neighbour Totoro, this is also a great pick.
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