Anime is a fantastic medium for horror as animation allows creators to create impactful visuals that easily twist the things we know into horrific dark reflections of themselves. Because of this, there is a horror anime for every taste, from creepy gothic tales to gore-soaked slasher series.
So if you want a scary thing to watch this weekend, here are 10 of the best horror anime series that will have you sleeping with the lights on for the next few days.
10. Corpse Party: Tortured Souls
Corpse Party started life as an infamous series of videogames that made its debut in 1996. The franchise has since grown exponentially with several sequels and remakes. There is also a manga, anime series, and even a theme park attraction.
Corpse Party: Tortured Souls is a four-episode OVA that acts as a sequel to the previous Corpse Party OVA called Corpse Party: Missing Footage. The series follows students at Kisaragi Academy, a high school with a dark secret. Many years previously, the students and teachers at the school were slaughtered by an unknown force.
One day, a group of students celebrates with a friend who is transferring to another school. They decide to cast a charm to cement their friendship forever. However, when they perform it, they all pass out and wake up in a dark version of their school and have to fight for their life, lest they end up like the previous students.
Corpse Party is infamous for a reason, and this OVA does not skimp on the series’ trademark gore. However, it is fast-paced, so it’s the perfect choice for a one-night binge, especially if you enjoy slasher movies.
9. Parasyte: The Maxim
If you’re looking for body horror, then you need to watch Parasyte: The Maxim. Based on the Parasyte manga by Hitoshi Iwaaki, the series follows high school student Shinichi Izumi. Shinichi lives a quiet life until one night, a race of aliens called Parasites land on Earth. These aliens are worm-like creatures with drills for heads that take over their victims by entering their nose or ears.
One attempts to do this to Shinichi, but he wakes up, and the Parasite ends up burrowing into his arm. Due to this, both the Parasite and Shinichi retain their individual personalities, even though Shinichi’s body is slowly mutating and changing. Shinichi and his Parasite soon find themselves fighting other parasites as they form an uneasy bond.
Studio Madhouse animated this anime, and they did a fantastic job at making some very disturbing visuals. The anime’s meditations on the nature of humanity and the human body are fascinating, giving this series an incredible balance of horror and philosophy.
8. Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories
Horror doesn’t have to be feature-length to be effective, and Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories proves that sometimes the quickest stories can be the creepiest. Inspired by the traditional storytelling form of kamishibai, each episode of Yamishibai is only a few minutes long and tells the story of a different Japanese myth or urban legend using simple animation.
Each of these episodes is creepy in its own right, and you’re guaranteed to find something that resonates with you and sticks in your nightmares for weeks to come. The short-form format makes Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories a fun palette-cleanser during a longer horror movie marathon or a fun series to dip in and out of while waiting for other things.
Toei Animation’s Mononoke is a spin-off of their earlier Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales series. Released in 2007, Mononoke follows the Medicine Seller, a wandering supernatural investigator who lives during the very end of the Edo period of Japanese history. In each chapter of the series, the Medicine Seller encounters and investigates a Mononoke, a type of ayakashi, a spirit that remains in the human world and attaches itself to negative emotions.
However, this isn’t a simple process as before the Medicine Seller can get rid of the spirit, they must learn about the spirit’s form, what it truly is, and its reason for being. Until these are known, the Medicine Seller must use their knowledge to protect themselves and others from these supernatural forces.
Mononoke has a delightfully surreal visual style that blends the real with the unreal to terrifying effect, making the spirits feel unworldly and dangerous while giving each a fascinating history and personality.
6. Hell Girl
Evil can come in many forms, from monstrous to the mundane. Hell Girl stands out from the crowd by focusing on the latter type of evil. Made by Hiroshi Watanabe and released in 2005, Hell Girl is an anthology series that follows a different character in each episode. Each of these characters has one thing in common, they’re all being tormented by someone. These tormentors can be anything from class bullies to stalkers.
Unable to think of another way out, these people visit a website that lets you contact hell. On this site, they make a deal that allows them to send their antagonist to hell. But agreeing to this bargain means the user’s soul will go to hell at the end of their life. Once the deal is made, Ai Enma, the Hell Girl, appears. She offers the person a straw doll with a red string around its neck. If the person agrees to her terms and pulls the string, Ai and her companions torment the antagonist before dragging them to hell.
What makes Hell Girl so scary is how realistic the scenarios are. It is so easy to put yourself in the shoes of these desperate people who are willing to give up anything, even their soul, to be free of their tormentor. Mix this with some fantastic music and animation, and you end up with a gripping show that will stick with you long after you finish it.
5. Higurashi When They Cry
Based on the hit series of visual novel games that launched in 2002, Higurashi When They Cry’s anime adaptation perfectly captures the terror of the games while adding some new scares of its own.
Animated by Studio Deen and directed by Chiaki Kon, Higurashi When They Cry is set in the small village of Hinamizawa. Keiichi Maebara, the main character, moves to this village and quickly starts to make friends with other local youths, and for a while, everything seems fine. However, as the village’s yearly Watanagashi Festival approaches, things take a turn for the dark as Keiichi learns of the Oyashiro Curse that haunts the area. Every year, just after the festival, one local will die, and another will go missing. Then, when a series of brutal murders start, Keiichi and his friends attempt to solve the mystery only to learn they can’t trust anyone, even each other.
Higurashi When They Cry goes in a very unexpected direction while retaining all of the scares and gore you would expect. Part of its effectiveness is that the village of Hinamizawa feels very realistic, almost like it could be any village you know.
Based on Yukito Ayatsuji’s novel and animated by P.A.Works, Another is set in the Yomiyama North Middle School. However, a terrible fate befell the school when one of the students suddenly died. The other students couldn’t handle their grief and pretended the student was still alive for the entire year.
Now, every year, a dead student will unknowingly be a member of class 3-3, and if one living student isn’t excluded by the others, random students will start to die in horrific ways. A new exchange student called Kōichi Sakakibara finds himself at the center of this curse and must try and find a way to survive and end the curse once and for all.
Gory, violent, and exciting Another is an excellent horror thriller that will keep you on your toes for the entire runtime. The anime format really works in the series’ favor allowing for some unique and extremely disturbing kills.
3. Boogiepop Phantom
Made by legendary anime studio Madhouse, Boogiepop Phantom is a very unique anime. Based on a series of light novels by Kouhei Kadono, this series is set in a Japanese city being rocked by a series of ritualistic murders.
The blame for these killings is placed on Boogiepop, an urban legend who some believe is death itself. The series follows a group of characters who are involved in the murders in different ways. However, the non-linear narrative means that scenes are often seen more than once from different perspectives.
The show has a unique aesthetic that blends the real with the surreal. Leading to you questioning what is real and what is not. This is all mixed with a fantastic avant-garde soundtrack, leading to a very unusual experience that will keep you on edge the entire time. Boogiepop Phantom is a show quite unlike anything else, making it a must-watch for adventurous anime fans.
2. Paranoia Agent
Made by the legendary Satoshi Kon, Paranoia Agent quickly became a cult classic when it was released in 2004. The series follows Tsukiko Sagi, a character designer who had a smash hit with Maromi, the tiny pink dog. Now, however, they’re being encouraged to make something just as successful, but they’re having problems coming up with a concept.
When walking home one night, she is attacked by a guy on rollerskates with a bat. At first, the police disbelieve her, but when a series of other assaults are reported, the assailant gets the name Lil’ Slugger.
However, as people try to solve the mystery, they soon find that things are not all that it seems. A unique thriller with fantastic animation, Paranoia Agent is a classic that every anime fan should watch at least once.
1. Serial Experiments Lain
Serial Experiments Lain is a cult classic for a good reason. While others have tried to imitate it, nothing has ever come close. Directed by Ryūtarō Nakamura and written by Chiaki J. Konaka, Serial Experiments Lain tells the story of Lain Iwakura, a junior high school girl. Lain’s introverted life is turned upside down when several girls from her school start getting emails from a dead student.
However, when Lain checks her email, she finds she received an email from the same student, informing her that she isn’t really dead. The student says she has merely given up her physical form and joined the Wired, a virtual realm that is the sum of all human communication methods. The student also says that in the Wired, she has discovered God.
Lain soon finds herself in the middle of many surreal and strange events as she investigates the Wired and finds a conspiracy might be forming around it. The entire series is terrifyingly surreal. The existentialism at the heart of Lain will leave you questioning your own existence for several hours after you finish.