While anime might primarily be known for its action series such as Naruto or One Piece, many sub-genres have a wide range of shows to offer and have dedicated fan bases. Horror anime is a particularly beloved sub-genre, showcasing a vast variety of horror styles and tropes for fans to choose from. Whether one is looking for mind-bending, twisty psychological horror, gore and guts, or grotesque body horror, there will be at least one show that will suit viewer’s needs. In preparation for the upcoming Netflix show, Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre, coming out January 19th, 2023, here are the best horror anime for viewers to delve into before its release.
While not every exceptional horror anime can be covered in a list limited to 10, the series and films included hopefully provide a diverse selection to pick from, both in terms of genre, length, and release year. Horror anime is an expansive sub-genre and hosts a myriad of series and films, and these 10 are only a few of them. There are plenty of hidden gems out there, and new series coming out every year. While the ‘best’ horror anime is subjective, these are definitely stories that have captivated millions and have had a positive impact on the anime community as a whole.
Attack on Titan
Since its release in 2013, Attack on Titan has taken the entire anime community by storm. Set in a walled city in an apocalyptic world, viewers follow a cast of characters who must survive and slay titans, or giant, mindless humanoid creatures who have an appetite for human flesh. Attack on Titan appeals to lovers of action anime, as there are many characters who display unmatched combat skills and intricately animated fight scenes. However, horror fans will be equally satisfied, since the utter brutality of the show is what ultimately stands out. Whether its people being eaten alive, human acts of depravity, or just sheer bloody violence, Attack on Titan offers a more than adequate amount of horror to viewers.
Released in 2014, Tokyo Ghoul is a mesh of urban fantasy, action, and brutal, bloody horror. Set in an alternate Japan, humans live among ‘ghouls,’ individuals who must eat human flesh to survive and possess frightening abilities that threaten the balance of the world. The show follows Ken Kaneki, a young, human teenager who gets in an accident and is saved by a transplant as a last resort. However, Kaneki wakes up changed, as his new organs belonged to a ghoul. As the first half human, half ghoul to exist, Kaneki must reconcile with both parts of his identity and what this means for the world he lives in. With violence, morally gray characters, and copious amounts of gore, Tokyo Ghoul is a great introduction to horror anime.
The Promised Neverland
Immediately gaining popularity when it was released in 2019, The Promised Neverland is a shocking psychological horror with moments that last well beyond their screen time. Taking place in an orphanage, the series follows three young characters as they begin to suspect kids are not being adopted and that something sinister is happening. Low on action but high on suspense, this is a horror series for viewers who can handle a slower paced but thoroughly terrifying show. With characters that are easy to root for and twists that are jaw-dropping, The Promised Neverland delivers an extremely effective horror experience.
Parasyte from 2014 is the most widely known and beloved body horror anime. The series is as gross and sickening as the title suggests: parasitic aliens take over human bodies, fusing with them in disgusting ways and causing metamorphoses reminiscent of cosmic or viral imagery. Most of these parasytes remain unknown to humans, as they hide under the skin of their chosen host. The show’s main character, Shinichi Izumi, is the first human to retain his consciousness when a parasyte tries to invade him but fails, ultimately getting stuck in only his right hand. While the series displays extreme body horror, it also prompts viewers to ponder the existence of humanity in various thought-provoking methods of story-telling. Whether a viewer wants to be thoroughly repulsed or experience a darker story with multiple layers of meaning, Parasyte will not disappoint.
Another is a spine-chilling, psychological feat of an anime, leaving viewers thinking about the show for days after they’ve finished watching it. Released in 2012, Another is a disturbing, tense anime that is at times paced slow, but has enough moments of brutal, shocking depravity that it more than makes up for its slow burn. It’s one of those shows that viewers should go in knowing as little about it as they can, to preserve that priceless first experience. Following a middle school transfer student who gets wrapped up in a series of murders occurring at his new school and the strange girl who seems to be the key to their cause, Another steers viewers in one direction but pulls the rug out from under them. For horror fans who love a disorienting, macabre tale, Another will definitely be their cup of tea.
Hailed as the holy grail of horror anime, the film Perfect Blue from 1997 is a dizzying descent into absolute madness. Following idol Mima Kirigoe as she leaves her pop group to launch an acting career, the film portrays the pressure of stardom and the suffocating weight it puts on an individual’s mental health. Mima first begins to suffer from a stalker, but more extreme and horrific events ensue, chipping away at her sanity. Inspiring future films such as Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream, Perfect Blue has some of the most iconic, mind-bending imagery that burns itself into memory. The film is considered a classic among anime fans, predating most other horror anime and heavily influencing all that came after it. Perfect Blue is both a staple horror and anime film, since it is loved by both communities respectively.
Angels of Death
A mix of both psychological horror and ruthless gore, Angels of Death from 2018 is a bizarre series that only gets more manic as it progresses. Following young Rachel Gardner who wakes up trapped in a basement with no memories, Angels of Death does not take any conventional horror routes. Teaming up with the only other living soul she comes across, a deranged killer, Rachel must figure a way out of the building she is trapped in. With each floor containing a new, uniquely terrifying horror, Rachel must face these trials while her past resurfaces. Twisted and sinister, Angels of Death constantly raises the bar, and just when viewers think the show has reached its limit, it pushes further.
For horror fans who want to commit to a shorter series, Corpse Party is a four episode miniseries from 2013 that packs just as much of a punch as a long format anime. Centered around a group of students who have gathered to say goodbye to a friend preparing to transfer schools, Corpse Party is a paranormal horror that showcases ghosts, alternate dimensions, and rituals gone wrong. Corpse Party, while very traditional in its style of horror, still brings fresh thrills and offers a concise story with strong central themes.
For viewers seeking science fiction horror, Elfen Lied from 2004 is both a classic anime and a particularly violent series as a whole. Right from episode one, the show leaves viewers reeling from scenes of graphic depravity and slaughter. Elfen Lied tells the story of Lucy, a genetically engineered human with supernatural abilities who escapes from the facility she is being held at. After suffering a blow to the head while fleeing, Lucy loses her memory. When she is taken in by unassuming civilians, she begins to flip between docile and bloodthirsty personalities. The show swings between moments of calm and moments of relentless gore as Lucy’s cracked psyche grows more unstable. Horror fans seeking shocking horror or a distinct sci-fi atmosphere should try Elfen Lied.
Meshing mystery with supernatural horror, Shiki from 2010 is an eerie slow burn series for the greater part of its duration. Shiki is a tale of small towns, mysterious illnesses, people going missing, and characters who will do anything to get what they want. Definitely not a show for the impatient, Shiki relies heavily on its build up in cultivating sophisticated characters, creeping dread, and an atmosphere thick with tension. This all leads to an explosive final few episodes where displays of gore, supernatural phenomena, and human depravity grips viewers by the throat and sucks the air out of their lungs.