D THE VAMPIRE HUNTER, VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST, 2000,
Photograph: AJ Pics / Alamy Stock Photo

The 13 best horror animes for an unsettling watch

From demons to devils, these awesomely terrifying animated tales will leave you shaken.

Kambole Campbell
Advertising

Thanks in part to the malleability of the animated form, anime seems to have a shapeshifting approach to horror – many of its most famous works have borrowed from other genres, mixing and matching at will. Not only that, but human bodies and human imaginations are just as flexible – nightmares and waking visions can become just as tangible as horrors of the flesh. This list covers titles across films, series and OVAs (‘original video animation’ – direct-to-video, basically).

Of course, there’s a lot more horror anime out there. That includes both straight-up horror and anime that’s more horror-tinged, as anime has a tendency to be flexible with genre, like with horror-themed battle shonen series such as
Jujutsu Kaisen or the more recent, grindhouse-inspired Chainsaw Man. But this is mostly geared to encompass a broad range of key filmmakers and moments from the 80s anime boom through to the present day, as well as the more accessible titles (in terms of what’s available on home release and streaming).

Recommended:

🇯🇵 The best anime movies of all-time
👹 Cinema’s creepiest anthology horror movies
🩸 The 15 scariest horror movies based on true stories

The best horror animes

1. Devilman Crybaby (2018)

Ever since his experimental comedy Mind Game in 2004, Masaaki Yuasa has been known for his wildly expressionist approach to animation, full of experimental imagery. His Netflix miniseries Devilman Crybaby, adapted from Go Nagai’s classic manga ‘Devilman’, is full of gory carnage and unhinged eroticism. In order to fight devils, at the behest of his best friend Ryo, high schooler Akira Fudo becomes the titular half-man, half devil – a choice that leads him down a rather miserable, bloody path. It’s a spectacle that’s both upsetting to witness and too gorgeous to look away from. 

  • Film
  • Animation
Perfect Blue (1997)
Perfect Blue (1997)

Satoshi Kon’s debut feature film stands among the very best anime of all time, for its disturbing and subjective editing and its still-timely story of how the internet opened new avenues of harassment. Former idol Mima is starting as an actress, a move that sees her exploited by employers and harassed by fans – worse still, people in her circle begin to die, and dreams and reality blur as she starts to suspect that she herself is the killer. Kon’s hallucinatory, terrifying vision of the internet would recur in later, also excellent works Paranoia Agent and Paprika

Advertising

3. Boogiepop Phantom (2001)

From the writer of Perfect Blue comes the equally unsettling Boogiepop Phantom, a sometimes opaque, always freaky collection of vignettes. They’re linked by supernatural phenomena stemming from a strange beam of light and the presence of the benevolent but intimidating spirit Boogiepop, who inhabits the mind of the schoolgirl Touka Miyashita. This is just a taste of the series's strangeness, with a shadowy corporation, human-eating shapeshifters and even aliens getting involved. Its follow-up Boogiepop and Others leans even further into the psychological.

4. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)

Its predecessor, the 1980s Vampire Hunter D, adapted from the books written by Hideyuki Kikuchi and illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano (known for his work on Final Fantasy) may be a little more classical horror, but the baroque stylings of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust earn its place on this list. The atmosphere and sumptuous artwork builds its post-apocalyptic, science-fiction fantasy from a blend of futurism and gothic architecture (its influence can be felt in Netflix’s Castlevania). Set in a distant future where ‘vampires rule the night’, it follows D, a half-human, half vampire bounty hunter hired to find a woman. It’s a stylish, idiosyncratic and incredible-looking spin on vampire horror.

Advertising

5. Wicked City (1987)

For fear of double-dipping on works by Kawajiri, his 1980s OVA and directorial debut Wicked City is rather undeniable for its profile (and as early evidence of his obsession with the work of Hideyuki Kicuchi, would would be followed up by Demon City Shinjuku and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust). This one was part of a sea change in how anime depicted bloodshed on screen. But it’s also remarkable for its mood, a blood-soaked dystopian noir of frequently lurid, transgressive horror, intertwining sex and the macabre. 

6. Monster (2004)

Adapted from the Naoki Urasawa manga – one of the greatest manga creators ever – Monster is just as unsettling and morbidly compelling as its source material, itself a gripping page-turner. It tilts a little more toward thriller than horror, but has more than its share of morbidity – beginning with the brutal double homicide of two German diplomats, and only getting worse from there, with a mix of intrigue and an otherworldly, enigmatic depiction of evil that calls to mind Bong Joon-ho’s classic cop thriller Memories of Murder.  

Advertising

7. Higurashi When They Cry (2006)

Adapted from the murder-mystery visual novel game, Higurashi When They Cry is held together by a clever gimmick – after one multi-episode arc is done, time resets and a different horror story begins with the same cast. In the first adaptation of the show, high school student Keiichi – first seen beating someone to death with a baseball bat in the series cold open – moves to the remote village of Hinamizawa, a small place where everyone knows everyone, and people die in suspicious circumstances every year. The village’s peaceful facade belies the darkness within – a clever device to ratchet up its paranoid and (eventually) very grim atmosphere. 

8. Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

The trippy watercolor paintings of the late Eiichi Yamamoto’s Belladonna of Sadness on their own make this film worth seeking out. Part of a loosely connected trilogy with A Thousand and One Nights and Cleopatra, Yamamoto’s film is a rape-revenge story, as the newlywed Jeanne is assaulted by a baron and his cohort (a small content warning: the scene is very upsetting). She makes a deal with the devil – one represented in psychedelic and invasive phallic imagery – in exchange for power and the means to assert herself over her aggressors. This disturbing animation boasts some of the most captivating imagery in the medium.

Advertising

9. Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma (1988)

Flying a little under the radar as one of the most unsettling horror anime out there, Takashi Anno’s 1988 OVA adaptation of Kei Kusunoki’s manga is probably one to avoid for arachnophobes, what with its horrific, man-eating demon spiders. The story of Blood Reign is set in the 16th century, with a clan of ninjas battling an invasion of Demons from hell. Between some impressively gnarly, awful imagery it’s perhaps better for its mood and viscerality than for its writing, but no less memorable for it. 

10. Shiki (2010)

The patiently paced 2010 series Shiki is another smalltown murder mystery, only this time with monsters. Based on a horror novel by Fuyumi Ono, people living in the rural village of Satoba begin to die one by one under inexplicable circumstances. It gradually becomes clear that it’s the work of vampiric creatures called ‘shiki’ (literally: ‘corpse demon’). As the shiki grow in number, the horrors they work upon the town not only leads to bloodshed, but also a bleak revelation of a spiritual ugliness lying underneath the village.

Advertising

11. Mushi-Shi (2005)

Mushi-Shi is something of an outlier on this list in that it’s actually sort of soothing. The series plays like a collection of standalone ghost stories, each surrounding the investigations of Ginko, a ‘mushi-shi’ – essentially a detective-slash-doctor who solves cases provoked by ‘mushi’, otherworldly but naturally-occurring creatures that mostly go unseen by humans. Some of the best episodes of Mushi-Shi are utterly haunting tragedies, not always of the victim’s own making but sometimes simply just from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

12. Mononoke (2007)

The painterly horror series Mononoke is breathtaking not just for its psychological, supernatural stories it tells but for how it tells them: through an idiosyncratic art style evoking the textures and colours of traditional Japanese painting forms from the time period in which its set (the Edo period of Japan, primarily). Not entirely dissimilar from Mushi-Shi (above), it’s a spin-off from the 2006 horror series Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales (also worth watching). It follows an unnamed medicine seller as he scientifically proceeds through supernatural cases to deal with mononoke spirits. It’s a good time to catch up too, with a new film on the way.

Advertising

13. Memories (1995)

One of the finest anime anthologies around, Memories is a trio of horror-tinged short stories by acclaimed directors and writers (among them, Akira’s Katsuhiro Otomo). ‘Cannon Fodder’ is a disturbing vignette about the military industrial complex, ‘Stink Bomb’ is a morbid but farcical piece about a guy’s bad luck killing everybody around him. But the standout is ‘Magnetic Rose’, a haunted house story in space, directed by Koji Morimoto and co-written by Satoshi Kon, where a salvage crew answer a distress signal only to find that the abandoned ship is stalked by a malevolent presence. With a beautiful score by Cowboy Bebop’s Yoko Kanno, Morimoto’s short is the most, well, memorable. 

Honourable mentions/further viewing: Vampire Hunter D (1985), Lily C.A.T. (1987), Demon City Shinjuku (1988) Legend of the Overfiend (1989), Crying Freeman (1989), The Curse of Kazuo Umezu (1990), Midori (1992), Mermaid Forest (1991), Mermaid’s Scar (1993), Berserk (1997), Blood The Last Vampire (2000), Gantz (2004), Hellsing Ultimate (2006), Shiki (2010), Another (2012), Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack (2012), Flowers of Evil (2013), Jujutsu Kaisen 0 (2021), Chainsaw Man (2022-)

Recommended
    You may also like
    You may also like
    Advertising