Some of the best cartoons out there definitely aren’t suitable for children, and horror anime is a frontrunner in that category.
Horror anime series tend to employ different techniques than live-action horror shows, since they have more freedom to portray gore, body horror, and even creepy juxtapositions between sometimes cutesy drawings…and very frightening circumstances.
- Serial Experiments Lain (1998)
- Paranoia Agent (2004)
- Hell Girl/Jigoku Shoujo (2005)
- Mushi-Shi (2005)
- When They Cry/Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni (2006)
- Death Note (2006-2007)
- Black Butler/Kuroshitsuji (2008-2014)
- Deadman Wonderland (2011)
- Another (2012)
- Future Diary/Mirai Nikki (2012)
Serial Experiments Lain (1998)
Studio: Triangle Staff
Creator: Yasuyuki Ueda
Starring: Kaori Shimizu (Voice), Bridget Hoffman (Voice)
Where To Watch: Funimation, iTunes
Middle schooler Lain, along with several other girls in her class, receives an email from a student who is supposedly dead.
The email claims her classmate is actually alive, and must put her consciousness into the network—a prototype of the Internet.
Lain dives into explorations of the network, the idea of being immortal, and what it truly means to be human.
Paranoia Agent (2004)
Creator: Satoshi Kon
Starring: Mamiko Noto (Voice), Michael McConnohie (Voice)
Where To Watch: Funimation, Vudu
A teenager on roller skates begins terrorizing the city, targeting random people to attack with a baseball bat. He thus earns himself the moniker “Lil’ Slugger.”
As fear begins to envelop the city, more and more people are attacked, much faster than police can keep up with. Eventually, there’s doubt as to whether Lil’ Slugger is working alone or not.
Hell Girl/Jigoku Shoujo (2005)
Creator: Hiroshi Watanabe
Starring: Mamiko Noto (Voice), Brina Palencia (Voice)
Where To Watch: Amazon Prime
This series focuses on a girl named Enma Ai. She offers a website that desperate people can use for a single wish: to send anyone of their choosing to Hell.
There’s a catch, of course. By agreeing to this service, the tormented person guarantees that they will also go to Hell at the end of their natural life.
Creator: Yuki Urushibara
Starring: Yuto Nakano (Voice), Travis Willingham (Voice)
Where To Watch: Hulu, Tubi, Funimation, Amazon Prime
This show has a much more peaceful vibe than the others on this list, but the episodic adventures are no less horrifying.
The main character, a shaman named Ginko, travels around Japan, healing people from weird beings known as mushi.
These mushi usually mind their own business, but can sometimes interact with people and cause severe harm.
Despite the terrifying notion of invisible, omnipresent monsters, Ginko maintains a calm attitude.
When They Cry/Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni (2006)
Studio: Studio Deen
Starring: Yukari Tamura (Voice), Grant George (Voice)
Where To Watch: Unknown
The story takes place in the small town of Hinamizawa, when a new student comes to the school.
What starts out as an ordinary slice-of-life show quickly takes a turn for the sinister, as strange events begin to occur and young children turn up dead.
Each arc follows a different character, and shows how events might have played out instead—each option more sick and twisted than the last.
Part of what makes this show so creepy is seeing the wide-eyed, cute little girls become murderous monsters, covered in blood.
Death Note (2006-2007)
Creator: Tsugumi Ohba
Starring: Mamoru Miyano (Voice), Brad Swaile (Voice)
Where To Watch: Netflix, Hulu, Tubi, Vudu, HBOMax, Funimation, PlutoTV, Crunchyroll
A straight-A student’s life is turned upside-down when a death god drops a strange notebook out of the sky, right in front of him. It’s a magical notebook, and ensures anyone whose name gets written into it will die.
As the series progresses, Light goes from only executing convicted criminals, to wielding the Death Note for his own desires…proving that absolute power always corrupts.
Black Butler/Kuroshitsuji (2008-2014)
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Creator: Yana Toboso
Starring: Daisuke Ono (Voice), Brina Palencia (Voice)
Where To Watch: Netflix, Funimation, Hulu
This gothic series is set in late 19th-century England, where a young earl is kidnapped and tortured by a cult.
To save himself, he makes a pact with a charismatic demon, Sebastian, who vows to serve as his butler until the day he dies.
At that time, Sebastian will then consume his soul, as payment for a lifetime of services rendered.
Deadman Wonderland (2011)
Creator: Jinsei Kataoka
Starring: Romi Park (Voice), Greg Ayres (Voice)
Where To Watch: Funimation, iTunes
After a mysterious stranger breaks into a classroom and slaughters all but one of the students, the survivor is accused and convicted of their murders.
After Ganta’s conviction, he is sent to the most secure and feared prison: Deadman Wonderland.
There, prisoners are encouraged to fight like gladiators in fearsome battles to the death.
Studio: P.A. Works
Creator: Yukito Ayatsuji
Starring: Atsushi Abe (Voice), Greg Ayres (Voice)
Where To Watch: Tubi, Crunchyroll
In the 1970s, a beloved, popular student died suddenly during his junior year of high school. Unable to cope with the loss, his fellow students decided to pretend he was still among them.
Almost thirty years later, a transfer student notices that this school is quite strange. That feeling only intensifies when students begin dying in bizarre ways.
Future Diary/Mirai Nikki (2012)
Creator: Sakae Esuno
Starring: Akira Ishida (Voice), Josh Grelle (Voice)
Where To Watch: Hulu, Funimation, iTunes
A passive high school boy suddenly finds himself involved in a complex game, created by the god of death to choose the next death god.
Participants must attempt to kill each other, while ensuring their own survival.
Yuki teams up with a shy girl from his class, who seems determined to keep him alive.
Horror anime, like anime itself or live-action horror TV shows, can vary widely. Some combine gore or body horror with ghosts, curses, monsters, or—perhaps the most terrifying element of all—the evils of humanity and one’s own mind.