Ghost in the Shell is nothing short of a trailblazer.

First introduced as comic book written by Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell features plenty of typical anime characteristics: a futuristic metropolitan, cyber-punk style, plenty of mechanical robots [also known as mechs], and a plot that raises more questions than it answers. The story follows Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg who works for the government and investigates cases of corruption and terrorism. Kusanagi wasn’t always a cyborg. In the year 2029, humans are able to transport their consciousness to cybernetic beings, which gives them attributes and abilities far beyond anything previously conceivable. Ghost in the Shell presents Kusanagi and her team with a mission that seems simple enough: Investigate the cyber criminal known simply as “The Puppetmaster.” Of course, nothing is quite that simple in the best anime and science-fiction movies.

As you’ll see, Ghost in the Shell served as a template of sorts for many of the best Japanese anime filmmakers, as well as Hollywood’s most visionary minds. You’ll see bits and pieces of Ghost in the Shell across cinematic mediums---it was way ahead of its time both visually and in terms of story. Once you’ve checked it out, give these five movies a look. Some will quench your thirst for more great anime. Others are likely more familiar but might offer you something new and different in the wake of this classic.

Equilibrium [Kurt Wimmer, 2002]
Available on Netflix

Equilibrium exists in a cyberpunk world similar to that of Ghost in The Shell. In 2072, survivors of World War III in the fictional nation of Libria have created a totalitarian government to control their citizens. Each citizen is required to take daily injections to encourage harmony and the suppression of feelings. Those who do not comply are executed since it is believed emotion is the cause of war and destruction. The film stars Christian Bale, who is placed at the center of the conflict between those who support the government and those who wish to feel again. The reliance on martial arts combat for Equilibrium is another common thread with Ghost in the Shell, though in the case of the former, the filmmakers actually created a fictional combat technique called Gun Kata, which uses the physical positions of the combatants in a gun battle. All angles of gunfire are statistically predictable, so the combatants memorize and predict the movements accordingly. It's wild stuff for a film that's otherwise light on philosophical idea---especially when compared to Ghost in the Shell or another sci-fi film it inspired, The Matrix. That said, it's still an enjoyable sci-fi thriller---underappreciated and underseen. Remedy that.

Akira [Katsuhiro Ôtomo, 1988]
Available for Digital Rental

Other than Studio Ghibli films, there might be no other anime as well known as Akira. It depicts a dystopian future in the year 2019 where a motorcycle gang gets involved with a government conspiracy that could lead to the end of the world. Outside of both being tremendous science-fiction anime films, Ghost in the Shell and Akira both feature hand drawn animation and delightfully over-the-top action. 

A.I. Artificial Intelligence [Steven Spielberg, 2001]
Available for Digital Rental

Steven Spielberg’s 2001 film expands upon the idea of presented in Ghost in the Shell of A.I. developing human emotions. David [Haley Joel Osment] is the first robot programmed with the capacity to love. Initially a test concept given to a couple whose son might never awaken from a coma, David bonds with his human family. Fate takes a turn for the worse, and unforeseen consequences send David on a quest to find someone who will provide him with love in return. 

Paprika [Satoshi Kon, 2006]
Available for Digital Rental

Japanese director Satoshi Kon delved into the world between dreams and reality with his final film. Paprika follows a research psychologist who has created the ability to help patients through their dreams. She is able to go into these dream worlds and help, but when the device enabling her to enter the dream world gets stolen, the line between dream and reality begins to fade. It’s a film that shares two major themes with Ghost in the Shell: exploring a world through one’s consciousness and toying with the audience’s expectations.

Avatar [James Cameron, 2009]
Available for Digital Rental

The all-time domestic box office champion [unadjusted!] might look a little different once you’re acquainted with Ghost in the Shell. James Cameron’s movie tells the story of Jake Sully [Sam Worthington], a paralyzed former Marine, who is the perfect fit for a new mission. The military is interested in colonizing the planet Pandora, but the only way to navigate around the planet is to inhabit avatars that are specifically made to physically match the native species known as Na’vi. The transference of consciousness is the easiest connection to Ghost in the Shell, but plenty other similarities exist, as well.