The 12 Best Dystopian Anime

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Shin from Dystopian 86 Anime
Credit: A-1 Pictures

The dystopian genre was probably not many people's first choice during a global pandemic - but it remains one of the most intriguing speculative subgenres, scaring or warning us while simultaneously revealing truths about our world. While few anime are marketed as dystopian, many have dystopian elements and feature sinister worlds we're glad not to be a part of. Here are some of the best dystopian anime to watch:

  1. From the New World

    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.

    The world Shinsekai Yori creates is truly memorable, and so are the characters. Their struggle for agency and their reactions, when faced with shocking realisations, are relatable and you won’t be able to recover from the chilling atmosphere of the show anytime soon

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  2. 86

    86 is one of the most recent titles on this list. New as it is, it managed to establish itself beautifully in the ranks of dystopian anime, being quite similar to the YA dystopian works that knew immense popularity in the past decade.

    In this heartbreaking yet hopeful story, the Republic of San Magnolia fights a theoretically bloodless war with the Gead empire, using unmanned mecha, but the truth is much more sinister; the young residents of the undesirable are 86 are forced to fight to the death, to protect the other 85 districts. When Lena, an elite soldier, is appointed as Handler for a squadron of 86 soldiers and meets Shin, also known as the Undertaker, an 86 soldier with a troubled past, both their lives change forever.

    What makes the dystopian story successful, is not the mecha, the action, or the politics, but how human it is. Action scenes are juxtaposed with profoundly human ones, that make the world of 86 a living, breathing place we gladly let break our hearts.

  3. The Promised Neverland

    The Promised Neverland focuses on a group of orphan children who come up with a master plan to escape their orphanage after discovering the sinister secret her foster mother had been hiding from them. The show features an amazing friendship between the main character and two of the boys she grew up with, as well as clever mind games and a truly terrifying villain with a well-written backstory.

    The Promised Neverland is an interesting case due to the big quality difference between its two seasons. While Season 1 was faithful to the manga it's based on, the second season all but derailed the anime. This, however, somehow manages not to take away the awesome experience that is Season 1, so it's definitely worth streaming, even if only to go on with the manga afterwards.

    This clever dystopia features some of the smartest child characters you’ve seen on screen and the emotional tension and bleak setting are unforgettable.

  4. Attack on Titan

    Attack on Titan needs no introduction. Whether or not you're a fan, you have probably heard of the last remaining members of human society, who live barricaded behind three concentric walls to guard themselves against Titans.

    Humanity's fight against the Titans is tense and heart-breaking to watch, and later seasons bring revelations and plot twists you'd never have seen coming. The setting is extremely well done and the indomitable spirit of humanity in the face of adversity is a major takeaway from the show.

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  5. Neon Genesis Evangelion

    A world being attacked by monstrous creatures in the very near future is bleak enough. That the only way to deal with them is through mecha manned by 14-year-olds makes it infinitely more show. The characters of Neon Genesis Evangelion shoulder the weight of the world, and it shows.

    As what seems like your typical mecha anime descends into something much more sinister and mind-bending, main character Shinji and those who pilot mecha robots with him face unimaginable challenges, posed not only by external threats but, perhaps most importantly, by their very selves. One of the most iconic anime of the 90s, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a must-watch for fans of nuanced and thoughtful dystopian stories.

  6. Psycho-Pass

    Psycho-Pass is a dystopian anime by Production I.G. that attempts to speculate the possible dangers of depending on AIs too much: in 22nd century Japan, the Sibyl System is a definitive way to examine citizens' predilection to crime, known as Psycho-Pass.

    When Akane Tsunemori starts working in law enforcement alongside Shinya Kougami, she finds that the system might be flawed and what she must do to uphold justice isn't as straightforward as society would have her think.

    Psycho-Pass is a very clever anime that has maintained relatively high popularity over the years, so it’s worth checking out whether or not you like dystopian and sci-fi anime as a rule.

  7. Claymore

    In the bleak world of Claymore, humans coexist with shapeshifting, flesh-eating demons known as the yoma. The story begins with Raki, a young boy who is saved by a “Claymore;” a half-human, half-yoma woman dedicated to exterminating the monsters. Claymores are despised by human due to their supernatural qualities, although they are admittedly necessary to keep humanity alive.

    From there on, Raki and Claire begin a journey together. If you hop along, you’ll find more about the other Claymore warriors, and, eventually, the enemy that made Claire choose to undergo modification and become part-demon.

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  8. No. 6

    No. 6 is a captivating Boys Love anime unfolding in a gritty dystopian society. In a world devastated by a past world war, Shion lives safely in the last of 6 protected, privileged areas. Shion’s perspective about his seemingly utopian world changes when he encounters Nezumi, a fugitive from a wasteland, who has suffered under terrible conditions his whole life.

    An act of kindness towards Nezumi causes Shion to be demoted and relocated to a grittier part of the city, finally finding out the true nature of the world he inhabits. Years later, he and Nezumi reunite and, together, they uncover the secrets of area No. 6.

  9. Seraph of the End

    Few things are scarier than a deadly illness, and dystopian works often make use of that. Seraph of the End is no different. In its futuristic world, a deadly virus has wiped out everyone over 13. Vampires then emerge with the promise to protect the survivors – but will they?

    The vampires’ reign proves tyrannical and utterly dystopian, prompting a few orphans to rebel. This, of course, goes horribly wrong. Years later, the sole survivors swears to take revenge against those who slaughtered his family- but at what cost?

  10. Highschool of the Dead

    When a zombie apocalypse leaves Japan in chaos, it's only a matter of time before they start terrorizing a high school.

    Student Takashi Kimuro is forced to kill his best friend who gets bitten and becomes infected. From there on, Takashi vows to protect Rei Miyamoto, the girlfriend of the boy he has just killed. The two manage to escape from the school, only to find out the society that awaits them outside isn't any better. From there on, they team up with other surviving students and try to find any surviving family members and uncover the cause of the zombie apocalypse.

    Many fans of the show agree that Highschool of the Dead deserved a Season 2, and if apocalyptic school settings interest you, it’s definitely worth checking out!

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  11. Sunday Without God

    In Sunday Without God, the world has been abandoned by God, which means that no children are born anymore, and death is no different from life. Those who die simply rise and keep walking the earth as if nothing happened.

    In this bleak, but surprisingly aesthetic setting, we follow Ai who, at age 12, is her world’s youngest child. Following in the footsteps of her mother, a Gravekeeper, Ai sets on a journey to help the dead and grant them peace.

    Sunday Without God might be more fantastical than dystopian in nature, but it does feature a twisted society in which we can still glimpse elements of our own. The show contemplates the meaning of life and death in interesting and nuanced ways.

  12. Wolf's Rain

    There are many fantasy and fairy tale elements in Wolf’s Rain, but its environmental message and its preoccupation with the extinction of wolves make it decidedly dystopian.

    In a futuristic setting, wolves – who are thought to have gone extinct – are the only ones holding the key to paradise. In truth, said wolves hide in plain sight, taking human form to survive. The characters’ journey is both painful and hopeful, and, if you like wolves, it’s likely to leave you in tears!