The scariest horror anime, featuring (clockwise from top left): 'Junji Ito Collection,' 'Mushi-Shi,' 'Shiki,' and 'Another'

The Scariest Anime Series of All Time

Anime. It can be beautiful, sweet, touching, and tender. It can also be a hideous carnival of violence and gore. For the purposes of this little article, we’re going to explore the latter. So, grab your behelit and make a pact with the dark gods, because we’re about to do a deep dive into the scariest anime of all time.

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Berserk

Guts, Griffith, and the cast of Berserk
(OLM, Inc.)

The terror factor of Berserk is legendary. The setting is a cruel pastiche of medieval Europe, complete with fanatical tyrants and bloodthirsty mercenaries, and that’s before the demons show up. The design of the infernal antagonists of the series, the apostles, is enough to send a shiver down even the stiffest of spines.

A female Apostle from the 'Berserk' manga
I mean, LOOK at this thing (Dark Horse Comics)

These things are made for killing, and kill they do. The infamous Golden Age arc culminates in one of the most horrific orgies of violence that I have ever seen in any medium, animated or not. But to say that the blood and guts and demons-eating-people is the scariest part of this series actually does a disservice to the deeper and more disturbing themes.

Berserk is an anime about violence, as most anime is. But Berserk is unique in the sense that it paints a picture of a broad spectrum of violence, including the most upsetting of all: sexual violence.

Content warning for the next paragraph

All three of the main characters in Berserk have been sexually assaulted. And it happened to all of them when they were children. So, each character has terrible past trauma that affects them. The characters’ capacity for violence and mistrust is so deeply ingrained due to the horrific violence they endured at a vulnerable stage in their development. Berserk is not popcorn horror, but a careful examination of evil and the vilest aspects of the human psyche. This show will haunt you, and that’s the point.

Elfen Lied

Lucy from Elfen Lied
(Arms Corporation)

Elfen Lied is legitimately hard to watch at times. The story centers upon a young girl named Lucy with a rare genetic mutation that has caused her to evolve into a diclonius, a human-like species with horns and invisible telekinetic arms called “vectors.” Most of the diclonii in Japan are incarcerated in a facility meant to house and study them. Lucy is a victim of this. However, she soon breaks free from captivity—after brutally demolishing a portion of the facility’s staff. While on the run, Lucy is rescued by a young boy who has no idea who—or what—she truly is.

Due to her treatment, Lucy has an innate desire to kill human beings, and she does this in numerous horrifying ways. Her victims are dissected, dismembered, and beheaded. She is also a target of violence from the government and military forces bent on ruthlessly tracking her down. It’s hard not to feel conflicted when watching Lucy. Sometimes she is a cold-blooded and vicious killer, and other times she is an innocent child who desires nothing more than safety and belonging. Elfen Lied also features an infamous depiction of animal cruelty, as Lucy’s pet dog was beaten to death by a group of young boys when she was a young child. Like Berserk, this is a series about the depths of human evil and the capacity for living things to do harm when they have no other options.

Shiki

Megumi Shimizu from Shiki
(Daume)

Shiki is set in a small town in the Japanese countryside, where everything is peaceful for the town’s inhabitants until a series of strange deaths begin to occur. These deaths coincide with the arrival of the mysterious Kirishiki family, who move into a previously abandoned castle on the outskirts of town. Following a doctor’s investigation at the town’s one and only hospital, the deaths are attributed to creatures called “shiki”—vampire-like beings whose name translates to “corpse demon.” Yikes.

While less thematically disturbing than the previous two entries, Shiki delivers on scares. The most infamous of which is a scene in which a young woman-turned-shiki’s head is run over by the wheel of a tractor. The worst part? She is still alive after it happens.

Another

Kouichi and his ghost friend in 'Another'
(P.A. Works)

In Another, transfer student Kouichi Sakakibara joins the ninth grade class at Yomiyama North Middle School, and he immediately notices that something is … off. One of his classmates is a girl with an eyepatch, who the rest of the class is content to ignore. After Kouichi befriends this girl, he becomes suspicious that he is the only one aware of her presence … her ghostly presence! Kouichi later discovers that the class is suffering from the effects of a curse that began after the death of one of their classmates. The class refused to accept their peer’s death, and that led to the creation of a ghostly doppelgänger called “the extra” that haunts the halls of the school.

Related: The 10 Best Genshin Impact Characters Ranked on Attack of the Fanboy

Higurashi: When They Cry

the cast of higurashi when they cry
(Studio Deen)

Well would ya just look at all these adorable anime children! How could anything bad happen in a show where the characters are this cute? Oh, it can … trust me. Higurashi: When They Cry is set in a small town in rural Japan, where a group of children are anxiously preparing for an annual festival held in the honor of a local deity. However, strange deaths and disappearances begin to affect the townsfolk, and the children must uncover the mystery before a vengeful god destroys them all.

Corpse Party

A high schooler getting haunted in corpse party
(asread)

Corpse Party follows a group of high school students who commit one of the cardinal sins of horror: trying to contact the dead. In this case, a dead classmate. Their mistake causes them to be teleported to an alternate dimension that takes the form of a rundown high school called Heavenly Host. The children soon discover that Heavenly Host was the site of a brutal massacre of school children, and that the vengeful ghosts of the children and their killers still haunt the halls.

Related: Here’s the Best Anime from Each Decade on We Got This Covered

Mushi-Shi

A man walks in a forest with a toothpick in his mouth in 'Mushishi'
(Funimation)

On the surface, this rustic and melancholy anime doesn’t look horrifying, but like the best horror monsters, looks can be deceiving. Mushi-Shi follows a man named Ginko who travels the Japanese countryside curing people of illnesses caused by mysterious spiritual beings known as mushi. While many mushi are harmless, some are capable of body horror beyond your wildest nightmares. Like the mushi who lives in the shadows of trees and burrows into your brain and eats your memories. Or the mushi that feed on sound and sometimes find their way into human ears, causing the victim to slowly go deaf. Or the mushi that is actually A GIANT SNAKE THE SIZE OF A MOUNTAIN!?

Boogiepop Phantom

'Boogiepop Phantom'
(Madhouse)

Hilarious name, terrifying series. Boogiepop Phantom is about a supernatural series of events that take place after a deadly incident at a local Japanese high school. The nonlinear series follows a group of characters who are intertwined by the supernatural occurrences and their exposure to a mysterious entity known as Boogiepop. The central plot revolves around the disappearance of students from Shinyo Academy, which leads to the creation of Boogiepop. As the series goes on, it is eventually revealed that a group of scientists studying human beings and the supernatural are responsible, and that Boogiepop and entities like her exist in order to protect humanity from these threats.

Devilman Crybaby

The Devilman of Devilman Crybaby!
(Science SARU)

This 10-episode remake of the famous anime Devilman is as ghoulish as it gets. In Devilman Crybaby, supernatural demons run rampant across the world, possessing and devouring humans as they see fit. The main character, Akira Fudo, is a unique human/demon hybrid called a “devilman,” and is tasked with saving the world from the infernal threat. It doesn’t go as planned. This anime pulls out all the horror stops from the word “go.” In the first episode, demons possess the bodies of a group of teenagers partying at a nightclub, and the result is a truly nauseating display of body horror and sexual violence. Things only get worse as demons begin to possess more and more of the populace of Japan—until the series finally culminates in tragedy in the truest, most Shakespearean sense of the word. The ending of the series is a masterstroke of cosmic horror that, like the title suggests, may leave you in tears.

Junji Ito Collection

'Junji Ito Collection'
(Studio Deen)

Come on, did you really think I would leave out Junji Ito, the Stephen King of anime? This man’s work singlehandedly shifted the paradigm of anime horror forever. He terrifies viewers in a way that other creators can only dream of doing. His work is the scariest there is. The Junji Ito Collection is an animated adaptation of some of the author’s most blood-curdling manga stories. It has everything: Body horror. Murder. Cannibalism. Cosmic horror. Curses. But the most unique thing about Junji Ito is his ability to find horror in the most unexpected of things: slugs, grease, even a jar of honey. When it comes to horror, Junji Ito is truly second to none. Don’t believe me? Watch an episode of this anthology with the lights out and you’ll see what I mean.

Mononoke

The medicine seller smirks calmly in a hotel while two confused patrons look on in "Mononoke"
(Toei Animation)

Mononoke isn’t the kind of anime to scare you while you’re watching it. It’s creepy, sure. Unsettling, yes. But scary? Ha! You made it through every episode of Another and only had to call your mom twice! How could some silly folktales be scary? That’s what they all say… and then night comes and you’re alone in your houses praying that you don’t get jumped by technicolor disembodied baby heads. Mononoke tells the story of the mysterious Medicine Seller as he travels around ancient Japan exorcising famous monsters of Japanese folktales. While it’s light on gore and jump scares, it has atmosphere in scores.

Paranoia Agent

A character wields a baseball bat in the Satoshi Kon anime series 'Paranoia Agent'
(Madhouse)

If you thought Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue was scary, just wait until you see the anime series he made! Paranoia Agent is similar to Boogiepop Phantom in many ways. It’s an urban horror tale featuring an ensemble cast interconnected by bizarre murders. But unlike Boogiepop Phantom, whose world is haunted by a plethora of strange spirits, there’s only one ghost in this town: Shonen Bat. Who is he? A spooky middle schooler on roller skates who’s been introducing hapless townsfolk to the business end of his Louisville Slugger.

Theatre of Darkness: Yamishibai 

A spooky little girl sits in a microwave while a man watches in "Yamishibai"
(ILCA)

Theatre of Darkness: Yamishibai is an anthology series told in the style of turn of the century Japanese puppet street-theatre. If the term “street theatre” is enough to make you head for the hills, then this series is sure to traumatize you. The stories of Theatre of Darkness: Yamishibai tend to be only a few minutes long, because that’s all they need to make you sob with terror. It’s basically the anime version of Reddit’s two-sentence horror stories, but way scarier.

Parasyte: The Maxim

Shinichi talks to his hand parasite Migi in "Parasyte: The Maxim"
(Madhouse)

If body horror is the thing that makes you lose your already tenuous grasp on sanity, Parasyte: The Maxim is sure to leave you a shell of a person. Shapeshifting alien beings are invading the planet, burrowing into people’s brains and devouring their skulls from the inside. The aliens then use their shapeshifting abilities to take on the appearance of their host’s head, while using the body of the deceased as a freaky flesh puppet. One boy gets his hand invaded by a parasite, but the little bugger is unable to get to his brain and take him over. The boy decides to use his shapeshifting hand to hunt down and destroy other parasites before they gobble up the entire planet.

Monster

Johan Liebert in 'Monster'
(Madhouse)

While many of the titles on this list use ghosts and demons to terrify viewers, Monster focuses on the most terrifying creatures of all: humans. In post-war Germany, a promising young Japanese brain surgeon is on the verge of becoming one of the nation’s most celebrated doctors. One day, the surgeon has to make an impossible choice: save the life of the city’s mayor, or save a young boy with a gunshot wound to the head. He chooses to save the boy, and the mayor dies. His career is reduced to shambles, but at least the kid’s okay, right? Wrong. Turns out that the boy he saved is one of the most intelligent and prolific serial killers in history, and the good doctor decides to track this former patient down and put an end to him. Hippocratic oath? Never heard of her.

(featured image: Studio Deen / Funimation / Daume / P.A. Works)


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Author
Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.