Spirited Away was my first introduction to Studio Ghibli when I was around 9 years old. I remember thinking the movie was fascinating and a little bit creepy in a way that stuck with me. It soon became a favorite. It wasn’t until several years later that I stumbled across Howl’s Moving Castle playing on TV. I don’t remember if that was when I became aware of Ghibli as a company with a certain aesthetic sense or if it was in college when I finally watched My Neighbor Totoro. Either way, I was in love.
Studio Ghibli’s movies — particularly the films of Hayao Miyazaki — just have a way of capturing the imagination, telling stories full of heart and magic that make you want to open your eyes a little wider and watch a little longer. And it’s no secret that a number of Miyazaki’s films were inspired by books, but for fans looking for that specific Ghibli je ne sais quoi, finding the right reads to live up to that comparison can be tricky. But these 12 Studio Ghibli read-alike books have that certain something that makes them magical and worthy of a comparison to the beloved films. Just open up any one of them to find out why.
Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe
With big Kiki’s Delivery Service vibes, Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch follows a fledgling witch trying to earn the rank of Novice Witch before her 13th birthday or else risk losing her magic forever. Eva travels to a costal town to make a difference and prove her worth, but the townsfolk don’t seem convinced that her plan of opening a magical repair shop is what they need. In fact, they don’t seem impressed with Eva at all. But with a magical storm of mythic proportions approaching, Eva will have to prove that even a pinch of magic alongside a whole lot of ingenuity is enough to save the day.
Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura, Translated by Phillip Gabriel
Passing through a portal to another world to escape school sounds like a pretty good deal, but there’s a catch: while the students can while away their hours in a magical castle during school hours, if they don’t leave by 5 p.m. they’ll be eaten by the Wolf Queen. But with a hidden key that will grand its finder one wish and the promise of an escape from the stresses of everyday life, it seems like a reasonable bargain for the seven students at the heart of Lonely Castle in the Mirror. Tsujimura packs a plot full of puzzles with heart and hope for all those touched by sadness and vulnerability.
The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa
Rintaro Natsuki is about to close his grandfather’s beloved secondhand bookstore when a mysterious cat shows up claiming he needs Rintaro’s help to save books. It sounds dubious, but Rintaro follows the cat through a labyrinth he never noticed in the shop before and finds himself joining the cat on a series of attempts to save books from (mostly) well-meaning misuse. The mysteriously expanding bookshop, quirky animal characters, and theme of finding confidence in yourself all have definite Ghibli vibes.
Penguin Highway by Tomihiko Morimi, Translated by Andrew Cunningham
A precocious 4th grader who takes notes on everything around him is confounded when penguins show up one day in his town. He’s convinced it has something to do with a girl he saw at the dentist’s office with strange powers, but now he’ll have to prove it the only way he knows how — with the power of observation! Although not a Studio Ghibli film, Penguin Highway was turned into an anime of the same name by director Hiroyasu Ishida and Studio Colorido.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
The story that inspired one of my favorite Ghibli films, Howl’s Moving Castle, is a British fantasy novel about a girl turned into an old woman after crossing the Witch of the Waste. In order to break the spell, she seeks out the heartless Wizard Howl and his moving castle, striking a bargain with a fire demon and going head-to-head agains the Witch of the Waste along the way. The basic storyline is similar to the movie adaptation, but different enough to keep fans of either the book or movie guessing at all the little changes.
The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Iniu, Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
Generations of Moriyama children have had the responsibility of filling a little blue glass on their bookshelf with milk to keep the Little People that live there alive. That’s the way it’s been ever since a nanny brought the Little People over from England. But Japan is changing as the events leading up to WWII begin to take place, and divided loyalties and food restrictions make everything that was once easy much more difficult. In addition to the wonderful Borrowers-esque storyline, the importance WWII plays in the story makes this book an especially appropriate comparison to Miyazaki films, since war and the shadow of WWII often plays such an important role in his work.
How Do You Live? by Genzaburo Yoshino, Translated by Bruno Navasky
The first English translation of the Japanese classic that inspired Miyazaki’s newest animated film and also happens to be his favorite childhood book obviously deserves a place on this list. It is a novel about finding one’s place in the world, and at the heart of the story is a teenage boy named after the famous astronomer Copernicus. Cooper is confronted with difficult changes in his life after the death of his father and his own betrayal of his best friend. Intermixed with Cooper’s experiences are letters from his uncle on how to face life’s greatest questions and challenges. Like his namesake, Cooper looks to the stars and uses what he discovers about the heavens, earth, and human nature to guide him in life.
Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, Translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa, Illustrated by Miho Satake
When a girl in a white kimono suddenly appears one day in his class, with all of his classmates insisting she’s been their friend for years, Kazu knows something strange is going on. Is this girl a ghost or a zombie? But he soon learns that not everything in his hometown is as it seems. The local temple is connected to a legend about the dead being brought back to life. And as Kazu and the ghost-girl Akari team up to find the source of the temple’s power, they realize it’s up to them to protect it — and Akari — from the adults who want the truth to stay hidden.
Tidesong by Wendy Xu
This graphic novel about a young witch named Sophie is full of illustrations reminiscent of Ghibli films. Sent off to a great aunt to help her prepare for entrance exams to the most prestigious magic school in the realm, but frustrated by their insistence she prove herself through chores, Sophie preforms a spell that tangles up her magic with a young water dragon. It has all the magic and otherworldly characters you could hope for as well as the kind of coming of age story Miyazaki is known for.
The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh
With Spirited Away vibes, this retelling of the classic Korean folktale “The Tale of Shim Cheong” paints an atmospheric picture of a girl whisked away to another world to save brother’s beloved from a terrible fate. Each year a beautiful young girl is sacrificed to the Sea God, because legend has it his “true bride” will appease him and end the storms and floods that have ravaged Mina’s homeland for years. But when Mina’s older brother follows his beloved — a beauty many believe to be the legendary “true bride” — Mina throws herself into the sea in her stead to save her brother from the death sentence of interfering in the ritual. In the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical creatures, Mina discovers the Sea God in an enchanted sleep. To save her village, she’ll have to wake the Sea God before her time in the sea is up. A human’s time in the Spirit Realm is limited, and there are those that would go to any length to spot the Sea God from waking up.
Nura and the Immortal Palace by M.T. Khan (July 5, 2022)
Described as “Aru Shah and the End of Time meets Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away,” Nura and the Immortal Palace tells the story of Nura, a girl working in a mica mine to help keep food on the table for her family. But secretly, there’s another reason Nura keeps digging: a rumor of buried treasure. But when four kids, including one of her friends, are presumed dead after a mine collapse, Nura refuses to believe it, digging deeper to find them. Instead, she finds a portal to the world of jinn, a place full of purple skies and the trickster creatures her mother has always warned her about. What appears to be a world of luxury soon becomes a nightmare when Nura crosses the son of a hotel owner’s son and is forced to go to work for them. But Nura isn’t the only child to have ended up there; the four missing children are trapped in the hotel’s clutches as well. And if Nura doesn’t find some way to free them all, they might just be stuck toiling in the land of jinn forever.
Alliana, Girl of Dragons by Julie Abe (August 2, 2022)
Another book set in the world of Eva, Evergreen Semi Magical Witch, reimagining the Japanese version of Cinderella. After her beloved grandmother passes away, Alliana is forced to tend to her stepfamily’s inn, working her hands raw. But her fortunes change for the better when she meets a witch and discovers she has the ability to communicate with a young nightdragon. The witch Nela needs Alliana’s help to navigate the abyss, a place filled with dangerous beasts that Alliana knows by heart. Doing so could help her break free of her stepmother’s shadow forever, but failure on the quest would leave her stuck working at the inn forever.
Need more Studio Ghibli books in your life? We’ve got you covered.