Ever since the 60s, anime has been a huge part of pop culture. All over the world, it has made a huge impact and created a large sea of fans. Whether it’s Pokemon or Sailor Moon, there’s at least one series for everyone. With the action genre being the most popular, there are so many other genres that fans can tackle such as “slice of life” and science fiction.
However, the horror animes don’t seem to get as much buzz as the others. When people think horror, they usually think of slasher flicks, but there's so much more than that. The genre has so many layers to it, such as psychological horror, supernatural horror, and just straight up bloody horror. While there so many shows to choose from, these 12 animes were terrifying in different ways.
Here are The 12 Best Horror Anime Series.
12 Tokyo Ghoul
Tokyo Ghoul follows Ken Kaneki, a bookish student who is drawn to Rize, a fellow avid reader. However, Rize is not who she seems to be. In fact, she is a ghoul—a creature that survives on human flesh. After an unfortunate meeting with her, Ken finds out that he somehow has turned into half human and half ghoul and must learn to integrate between their two worlds.
Tokyo Ghoul is like Resident Evil meets X-Men. Gaining new powers isn’t a new storyline, but Tokyo Ghoul manages to execute it efficiently. It makes sure to specify that there is no clear distinction between good and evil, and that it’s more gray than anything. It focuses heavily on the gore and action aspect, which is nice even though the characters were a tad underwhelming. Regardless, it’s a fun anime that explores the idea of choosing whether to be a good guy or a bad guy.
11 Elfen Lied
Diving into the science fiction genre, Elfen Lied uses psychological horror to reflect the human condition. Lucy is a special breed of human referred to as “Diclonius,” born with horns and telekinetic powers that lands her into the government’s inhuman scientific experimentation program. When she sees an opportunity to escape, she unleashes bloodshed upon her captors. She then stumbles upon two college students who take her into their care, not knowing about her murderous tendencies.
Extreme graphic violence and nudity is the selling point for Elfen Lied. In the first episode alone, Lucy kills a secretary and uses her body as a human shield. The atrocities keep going for the entirety of the show but not without substantial themes to justify it. Director Mamoru Kanbe wanted to highlight the effects of discrimination as well as the contrasts between compassion and vengeance between fellow humans. Doing so not only provided a philosophical view, but used a horrific way to show it.
10 Serial Experiments Lain
If watched with an open mind, Serial Experiments Lain is one of the most thought-provoking animes out there. It’s not a conventionally linear story, but relies on the atmosphere and the characters to tells its story.
It focuses on Lain Iwakura, an introverted girl who receives an email from a classmate who had committed suicide. Through the email, she discovers the Wired, a global communications network similar to the Internet. After that, she begins to encounter cryptic mysteries, including strange men in black who seem to know more about her than she does.
Mental illness and loneliness play big parts in Lain. It’s no secret that Lain is lonely due to her lack of friends and her dysfunctional family life. She’s constantly confronted with alter egos such as her evil self and her intelligent self that want to inflict pain on her and those close to her. While it’s not a traditional horror anime, it shows the horrors of technology and the relationship between the self and the world.
9 Hell Girl
Revolving around the ideas of revenge, injustice, and the nature of human emotions, Hell Girl is about a secret website that people can only access at midnight. Called "The Hotline to Hell," there is only a black background with the phrase “I will exact your vengeance.” There, people can type someone’s name into a box and enter a contract that sends a person to Hell immediately—as long as you too follow when you die.
Each episode typically follows a self-contained short story about a person who is being tormented by an acquaintance and the experiences they have going onto “The Hotline to Hell.” While the show isn’t necessarily graphic, its disturbing content shows the complexity of human nature. No one is purely evil or innocent.
8 Death Note
One of the most popular horror animes (and animes in general), Death Note has become something of a cultural phenomenon. Its huge popularity around the world has surpassed the otaku crowd and has become a regular pop culture icon. Several cities in China have banned Death Note due to students altering their notebooks and turning them in Death Notes with names of acquaintances inside. The controversy made its way around the world, including people committing actual murder on behalf of the book.
The story follows Light Yagami, a bored student who discovers a supernatural book from a Shinigami named Ryuk. The book grants its user the ability to kill anyone knowing only their name and face. Light uses this power to become God and cleanse the Earth of evil.
If anything, Death Note should be watched for the characters alone. Light and L are some of the most interesting characters in anime. They are both geniuses and each possess a quality that will make you root for one or the other. The way that they play cat and mouse with each other is intriguing and the ways Light dodges L’s captures are almost commendable. Unlike most anti-heroes, there isn’t anything lovable about Light. He’s evil to the core, no matter how much he thinks he’s saving the world.
From the superb art style to the character dynamics, there is a reason why Death Note is so highly regarded. There’s literally something for every anime fan in the show and succeeds in every aspect, including horror.
In an age where the vampire genre has been exhausted, we can always go back to the 90s and remember Hellsing—a show that actually showed vampires the proper respect. Hellsing is centered around the Royal Order of Protestant Knights—an organization founded by Abraham Van Helsing to protect the queen from supernatural evil. The organization’s front man, Alucard, deals with all things vampires, mainly because he is one as well.
Hellsing thrived on its character dynamic. When Seras Victoria was about to die from a fatal wound, Alucard saved her by turning her into a vampire. From there, they’ve displayed a father/daughter bond. Even though their relationship is complicated, they always have trust and patience in each other.
Sadly, Hellsing only ran for 13 episodes, leaving a desire for more blood and Alucard. But the show did such a great job in the horror and action aspect that it’s been called one of the best animes of all time.
6 Paranoia Agent
Adult Swim was on their game when they aired anime on television. Rurouni Kenshin, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Sailor Moon were just a few among the greats that entertained fans. While those shows were fun action series, Paranoia Agent was a different addition to the lineup. It wasn’t light and bubbly like the others, but instead a chilling psychological horror.
In Musashino, Tokyo, a social phenomenon is happening due to a serial assailant referred to as “Lil Slugger,” a boy who skates around and bashes people in the head with a baseball bat. The anime focuses on several different people and their part in the horrific event, such as the victims and the detective assigned to catch him.
Paranoia Agent has consistently been compared to David Lynch’s filmography. At times, the show had very trippy moments complete with interesting creatures and colors all meshing together. Other times, it was the characters hallucinating and having PTSD like episodes of “Lil Slugger.” The themes explore the nature of fear and the idea that supernatural boogeymen are the product of human fear—elements that also appear in Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
5 Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories
Kamishibai is a type of Japanese street theater and storytelling that was highly popular during the post-war period. Kamishibai was told by a narrator who would have illustrated boards placed in a miniature stage like device and would narrate the story by changing the images. With the introduction of television, the medium heavily declined due to the new forms of entertainment and has now largely disappeared in this modern age. However, its influence can be seen in animes and mangas, including Yamishibai: Ghost Stories.
Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories is a short form anime series told in the Kamishibai form. Each episode is only around four minutes long, making this anime very easy to finish (it's around two hours, total). Each frame is beautifully illustrated as if it was painted with watercolors on a scroll. But behind the beauty are disturbing tales to be told. Each episode circles around a Japanese urban legend that have been used to keep children behaved or adults from acting a certain way. The haunting narrator gives off the “gather around the campfire and tell a spooky story" vibe and controls all of the characters like a creepy puppeteer. The ambiguous endings are open to interpretation, letting the viewers use their imagination and knowledge of Japanese folklore to figure it out. The suspense alone makes this anime a perfect one to watch on a stormy night.
The village of Sotoba is a place so small and isolated that it’s not even connected to a highway. One day, the body of three people are found with no reasonable explanation for their death. Even though he feels uncertain, Ozaki Toshio—the village’s only doctor—treats them as a normal occurrence. But when people keep dying, Toshio soon finds out that his village is being attacked by vampires.
Shiki is another example that vampire tales can be done right. Unlike other animes in the vampire genre, such as Vampire Knight, Blood+, and Trinity Blood, this anime goes back to the roots of vampires and their myths. In other shows, vampires are romanticized with gentle personalities and beautiful looks, but Shiki completely blows that out of the water. Their vampires are more traditional such as not being allowed to go out in the sunlight or needing to be invited into a home.
The anime spends a lot of time building up the suspense, and dragging the viewer through this disturbing atmosphere. There are plenty of disturbing scenes, but some folks might not like the slow burn and immediately want the action. However, it all pays off in the end with a stunning conclusion.
3 Vampire Princess Miyu
Originally just a manga, Vampire Princess Miyu was translated to an anime series in 1999. The series follows Miyu, a half human and half “shinma” (god demon) being who is chosen to kill all of the leftover shinma lurking in Japan. With her demonic companions, Larva and Shina, they hunt down these monsters that feed on human flesh and try to restore balance to the different worlds.
What’s interesting about the series is that there isn’t a central plot. Each episode is a monster of the week set up—focusing on a different person and shinma that Miyu needs to hunt. With only subtle blood and gore Vampire Princess Miyu focuses on the suspense and disturbing atmosphere. The writers have us sympathize with the different characters in each episode, only to brutally kill them by the end. The only recurring characters are Miyu’s high school friends, who have no idea what she is (and there is even a huge twist with them in the end). Accompanied by an unsettling soundtrack, it puts it on par with classic horror films we know and love.
Considered the anime version of Final Destination, Another doesn’t hold back on the creepy and dreary elements. Every episode is left on a cliffhanger and, before you know it, you’ll be hooked until the end. The series starts in 1972 when a popular student, Misaki, passes away. Since then, the town of Yomiyama has been shrouded in a dark and mysterious atmosphere. Fast forward to 1998, Kouichi Sakakibara transfers to the same class and discovers a strange, gloomy mood that seems to hang over all the students, especially an eyepatch-wearing girl named Mei Misaki. Soon enough, the secrets of the school begin to unravel and tragic events begin to plague the classmates.
Another isn’t just an anime that shovels out blood and gore for shock value. Its stellar animation and story always brings a sense of the dread to the viewer. In every scene, there is some sense of decay, whether it be deserted buildings or crows perched up on the roof. Also, there is a touch of Stanley Kubrick influence with the color red being used in one way or another. Overall, Another is one of the better animes because the art depicts the horror in many forms instead of just death.
1 Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni (When They Cry)
Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni is one of those animes that should be watched with all the lights on and curtains closed. The utter sense of dread that surrounds it never goes away and there’s rarely a chance to rest from all of the horrific events. The series begins on a happy note with Maebara Keiichi moving into the quiet town of Hinamizawa. He spends his time blissfully in school and playing games with his new friends. But, as always in a small town setting, things are not what they seem. When he stumbles upon a murder, Keiichi starts to see his friends change from innocent girls to psychotic murderers.
Based upon the games by 07th Expansion, the show is divided into six chapters. Each chapter has a different mystery using really horrific methods of murder. From nailing a little girl to a cross to repeatedly bashing people’s heads in with baseball bats, the creators don’t go lightly on the violence. As soon as you think that it possibly can’t get any bloodier, you’ll be surprised by the next episode. Each episode is a buildup to some sort of big twist and leaves the viewer feeling slightly dirty at the end of each arc.
Can you think of any other horror animes that should be on this list? Let us know in the comments!