The Best Hand-Drawn Animated Movies, Ranked

Animation by hand was the traditional form of moving imagery. Before the practice of computer-generated images became commonplace, hand-drawn animation was the dominant technique. Drawing each frame by hand gave the artist more control over the scene. Having to follow each movement naturally also brought the artist closer to the story as it unfolded. To know that there was a human touch involved shows the effort and care put into the pictures. Animation is a remarkable art that gives attention to the finest details until the final stroke.

10 The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

The Triplets of Belleville
Les Armateurs

The Triplets of Belleville is a European animated film about a singing troupe of sisters named Rose, Violette, and Blanche. An orphaned grandson living with his grandmother, watches them perform. The grandson isn’t inspired by their songs, so the grandmother buys him a bicycle. He becomes a cyclist in the Tour de France where he is kidnapped by French mobsters. His grandmother rescues him with the help of the music hall singers, leaving the adult grandson grateful for the time he shared with her.

9 The Secret of Kells (2009)

A scene from The Secret of Kells
Buena Vista International

The Secret of Kells is another European animated film that shares the making of the 9th century illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells. An Irish boy grows curious about the book and helps the monastery’s monk to craft it. He is met by supernatural beings during his efforts to find the necessary adornments. A Viking attack threatens the completion of the Book of Kells, but the brave boy survives and salvages its pages.

8 Your Name (2016)

Your Name 2016

Your Name follows two Japanese high school students, a boy from the city and a girl from the countryside, who inexplicably swap bodies. They each experience their separate lives with the ability to communicate from afar via paper, phone messages, and writing on their arms. They cause each other to change their respective lives in exciting ways; the girl helps the boy get a date and the boy helps the girl become popular at school. Time and space keep them apart until they learn each other’s names.

7 Persepolis (2007)

Persepolis - Chiara Mastroianni, Gena Rowlands

France 3 Cinéma

Persepolis is based on the autobiographical graphic novel of the same name by Marjane Satrapi. It tells the story of a girl coming of age in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. She witnesses the clashing of political and religious beliefs which lead to deaths in the family. As social freedoms are taken away, she rebels and becomes isolated from her peers and adult figures. When she leaves her striated home country, she is left adrift, knowing her identity is free.

Related: 10 Best Animated Sequences in Live Action Movies

6 The Prince of Egypt (1998)

Prince of Egypt jpg
DreamWorks Pictures

The Prince of Egypt is a DreamWorks animated musical drama about the life of the prophet Moses. Before the Pharaoh Seti could kill him as a newborn, Moses’ mother placed him in a basket on the Nile River where Queen Tuya discovered and adopted him. Moses grew up in Egyptian royalty and learns about the infanticide of the enslaved Hebrews. God then chooses Moses to lead His people out of Egypt towards the Promised Land.

Related: 20 Most Rewatchable Anime Series of All Time

5 Akira (1988)

Akira - Mitsuo Iwata

Akira takes place in dystopian 2019 Japan. A world war has fractured Tokyo into corrupt politicians, anti-government protesters, and rival street gangs. The cause of the war lies in the psychic abilities of Akira, held captive by research scientists. A resistance group decides to free Akira and other ESP prisoners to start a new revolution. Akira’s mind opens a dimension that destroys the current universe and creates a new one where human existence has no limits.

4 Fantastic Planet (1973)

Argos Films

Fantastic Planet is based on the 1957 novel Oms en série by French writer Stefan Wul. In the science fiction tale, a race of giant humanoid aliens called Traags treat humans or Oms as animals on their world of Ygam. One Om becomes a pet until he reaches adulthood, when he discovers a loophole in Traag technology. He learns how to interpret their telepathic knowledge and passes the Traag language onto other wild humans. The Oms fight for their freedom and negotiate a peace treaty to live among the Traags as equals.

3 The Iron Giant (1999)

Warner Bros.

Boy meets robot in The Iron Giant when the alien robot crashes down in Maine. The object alarms the U.S. government, stirring more Cold War tensions. Hogarth keeps his friendship with the self-repairing robot a secret and hidden from the army until he discovers the robot’s defensive weaponry. Having learned morality only briefly from the boy, the robot attacks the military forces to protect an unconscious Hogarth. When he wakes to stop the robot, the army launches a nuclear missile on the town, forcing the robot to sacrifice himself.

2 Pinocchio (1940)

A scene from Pinocchio
RKO Radio Pictures

Pinocchio is a Walt Disney Animation Studios film based on the Italian children’s novel, The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. A woodcarver and toymaker named Geppetto crafts a marionette puppet, wishing it was a real boy. A Blue Fairy makes his wish come true, but Pinocchio is still wooden. To become a real boy, Pinocchio must prove he can be brave, truthful, and unselfish. The moral story sees Pinocchio become a responsible young man despite the vices that surround him.

1 Spirited Away (2001)


Toho/Walt Disney Pictures

Spirited Away is a Japanese film created by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Following the capitalist and environmental effects of post-war Japan, ten-year-old Chihiro Ogino and her parents are moving to their new home. They take a shortcut that leads to an abandoned tunnel. On the other side is an amusement park serving food where the parents partake. Chihiro, however, has found that her mom and dad have turned into pigs and crossed into the Kami spirit world. To lift their curse and return to the human world, she must work in the bathhouse of the witch Yubaba while remembering her name.