Anime features heightened characters and incredible displays of power, but a major way in which the medium stands out is through the many eclectic genres that it normalizes. Anime hits all of the major areas of storytelling, but it prides itself on digging into even more niche territory that isn’t viable elsewhere.
Horror is a genre that has a devoted following regardless of the medium in which it’s being delivered, but there are some especially creative horror anime that have made their mark. Some of these series are critically acclaimed and deserve to be checked out, but maybe not in the middle of the night with all of the lights turned off.
10/10 Paranoia Agent Unleashes A Societal Threat That Only Grows Stronger Over Time
Satoshi Kon is responsible for some of the anime film industry’s greatest psychological thrillers, such as Perfect Blue and Paprika. Paranoia Agent is cut from the same cloth, but it allows Kon’s rich themes to properly develop and evolve over the course of 11 episodes. Paranoia Agent focuses on a serial assailant, Lil’ Slugger, whose aggressive actions have paralyzed a community in fear.
Kon brilliantly uses the episodic structure of the series to examine perspective and mob mentality as each character differently describes the central antagonist, which simultaneously become true in their own way. It’s easy to get lost in Paranoia Agent’s suffocating hopelessness.
9/10 Elfen Lied Explores A Hopeless Scenario Between Man And Alien
Elfen Lied is an extended exercise in pain and humility that’s triggered by humanity’s desire to understand and control a deadly alien species known as the Diclonius. Unexpected bursts of violence fill Elfen Lied right from the start, and it’s difficult to watch the earnest attempts of two humans fall short as they try to protect an amnesiac Diclonius, Lucy.
Elfen Lied avoids the typical happy ending that so many similar series go out on, all of which emphasize the anime’s nihilistic attitude. Elfen Lied reiterates that the world is a cold, selfish place, which isn’t the most reassuring thought before going to sleep.
8/10 Higurashi: When They Cry Gets Lost In An Overwhelming Time Loop Of Death
Many horror fans completely pass over Higurashi: When They Cry due to its cute “moe” aesthetic that makes it look like a sweet slice-of-life series for a younger demographic. A group of friends who live in the unassuming village of Hinamizawa find themselves the subjects of a slew of serial killings in their sleepy community.
It begins to look like supernatural circumstances may be involved here, and Higurashi impressively transforms into a nihilsitic time loop torture exercise where it feels like happiness is impossible. The Higurashi universe continues to expand, and there are plenty of spin-offs that develop unique elements of the series’ lore.
7/10 Ajin: Demi-Human Looks At The Glory Of Rebirth Through Bloody Destruction
Ajin: Demi-Human hits the ground running as its beleaguered protagonist, Kei Nagai, quickly meets a gruesome death, only to return to life as a powerful Ajin. Ajin are immortal creatures that can create equally dangerous black ghosts, which makes these rare individuals a topic of fascination for the government to capture and study.
Kei’s new life as an Ajin puts him on the run from formidable threats as he taps into his horrific abilities to maintain his freedom. Kei’s plight will speak to the audience, but his regenerative qualities and the black ghosts’ designs are truly haunting.
6/10 Another Uses Horror Tropes To Tell A Shocking Psychological Mystery
Another is a tight piece of storytelling at only a dozen episodes, but it becomes as engaging of a mystery as it is a psychological horror story. Koichi Sakakibara transfers to a new school and begins to investigate the circumstances that surround a massacre from the school’s past and a strange student that only he can see.
Another finds a lot of strength in how it juxtaposes these sweet students against brutal murders, all of which culminates in a satisfying finish. The visuals in Another will frighten viewers, but the anime’s twist over who’s really the ghost in this story elevates it to another level.
5/10 Made In Abyss Descends Deeper Into Darker Until Its Cheerfulness Is Barely Recognizable
Made in Abyss isn’t traditionally a horror series, but it contains some of the most upsetting images and examples of body horror since Akira. Made in Abyss makes such a visceral impact on its audience since it functions as a playful adventure series that’s largely seen through the eyes of the young, optimistic Riko.
Riko longs to follow in her mother’s footsteps and descend into the mysterious Abyss. Each level of the Abyss becomes progressively more alarming, and it pushes these innocent characters to experience traumatic horrors and crushing losses. Some of the anime’s cursed creatures, particularly in the Golden City, are really disgusting sights.
4/10 Parasyte: The Maxim Embraces Terrifying Transformations That Destroy The Human Form
There is no shortage of anime that look at mild-mannered individuals who suddenly become hosts or hybrids to supernatural presence. Parasyte – the maxim – neatly fits into this category once an alien invasion results in Shinichi’s hand becoming the new home for an ugly extraterrestrial named Migi.
Parasyte is actually a relatively uplifting seinen series, and the unlikely friendship that forms between Shinichi and Migi is genuinely heartwarming and overpowers the darkest of ideas that the series explores. That being said, the violent body horror that the series normalizes is still a lot to endure and not the best thing to indulge in before sleep.
3/10 Junji Ito Collection Brings To Life Several Scary Masterpieces From A Horror Legend
Responsible for chilling stories like Uzumaki, Tomie, and The Enigma of Amigara Fault, Junji Ito is one of the most revered mangaka in the business and a prolific name in horror. Ito’s work is so powerful because of their detailed, disturbing splash pages, which are often difficult to translate effectively into a moving anime.
Junji Ito Collection is a flawed adaptation, but it still dwells in such nightmarish material that will stick with the viewer. If nothing else, it’s the perfect appetizer for Netflix’s upcoming Junji Ito compilation anime series, Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre.
2/10 Happy Sugar Life Is A Disturbing Exercise In Manipulation
Happy Sugar Life is a masterful example of how much perspective and tone makes a difference in the story being told. Happy Sugar Life disguises itself as a sweet story about friendship between Satou and a young girl, Shio, but in reality, it’s a psychological horror about brainwashing and manipulation.
Satou’s obsession over Shio’s purity and innocence causes her to eliminate any negative presence in her life. Happy Sugar Life is 12 episodes of pure tension full of grim and grisly visuals, but its characters’ motivations are what will really get under the audience’s skin.
1/10 Serial Experiments Lain Ruins An Innocent Girl For The Greater Good
Serial Experiments Lain is one of the most prescient and thought-provoking anime to come out of the 1990s, and its examination of digital avatars and a world that’s reliant upon virtual communication has never been more relevant. Lain Iwakura is a morose young girl who lacks a sense of direction until she immerses herself in the Wired, a communication network that’s analogous to the Internet.
Serial Experiments Lain uses these themes to reflect humanity’s most paranoid and isolating impulses. It’s a scintillating study of identity and reality that’s filled with gruesome imagery that tortures its lead character.
NEXT: 10 Horror Anime With Surprisingly Sad Endings