When it comes to the horror genre, anime can offer an entirely different flavor of frights. Often free of Western tropes and standard monsters, these memorable series range from gore-filled and stomach-churning to suspenseful and heart-pounding.
Death doesn’t always lead to a peaceful afterlife. Typical high school student Kei Kurono lives a selfish life until he meets his childhood friend, Masaru Katou. The two attempt to rescue a drunk man who fell onto the railway tracks when they both lose their lives. Expecting to wake up in heaven or hell, Kei and Masaru instead find themselves participating in a bizarre game alongside other deceased individuals. Tasked by a massive black sphere named Gantz with hunting down and slaughtering aliens with futuristic weapons, the friends aim to score 100 points. What’s the prize? A ticket back to their normal lives.
While this might sound like a standard action romp with some spooky elements, be warned: Gantz is not for the faint of heart. Be prepared for extreme violence and nudity.
Gantz is available to stream on Funimation. A CGI animated film, Gantz: 0, was released in 2016 and is streaming on Netflix. Following the manga series loosely, the film is a standalone project.
Anyone who tuned in to Adult Swim during the mid-2000s will be familiar with this bizarre Satoshi Kon series. It’s hard to imagine being terrified of a scrappy elementary school boy with a bent baseball bat, but Paranoia Agent is a psychological horror series capable of more than initially meets the eye. The rollerblading boy in question, Lil’ Slugger, terrorizes the residents of Musashino City indiscriminately. With detectives desperately trying to discover his motive and identity, viewers are taken along for a twisting ride filled with rumors, hearsay, and ample paranoia. After all, the killer could be anyone. With each episode, it becomes more and more difficult to point the finger at one character with confidence.
In 2020, Adult Swim rebroadcast the series on its Toonami programming block for the first time in over a decade, terrorizing an entirely new generation of anime fans.
Paranoia Agent is now streaming on Funimation.
Mirai Nikki (Future Diary)
Being able to see into the future is neat–unless it could cost you your life. 14-year-old Yukiteru Amano prefers daydreaming to making friends, spending most of his spare time chatting with the God of Space and Time Deus Ex Machina, and his assistant Muru Muru. The middle schooler keeps track of what he does each day in a cell phone diary, and one day, the God gives Yukiteru the ability to see what’s going to happen before events actually come to pass. After finding out that his psychopathic classmate Yuno Gasai possesses the same ability, the two discover that they are each one of 10 future-seeing contestants have been chosen to compete in a terrifying survival game. The winner will become Deus Ex Machina’s successor.
Future Diary is now streaming on Hulu and Funimation.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
Fans of the zombie genre will find plenty to love in Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. During an exciting and profitable industrial revolution around the world, multitudes of humans are suddenly infected with a terrible virus. This illness turns the sick into grotesque walking corpses desperate to feed on the flesh of the living. The only way to kill the hoards is to pierce the glowing golden heart, surrounded by a thick layer of iron, or to sever the head. As you may expect, standard weapons don’t do the trick.
On the island of Hinomoto, people live in fear of these creatures, sheltering themselves in fortified compounds and trying to wait until better days. Ikoma, a young engineer, attempts to take on one of the infected, only to become infected himself. Strangely, the sickness doesn’t completely take his mind, transforming him instead into a human-zombie hybrid.
Don’t miss Kabeneri of the Iron Fortress, now streaming on Crunchyroll and Amazon Prime Video.
Vampires don’t need to be stale or sparkly. The 2010 series Shiki portrays bloodsuckers as more human–believable and empathetic to a chilling extreme. The series begins in a small rural Japanese town following a string of strange and unexplainable deaths. On the edge of town, the Kirishiki family arrives during this odd period. Townspeople begin passing away due to illness, only to appear fine and dandy days later. There is nothing evil about many of these creatures–rather, they are simply men and women forced into a world of darkness after living simple and quiet lives. The series makes an unbelievable occurrence all the more believable and follows the fate of the town as it becomes more and more infested by those who thirst for blood.
While Shiki was previously available on both Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu, it has since been taken down. The complete series is available to purchase on Blu-ray at Amazon.
Produced by Madhouse Studios (Ninja Scroll, Perfect Blue), the 1995 film Bio Hunter is often left to the wayside when discussing horror–a pity, given how much it manages to do in its short 60-minute runtime. The movie follows two scientists searching for a cure to aid those infected by a demon virus spreading throughout Japan. After one becomes infected, he must fight against himself to see his mission through to the end while also utilizing his new demonic abilities to protect those in danger.
Bio Hunter is not currently available on any streaming platforms. DVD copies can be found on Amazon (or VHS copies, if you’re feeling retro.)
Five years ago, a Japanese city saw a string of gruesome serial killings. One month ago, a bizarre pillar of light appeared in the night sky. As high school students begin disappearing, an urban legend begins to resurrect itself on citizens’ lips: Boogiepop. Said to be the personification of Death, those who come into contact with her will be swept away, never to be seen again. As ridiculous as it is to believe in something like that in this day and age, many wonder what other explanation there could be.
Featuring an ensemble cast, Boogiepop Phantom is a masterwork of character-driven storytelling. As each episode centers around a different character, viewers often see the same scene multiple times from different points of view, altering one’s perception of the events taking place in the narrative.
The original 2000 Boogiepop Phantom is streaming on Funimation and Crunchyroll. The 2019 series Boogiepop and Others, an adaptation of Kouhei Kadono’s original novel, is also available on both platforms.
Being immortal sounds like a dream to most ordinary people, but nothing strips away excitement like the government getting involved. 17 years ago, these immortal humans dubbed “Ajin” first appeared in Africa and were instantly labeled as threats to mankind. Incapable of being destroyed and with all the time in the world to kill, an Ajin going rogue would be a disaster. When an Ajin is discovered, therefore, they are taken into police custody.
Kei Nagai is a standard high schooler with little interest in his studies and only a tiny grasp on current world events. When he survives an accident that should have killed him, he finds himself on the run–and certain mysteries become a little too clear. Is the government really protecting the Ajin, as they claim?
Watch Ajin: Demi-Human on Netflix.
Beginning with a 2011 manga series, Tokyo Ghoul has been transformed into two anime series, four light novels, four video games, and two live-action films. Its inescapable popularity is largely due to its characters, with many proving compelling enough to launch this seemingly standard horror series into the ‘legendary’ category.
As Tokyo is overrun by flesh-eating “ghouls” who appear human and blend into the daily hustle and bustle, citizens are terrified for their lives. Quiet college student Ken Kaneki does his best to avoid the news until he’s asked on a date by a beautiful woman hiding a deadly secret. Waking up in the hospital after a desperate struggle, Kaneki learns that his life was saved by transplanting the woman’s organs into his own body. As he begins a tortuous descent into a life of a human-ghoul hybrid, he must find a way to survive his urges, his agony, and the government officials trying to hunt him down.
Given the massive popularity of Tokyo Ghoul, the series is available on a number of streaming platforms including Hulu, Funimation, and Crunchyroll.
Those who prefer their horror without a hefty helping of gore will want to leave Elfen Lied on the shelf. The first episode introduces audiences to Lucy, a unique breed of human known as “Diclonius,” born with horns and invisible telekinetic appendages. Kept in confines by the government since birth, Lucy takes her chance to escape her torture and destroy her captors, resulting in one of the most bloody episodes of animation ever produced.
While escaping, Lucy receives a head injury which leaves her with a split personality. When two college students come across the girl, they see someone with the mental capacity of a small child, scarcely able to speak. In an effort to be kind, they take Lucy into their care, not knowing the horrors they’ve invited into their home.
Be sure to check out this classic series on Hulu or Amazon Prime Video.
Would you condemn someone to Hell if it meant condemning yourself as well? In the world of Hell Girl, those desperate to exact revenge upon their enemies log onto the Hell Correspondence website when it becomes accessible at midnight. Doing so will summon the Ai Enma, the titular Hell Girl, who explains that while she will send the target’s soul to Hell, the requester will also end up in the underworld when they pass on. While a steep price for some, others are more than happy to pay the price to make this life easier to bear.
Hell Girl is streaming on Crunchyroll. Each episode has a short-story feel, following a different main character and their experience with Ai Enma.
Corpse Party: Tortured Souls
The roots of Corpse Party: Tortured Souls run deep. Running only four episodes, the 2013 OVA is based on a PSP remake of Corpse Party, a 1996 PC survival horror game. The premise may not be deep, but it’s effective in the realm of horror–nine high school students gather one night to bid farewell to a friend, performing a ritual with small charms to ensure that the group stays friends forever. As pure as these intentions are, the girls don’t realize that the charms are connected to an elementary school that closed years ago after a string of gruesome murders took place on campus. Finding themselves trapped in an alternate dimension surrounded by vengeful spirits, the girls must work together to escape before it’s too late.
Given its relative obscurity, Corpse Party: Tortured Souls can be difficult to find on streaming sites. Thankfully, it’s now available on HIDIVE.
Offering a generous amount of body horror, Parasyte has become somewhat of a phenomenon, inspiring two-live action film adaptations in Japan to date. As parasitic aliens begin infesting the Earth, unsuspecting victims suddenly find these beasts deep within their brain tissue. As the otherworldly visitors gain full control of their hosts, they transform the human’s body into grotesque forms in order to feast upon their prey. High school student Shinichi Izumi falls victim to one of these parasites–or so it seems. The beast is kept entirely within his right hand after the alien fails to take over his brain. The two find themselves in a symbiotic relationship as they struggle to survive in an uncertain world.
If you’re not too squeamish, watch Parasyte on Hulu or Crunchyroll.
The Junji Ito Collection
In the world of horror manga, the name Junji Ito has become legendary. The creator has developed a large cult following in the west, with a number of his works winning Eisner Awards and his likeness appearing in Hideo Kojima’s masterpiece Death Stranding. Penning dozens of works during his decades-long career, it would be difficult to choose only one to morph into a proper anime series. Thus, the Junji Ito Collection anthology series was born, adapting many stories from Ito’s collections.
These terrifying tales are available to watch on Crunchyroll and Funimation. We’d just warn against binging them before bedtime.
Misaki, a popular girl in Yomiyama North Middle School’s class 3-3, died halfway through the school year. Her friends and classmates couldn’t stand to say goodbye, leading many to behave as though she were still alive. In 1998, Koichi Sakakibara transfers into class 3-3, quickly becoming attached to a quiet girl named Mei Misaki. Strangely, the teacher and classmates ignore her completely, and events only become more bizarre as students and their relatives begin losing their lives in gruesome ways. Koichi and Mei discover that these deaths are related to the “Misaki of 1972” phenomenon, a yearly event striking every class 3-3 ever since Misaki’s death so many years ago. Can it be stopped?
Another is streaming on Crunchyroll.
Higurashi: When They Cry
Over the decade, Higurashi: When They Cry has continuously found itself at the top of horror anime rankings–what’s one more? The incredibly expansive series began with a visual novel series before jumping into manga, anime, drama CDs, light novels, live-action films, and a mountain of merchandise. This summer, a third Higurashi-themed escape room will open in Tokyo. If you find that you enjoy the series, there’s no shortage of content to keep you entertained for years to come.
Keiichi Maebara is at the heart of the series. After moving to the quiet village of Hinamizawa, he quickly becomes friends with classmates Rena Ryuuguu, Satoko Houjou, and Rika Furude. As the town prepares for the summer festival, Keiichi discovers that a number of strange murders and disappearances have taken place in the area in recent years, with all seemingly connected to the festival itself. Asking his classmates only results in suspicious silence, and as more horrifying events occur, Keiichi’s paranoia and madness grow as he wonders just how deep this rabbit hole goes.
The original Higurashi: When They Cry is available to watch on HIDIVE. In 2020, a sequel titled Higurashi: When They Cry – GOU was released, followed by SOTSU in July 2021. The latter two series are streaming on Hulu and Funimation.