Oh well. Pictures like these remind me why I love Ghibli-movies so much. My childhood wouldn't have been the same without them. And I can shamelessly say that I always revert back to a small kid watching them, the new ones and the old ones. There's so much love in them and so much deepness without being all rose-coloured-glasses. And the characters are just ridiculously cute. Had I been a bit older when I saw that movie the first time I would have written tons of fanfiction about Chihiro and Kohaku. And your various fanarts always make me wish that there'd be a sequel of them when they are older. Though I'm either way inclined to just consider it canon that Haku didn't break his promise and that they saw each other again, in whatever realm. (And now I need a big cup of hot chocolat to match the sweet feelings in my tummy your chihiro&haku-art always gives me.)
part of me is really sad that Ghibil didn't really hit it big in the west until I was an adult - Spirited Away came out when I was 16 or 17 (OMG I've totally just outed myself as an old lady), though I think Princess Mononoke was the first Ghibil I was aware of (because of Neil Gaiman's connection... I guess I would have been about 14...). I think it would have been lovely to have these movies be a part of my childhood, but then, there's something to be said about discovering them as an adult. I think you get different things out of them, the same thing with stories - sometimes I'll go re-read a book I haven't read in ages and I relate strongly to completely different characters, or different elements of the plot will strike me than did when I was younger. It's amazing how much our life experiences and realities affect how we 'read' stories.
But Ghibli... Ghibli movies are like slipping back into the wonder fantasy of childhood. So lovely.
I was eleven when Spirited Away came out, and I had just been re-reading 'The Neverending Story', and I cried buckets of tears. It was my first Ghibli Movie, as I'm sad to have to say that Ghibli never really became a thing here. There's a kids channel on TV that everyonce in a while (usually around chirstmas) shows Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and The Castle in Sky, but that's that. Which is a shame, as the kids of today could really use some welldone and thought-through movies. I like to think that I became so much aware of environmental topics was because of Spirited Away. Lucky I never cared much for growing out of things (hence why I still play pokemon when I'm 21 and I'd like to think that I will never stop), so Spirited Away really was only the beginning of things for me. I agree, though, that there's a whole new sub-plot to Ghibli Movies when watching them a bit older. I think I value them all the more for it. I have to say that I rarely re-read books these days, as the list of books I want to read grows broader the older I get, so I always feel like there's not enough time in my life to read. But I re-read books I loved when I was younger, somtimes, to bring it back more in detail to memory. There was one book that I liked as a kid but that was kind of spoiled for me when I grew older and noted things that I overlooked as a kid. But more often than not the really good stories become even better. You won't be surprised by my saying this, but 'The Neverending Story' is one of those books. I'd go as far as to say that it's my favourite book. It has the same feeling of 'slipping back' that you mention about Ghibli, but I often pause while re-reading to take them back to my more grown-up mind and ponder over things said in there. But, back to topic: Ghibli just has its own magic of innocence. I recently watched Totoro the first time, and even though I never saw it as a kid, I still felt as if I was entering a place in my mind that I have (despite my reluctancy) grown out of.
I just read the Neverending Story for the first time this year! People know about the terrible movies here but I actually didn't even know it was a book until recently. I think reading that book changed my life. No joke. there were several times I had to put it down - it wouldn't even be a 'sad' part, but I would just start sobbing so hard I couldn't keep reading. There are parts that are so surprisingly poignant and nostalgic. I've probably recommended it since reading it to basically everyone I know because it was so amazing.
It's the other way round for me - I only know one of the movies, and that one wasn't really much to talk or think about, so I can see how many people wouldn't even give the book a chance after watching those. Which I always find very disappointing. I usually try to get people to read it, however old they are, because I think that it's one of those books that makes us richer in our mind and our heart. I frequetly sob at specific points in the story as well, and they don't have to be sad either. They're just often very bittersweet. I really hate that Michael Ende was being looked down upon during his whole life for writing children stories. If you liked the Neverending Story and you didn't read it yet: Read Momo, another book of his.