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If you doubt the ability of animation to evoke strong emotional reactions, just rewatch the Toy Story series. Anime – Japanese-style animated television – has never struggled to make emotional connections with viewers. Chances are you’ve already encountered (and enjoyed) anime movies, whether they were Studio Ghibli’s fantastical modern myths, the iconic Akira, or the artful Ghost in the Shell. If you’re a horror anime fan, buckle up because anime also doles out some genuine terror. There are no bulky special effects or heavy-handed CGI to generate scares and thrills, just demented storylines and artful tension-building. We’ve rounded up a list of the seven best frightening horror animes to get you started.
This isn’t the critically panned, live-action Netflix reimagining, but the original anime series. It follows high-school-student Light Yagami after he discovers a notebook that contains the power of life and death. The terror comes from the ease with which power corrupts a good person. Light starts the show only using the notebook for good–trying to rid the world of crime by killing criminals. But there’s only so long you can maintain the moral high ground while murdering people.
If you need gore and gruesome scenes to enjoy horror, spend some time on the Gantz series. This horror anime series tackles some big concepts, like death, the afterlife, and humanity’s purpose, with the protagonists clad in futuristic lycra suits. A mysterious black sphere, Gantz, can claim human souls after they die and offer them a chance to return to their lives. Gantz forces people to play a sadistic “game” of hunting and killing aliens in gruesome ways. The stakes are high–if souls die during the game, it’s permanent.
If Black Mirror is your speed for horror, you’ll enjoy the series Hell Girl, which features episodic stories contributing to a larger overarching plot. There’s a secret website where you can submit a plight at midnight and ask Hell Girl, Ai Enma, to take someone to hell with her. Each episode features a different story of people pleading to Ai Enma to get rid of someone for them. If Hell Girl sympathizes with the story submitted to her website (okay, that part is lol), she’ll snatch your tormentor’s soul but curse you in return.
Junji Ito is a master of anime horror manga. You can see the collected adaptations of his best works streaming on Crunchyroll or Funimation. There’s twelve episodes featuring disturbing imagery and troubling ideas that will stick with you for a long time. If you’re new to anime and anime horror in particular, it’s a great starting point to see the genre handled by a master. It’s worth it to experience his work as the original manga, start with his award-winning Tomie.
One of the terrifying horror tropes is the idea that malicious entities surround us at all times, but we can’t see them. Ghosts, poltergeists, or vengeful spirits are out to ruin our good time being alive and wreak havoc in the world. In this horror anime, the spirits are responsible for everything awful in the world. The show’s protagonist, Ginko, travels the world, banishing them from our plane of existence. The anime series starts slow but ratchets up the horror in later episodes.
This 12-episode series takes a novel approach to the traditional zombie-apocalypse. It centers on Yuki Takeya; a teenager enrolled at the Megurigaoka Private High School. When a zombie apocalypse overruns the city, infecting teachers and students at the school, Yuki’s School Living Club members are some of the only survivors. Instead of the traditional panic-and-gore zombie horror, the show is a meditation on how we cope with catastrophic trauma. The series hits different when we’re in the middle of living through a global pandemic.
If you are searching for the best horror anime, try to make it through this 26-episode story arc without assuming you have a handle on the story. Keiichi moves to Hinamizawa, a sleepy small town in Japan. He joins clubs, meets friends, and thinks the most exciting part of his peaceful life is the upcoming town festival. But there’s a dark curse on the village, bringing untimely ends to its unfortunate residents. It’s an expertly woven story, and we’re betting it’ll hook you you’ll end of episode one.