One thing audiences outside of Japan have learned over the past 20+ years: The country does not mess around when it comes to some of the scariest horror works ever made. We’ve gone through Japan’s best horror movies in the past, showcasing a wide range of films that can be entertaining, frightening, violent, or even sometimes oddly humorous (or all of these things). The same depth of choice can be found when looking through the best horror anime of all time, whether from theatrical releases, TV shows, or OAVs.
You’re not going to be lacking in movies and shows capable of rattling even the most weathered genre fanatic. There’s stuff here that can go head-to-head with any other type of horror from any other country. Japan has a knack for this material, and our look at the best of the best horror anime makes this apparent again and again.
The Best Horror Anime
25. Highschool Of The Dead
Of course there would be a zombie anime here, as this wouldn’t be a horror list without one. Highschool of the Dead is about a group of high school students in school when the zombie outbreak begins. They must fight their way through a school full of the undead and toward their families.
The personality clashes of all the characters are pretty well-written, and the feeling of unease never really goes away throughout the show.
Aside from being gory and generally horrifying, there’s another reason not to watch Highschool of The Dead in your living room: the show is extremely raunchy. It never gets to the point of complete nudity and sex, but just keep that in mind.
24. Demon City Shinjuku
Released in 1988 as an OAV, and based on a novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi, Demon City Shinjuku remains a visibly arresting showcase of monsters, beautifully-animated fight sequences, and an overall atmosphere of something cosmic, unfathomable, and vast. It’s also very much a product of its time in certain regards, particularly with the English dub. Still, despite any minor imperfections you might find, this 80-minute film delivers something that is as unsettling as it is relentlessly violent.
Yes indeed Demon City Shinjuku is quite violent, even for this type of anime in the late 80s (Wicked City, released a year earlier in 1987, is another example and comes from the same group that made this). It also possesses memorable, compelling characters, a fascinating world in which humanity constantly contends with a demon world, and sincere stakes in what happens next.
This rough-around-the-edges cult classic still has a place among the best horror anime, even today.
Castlevania takes full advantage of being based on a long-running series of iconic horror games from Konami. Drawing from the deep lore of the best games in the series, this four-season anime series on Netflix tells the story of Trevor Belmont.
Trevor stands alone as the last surviving member of a banished family of monster hunters. To ensure even a fighting chance, Belmont creates an unusual team to rise against the forces of Count Dracula, who decides to overrun the world with demons as an act of unflinching vengeance.
From voice acting, to fight sequences (plenty of gore, too), to a story that consistently remained satisfying across 32 excellent episodes, Castlevania proves you can indeed make good TV shows and movies out of video game properties. The horror elements here are genuinely affecting, and the action side of things never runs out of steam either. It’s a fun watch that might leave you wishing there was more.
22. Tokyo Ghoul
Tokyo Ghoul becomes more of your standard action-packed shōnen anime in the later seasons, but the first two seasons can get pretty dark and messed up.
Suddenly having to adapt to a reality where you now have to eat human flesh to survive is truly terrifying. That’s what Ken Kaneki has to go through when he accidentally gets turned into a half-ghoul after a bad and almost lethal date.
As stated earlier, if you’re a horror fan, it might be best to stop after the first two seasons. Not just because it changes tones drastically, but most people agree that the show gets a little confusing in the later seasons. However, if you’re still curious, here’s a Tokyo Ghoul watch order to get you started.
21. Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories
Do you like ghost stories? Do you like Japanese history and folklore? If you answered yes but don’t have a lot of free time, Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories has you covered.
Over 130 episodes of this anthology series are available, and all of them are each just a few minutes in length. Yamishibai is a masterclass of effective storytelling. Almost every episode is guaranteed to hit you in some way. Some of them are sincerely shocking, even if you’re someone who knows their horror. The series has been running for several years at this point and shows no signs of slowing down or running out of ideas.
The best part about Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories is that you can drop in anywhere. Start from the beginning, or simply pick and choose the episodes that sound interesting to you. Just keep in mind these snack-sized shockers can become compulsory. Yamishibai shows Japan as a country that certainly loves and knows how to relate a good urban legend.
20. Deadman Wonderland
Deadman Wonderland is about Ganta Igarashi, who is just your average 9th grader in Japan. Average, that is, until his entire class is murdered in front of him. Without any proof to back him up, Ganta gets accused of the massacre, and eventually receives the guilty verdict.
He is sentenced to Deadman Wonderland, a weird blend of a theme park and a prison. Inmates are forced to wear special collars which inject poison into them. They must drink an antidote every three days which they can earn by working and performing tasks around the theme park. Ganta must learn to survive his new hell as he tries to unravel the truth behind the crime he was accused of.
Deadman Wonderland is fascinating, and the constant threat of death is always there. Not to spoil anything, but there are also some epic supernatural elements to the story which is a plus.
19. Elfen Lied
Hope you don’t get turned off by the old-timey art style and animation because Elfen Lied is a hidden gem. A haunted, bloody, and depressing gem, but a gem nonetheless.
Elfen Lied is about Lucy, a Diclonius or a person with the power to control powerful invisible arms. Lucy escapes from a containment facility that was torturing and experimenting on Diclonii. She meets Kouta and his cousin Yuka who take her in. However, Lucy must now deal with the people from the facility who are hunting her down. She must also manage a split personality that turns her into a shy and innocent girl.
Elfen Lied is full of incredibly brutal and explicit scenes that showcase the worst in humanity. It has a couple of characters that’ll make you sick and disgusted, and honestly, the old-timey art style just makes the horror series feel even more unsettling.
18. Neon Genesis Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion has plenty of horror elements for a franchise that doesn’t really claim to be part of horror anime. Yet this story of a teenage mecha pilot named Shinji Ikari and what happens after his cruel, mysterious father recruits him and other children to fight beings known as Angels with the most powerful robots on the planet, offers some of the most horrific moments in anime ever.
That’s probably the simplest definition of Neon Genesis Evangelion, which includes a 26-episode TV series, two films to wrap up the original run of the series, four films in the Rebuild of Evangelion reboot series, and much more. This is a delirious brew of existential horror with some alarming visual and emotional punches throughout.
You can start with the original series and movies, when it comes to diving into Neon Genesis Evangelion’s reputation as one of the scariest anime series of all time. However, the recent Rebuild series might be a little more appealing for those seeking a little faster pacing.
Vampires and horror go together like peanut butter and jelly — so simple, and yet people keep finding ways to ruin it. Fortunately, Shiki turned out to be great.
Shiki is set in a town called Sotoba where mysterious deaths start occurring. People chalk it up to a new disease until a doctor named Toshio Ozaki finds something suspicious in them and decides to investigate further.
Together with some of the local teenagers, Toshio discovers that creatures resembling vampires called shiki were the cause of the recent deaths. They must find a way to deal with this threat before all of Sotoba gets killed off.
Again, simple plot, brilliant execution. That’s all a good horror anime really needs to have.
16. Hell Girl
Ever wished there was an app that sent someone you hated away? Well, that’s exactly what Hell Girl is about.
The Hell Correspondence/Hell Link is a website (and later on, an actual mobile app) where a user can submit a request to get rid of someone. And by getting rid of someone, they are literally dragged to hell. There’s a catch though, as the person who used the Hell Correspondence will also end up in hell once they die.
Before you think that this is just Death Note, there are some pretty major differences between the two. The main one is that there isn’t exactly a “main user” of the Hell Correspondence. The story switches its focus to a different character many times in the show. It’s interesting to see the changing perspectives and how each one deals with the Hell Correspondence.
15. Boogiepop Phantom
If catchy titles counted for anything, Boogiepop Phantom would be our number one pick for the best horror anime. It’s the sort of title that draws your interest immediately.
The series, based on light novels by Kouhei Kadono, delivers its own twisted sense of fun. This is a dark fantasy series that leans hard into its grim premise of a group of high school students who suddenly find themselves immersed in bizarre, dangerous circumstances. A series of vicious murders occurs at the same time, leading some to suspect that a mythological figure known only as Boogiepop is the culprit.
Boogiepop Phantom is an oddball, with important characters sometimes only appearing for a matter of moments. There’s an unease and uncertainty to everything in this show, with an approach to its larger story that almost feels like an anthology. It’s an interesting combination of storytelling tactics that creates something quite unique.
Another is a horror anime about the seemingly cursed class 3-3 of Yomiyama North Middle School. After the sudden death of a student named Misaki in 1972, the class was never the same. Every year, some terrible disaster seemed to strike class 3-3.
Kouichi Sakakibara, a student of the current class 3-3, will soon find out about this tragic pattern of events and will attempt to stop it. He also meets a mysterious girl from his class, Misaki.
Another is an incredible horror anime that’ll keep you guessing at every twist and turn across all twelve of its intense episodes.
13. Higurashi: When They Cry
Wrapping some of the most twisted and complex mystery-building you’ve ever seen with some of the nastiest slasher movie-style kills ever animated makes Higurashi: When They Cry an almost sadistic viewing experience. Originally released in 2006, the series was eventually remade in 2020, and that’s the easier version to track down. Regardless of the specific version you watch, get ready for a slightly unwieldy time.
There’s a lot of weirdness to take on with Higurashi: When They Cry. You’ve got an elaborate mystery that demands your constant attention, alternate realities, time loops, government interference, mass death, and a whole lot more. Simply put, if you can get through Higurashi without losing any sleep, you can likely handle anything else among the best horror anime shows and movies. There’s also a prequel series, as well as several OAVs and live action releases that may prove challenging to get your hands on.
12. Attack on Titan
Another series that became a juggernaut success among the anime community, Attack on Titan is a great marriage of action and horror. Humanity has been hanging on for over a century behind massive walls designed to keep out giant flesh-eating humanoid beings. These “Titans” eventually break through the wall, leading to a rampage of chaos, bloodshed, and profound tragedy. You wouldn’t want one of these Titans to come after you.
Action anime fans will love the heroes going head-to-head with the Titans. There’s some expertly-made fight scenes for your enjoyment, but Attack on Titan meets that action every step of the way with some of the most unsettling and shocking moments imaginable.
There’s a lot of hype behind this 2013 series, which has led to (pretty terrible) live action films and more, but Attack on Titan lives up to the formidable reputation it has established in just a decade.
Vampire hunters are such a cool concept that help add some intense action to the genre. Shiki didn’t really explore the concept, so if that’s what you want, then Hellsing is for you. The name is based on an organization dedicated to combating the undead: the Hellsing Organization.
The story focuses on the Hellsing Organization’s greatest agent Alucard, the most powerful vampire in existence. So, why is the most powerful vampire helping an organization that hunts down vampires? After a defeat he suffered from the Organization’s founder a hundred years ago, Alucard swore loyalty to them and has been helping them ever since.
Hellsing is another show that’s jam-packed with action despite also being classified as horror, but it has its solid gruesome moments, so don’t worry if you’re a gorehound when it comes to finding the best horror anime.
10. Death Note
Remember Hell Girl, the anime about killing someone with a website? Death Note works on a similar premise. It’s about a boy named Light Yagami who finds a notebook called the Death Note. Any person whose name he writes in it will die in any way, and anytime he wants them to.
Death Note is easily the most well-known anime on this list with there being a constant demand for a second season. The only reason it’s not taking the top spot is that this list is specifically about horror anime and Death Note has way more to it than just horror.
The horror factor itself doesn’t carry the show. The intense mental battles that the characters go through are what make it special, and one of the most influential shows ever released.
It was a peaceful night in Hiroshima, Japan, when suddenly, something catastrophic started falling from the sky. No, this isn’t World War II. What fell were parasitic aliens that burrowed themselves into the brains of other living organisms to take control of them.
Shinichi Izumi would’ve fallen victim to one of these parasites, but it accidentally dug into his arm instead of his head. This saves Shinichi from getting controlled, but he now has to live with the parasite in his arm as other parasite-controlled humans try to kill them both.
Parasyte features tons of body horror with the parasites causing limbs and faces to morph into horrific shapes and creating body parts where they wouldn’t naturally appear. If you like Dead Space, you will love this anime.
8. From The New World
Another common trope for horror shows is a dystopian future, and From the New World is an excellent example. It’s set 1,000 years in the future when the human population is now capable of psychic powers. Changes in nature and several wars occurred when psychics were first discovered, but now everything has settled back down and the world is at peace. At least that’s what it seems like.
The story focuses on Saki Watanabe, a student at a special school for psychics called Sage Academy. She and her friends soon discover that the peaceful society they live in is hiding some dark secrets. A strange psychic disease causes psychics to harm others, and people who fail to develop psychic powers disappear without notice.
It seems like the secrets and conspiracies just keep on coming. From The New World will always keep you on your toes as you try to figure out what exactly is going on.
7. Paranoia Agent
The career of Satoshi Kon was varied, but works like his 2004 series Paranoia Agent explain why he’s revered for what he brought to horror.
Paranoia Agent goes about its genre business a little differently than some of the other horror anime we’ve gone over, focusing heavily on the psychological in its plot concerning a crime spree being carried out by a figure known as Bat Boy (Lil’ Slugger in the English dub). As tensions grip the city, two police detectives begin a desperate, equally-stressed search for answers.
The basics of Paranoia Agent are more than enough to hook you, particularly in the hands of a storyteller as phenomenal as Satoshi Kon was. Where things get really interesting is in what happens to the world in which these horrible attacks are occurring. This one grips you right at the start and stays in your psyche for a good while.
6. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
You don’t need to see the 1985 animated horror classic Vampire Hunter D to appreciate Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.
This is the story of a vampire hunter known as D, and his experiences in a post-apocalyptic world that often reminds viewers of the gothic horror of Hammer Studios. Bloodlust also benefits from having its main character design (a stoic vampire hunter who argues with a powerful unknown being that lives in his left hand) and overall aesthetics come from the legendary artist Yoshitaka Amano.
What puts Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust so high on our list of the best anime horror is the film’s characters, particularly D and a young woman he teams up with named Leila, and the sort of gorgeous hand-drawn visuals that just aren’t done anymore. There’s a uniqueness to the horrors of Vampire D: Bloodlust that gives it an arresting beauty.
Speaking of dystopian futures, Akira is another prime example. This bona fide anime classic is about an alternate-reality Tokyo that has just recovered from its destruction from World War III.
Shoutarou Kaneda and Tetsuo Shima are two friends trying to survive in the city’s gang-filled streets. However, an accident causes Tetsuo to develop psychic powers, possibly the very same powers that caused the disaster that destroyed their city in the past.
Akira was released in 1988 and features a lot of symbolism of the nuclear disaster Japan went through just a few decades ago, while also feeling prescient today. It showcases the horror of what happens when great power is placed in the wrong hands, and remains a staple introduction for those just getting into anime for good reason.
4. Devilman Crybaby
There’s a freshness to the stunning insanity of everything that goes on in Devilman Crybaby that can hide the fact that this series is over 50 years old, beginning life as a manga and TV series in 1972.
Devilman Crybaby was conceived as an update of the classic Devilman storyline, involving two best friends named Akira and Ryo, a war between angels and demons, and the kind of apocalyptic chaos you’re no doubt hoping for. This 2018 series was released to Netflix and is being hailed as one of the best new horror releases in anime.
Devilman Crybaby might feature more religion than you’re comfortable with, but those who don’t have an issue with theology will be entertained and horrified by not only how this plot unfurls, but in terms of sheer shock value at just how far this story by celebrated author and artist Go Nagi.
3. Berserk (1997)
Berserk follows Guts, a lone mercenary who fights with a greatsword for anyone that can shell out the most cash.
One day, he fights a mercenary group known as the Band of the Falcon and is defeated by their leader Griffith. After recovering, Griffith defeats Guts a second time, this time with the condition that Guts works with the Band of the Falcon upon his loss. Guts, Griffith, and the rest of the band continue on their journey as something dark and evil looms on the horizon.
Most fans would agree that the 2016 continuation of Berserk ruins the franchise, but the initial 1997 run has received tremendous praise for its amazing and gritty storytelling.
A strange man, simply known as the Medicine Seller, is wandering Japan, looking for malicious spirits known as mononoke, and exercising them. Sounds simple enough, but what makes the show unique and amps up the stakes is how he does it.
The Medicine Seller can’t simply draw his sword and fight the mononoke, he must first perform an investigation using his knowledge of the occult to determine the Form, Truth, and Reason of each mononoke he encounters. Only then can he actually have the means to fight them.
The show (not to be confused with the Ghibli movie) is split into isolated chapters that are 2-3 episodes long where the Medicine Seller arrives at a certain place, encounters a mononoke, and performs the exorcism. Since he can’t just directly kill them, he remains completely vulnerable during the investigation process.
Mononoke isn’t the most well-known anime ever, but its twelve-episode run has become a cult hit for good reason: it doesn’t need buckets of blood for its scares.
1. Perfect Blue
Mima Kirigoe, much to the dismay of her fans, leaves the popular J-pop group called CHAM! to pursue a career in acting. Soon after, she gets stalked by a deranged fan who was upset with her career change. Mima then discovers a website that lists her day-to-day routine with alarming accuracy.
That, combined with the pressure of her new job and the people around her, causes Mima’s sanity to slowly crumble. She is no longer able to separate her personal life from her professional life, and reality from fantasy.
What sets Perfect Blue apart from all the other horror anime on this list is that it is very grounded in reality and is something you can easily picture happening in real life. There are no supernatural factors, no aliens, and no dystopian futures; just a vulnerable, stressed-out girl being followed by a potential maniac while she struggles with a rapidly declining mental state.
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