Domestic debut: November 25, 2006
The only film in this list, and also the most "mature" entry, if only because I can't conscionably offer up a menu of essential anime without putting you on to the late, great animator Satoshi Kon. (You could similarly note the lack of retired Hayao Miyazaki and his famous Studio Ghibli among our recommendations, but in that case I feel like Kunihiko Ikuhara's two inclusions, Sailor Moon and Utena, are holding it down for the fairy tale sagas.) As an entry point for U.S. audiences, Paprika will ring familiar and especially accessible to fans of Christopher Nolan's Inception, which derives much of its premise and a few of its visuals from Kon's Paprika. In the latter film, the titular Paprika is a mysterious (and nimble!) young woman who assists a team of ambitious neuroscientists in their investigation of a corrupted dreamscape. Like most of Satoshi Kon's works, Paprika gets trippy and terrifying. But then it's also wonderfully dazzling and colorful beyond belief.
See Kon's only television series, Paranoia Agent, and Ryūtarō Nakamura's Serial Experiments Lain for any further dread you might require. —Justin Charity