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The Best Horror Anime Shows to Trip You Out

The more innocent it looks, the more sickening it becomes. 

anime demon girl with black and red eyes
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  • Photo Credit: Daume

Anime is known for its exceptional art style, which involves a combination of traditional Japanese hand-drawn and computer-generated animation, consisting of exaggerated facial expressions, bold color choices and unique character design.

Coupled with compelling storylines that span genres from romance to fantasy to horror, there is no wonder why anime has such loyal, global fan communities.  

If you are new to anime, you might assume that the prevalence of Japanese “Kawaii” culture (an aesthetic that focuses on cuteness and innocence) must mean that horror anime must not be as intense as other horror, but you’d be extremely mistaken.  

The subgenre of horror anime allows for some of the most disturbing, dread-inducing images that will haunt you for the rest of your life. Some animators are even known to lull viewers into a false sense of safety with a seemingly adorable-looking character that can instantly morph into a lethal killer.  

This medium allows creators' imaginations to run wild, enabling them to come up with the vilest body horror and bloodiest massacres that they can depict while also devising intricately layered plots chock-full of psychological twists.

Although every horror anime has its distinct nightmare-fuel tactics, whether it be supernatural entities or good old-fashioned human brutality, one thing is for sure: You’ll walk away feeling a tad uneasy, especially once you realize you can’t wait to watch some more.  

Serial Experiments Lain (1998) 

Some shows, however enthralling and highly binge-able they may be, fail to leave a lasting impression on us and neglect to introduce us to concepts that challenge our perceptions of reality.

If you’re looking for an easy-to-follow premise that you can put on in the background as you do other tasks, Serial Experiments Lain is not for you. But if you want a complex, psychological horror thriller that will make you question long-held truths you think you grasp about the perception of identity, memory, and consciousness, then you might want to give this one a watch.  

This anime centers around Lain Iwakura, an awkward, lonely junior high student whose life is upended after she receives a disturbing email from a peer who has recently committed suicide. The message conveys that her peer is far from dead and is rather living within the realm of the Wired, a virtual communication system that is like a more complex version of the internet.

Although initially incapable of engaging with basic technology, Lain becomes absorbed in discovering more about the mysteries of the Wired throughout the episodes.  

The more she uncovers, the more her sense of self begins to morph—not necessarily for the better—as the lines between reality and cyberspace begin to blur. This highly experimental and thought-provoking story does not rely on common horror elements like gore or scenes of violence but rather evokes terror through its deeply unsettling conclusions about humanity.

Perhaps it can be viewed as a cautionary tale, especially in our current age of increased social alienation and extreme reliance on technology.       

Elfen Lied (2004) 

Based on the Japanese manga series by Lynn Okamoto, Elfen Lied covers themes of discrimination, abuse, revenge, and trauma by introducing viewers to Lucy.

A member of the genetically mutated species known as the Diclonius, Lucy can be identified by the horn-like protrusions on her head, vibrant pink hair, and invisible telekinetic arms referred to as “vectors” that can cause immense destruction—and so, so much bloodshed. 

The first 10 minutes are known for having some of the most intense gore, violence and nudity in all horror anime, as it depicts Lucy’s escape from a research facility where she was held captive off the coast of Kamakura. After successfully making it outside the premises, she sustains an injury to the head, causing her to develop an innocent, childlike persona known as Nyu—a stark contrast to her usual violent tendencies.  

Two unassuming and well-intentioned locals find Lucy and are unfortunately drawn into her dangerous reality as the government tries desperately to recapture her.

This immensely dark show, which inspired the hit Netflix series Stranger Things, asks us to think about the effects of trauma on our psyche and whether we can be absolved of our depravity if it’s a response to others’ cruelty. 

Hell Girl (2005)  

Spanning four seasons, Hell Girl is a series that asks us an important question: What are we willing to sacrifice to exact revenge?  

Every episode consists of a separate story focusing on new characters that call upon Ai Enma, or Hell Girl, for help. Only desperate individuals who carry powerful grudges can access the Hell Correspondence website at midnight, where they can write someone’s name who they feel deserves to be sent to hell.

If Hell Girl accepts their request, she will appear as a young girl with jet-black hair and red eyes and present her clients with a straw doll, explaining that if they choose to pull the red string tied around the doll’s neck, the person who has wronged them will be immediately whisked away to hell. But there is one vital catch.  

Once the client has come to the end of their life, they will be barred from heaven and will also be sent to the underworld. You can imagine the kind of disturbing scenarios that await viewers of this show—circumstances dreadful enough to drive people to willingly surrender eternal peace to witness the downfall of another person.

It makes us wonder: What is more terrifying? Hell Girl’s tactics or the way humans treat other humans?   

Shiki (2010) 

Shiki takes its time building suspense, creating an irresistibly creepy atmosphere, and getting viewers gradually sucked into the mystery of the once-peaceful town of Sotoba, which has suddenly been plagued with strange, unexplained deaths.

Meanwhile, a new family has become the new residents of a castle on the outskirts of the rural village. Could their arrival have something to do with the unexpected illness that appears to be slowly decimating the town?

This supernatural horror anime depicts how fear and paranoia can affect a community and gets us thinking about the lengths we will go in the name of self-preservation, even at the cost of our morality.   

Another (2012) 

After spending the first month hospitalized due to illness, transfer student Kouichi Sakakibara starts attending Yomiyama North Junior High and is drawn to one of his classmates, Mei Misaki—a sullen, reserved girl who wears an eyepatch, whom he initially meets during his hospital stay.

For some reason, his peers act as if Mei doesn’t exist, and although Kouichi has a feeling that there’s something more sinister going on than a typical case of bullying, no one is willing to explain their strange, cold behavior.  

When his classmates begin dying in bizarre ways, Kouichi takes it upon himself to try to figure out what is happening to prevent any more needless loss. Just when you think you have this mystery figured out, this macabre tale will throw in a twist that keeps you thoroughly intrigued.

But, fair warning, you may never be able to look at umbrellas the same way again. Watch this show, and you’ll understand.  

Tokyo Ghoul (2014) 

Tokyo Ghoul is a 12-episode adaptation of the highly popular dark fantasy manga series by Sui Ishida. It is set in an alternate version of Tokyo, where flesh-eating ghouls hide among the human population and feed on them to stay alive.

Timid college student Ken Kaneki agrees to go on a date with a young woman named Rize Kamishiro and very quickly wishes he hadn’t after she reveals herself to be after much more than a romantic connection. 

Kaneki survives the terrifying ordeal, but later, to his utter shock, he wakes up and discovers that Rize’s organs were used to save his life. His mind and body start to change as he begins experiencing powerful urges to satiate his hunger.

Can this young man cling to his humanity, or will he surrender to his most carnal impulses? This anime draws you in with its complex characters, stellar action sequences, and well-developed philosophical themes.    

Parasyte: The Maxim (2014)  

Adapted from the sci-fi horror manga by Hitoshi Iwaaki, Parasyte: The Maxim is the perfect concoction of appalling body horror sprinkled in with surprisingly wholesome coming-of-age antics.

One night while sleeping, high school student Shinichi Izumi is targeted by a worm-like alien known as a parasyte, whose intention is to burrow itself in Shinichi’s brain, taking over his body. Unable to enter from his ears or nose, the parasyte settles on burrowing itself in the young man’s right hand instead.  

Failing to infiltrate his host’s brain, both are stuck adapting to sharing a body with two, initially warring, psyches. But the longer the two are forced to cohabitate, an unusual bond forms between them as they fight to stay alive while being targeted by other parasytes who fear the pair jeopardizes their existence.

Filled with intensely frightening imagery that will permeate your mind like the parasytes in the show, this horror anime will also make you ponder themes such as the fear of the unknown and the intricacies of codependency within relationships. 

Devilman: Crybaby (2018)  

Inspired by Go Nagai’s manga series Devilman, this anime modernizes the prior 1970s setting, instead placing its characters in the 21st century while successfully staying true to the original story’s plot.

It follows a sensitive high school student named Akira Fudo and his childhood friend Ryo Asuka, who asks for Akira’s assistance in uncovering the existence of demons who are creating chaos in their world.   

Upon witnessing a horrendous slaughter in a nightclub, Akira inadvertently discovers that he can merge bodies with a demon, transforming him into a formidable presence that allows him to maintain his strong sense of empathy while giving him the power to stop the onslaught of terror as a Devilman—not solely human or demon, but a combination of both.  

Depicted in a vibrant art style that enhances the intensity of the surreal imagery, Devilman: Crybaby skillfully utilizes steadfast methods of the horror genre, including hefty amounts of violence, gore and sexually explicit content, to create a heartbreaking story that is ultimately about the threat of fearmongering, the complexities of friendship, and love, as much as it is an exploration of the best and worst of humanity.

It’s a story that will keep you wide awake at night contemplating its meaning and may make you experience an existential crisis, but one you absolutely won’t regret watching anyway.