In the first months after we moved to Copenhagen, Iain encouraged me to watch my first Studio Ghibli movie: Kiki’s Delivery Service. My initial scepticism didn’t last long after the rolling meadows, flowers swaying in the wind, and bold and creative female protagonist came on screen. 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 that feeling of being caught up in a moment and fully experiencing its beauty.
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.
Books to remind you of Studio Ghibli
1. The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh
The cover of this New York Times bestseller for 2022 is stunning – and so is the story. Axie Oh’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is an enthralling feminist retelling of the classic Korean folktale “The Tale of Shim Cheong,” in which 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
If anyone is adult Studio Ghibli in book form, it’d be Haruki Murakami. 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.
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. Norwegian Wood is a great entry point.
3. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
What can 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 imagining of one woman’s stumbling upon an ever-moving castle in the hills, belonging to a mysterious wizard with plenty of demons.
4. Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren
I mean, look at how fantastic this book cover is. Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter is another book adapted into a Studio Ghibli movie, originally imagined by Astrid Lingren, author of Pippi Longstocking.
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. And one day, Ronia meets Birk, the son of Matt’s arch-enemy.
5. Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art by Susan Napier
Okay, this book has a different type of Ghibli vibe. It’s a recent biography of the co-founder of the studio, Hayao Miyazaki – one of the greatest living animators, with an impressive oeuvre that only someone with otherworldly focus and a substantial amount of workaholism could really cultivate.
This is Napier’s story of the themes crisscrossing Miyazaki’s work at Studio Ghibli, from empowered women to environmental disasters to dreamy utopian meadows – and the life story that influenced them.
6. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
If you imagine a Russian spin on Spirited Away, The Bear and the Nightingale would come close. At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind – she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales.
The family honours the spirits of house, garden, and forest that protect their homes from evil, but when Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father brings home a new wife who forbids her family from honouring the spirits. More hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows, and 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
In this magical and wholesome book, Tree-ear is an orphan who lives under a bridge in Ch’ulp’o, a potters’ village known for its delicate celadon ware. The local craft fascinates him, 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
Sweet Bean Paste is a delightful slice-of-life book that speaks volumes about the power of connection and friendship.
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. But 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
A warm-hearted and life-affirming celebration of how the smallest things can provide the greatest joy, The Travelling Cat Chronicles 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 on a journey with no other purpose than 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
Can a robot survive in the wilderness? In this bestselling illustrated middle-grade novel that’s also a wholesome treat for grown-up readers, Wall-E meets Hatchet when 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
With the whimsical fantasy that readers love about Neil Gailman’s books, they’re a great 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.
I love this review from Cory Doctorow of this childhood classic: “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.” If you loved the sibling adventure theme of My Neighbour Totoro, this is another great pick.
Enjoy more from me
- Retreat into my new book, Your Life in Bloom: Finding Your Path and Your Courage, Grounded in the Wisdom of Nature.
- I'm also the author of Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps, a book about my time living alone by the mountains.
- If you love books, are feeling a little lost right now, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, join The Sanctuary, my seven-day course to rebalance your life.