The greatest horror anime of all time

On the surface it seems as though horror fans have never had it so good, with Hollywood studios and indie filmmakers both stepping up their game considerably in recent years. But for those of us who simply can't get enough terror in our lives, there comes a point when you need something more than a crazed slasher or an old house with a bad demon infestation to get your kicks. 

Sure, the horror genre has undergone an undeniable renaissance as of late, but filmmakers are too often limited to whatever is possible within the boundaries of the available budget. When it comes to anime, however, the only limit is the imagination. From the most frightening films to the scariest shows, these are the horror anime that gorehounds should be dying to see.

Highschool of the Dead (2010)

The anime adaptation of Daisuke Satou's Highschool of the Dead was summed up pretty accurately by Wired when they reviewed the show after it premiered back in 2010: "Had a sexually-tense George A. Romero set Dawn of the Dead in a Japanese school, it would probably resemble Highschool of the Dead." This brutal survival anime takes the zombie apocalypse blueprint and adds a hefty dose of fan service, with blood and boobs appearing in equal measure. The original manga was drawn by Shouji Satou (an artist well-known for his work in hentai) and his sexually charged style carries over into Madhouse's anime version.

We dive into the story during the outbreak of the pandemic and witness a high school student killing his best friend after he gets bitten. Takashi Kimuro vows to look after his fallen comrade's girlfriend Rei Miyamoto and together with a motley crew of surviving students they head off into a devastated Japan in search of their families. "Other recent zombie works in Western entertainment have tried to play it ironic, or postmodernist, or just plain silly," Carlo Santos from Anime News Network said." But this one goes for straight-up horror—and pulls it off admirably."

Another (2012)

Unlike the majority of anime on this list, Another was adapted from a book rather than a manga. Yukito Ayatsuji's mystery novel revolves around Yomiyama North Middle School's class 3-3, which tragically lost one of its most popular students back in 1972. When new boy Kouichi Sakakibara transfers into the class some 26 years later, he makes friends with a reserved girl named Mei Misaki, a girl whom all the other students constantly ignore. After his classmates and their families start dying in increasingly gruesome accidents (there's definite shades of Final Destination here), Kouichi is horrified to discover that the name of the popular girl who passed away was Misaki.

"If you are a fan of American horror, Another is by far the best place to start when entering the horror anime genre" Dread Central said in their in-depth review of the show. "This anime disturbed me in a good way… The series is scary, interesting, and somewhat intelligent. One of the finer examples of a horror anime." A live action version of the film was released in Japan in 2012.

Monster (2004)

Naoki Urasawa's Monster began its run in Big Comic Original magazine in 1994 and ran until 2001. Set in post-Cold War Germany, this horror-thriller follows the plight of Dr. Kenzou Tenma, a high-flying Japanese brain surgeon well respected in his field. The story takes a dark turn when Tenma is asked to operate on the town mayor despite being mid-surgery with another patient, a young boy with a bullet lodged against his brain that only he has the skill to remove.

He gambles with his career and refuses to leave the child in favor of the rich mayor, who doesn't make it. Tenma immediately becomes an outcast among his colleagues, though all that changes when the boy he saved disappears from the hospital, leaving the bodies of all the doctors questioning the Japanese surgeon in his wake. The faithful anime adaptation premiered in spring 2004 to critical acclaim and is still attracting new viewers today. "The atmosphere to the show is terrific," ReelRundown said in their review. "It truly is a psychological thriller in every sense of the phrase… Anyone looking for a darker, more serious anime should take a look at Monster."

The Future Diary (2011)

Sakae Esuno's The Future Diary has many unique traits to it, but if you had to describe this horror manga in a sentence, you could call it a cross between Battle Royale and Death Note with a touch of Bonnie and ClydeThe anime adaptation faithfully follows the journey of Yukiteru Amano, a loner high school student who spends most of his day adding entries to his cellphone diary and talking to his two imaginary friends Deus Ex Machina (the god of time and space) and Murmur (his servant). Yuki's life is turned upside down when he discovers that Deus and Murmur aren't imaginary at all.

The god grants Yuki a new diary that allows him to read detailed descriptions of the near future, though he also forces him into a battle to the death with eleven other lucky holders of these supernatural cellphones. "Future Diary is an enjoyable ride with well-deserved popularity," SLUG magazine said. "The concept is fantastic, and the ways in which each diary wielder's powers are manifested keeps things interesting through the entire series. The dynamic between Yuno and Yuki is especially enjoyable to watch, since ostensibly the only way their relationship can end is with one of their deaths so the other can win the Survival Game."

Shiki (2010)

Shiki (meaning "Corpse Demon" in Japanese) is the name of a 1998 novel by Fuyumi Ono that was later serialized in manga form in Jump SQ magazine. Studio Daume adapted the property into an anime series in 2010 and it went on to gain a reputation among viewers as one of the most horrifying and disturbing anime ever made. The story is reminiscent of a Stephen King classic (THEM Anime said that "If you set this in New England, you would call it Salem's Lot and have to pay royalties"), taking place in a quiet village named Sotoba during a sticky hot summer in the 1990s.

The weather is the least of the residents' concerns, however—the new owners of the formerly abandoned castle on Sotoba's outskirts intend to turn the whole village into bloodthirsty vampires. "Shiki takes it's [sic] time building up the tension, tantalising, teasing the horror to come," Nefarious Reviews said. "The plot doesn't rush, the writers never giving in to temptation to simply hand over the secrets, reveal the enemy. No one is safe, not even children."

Ajin: Demi Human (2016)

Based on Gamon Sakurai's manga series of the same name, Ajin: Demi Human became known to western audiences after Netflix agreed a deal to stream both subtitled and dubbed versions of the show. The English language dub is a particularly good one, with decorated anime voice actors Todd Haberkorn and Johnny Yong Bosch doing great work in key roles. Bosch (who won a People's Choice Award for his work as Ichigo Kurosaki in Bleach) voices protagonist Kei, a high school student who discovers that he's an immortal being known as an Ajin after he gets hit by a truck and comes back to life.

The public is scared of the Ajin and what they are capable of, which leaves Kei with a terrible choice: live out his days in secrecy or join with a violent underground group of Ajin looking to overthrow humankind. Polygon Pictures is behind the series, the same studio that made Netflix's first ever anime offering Knights of Sidonia. Anime News Network called Ajin: Demi Human a "dark, violent tale which is rarely subtle about portraying a sharply negative view of human nature" in their review.

Deadman Wonderland (2011)

Deadman Wonderland is a dystopian horror manga that was written and illustrated by Kazuma Kondou and Jinsei Kataoka between 2007 and 2013. Studio Manglobe won the right to adapt the property into an anime in 2011, concentrating of the first five chapters. There were a number of changes made (trans character Masaru Sukegawa is conspicuous by her absence) but despite that the anime still manages to capture the main essence of the story, which takes place in a world in which Tokyo has been leveled by a catastrophic earthquake. In place of the city, a huge theme park run by prisoners named Deadman Wonderland stands.

When Ganta Igarashi visits the prison on a school field trip, a mysterious man in red massacres all of his class but him and leaves him to take the blame for the murders. Unable to prove his innocence, Ganta is made Deadman Wonderland's newest inmate and soon discovers the horrors lurking beneath the "games" the prisoners have to perform. "It executes 29 schoolchildren in its third minute, and the killing doesn't stop there," Anime Herald said. "As Deadman Wonderland says: 'Death is the main attraction.'"

Parasyte: The Maxim (2015)

If you've ever stumbled across Adult Swim's Toonami block while channel surfing, there's a good chance you've seen glimpses of Parasyte: The Maxim, the anime adaptation of Hitoshi Iwaaki's horror sci-fi manga Parasyte. The show aired in America between 2015 and 2016, but Iwaaki's tale of worm-like creatures taking over humans by burrowing into their brains had actually been on US radars for over a decade at that point. New Line Cinema struck a deal that allowed them to make Parasyte into a live-action movie back in 2005, but the project never got off the ground and their option expired in 2013, leaving Japanese film studios to go toe-to-toe over the rights.

The Toho Co. won that fight, and in 2014 they released the first of two planned live-action features. Kotaku called part one "an insult to the manga" and 2015's part two didn't fair much better with them, though luckily for fans of the source material the anime version (which came out around the same time as the movies) did Iwaaki's classic justice. In their review of the show, Geek Tyrant called Parasyte: The Maxim "a must watch anime due to its gore, horror, and animation elements" and summed it up as "Alien meets Bodysnatchers."

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (2016)

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress was a hot topic in anime circles in 2016, and with good reason. This steampunk-inspired show triumphed in five categories at the Newtype Anime Awards, winning Best TV Anime, Best Soundtrack, Best Character Design, Best Screenplay and Best Studio for WIT, the guys behind the hugely popular Attack on Titan. There's no manga to cross reference here, as Kabaneri is an original story penned by screenwriter and novelist Ichiro Okouchi (Code Geass).

It takes place in a world in the midst of an industrial revolution, though progress isn't simply made for the sake of it. Humankind's finest engineers have been forced to think outside the box in order to defend their fellow man from the Kabane, vicious flesh eating creatures with hearts coated in protective metal. The residents of Hinomoto have erected walled-off fortresses that can only be reached via armored trains, though when one is hijacked by the Kabane the fortress of Aragane is overrun and steamsmith Ikoma catches the virus. Our protagonist manages to resist succumbing to its full effects, but is left as a half-breed known as a Kabaneri.

"The Kabane look fantastic," Otaku USA said. "Their glowing hearts and the wounds that spread throughout their bodies combine with erratic movements to create a formidable foe that actually seems like a real threat."

Perfect Blue (1998)

The shock passing of Satoshi Kon marked 2010 as a dark year for the anime industry. The manga artist turned anime director had been fighting pancreatic cancer and sadly lost his battle with the disease aged just 46. Kon's name wasn't very well known in the west during his lifetime, largely because the films he was making dealt with adult themes in a time when western audiences associated animation with children's entertainment. Yet in recent years the influence of Kon on western filmmakers has started to become apparent, especially in the case of his gripping debut Perfect Blue.

This feature length anime follows the psychological unravelling of a J-Pop star named Mimi, a young woman who finds herself being stalked by an obsessive fan after choosing to leave music behind for acting. Although he once denied it, Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan was clearly heavily inspired by Perfect Blue, to the point that there were several identical shots. "Depending on which corners of the internet you happen to frequent, Black Swan is either a brilliant extrapolation of the themes explored in Perfect Blue, or a brazen bit of theft," Dazed said in their piece on "anime maverick" Kon.

Paprika (2006)

We move from Satoshi Kon's first movie to his last, a film about a woman who goes by the name Dr. Atsuko Chiba in real life but by Paprika when she enters the world of dreams. In the story, Chiba's lab has developed a cutting edge technology that allows the user access to people's minds as they sleep, though when one of these devices is stolen, the doctor must turn detective and track down the culprit. Paprika was Kon's final film, and it was a fitting farewell for a filmmaker way ahead of his time. Like Perfect Blue, the themes and style of Paprika would influence an Oscar winning Hollywood movie, one often lauded for how unique it is.

Christopher Nolan's Inception is remarkably similar to Kon's psychedelic classic in many ways, which were picked up on Film School Rejects"From the focus on dream sharing technology to Ariadne's wardrobe, to references to Greek mythology, physics-defying hallways, significant dream-elevators… either Nolan was influenced by Paprika or it's the most remarkable case of artistic multiple discovery in cinematic history." Kon's film has come to be appreciated in its own right ever since anime fans pointed out that it is essentially a darker version of Inception, with TIME magazine adding it to their 25 all-time best animated films list.

Tokyo Ghoul (2014)

Sui Ishida's supernatural horror manga Tokyo Ghoul made its debut in Weekly Young Jump magazine back in 2011 and was published there until it reached its conclusion in 2014. Studio Pierrot released the first season of their anime adaptation that same year, and it proved as big a hit as the manga, scoring 8.02 on MyAnimeList and ranking in their top ten most popular shows. In Tokyo Ghoul, the Japanese capital is plagued by bloodthirsty beings who masquerade as humans while hunting them. When college student Ken Kaneki unknowingly receives an organ donation from one such being, he becomes half-human, half-ghoul, making him the bridge between two worlds.

"One of the most surprising things about Tokyo Ghoul is just how beautiful the kagune of the ghouls are," one AniTAY reviewer said of the show's first season. "Kagune are these tentacle or wing-like organs that sprout from the backs of ghouls that allow them to attack and defend themselves. And each one of them are beautifully designed." AniTAY contributors didn't have many kind things to say about Tokyo Ghoul season 2, however, with one calling it a "resounding disappointment." The failure of the second season aside, the first 12 episodes are well worth your time, and if you can't shake your hunger for more after that, check out the "very faithful" 2017 live action version.

Elfen Lied (2004)

Up until fairly recently, Elfen Lied was the best anime most people had never heard of. Based on Lynn Okamoto's manga of the same name, it follows a young girl named Lucy, member of a mutant race of humans born with invisible telekinetic hands. As these bizarre appendages are capable of amazing speed and strength they attract the attention of a shady government body, who perform experiments on Lucy until she uses her extraordinary gifts to escape. Sound at all familiar?

Stranger Things creators Ross and Matt Duffer revealed during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that an "obscure anime called Elfen Lied" was "in the DNA" of their hit Netflix show, adding that they had no choice but to tone down the gore. "It's very, very violent," Matt Duffer said, "so in that way it's very different, but [it's about] a girl who escapes from a laboratory. It reminded me when I watched it of a very violent, anime-ish E.T."

According to MyAnimeList, director Mamoru Kanbe hated the idea of having to condense the manga's story into 13 episodes, but the final result was still breathtaking. "It's somewhat rare that an anime goes so far over the top with its levels of violence, but can still make the legitimate claim that there is a good story underneath it all," ReelRundown said. "Elfen Lied does that, and the result is definitely worth watching. I consider it a modern classic."

Death Note (2006)

There are numerous reasons why the recent Netflix live-action remake of Death Note failed so miserably, but perhaps the biggest reason of them all was that the original manga and subsequent anime series have always been held in such high regard by fans. Tsugumi Ohba's manga was serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump magazine from 2003 until 2006, when Madhouse adapted it for TV. Thirty-seven episodes of anime later and Death Note was a thing of legend, considered one of the best shows ever created, horror or otherwise.

The story follows an extraordinarily intelligent teenager who faces a series of moral dilemmas after coming into possession of a Death Note—a supernatural notebook that allows its owner to murder anyone they choose simply by jotting down their name and picturing their face. Light Yagami (renamed Light Turner in Adam Wingard's English language remake) decides to cleanse the world of evil using the Death Note and installs himself as its new god, known worldwide as Kira. With an impressive score of 8.69 on MyAnimeListDeath Note is ranked as the number one most popular anime by users.