I have a theory that animated horror has the potential to be creepier than live-action. While there's no sure-proof rule for that, animation as a medium has the potential to show anything the creators can come up with, no matter how twisted, so they have free rein to do things that would look a bit silly in live-action.
There's virtually no beloved genre that doesn't have its fair share of anime titles for watchers to choose from, and horror is no exception. If you are looking for horror anime to add to your watch list, you've come to the right place.
Here are some of the best horror anime of all time that you should start watching.
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1) Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni (2006)
There's something creepy about villages small towns. The dark places, the limited technology, and the small number of inhabitants create a suffocating feeling of inescapability and Higurashi knows that too well. So well that it will play with your expectations, painting the picture of an idyllic town and then twisting it in horrible ways – you might never look at cute anime girls the same way.
When Keiichi moves to Hinamizawa, life seems good. Local girls, including Rena, Mion, Rika, and Satoko are quick to befriend him but it's not long before their beautiful summer dissolves into a nightmare.
As the annual festival approaches, Keiichi learns about several murders and disappearances that took place recently; his friends are very cryptic about these incidents and, soon enough, Keiichi realizes that no one is safe, and no one can be trusted.
The show isn't for the faint-hearted. Some scenes will stay with you for a long time – I don't think I'll ever forget the needle in the riceball. But the truth is different from anything you could possibly suspect, which makes watching Higurashi so worthwhile.
2) Serial Experiments Lain (1998)
A late 90s classic, Serial Experiments Lain focuses on technology-related horrors and its way ahead of its time. The show begins with Lain, a girl who dislikes technology, receiving an unsettling email that many other classmates received; a letter from a classmate who committed suicide.
Once the email has been opened, Lain is dragged into the world of Wired, a network that resembles the internet in principle. There, she's faced with one mystery after the other and comes across men in black who always want to interrogate her but seem to know more than she does.
In Serial Experiments Lain, the horror is mostly of the psychological sort, and it needs no gore to be scary. As the series goes on, the boundaries between reality and cyberspace become blurry.
3) Mononoke (2007)
Mononoke is a very unique anime, in that it hardly looks like what you would expect a typical anime to look like. Vivid colors and an absurd yet stunning art style that will remind you of art-house films, which, along with the traditional Japanese artwork make for an unsettling experience. Character designs, in particular, are really uncanny. There's something about them that feels subtly wrong but is absolutely right for such a show.
Mononoke follows an enigmatic man known only as Medicine Seller. But his real job is rather more interesting and a lot creepier. Our main character travels around Japan dealing with strange spirits, the titular Mononoke, who plague humanity. But this isn't your typical action anime.
In order to slay a Mononoke, the Medicine Seller must first uncover its Form, Truth, and Reason. Only then can he exorcise it with his sword. To do so, he must carefully analyze those around him, some of whom are infected with the Mononoke, and that's where the horror comes from.
The story and style might take a little bit to get used to, but once you do, you won't be able to stop watching!
4) Another (2012)
26 years before the events of Another unfold, Misaki, a student in the third class of Middle School passed away. Stricken with grief, the classmates decide to pretend this never happened and carry on until the end of the school year as if none of them died at all.
Fast forward to the present, Kouichi Sakakibara transfers in the same class where the above tragedy took place and finds that the gloom and sense of impending doom at school, and around the small town in general, is something else. Things only get creepier when he meets a classmate called Misaki Mei, who is ignored by teachers and students alike as if she doesn't exist.
Another, which is based on a light novel of the same name, does have its pitfalls, including a plot twist that wasn't that well thought of, but the characters are great and the creators surely know how to evoke a suffocating, unspeakably creepy atmosphere through small details.
5) Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories (2013-19)
The anthology mode works best for horror stories and Yamishibai is a lovely if terrifying example; horror is first and foremost about feeling. It doesn't need the complicated plots and deep characterization of other genres (not that these aren't found in other titles in this list). Sometimes, five minutes are enough.
Yamishibai, ran for 7 seasons, from 2013 and 2019, and returned in 2021 with the eighth season. Each short episode is a delight or an ordeal to watch, depending on your perception of horror. Each episode focuses on a different story, most of which are based on Japanese myths and urban legends. Most of them use the frame narrative of an elderly storyteller, which both questions the stories' legitimacy and grounds them in reality, making them creepier.
6) Hell Girl (2005-6)
Hell Girl is based on the urban legend of the Hell Correspondence website, which can supposedly be accessed only at a specific time at night. As a speculative genre, horror often asks what would happen if a particular, unreal parameter was actually true.
Hell Girl essentially asks what would happen if Hell Correspondence existed and there was an actual network that could take your enemies to hell. The show starts with self-contained episodes about different people who are so sick of being tormented by others that they access the creepy website to get rid of their enemies.
If the attempt is successful, Enma Ai, the titular Hell Girl, appears to take the tormentors to hell, but those who invited her will have to accept that this will be their final destination as well.
The anime is unique in its combination of technology and folk horror, the aesthetics are great, and the intense psychological conditions described will make you feel angry and desperate along with the characters.
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7) From the New World (2012-3)
From the New World or Shinsekai Yori is different from other entries here in that it leans more towards the dystopian genre – but that's because we cater to all horror flavors here, and this one is pretty horrifying.
From the New World tells the coming-of-age story of a friend group who find their supposedly utopian world is anything but. In a futuristic land where children develop psychic powers when they hit puberty, Saki is relieved for hers to awaken, so that she can join her friends in middle school. Those who never develop such powers don't turn out to be so lucky, however, and when Saki starts to question their fates, she and her friends uncover sinister truths about their seemingly perfect society.
Shinsekai Yori doesn't depend on cheap scares. The horror comes from the fact that you know from the beginning that something is very wrong, that this world is actually a dystopia, but it takes a while to pin down just what the problem is. Plus, creepy creatures.
8) Boogiepop Phantom (2000)
Japan is particularly rich in urban legends, so these provide fertile ground for very many horror works. Boogiepop Phantom has a little bit of everything; good art, a rare story told unconventionally from different perspectives, demons, and very creepy magic.
The titular Boogiepop is a scary, reaper-like character who abducts girls "before they turn ugly." This might sound like nothing more than a legend, but after a strange, inexplicable incident, which is followed by the disappearance of several children, their fellow students must investigate and find out what happened to them.
Boogiepop Phantom isn't the highest-ranking work in this list, but most fans agree it's a hidden gem, so if you're intrigued by urban legends this one's for you.
9) Junji Ito Collection (2018)
Junji Ito is a master of horror. Even if you haven't read his manga, you only have to look at a few pages to be persuaded about that. The worlds he creates are truly unsettling and his style is very unique and recognizable.
Given that, it was only a matter of time for his works to be adapted for the screen. But be warned: these are very creepy stories, many of which border towards cosmic horror. You can't easily forget the girl with the slug growing inside her mouth.
The anime has received mixed reviews, with some thinking that it didn't do justice to the works of Junji Ito. While this might be the case, the anime is a must-watch for horror fans, without this meaning that the manga isn't much better.
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10) Shiki (2010)
Some might argue that in the 21st century the often friendly, attractive vampires we've been exposed to mean that the species has become saturated and less scary than it used to be. Even if you hate this, don't let it dissuade you from giving Shiki a proper chance. It really challenges the new trope of the attractive, romanticized vampire.
Vampirism in Shiki starts as an epidemic that kicks off following the death of a young girl and threatens to turn the entire village into a living hell – or, well, a living dead hell. The vampires, or Shiki, as they call themselves, still desire to live, but this puts them in direct opposition with the villagers who don't want their home to turn into a vampire ghost town.
The anime subverts the trope of the attractive vampire; here they have true handicaps, such as being unable to enter houses unless invited or walk out in the sun. Like Higurashi, Shiki explores the extremes of the human conditions and it's a must-watch for those who enjoy classic vampire horror – or like to see it subverted.
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