The 10 best dark fantasy anime, ranked

Nezuko in Demon Slayer
Image via Crunchyroll

As a viewer, you may sometimes find yourself in the mood to watch something that sends just a few chills down your spine. Dark fantasy is a genre that combines traditional elements of fantasy such as magic, alternate worlds, or supernatural creatures with an overall aura of bleakness, suspense, or terror. And, despite the stress of enduring various hair-raising moments, it can be comforting and fascinating to watch the horror inside the screen unfold while you relax in the safety of your living room. Below is a list of the 10 best dark fantasy anime, ranked from least to greatest, including long-time favorites like Berserk and popular newbie Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba.

10. Castlevania

The four-season anime Castlevania (which ran from roughly 2017 to 2021) opens with an introduction to the first meeting of Dracula and his beloved physician wife, who tragically ends up burned to death at the stake by a deranged priest on trumped-up charges of witchcraft. Emotionally destroyed and desiring revenge, Dracula decides to slay all the people of Wallachia, the realm over which he presides, enlisting the help of his allies and a demon army to complete the bloody task. However, monster-hunter Trevor Belmont, witch Sylpha Belnades, and Dracula’s half-vampire son, Alucard Tepes, have other ideas, teaming up to stop the heartbroken and vengeful vampire lord. Meanwhile, Dracula’s allies and subordinates — including powerful, scheming vampire queen Carmilla and brilliant but pliable devil-forgemaster Hector — soon start to show signs of disloyalty to their overlord’s plan. Prepare for a series of double-crossings, intense fights, and plot twists that will keep you watching Castlevania through to the very end.

9. Tokyo Ghoul

The phrase “bad date” takes on a whole new meaning in the anime Tokyo Ghoul, a series that was followed by sequels Tokyo Ghoul √A and Tokyo Ghoul:re (which had two seasons). Spawned owing to Sui Ishida’s popular manga series, the story is set in a world where ghouls fit in as “people,” always looking for chances to devour the human flesh they’re surrounded by and thus, tempted by. Living in this dangerous setting is Ken Kaneki, a boy who only wants to find love with his crush Rize Kamishiro, but instead finds his world thrown into chaos when his date turns out to be a ghoul in disguise. Upon waking up in the hospital after her vicious attack, Kaneki realizes that his organs have been replaced by Rize’s (whose body was crushed after steel beams fell on her head, owing to the carelessness of her unhinged attack on Kaneki), leaving him as a half-ghoul, half-human creature. Forced to reckon with this new reality, Kaneki must adapt to his new situation, make friends and allies, and fight off enemies. If there’s anything we can learn from Tokyo Ghoul in the real world, it’s this – if anything seems even slightly off about your date, get out while you still can!

8. The Promised Neverland

As a kid, did you ever think your mother was keeping secrets from you? This scenario becomes frighteningly real in The Promised Neverland anime (with season one having aired in 2019 and season two in 2021), inspired by writer Kaiu Shirai and illustrator Posuka Demizu’s manga masterpiece. Living in an orphanage alongside many other kids and their “mom” Isabelle, Emma — along with her friend Norman — seems to be enjoying an idyllic childhood. And although many kids they know eventually leave forever, this is just so that they can be adopted – or so it seems, until Emma and Norman discover that something much more sinister is at play here, and that their “mom” is behind it all. Emma, Norman, and their friend Ray realize that they must work together to find a solution to save both themselves and the other children from experiencing certain doom – but time is running out.

7. Puella Magi Madoka Magica

At first sight, Puella Magi Madoka Magica looks like it’s going to be a fun, light-hearted anime starring cute girls who get to experience school life and adventures while also enjoying empowerment as magical girls. (And the mysterious, cat-like creature behind it all seems so adorable that you want to pull him out of the screen and keep him in your house as a pet!) But unfortunately for our heroines, a happy ending just isn’t in the cards for them. Kyubey turns out to be, more or less, a villain, offering the girls magical powers that turn out to be more of a curse than a gift. Nevertheless, you’ll find yourself caught up in the story as main character Madoka Kaname — together with her friends — tries to reckon with the sour hand she has been dealt.

6. Akame ga Kill!

A move to a busy new area in young adulthood is supposed to be a great opportunity for a fresh start. Unfortunately for Tatsumi of 2014 anime Akame ga Kill! (inspired by the manga series written by Takahiro and illustrated by Tetsuya Tashiro), this opportunity involves being roped into joining a group of assassins known as Night Raid, an organization committed to fighting the corrupt imperial government through – yes, you guessed it – assassinations. Joined by leader Najenda, co-assassin Akami, and other comrades, Tatsumi is soon persuaded to get his hands dirty to uphold shared ideals of justice within the fictional empire setting. The revolutionary group uses grand, otherworldly weapons called “imperial arms” to accomplish their bloody goals, getting ever-nearer to the desired reckoning with the empire’s destructive leaders. Be sure not to get too attached to any of the characters in Akame ga Kill! In this story, everyone is expendable.

5. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba

Taking place in the Taisho era of Japan, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, is — at its core — the compelling tale of a brother and sister’s unbreakable bond in the face of hardship and heartbreak. Owing its existence to Koyoharu Gotouge’s widely read manga series, anime Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba introduces us to the poor, albeit happy Kamado family living in a house on a mountain outside of a small town. However, the family is literally torn apart by a sudden demon attack, leaving Tanjiro and younger sister Nezuko as the sole survivors. And this tragedy is only the beginning of their problems, as Nezuko, who barely survived the attack, has been turned into a demon who craves human flesh. Together, the orphaned pair must find a way to control Nezuko’s urges and turn her back into a human, while also trying to find out who killed the rest of their family and dispatching any demons they come across to keep themselves and others safe. And after Tanjiro successfully completes his demon-slayer training, the quest to accomplish all of these goals begins. Along the way, Tanjiro and Nezuko make friends and allies and get ever closer to their objective. After watching the first season of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba that aired in 2019, you’ll have no choice but to devour the second, which aired from 2021 to 2022.

4. Death Note

With its creation owing to Tsugumi Obha’s famous manga, the two-season anime Death Note — which ran from 2006 to 2007 — is a bleak but fascinating story to watch. It all begins when a brilliant, self-righteous student named Light Yagami finds a mysterious notebook. Not too long after this discovery, a shinigami called Ryuk shows up to explain its function, filling Light in on the fact that the book is, for all intents and purposes, a weapon. Whoever finds it can use it to kill anyone else by writing the target’s name in the pages, so long as their name and face is known to the current owner. With this detail cleared up, Light begins to realize his dream of eliminating the refuse from society, using the Death Note to write down the names of various wrong-doers. Accompanied by Ryuk, who decides to stay along for the entertaining ride, Light decides to remake the world as he thinks it should be, sinking deeper and deeper into morally ambiguous waters in the process. He remains an unchallenged force – that is, until a mysterious detective, known only as L, arrives on the scene to challenge both Light and his rigid worldview. Get ready to experience a mountain of mind games, power plays, and unexpected twists as the two rivals’ battle of wills and ideologies plays out to a thrilling conclusion.

3. Attack on Titan

The spine-chilling, panic-inducing, heart-palpitating anime known as Attack on Titan has taken viewers by storm worldwide. Originating from the popular manga series by Hajime Isayama, the Attack on Titan anime (the whole, four-season series spanning from roughly 2013 to 2022) is set in an alternate world where giant, humanoid, mindless, man-eating monsters called titans dominate the Earth. Humans have managed to survive this outside threat by living inside a ring of three protective walls, with Wall Maria situated on the outskirts, Wall Rose encased within Wall Maria, and Wall Sina encased within Wall Rose. Born inside Wall Maria, main characters Eren Yeager, Mikasa Ackerman, and Armin Arlert live in a society that seems safe – until it isn’t. Their world is thrown into chaos when the Colossal Titan breaks down the wall that surrounds them, letting in a horde of titans that proceed to brutally slaughter and devour family, friends, and neighbors. Barely escaping with their lives into Wall Rose, the trio promptly join the Survey Corps, a branch of the military devoted to learning about and eliminating the titans outside the walls, based on Eren’s goal to slay all the titans and avenge his mother’s death. Be warned that any snacking indulged in during Attack on Titan should be well-timed – you’ll need a strong stomach for this one!

2. Dororo

A 2019 remake of the original 1969 anime series based on Osamu Tezuka’s classic manga, Dororo is a real treat for anyone who’s into long journeys, soulful connections, and monster battles. The story begins in the Sengoku period in Japan during a time of great hardship and unrest, with floods, famines, and warfare rampant.

The main characters of this tale are Hyakkimaru, a boy who has been born as a mere shadow of a human based on his feudal lord father’s treacherous sacrifice to the ruling demons, offering up his firstborn son’s organs and limbs in exchange for prosperity for his people, and Dororo, an orphaned, “stray” child who struggles to survive and find a place in society. When fate brings these two protagonists together, Dororo quickly decides to accompany Hyakkimaru on his quest, which consists of winning back his missing body parts by killing whichever demon owns the rights to them.

Prepare to sit on the edge of your seat, teeth clenched, heart beating, and eyes wide, as the emotional tension and plot twists steadily rise to a dramatic head in Dororo when Hyakkimaru finally reaches home to confront his disloyal parent.

1. Berserk

Widely revered as the pinnacle of the late Kentaro Miura‘s many achievements, the Berserk manga has inspired three anime adaptations over the years: the 1997-1998 series, the “Golden Age Arc” movie trilogy (spanning from 2012 to 2013), and the 2016-2017 sequel series that picks up the story right after the gory events of the famous “Eclipse Arc.”

For those who don’t know, the plot of Berserk centers around Guts, a former mercenary known as “The Black Swordsman.” The focal point of the tale is his ongoing revenge quest against human-turned-demon Griffith, who was once his leader and comrade. In better days, the two men fought side by side in the infamous Band of the Hawk, winning battles, allies, and glory along with Casca, a mutual comrade and love interest. However, an unfortunate tragedy prompted Griffith to betray his entire band of loyal supporters, which included committing unforgivable acts against Guts’ loved ones as newly awakened demon Femto.

Now, Guts is ready to avenge those dear to him, and more than happy to slay a sea of monsters along the way. No matter which anime version you find yourself watching, expect to see lots of monster-slaying and medieval-style warfare, with some acts of violence arguably on a Game-of-Thrones level. Root for Guts from the comfort of your sofa as he fights against the cruelty of fate and endless hordes of demons with the aid of his giant sword and loyal friends.