With anime making great strides in being more mainstream than ever in the west over the last decade or so, several TV series and movies have come out to play with various subgenres. Horror is one of them, and while that subgenre is difficult to execute regardless of the medium or format in question, there have been several noteworthy anime to incorporate it into their respective narratives, worlds, and premises.
Often times horror in anime is complemented by other subgenres, like fantasy, psychological thrillers, and even comedy. The likes of Hellsing Ultimate and Vampire Hunter D stylishly play on the gory vampire-themed angle, while Parasyte: The Maxim is a great example of modern sci-fi horror.
It isn’t the first adaptation of writer Kouta Hirano’s slick manga, but Hellsing Ultimate is generally received as the best anime incarnation. The original anime series was a solid enough effort, but it didn’t follow along with the source material’s story. A cooperative endeavor animated by Madhouse, Satelight, and Graphinica, the 10-episode series takes place in an alternate history where dark and ghoulish monsters regularly prey upon humanity, with organizations like England’s Hellsing standing as a monster-hunting agency.
Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing, the organization’s leader, commands a powerful army to deploy against these shadowy creatures — but her greatest weapon is the vampire Alucard. He’s a rare case of a vampire engineered to side with the living, and the story gradually evolves into a fight against monsters and rival organizations. The series will be sure to satisfy fans of stylish action, horror-driven atmosphere, and morally gray characters.
The anime and manga community mourned the death of writer Kentaro Miura last year, as his manga series Berserk is widely revered as one of the best manga — and best dark fantasy manga — ever written and illustrated. Berserk has struggled in the anime adaptation department, and even more so in moving past The Golden Age story arc, but the 1997 series remains a ’90s anime cult classic. The story follows Guts, an imposing mercenary as he begins by going on a blood-soaked quest for vengeance against a friend and former comrade who committed the ultimate betrayal against their Band of the Hawk.
Its world is dripping with enticing dark-fantasy style, including horrific monsters and demons to go along with it. Though it can be an admittedly harrowing tale, Berserk is one of the most engrossing and subversive fantasy anime out there, and seeing it through is all the more motivation to read the acclaimed source material for more.
While the original 1997 anime series is not available to stream at the time of writing, Berserk: The Golden Age Arc – Memorial Edition is streaming now on Crunchyroll with episodes premiering on Sundays.
Though comparatively on the lighter side when it comes to horror, Jujutsu Kaisen is arguably among the best shounen anime series to weave the horror genre into its world while being widely palatable. It takes place in modern-day Japan where “Curses” are regular threats. These Curses are demonic entities born of the negative emotions of humanity, and the story revolves around how high schooler Yuuji Itadori is thrust into this grim world.
Jujutsu Kaisen uses horror-lite elements, which are expectedly used to depict some impressively ghoulish Curses. It’s also one of the best new shounen series for how it takes what are typically played-out genre tropes and reinvigorates them. Likewise, veteran animation studio MAPPA masterfully adapts Gege Akutami’s art style with its own sleek direction and animates stunning and cathartic action sequences.
A cult classic in and out of anime-centric circles, director Satoshi Kon’s movie Perfect Blue is one of the more outright horror-focused anime. The catalyst of the story is when the movie’s protagonist, Mima Kirigoe, leaves her J-Pop group to pursue a career as an actress, but her life takes a grim turn and begins to crumble around her.
Her new career becomes increasingly demanding and she finds herself being stalked by an obsessive fan, exacerbating the conflict that Mima can’t manage to break away from her previous public persona. Perfect Blue is violent, relentless, and deeply disturbing as a psychological horror movie through and through, resulting in a story that isn’t for the faint of heart but will surely engross thriller fans as Mima’s deteriorating life and her muddied line between fantasy and reality culminate in a cerebral and unforgettable experience.
Perfect Blue is available to buy or rent on Amazon.
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is another modern classic for those that want to double down on gothic, vampire-themed horror and action. Another Madhouse animation, Bloodlust is an anime movie adaptation of Japanese horror author Hideyuki Kikuchi’s third Vampire Hunter D novel, titled Demon Deathchase.
Following the grim quest of D, a vampire-human hybrid is hired to find the daughter of a rich family who mysteriously went missing. The movie has a beautifully surreal gothic ar direction to it, complete with striking imagery and crisp animation in the fight scenes that are befitting of such a stylish vampire story.
While it isn’t currently available to stream, the Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust Blu-ray is available to purchase on Amazon.
As the title suggests, Parasyte: The Maxim is an anime series that works in an alien flavor to its premise. Mysterious and dangerous parasitic aliens find their way to earth to invade their human hosts, with the most terrifying element being how they can take the shape of their victims. It’s their form of survival in this new ecosystem to them, and the story focuses on how 16-year-old Shinichi Izumi finds himself infected by one.
The parasite’s invasion didn’t go as planned, though, as he’s confined to Shinichi’s hand and forces the two into an uncertain alliance if both are to coexist. Parastye: The Maxim takes the clever premise of how potential danger can be in the most mundane and everyday places, and it does well to play on gory violence, body horror, and character drama all at once.
As far as horror anime go, Devilman Crybaby is one of the most delightfully bombastic series in the subgenre. Science SARU’s 10-episode series is an adaptation of writer Go Nagai’s ’70s cult-classic manga, following the twisted friendship of Akira Fudou and Ryou Asuka as they descend into the unabashedly bleak world of demons and monsters.
The soft-hearted Akira finds himself morphed with the devil Amon to become the Devilman, with the two childhood friends creating an uneasy alliance as they go off the destroy the creatures that pose a threat to humanity. Devilman Crybaby is a wonderfully chaotic and violent horror romp.
Death Note is one of the most beloved modern shounen in the industry’s history, and it was the first anime many prospective fans at the time watched. It’s not necessarily horror in the traditional sense, but writer Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata’s original story certainly use aspects of the genre in its thriller.
Madhouse’s anime adaptation was critically acclaimed for its gripping rendition of this battle of wits, as the story sees Light Yagami use the titular Death Note to attempt to become a tyrannical god that rids the world of crime under the alias Kira, with the eccentric detective L being sought out by the Japanese police to help uncover his identity. It’s a compelling detective-thriller first, but the elements of dark fantasy used through the Shinigami characters like Ryuk help emphasize Death Note‘s foreboding and unsettling atmosphere with psychological horror.
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