The popularity of 3D animation, which was spearheaded by Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios, eventually forced 2D animation to go away from the spotlight and become almost forgotten. In today’s era of animation, movie theatres are dominated by 3D-animated films like Frozen, Coco, and Tangled, but somehow, 2D-animated movies managed to survive the dominance of their 3D rivals.
Most of the popular 2D-animated films that we see today come from Japan, which has a long history of making and producing anime, a type of 2D animation that is usually over-stylized and looks much more vibrant compared to western 2D shows or movies. Because anime is steadily becoming more and more well-known not only in Japan but also in the whole world, it would not be surprising that anime would spark the revival and resurgence of 2D animation in the near future.
If you want to support 2D animation, here is a list of the best animated movies in 2D that you need to see. For this list, we have omitted some of the classic Disney 2D films like “Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella” in order to make way for new, fresh, and modern movies that have come out from the 2000s up to the 2020s.
Your Name (Kimi no Na wa)
Kicking off the list is arguably the current most popular 2D film, “Your Name,” which is called “Kimi no Na wa” in Japan. “Your Name” is a romantic fantasy movie that was released in 2016. This animated movie was distributed in various countries around the world by Toho and produced by CoMix Wave Films, a Japanese 2D animation company that is headquartered in Tokyo. The film started production in 2014, and it is written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, who is previously known for making 2D drama films such as “5 Centimeters per Second” in 2007 and “The Garden of Words” in 2013. While Shinkai is widely known in Japan even before the release of “Your Name,” it is the 2016 film that launched Shinkai into worldwide popularity.
The story follows two students, Mitsuha Miyamizu and Taki Tachibana, who are living relatively normal lives in their own respective town or city without knowing each other. One day, Taki and Mitsuha begin to switch bodies due to unknown reasons, and their normal lives eventually become entangled in a complicated mess that would put them in awkward, exciting, and heartbreaking situations.
Weathering with You (Tenki no Ko)
Following the success of “Your Name,” Makoto Shinkai and CoMix Wave Films collaborated on another 2D animated film titled “Weathering With You” or “Tenki no Ko.” “Weathering with You” was released in 2019, about three years after the premiere of “Your Name,” and was also a massive success in the United States and other countries besides Japan. The music for “Weathering with You” was composed and primarily performed by Radwimps, a Japanese rock band that has also created music for “Your Name.”
The movie’s story is centered on the friendship between Hodaka Morishima, a teenager that ran away from home and went to Tokyo to find a job, and Hina Amano, a peculiar girl who somehow gained the ability to stop rain and clear the weather, hence the reason she was nicknamed “sunshine girl.” As Hodaka and Hina started a business that allows them to gain money while providing sunshine for their customers, they will soon learn that Hina’s powers have dire consequences.
The Princess and the Frog
In order to revive 2D animation in the West, Disney decided to create and produce a 2D animated film titled “The Princess and the Frog” during the period where Pixar 3D films were dominating the box office in the United States. The Princess and the Frog was produced and directed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and was released in 2009.
The story of the film is based on “The Frog Prince” by the Brothers Grimm and “The Frog Princess” by E.D. Baker. This movie was released by Disney to gauge if 2D animation is still popular in the West, and although it was not as successful commercially as 3D films, “The Princess in the Frog” was still a box office success, thus proving that 2D animation is still profitable in the United States and other western countries.
The Princess and the Frog’s story is focused on Tiana, an aspiring who vowed to never kiss a frog after listening to her mother read “The Frog Prince.” Through unfortunate circumstances, Tiana’s life would eventually follow the story of “The Frog Prince” somehow, as he was able to meet a frog named Naveen, who is secretly a prince that was transformed into a frog by a witch doctor named Dr. Facilier. However, Tiana’s story in the film would move in surprising ways that make it unpredictable to most viewers.
Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi)
Spirited Away, otherwise known as “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi,” is one of the most successful 2D animated films that the renowned Studio Ghibli has created and produced. This film was released in 2001 and was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, the co-founder of Studio Ghibli that is also responsible for writing and directing many of the studio’s classic films, including “My Neighbor Totoro” in 1988, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” in 1989, and “Princess Mononoke” in 1997.
Spirited Away is widely regarded by many critics as one of the best animated films ever made, as it was critically acclaimed and was able to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2003. The film has also held the record for the highest-grossing film in Japan until 2020.
Spirited Away is a story about Chihiro, a ten-year-old girl who is transported to the world of spirits in order to break the curse that turned her parents into pigs. During her journey, Chihiro would meet various peculiar characters, including a Japanese dragon, a Shikigami or ghost, and other beings usually seen in Japanese folklore.
Demon Slayer: Kimestu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train
The newest 2D animated film on this list is “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train,” which is often shortened by fans to “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train” or simply “Mugen Train.” The movie served as a direct sequel to the first season of “Demon Slayer,” an anime series that premiered in 2019. Demon Slayer is originally a manga series that was written by Koyoharu Gotouge, the pen name of a Japanese manga artist whose real name is unknown as of 2020, but Shonen Jump, the publisher of the manga, have once stated that Gotouge is a woman.
Both the first season and the movie of “Demon Slayer” are written and produced by Ufotable, a 2D animation studio that was founded in 2000. Despite releasing during the COVID-19 pandemic, “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train” became a box office success, and it is currently the highest-grossing Japanese film and anime of all time, a title or feat held by Spirited Away for 19 years.
Demon Slayer: Mugen Train follows Tanjiro Kamado, a professional demon slayer that was assigned to accompany the Flame “Hashira” (a captain of the Demon Slayer Corps) Kyojuro Rengoku, who is tasked to hunt down a demon that has killed many demon slayers and innocent civilians. The film is mostly set on a train, which is secretly a place where a demon called Enmu is killing passengers. Tanjiro, along with his sister Nezuko Kamado and fellow demon slayers Inosuke Hashibira and Zenitsu Agatsuma, must help Rengoku defeat Enmu and save the passengers of the train.
As 2D-animated films are becoming massive box office successes in today’s era, it could be said that the true resurgence of 2D animation started in 2016, when “Your Name” became one of the most popular animated films in the world. Eventually, other countries may begin creating and producing 2D-animated films as well, so Japan may soon have competition in the world of 2D animation.