Just as there are masterpieces and real stinkers with spooky TV shows and movies, the same can be said of Japanese anime. Luckily, horror is one area where the medium excels beautifully. With Halloween right around the corner, we've rounded up the most spine-tingling, terrifying anime series the industry has to offer. From Hellsing to When They Cry, there's something for everyone on this list, from anime newcomers to those who've watched all 900+ episodes of One Piece. Grab a change of underwear and a flashlight, because you're about to take a deep dive into the best horror anime series of all time.
Another is an excellent gateway into Japanese horror. Feeling more like a movie than an episodic adventure, it follows a series of bizarre, gruesome deaths surrounding a mysterious set of students. One inquisitive transfer student is tasked with figuring out why his peers are dying over and over again. There's one particular girl wearing an eyepatch, though, and she seems to be the only one who can see what might be going on: With her ability to communicate with the supernatural world, she's the key to contacting the ghosts swirling around them. This chilling tale is an exciting supernatural excursion, and one that's especially great for newbies just getting into horror anime.
Black Butler (2008-2009)
Ciel Phantomhive is the 13-year-old head of the Phantomhive household. Though he's a young boy, he's also part of an important family who serves England's Queen Victoria. He's a brilliant detective, a la Sherlock Holmes, and helps the Queen's police solve crimes throughout London's seedy underbelly -- but he doesn't go about it alone. He's formed a contract with a demon named Sebastian Michaelis, who's by his side to help Biel find whoever murdered his parents and exact revenge. When that's been done, he'll devour Ciel's soul, but until then, he remains disguised as a butler to protect Biel and his estate. Black Butler is truly chilling, as are some of the situations the pair find themselves in.
Boogiepop Phantom (2000)
Boogiepop Phantom is an anthology series united by one constant: Boogiepop, an urban legend thought to be Death personified. The show takes place in a Japanese city following a series of ritualistic murders, which Boogiepop is initially blamed for. Is Boogiepop malevolent, or even real, for that matter? It's difficult to tell, as this series drifts in and out of reality. Though it will keep you guessing, this surreal urban fantasy is rife with the kind of horror that keeps you up at night trying to puzzle it out.
Corpse Party: Tortured Souls (2013)
Corpse Party: Tortured Souls is a look into the lives of the students of Kisaragi Academy, previously Heavenly Host Elementary, where the gruesome murders of both children and its staff took place. Students there are spending their final moments with a friend who's about to transfer to another school, and they decide to perform a strange ritual to ensure they'll always be together. The "Sachiko Ever After" charm is performed, but the students all end up blacking out and waking up at a very strange place: the very same academy all the children and teachers were murdered at years ago. This game-inspired, 4-episode OVA is a quick watch that's also great for a horror anime viewing marathon, in the company of other fantastic bite-sized horror series and manga that threatens to scare the living daylights out of you.
Deadman Wonderland (2011)
A young man named Ganta Igarashi is attending middle school when a strange figure covered in blood floats through his classroom window. In seconds, this so-called "Red Man" destroys Ganta's entire class. Ganta is spared, but receives a strange red crystal shard from the Red Man embedded in his chest. Unfortunately, Ganta is blamed for the massacre and sentenced to live out his days at the theme park-like prison Deadman Wonderland. While there, he's forced to eke out an existence as a "Deadman," a prisoner tasked with entertaining visitors. Realizing he has a new power over his own blood called a "Branch of Sin," he's determined to figure out how to break out -- all the while facing off against dozens of other Deadmen, each with their own horrific powers.
Death Note (2006-2007)
The sparse world of the shinigami, or death gods, is boring. When shinigami Ryuk drops his "Death Note," or a powerful notebook that can kill anyone as long as the user knows their target's name and face, chaos ensues in the living world. A top high school student named Light Yagami happens to find the deadly notebook, and Ryuk enters the human world to egg on Light, who first experiments with the Death Note for the altruistic goal of eliminating the world of crime, but slowly devolves into a villain as he becomes drunk with power and the idea of becoming a god. This shounen classic is horrific as it deals with a man who slowly transforms from Light into "Kira," a serial killer known the world over, and the police effort to take him down.
Devilman Crybaby (2018)
This reimagining of a Go Nagai classic is one of the best modern reinventions for an anime series yet. Akira Fudo is the titular "crybaby" -- his kind heart makes him an easy target for bullies, but his best friend Ryo Asuka helps him move away from this persona, just not in a healthy way at all. Ryo has a secret: he knows demons are real, and he can prove it. He uses a special power to draw the demons out of humans, and plunges poor Akira into the center of it all. As a result, Akira becomes a "Devilman," or a demon that can retain its human nature while gaining immense power from a demonic form. Ryo's actions were hardly altruistic, as he plans to rule the world with Akira as a tool by his side. The result? An unforgettable bloody ballet of violence, gore, sex, and psychedelic visuals.
Elfen Lied (2004)
Elfen Lied, both heartbreaking and terrifying, explores a series of events that occur after experiments are performed on the Diclonius, a mutated human born with telekinetic powers and horns. The star of the show, Lucy, has a dual personality that means she can either use phantom hands to murder everyone in her immediate surroundings or win hearts over as the adorable, unassuming Nyu, her alter ego. This bloody odyssey is certainly not for the faint of heart, but its heartrending tale will leave you gasping for breath by the time it finally lets up.
The Flowers of Evil (2019)
Takao Kasuga is a fairly normal high school student who loves reading Charles Baudelaire and hanging out with his classmate Nanako Saeki. Still, he feels ostracized by his peers in many ways. Saeki is one of the only bright lights in his life, until he meets the strange Sawa Nakamura. He finds himself simultaneously shaken and thrilled by their interactions, especially after Nakamura catches him taking Saeki's gym clothes. She locks Kasuga into a "contract" where he must do anything she tells him, which results in a deeply intimate and terrifying examination of Kasuga as a person and her own obsession with peeling away the "layers of skin" the pair are hiding behind. It isn't traditional horror, but it's an intense character study told in gorgeous Rotoscopic animation that will warp your mind.
When Kei Kurono and Masaru Kato die in a grisly train accident, they find themselves part of a strange new game played by other recently-deceased individuals. Armed with futuristic weapons and items, they must hunt down and kill aliens as directed by an enormous black sphere named "Gantz." Their goal is to reach 100 points by following Gantz's rules, and by the end of it all, it's possible they may be able to return to their normal lives. Gantz is one of the most gruesome and disturbing anime series out there, and features some especially distressing scenes. But it's compelling to the very end, which makes it a must-watch for anyone into the genre.
Ghost Hunt (2006-2007)
Mai Taniyama is a high school student who joins up with the Shibuya Psychic Research organization and its leader Kazuya Sibuya after she accidentally breaks one of their video cameras. She comes to terms with her own psychic powers after she helps investigate a strange old building at her school, discovering she has latent abilities that she can harness for good. She and the team begin heading out on treks to find and quell hauntings throughout this good-natured spooky series. It's less scary than the other entries on this list, but great for anyone looking for a softer eerie good time.
Ghost Stories (2000-2001)
Ghost Stories is a supernatural series that has its share of lighthearted events, but many of its demons are downright spooky. It tells the tale of Satsuki Miyanoshita, who's just moved with her father and brother to the place where her now-deceased mother was born. She meets a few intriguing schoolmates after heading over to the abandoned school building right across from the facility in use. Once there, it's revealed that Satsuki's mother was actually responsible for sealing away some of the ghosts who were previously haunting the town in her youth. With the help of her new friends, Satsuki must seal the ghosts back up or face new hauntings nearly every single day of the week.
Hell Girl (2005-2006)
Sometimes, anthology series are the best way to explore horror stories. Hell Girl is a vast collection of one-shot tales that explore the titular Ai Enma, the Hell Girl, each episode a short story that revolves around a person who's been tormented by another. Upon reaching their breaking point, they're able to access a strange website where they can submit a request to have their tormentor sent to hell. It explores a wide variety of stories, such as a girl asking for a stalker to be sent to hell and an actress banishing another performer after an attempt at ruining her voice to take the lead role in a production. You never know where the show will go next, but it's always chilling to see how far people will go to exact revenge on those who have wronged them.
When vampires, ghouls, and other supernatural foes threaten England, who do you call? Alucard and the Hellsing Organization, of course. Led by Sir Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing, the group's mission is to eliminate these threats once and for all. Alucard, the original and most powerful vampire of all time, is the order's faithful dog and their only legitimate shot at defeating the enemies that threaten the country or the world. From punk-rock bloodsuckers who want anarchy in the streets to Nazis attempting to raise an entire battalion of vampires to reclaim Germany, there's always something deadly and horrific going on in the world of Hellsing, making it an exciting and terrifying watch.
Junji Ito Collection (2018)
Junji Ito is the master of Japanese horror. This anthology series episodes is based around some of the legendary creator's best and most popular manga, like Uzumaki and Tomie, but includes a few lesser-known titles. Whether the show ventures into a cursed town where everyone wears masks, introduces a gnarled old woman who tries fruitlessly every night to get into a young man's bedroom, or the story of the demonically beautiful Tomie, it's a veritable tour-de-force of Ito's storied portfolio. This is a great place to start when it comes to Japanese horror, and the genre as a whole.
Mononoke doesn't have to do much to unsettle you; its distinct visual style should be enough to reach out and pull you in. While evocative of traditional Japanese artwork and the Edo period, it hides some truly spooky story arcs that follow a character known as the Medicine Seller. Similar to Mushi-shi, this visually arresting series follows the protagonist as he deals with strange spirits, here known as "mononoke," which can only be felled with a special sword. Even so, the story surrounding them is enough to keep you glued to your seat.
What goes on in the world of creatures which cannot be seen by the human eye? Mushi-shi explores a hidden world that's rife with some truly disturbing beings responsible for death, pain, and destruction -- mostly inadvertently, but sometimes on purpose. Mushi-shi follows a wanderer named Ginko who's cursed with the sight of "mushi," or invisible, tiny spirits that interact with others around the world, which is to say in mostly negative and terrifying ways. These aren't happy-go-lucky sprites: Mushi take over a young girl's eyes, lead people to their deaths in a remote mountain pass, and even attempt to drown humans who get too close. Banishing mushi is a scary and often sad job, but someone has to do it. May as well be Ginko.
Paranoia Agent (2004)
Legendary filmmaker Satoshi Kon tried his hand at anime with this enigmatic series. Paranoia Agent is an exploration into a serial attacker named Lil' Slugger, who's apparently an elementary student wearing inline skates, a baseball cap, and a bent golden baseball bat terrorizing people all over Tokyo. A manhunt is underway after the designer of a popular character named Maromi is attacked on her way home one evening. Police believe Tsukiko Sagi, the designer, dreamt up the attack until another victim is claimed. Who's behind the attacks, and what does it have to do with Tsukiko? This series is rife with psychological horror and mysterious story threads, as Kon's works are, and well worth a watch as you try to decode Lil' Slugger's identity.
Parasyte: The Maxim (2014-2015)
Looking for body horror? Your next stop should be Parasyte: The Maxim. A bizarre alien race decides to infiltrate humanity by taking human forms. After one of the alien representatives falls to Earth, protagonist Shinichi Izumi loses his hand to one of the parasitic shapeshifters. The alien is off-target after trying to get into Shinichi's brain, and remains content with only staying in his left hand. The pair form something of a symbiotic relationship as they work together to stave off the other parasitic beings around them. Shinichi and Migi, as his parasite is named, are working to rid the world of the alien invaders, but what happens to Shinichi after Migi reaches his goal? That's part of what makes the story so exciting. Get ready to see some real weirdness, like one human's face opening up to chow down on another. That's definitely where Parasyte: The Maxim excels.
Perfect Blue (1998)
Satoshi Kon's masterpiece film is a deeply disturbing portrait of fame and how it can totally transform an individual, serving as somewhat of a cautionary tale of how reality warp for certain individuals. Enter pop idol Mimi Kirigoe, who decides to leave her J-pop group "CHAM!" and pursue other ventures. She scores a role in a drama series, but this upsets her fans as she takes on a more mature role. A stalker begins sending her threatening letters, but Mimi brushes them off as she expands her career. Eventually, her reputation becomes tarnished as she finds herself being chased by a murderous, obsessive fan who won't stop until she's dead. Who is the stalker, and can she ever learn to separate reality from fantasy again?
The Promised Neverland (2019- )
The children of the Grace Field House orphanage aren't unhappy, not by a long shot. They live with dozens of brothers and sisters who spend all day learning, laughing, and playing, all kept under the care of "Mom," who ensures they follow all the orphanage's rules, especially the most important one: never leave the compound or even think about going beyond the gate. What lies beyond the gate? Oh, nothing… just a gaggle of demons who gobble up the orphans. That's right -- Grace Field House is a human farm, and the orphans are there to feed the demons. It's up to a group of smart kids named Emma, Norman, and Ray to get to the bottom of things and mount an escape to see if they can avoid being demon food once and for all.
The horror-obsessed Chihiro Furuya wants a zombie girlfriend. It's weird, but he knows what he wants, as well as how to get it -- sort of. When he loses his cat Babu, he practices strange reviving magic to bring it back to life. He's busy finagling with his potion until a classmate named Rea Sanka comes along, screaming into a well about her terrible home life. The pair work on Babu's life-restoring concoction together in secret until Rea meets a tragic end. Chihiro must test his creation on her and the cat -- and magically, they're brought back to life as zombies. It's a weirdly sweet horror series woven together by moments of hopefulness, and one of the most unique takes on zombie shows you've ever seen.
School Days (2007)
Makoto Ito takes the train to Sakakino Academy each day, and finds himself entranced by a beautiful girl every single morning. His classmate Sekai offers to introduce Makoto to this dream girl. Her name is Kotonoha, and she seems absolutely perfect for Makoto. All he has to do to repay Sekai for her efforts is bestow a kiss upon her, but with that, he seals his fate as part of a dramatic love triangle. Having developed feelings for Makoto herself, Sekai becomes increasingly jealous. This leads to some particularly disturbing incidents, even culminating in murder. It may seem like a typical dramatic romance at the beginning, but it soon transforms into something much, much darker.
Megurigaoka Private High School's Yuki Takeya is a little forgetful, otherwise leading a happy, normal, high school life. She loves her friends, going on adventures, and taking in the world around her. Just, there's this one tiny thing: there is no school. Actually, there's nothing: The zombie apocalypse has taken care of that. The girls of the School Life Club have to doggedly eke out an existence after zombies wipe out the rest of the world, but Yuki lives in a dream world, believing nothing bad has happened. It's a gripping zombie series with a school setting that pulls out all the stops, and you won't believe how things end up as the show concludes.
Serial Experiments Lain (1998)
Lain is one of the late '90s greats, alongside series like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop. Protagonist Lain Iwakura is an introverted but friendly middle schooler who loves hanging out on the Wired, a future iteration of the internet. But her life becomes immensely more complicated after a series of strange events involving her acquaintances from school, who received an email from a deceased friend insisting that she's alive within the Wired and has found "God" there. Lain dives in with the intention of getting to the bottom of this cyberpunk-tinged mystery, discovering conspiracies within the Wired and losing touch with what she thought was reality. The horror here is in the suspense of the psychological mindfuck as the 12-episode series unfolds to a disturbing place that questions the nature of reality, technology, and consciousness.
When it comes to horror, you can always count on vampires. Shiki takes the very concept of the nightwalker and updates it with modern sensibilities, forcing believable human characters into a lifetime of darkness. Shiki starts with a string of bizarre deaths that have swept a small town in rural Japan. This coincides with the arrival of the strange Kirishiki family, who live in a massive mansion on the edge of town. When townspeople start passing away due to a mysterious illness, only to rise again a few days later, their shaken friends and family work to figure out what's happening, only to uncover something much darker than the supposed "anemia" their loved ones suffered: vampirism. Shiki subverts the played-out vampire tropes, showing us the "monsters'" lives before and after their rebirths as the undead, as well as how their terrifying transformations wreak havoc on the town. And still, you can't help but root for the undead.
Tokko tells the story of a man named Ranmaru Shindo, who just moved to Tokyo with his younger sister Saya in 2006 following a gruesome massacre that took their parents. Ranmaru can't stop dreaming about the terrifying day his entire apartment complex was wiped out and continually sees a girl with a bloody sword -- believed to be his parents' assailant. When he graduates from the Special Public Safety Task Force (Tokko), he sees the same girl from his dreams in his new class. He must figure out her identity, as well as what actually went on during the building massacre. As it turns out, demons were responsible, and they threaten to overrun the entire city of Tokyo. Tokko is a violent spectacle with gruesome deaths and a visceral story that should please horror hounds.
Tokyo Ghoul (2014)
City life in Tokyo Ghoul is dangerous. Not only do you have to worry about criminals, but you've also got to steer clear of the flesh-eating ghouls that roam the streets at night. As they hide in plain sight among their human brethren in the day, ghouls prowl for sustenance when darkness falls. Protagonist Ken Kaneki finds himself the victim of a wayward ghoul searching for a midnight snack and subsequently becomes the world's first half-ghoul, half-human hybrid. Unfortunately, living among both worlds has some disturbing consequences -- including giving up everything he ever appreciated about being human in the first place.
Vampire Knight (2008)
One snowy night, a young girl named Yuki Cross was attacked by a rogue vampire. A kind Pureblood vampire named Kaname Kuran was passing by and decided to protect her, which resulted in Yuki having something of a lifelong crush on Kaname but retains little memory of her past. Ten years later, Yuki has become a guardian for the "Night School" at Cross Academy, a group of vampires who secretly attend class in the evening at the boarding school. Accompanied by childhood friend Zero Kiryu, Yuki must keep the other students from finding out about the existence of vampires. With Zero exhibiting strange new signs and her bond with Kaname growing stronger, Yuki is forced to face her true self. This dark fantasy is part supernatural romance and part vampire action series-- a satisfying combination.
Vampire Princess Miyu (1997-1998)
A young vampire girl named Miyu, the daughter of a human and a "god-demon" known as a shinma, is charged with hunting down all shinma to send them back to "the Darkness." As a demon herself, she also wishes to return to the Darkness, but she must banish all of the errant shinma first. While working to complete this mission ahead of her 15th birthday, alongside her shinma companion, Larva, Miyu puzzles out exactly who and what she is -- memories that she has no way of exploring in her present state. Culling set pieces, costumes, and concepts from traditional Japanese folklore, Vampire Princess Miyu makes for a spooky and elegant watch.
When They Cry: Higurashi (2006)
Your first mistake when it comes to When They Cry is assuming that the adorable girls that star in it are innocent. Your second mistake is assuming you've got it all figured out. A cursed town and its inhabitants meet untimely deaths, for which one supernatural being is blamed -- but the truth is far worse, and far stranger than that. Anything more here, and we may ruin things for you. This truly disturbing (but ridiculously entrancing) tale ties together a plot out of seemingly unconnected threads. Initially, they don't make much sense. However, they come together one by one until a terrifying larger picture is revealed, finally reaching a truly satisfying ending. You're in for mystery, murder, nightmarish faces, and plenty of other reasons to keep tuning back in for more.
The World YAMIZUKAN (2017)
The World YAMIZUKAN is maybe the closest thing you'll get to a pulpy horror comic in the world of anime. It eschews the traditional anime aesthetic for Western art styles in many of its episodes while still retaining its Japanese sensibilities. It also only requires a few minutes' worth of time commitment from viewers, its freaky, evocative tales told in five minutes or less. It includes yarns about a vehicle that eventually eats people, as well as a strange story about a woman who disappears in the woods with a decidedly shocking ending. Some of its stories are weird for the sake of being weird, but all are entertaining.
Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories (2013-2019)
Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories is a bite-sized anthology series with enough horror fuel to chill you to the bone in a few minutes flat. Each five-minute animated motion comic, inspired by the Depression-era kamishibai storytelling style, has a strange, surreal quality that ranges from unsettling to downright spine-tingling. There are seven seasons currently, each sharing stories based on the urban legends and, well, ghost stories of Japan. One follows a young boy who discovers that his family must put on horrific, garish smiles to stave off the ghost of his great-great grandfather; another tells the story of a young girl who suffers from a skin condition that evolves into a hand that keeps a tight grip on her neck, eventually choking her. It's truly disturbing stuff, but fortunately, if you get too scared, it'll be over in a matter of minutes.