Consuming horror entertainment is now a trendy hobby. From reading Stephen King’s novels to watching zombie movies filled with gore and action, horror is often a much-preferred option for people who not only wish to trigger their fight-or-flight response but also to enhance their imaginative skills. The adrenaline rush is a bonus, so is the intellectual stimulation that comes from predicting horror scenarios or maybe a supernatural being’s next move.
Horror evokes fear, which is not a positive feeling. Excluding elaboration on the biochemical effects it has on our brain and body, fear may come in many forms through various mediums. And one such medium is anime, where the creative artistry of a show or the plot is fine enough to intellectually scar people. However, the genre of horror anime should be treated lightly. For someone who develops an interest to explore through this medium, here are some recommendations of horror anime that one must begin with to navigate this vast and complex genre.
Another, Devilman Crybaby, and 8 other good horror anime that should be on your watchlist
Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories
For anyone hoping for a simple horror recommendation without much complexities, Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories would perfectly cater to their tastes. With min episodes ranging between 4 to 5 mins, each episode starts with a strange, yellow-masked storyteller arriving at 5 pm and telling a group of children the Japanese urban legends. Employing a traditional mode of storytelling, i.e., kamishibai (a paper-scrolling device), each short story perfectly distils an eerily tense atmosphere that effectively delivers the shock of each tale.
Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre
Netflix’s Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre adapts 20 stories from several manga series by horror manga artists Junji Ito. Some of these stories include Tomie, Souichi, Kubitsuri Kikyuu (The Hanging Balloons), among others. Although the tension, charm, and impact of Ito’s stories are better felt in his manga, for viewers hoping to introduce themselves to the author’s works, this anime adaptation should be a good point to begin.
The best part about Devilman Crybaby is its incredible camerawork and unique art style that ranges from pop colors to muted tones. Although the narrative may seem quite fast-paced, Devilman Crybaby nonetheless takes the viewers on a ride who are looking for visual and auditory pleasures more than the narrative. The story focuses on the concept of Devilmans, where the uninspiring, ordinary Akira Fuduo suddenly turns into one after his friend Ryou takes him to Sabbath. As he gets a physical upgrade due to Amon’s powers, Akira, with his devil body and human heart, aids Ryou in his journey to save humanity from supernatural dangers. However, the journey isn’t easy, and the person whom he thought was dear to him, guides him to his tragedy.
Shiki is yet another horror anime that serves as a perfect getaway for beginners to navigate this genre. Often liked by fans for its ‘moral ambiguity,’ the anime is centered in the 90s in a small Japanese town named Sotoba, where a series of strange deaths due to a disease leads the local doctor to assume it’s an epidemic. The story then takes a horror suspense approach as protagonist Toshio joins hands with three people to find out the mysteries behind the deaths. Although the narrative may seem sluggish in the beginning, it picks up speed when the group’s investigation eventually leads them to the new family who moved to the Kanemasa mansion.
One of the best offerings by Satoshi Kon, Paranoia Agent is nothing like a regular horror involving supernatural beings. It’s a psychological horror rifed with twists and turns that sometimes makes the viewers following the actions of certain characters horrified or creeped out. With the perfect balance of good scripting, tense moments, realistic art style, this Satoshi Kon directorial follows character designer Tsusiko Sagi being a victim of corporate pressure.
On the other end is Shounen Bat (Lil’ Slugger) who is heard to have been terrorizing the Musashino neighborhoods. Luck brings them together but she survives his attacks. However, as one of the victims of Shounen Bat, she is suspected of orchestrating the attacks. As the number of his victims increase, the authorities become involved, and soon the ‘paranoia’ of being terrorized haunts the residents of the city. So, what starts as a crime thriller eventually turns into a game of chase as narrative guides the viewers through the heavy suspense.
From the same studio as Paranoia Agent (Madhouse), Death Note is a wonderful melange of psychological thriller and supernatural horror. Although the show deals with heavy subjects and may overwhelm first time horror anime enthusiasts, it nevertheless becomes a yardstick that helps viewers judge the horror quality of other shows.
The plot is simple – high school prodigy Light Yagami comes across the mysterious book called Death Note, which gives him the supernatural ability to kill anyone he wants but following certain criterias. He is followed by Shinigami Ryuk who sees the protagonist turning from a believer of justice to becoming a madman with his rampant killings. To counter his god complex arrives Detective L, and the two become entangled in a superb game of outwitting and, by extension, exposing the criminal. However, the narrative doesn’t just end there. While there are a couple of tragedies here and there, what viewers can be assured of is that justice is served.
Parasyte: The Maxim
Anyone hoping for some body horror recommendation, look no further. Parasyte: The Maxim follows the story of high school student Shinichi Izumi as he falls victim to one of the parasites. Interestingly, it fails to take over his brain and settles in his right hand, developing a consciousness and intellect of its own, whom Shinichi calls “Migi” (Right). The parasite then co-depends upon Shinichi to sustain his survival, but along the way, the duo form an unlikely connection as they find themselves on a journey that is complete with vendettas and attacks from hostile parasites who plan to annihilate this new threat to their species.
Although many may call this horror anime an overrated series, it thankfully does not fit into the mold of unlikeable. The philosophical renderings on existence and survival, whether it be from Shinichi’s ruminations or external advices, provides an outlet for the viewers to ponder about one’s humanity and the dilemma with empathizing. Rather than stressing on the ‘horror anime’ part, Parasyte is more suited to people who are looking for shows that are outside of their comfort zone.
With ample amount of blood to make some viewers question whether or not they would proceed with this horror anime, Another is considered a cult classic among fans of the genre. What many good horror anime fail to do, the 12 episodes of Another bring to combine the intelligent plot with a satisfactory resolution. However, the selling point of this show has to be its eclectic art style.
As for the story, Another sees Kouichi Sakakibara returning to his school after a long sick leave. Now, among his classmates, he is weirdly drawn towards Mei Misaki, a mysterious girl with an eyepatch who he met in the hospital. However, what’s shocking is that his other classmates warn him about her but they never acknowledge her existence. Yet, Kouichi befriends her and soon learns why his friends had cautioned him against her. As he is left in the dark by his classmates, he and Mei set out together to discover horrific truths that seem to surround them. It all sounds like a regular mystery with a dark secret lurking, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
As per MyAnimeList, the synopsis of Boogiepop Phantom reads:
“Five years ago, a string of grisly murders shook the city to its core and now the rumors have begun once more. Boogiepop… Everyone knows about Boogiepop: meet her one dark night and you are taken. People tell each other the stories and laugh: no one believes that she can possibly exist in this day and age. Still, strange things appear to be going on and the darkness is taking on many forms. Something is out there. Are you safe?”
But where the curiosity from reading the synopsis ends, it comes back in full force once someone starts watching the series. The show is hailed for its incredible sound effects and dark drama. Yet another production of Madhouse, Boogiepop Phantom is a good way to get into the genre. Although the horror anime is recounts the tales of various timelines in a fragmented manner, the esoteric nature of this story is best understood upon watching and re-watching it.
For fans of gore and violence, Elfen Lied is a good way to get into the horror anime genre. The anime revolves around Lucy, who belongs to a human mutant race called Diclonius. They have tiny horns and invisible ‘arms’ called Vectors, which is what Lucy uses to kill all the guards at the facility she was in to escape. After a bloody mess, she ends up at the beach, where she is saved by Kouta and Yuka. However, since she suffered a head injury while escaping, after waking up she develops a child-like person and is only able to utter the “Nyu,” and Kouta and Yuka name her the same. Although the level of gore and bloodshed ranges in each episode, Nyu eventually regains her past self, i.e., Lucy.
Despite its criticism, Elfen Lied has some of the fantastic fight sequences that viewers of the same will enjoy. Within the heavy stress on the government conspiracy, inhumanity, and anger, kindness emerges as a prominent theme within the series. Moreover, the show has its fair share of tragedies and sad background checks when more mutants enter the narrative. Thus, if someone wants a good series with heavy bloodshed that they can finish within one day, Elfen Lied is the one.