Getting into anime is daunting. Some series have over 800 episodes and some only have 12. But besides high episode counts, finding anime that fits your genre preferences can be hard. While some people think anime is just one big genre, in and of itself, the reality is that Japanese animation is even more vast than American animation. As art forms, anime and manga encompass all age groups and genres. From shōjo romances to shōnen action, I’m a firm believer that there is an anime for everyone, and especially if you love horror.
So, to help get you started on your anime journey, I’ve put together a list of 10 horror anime based on some well known American horror movies. Now, there’s no need to worry about spoilers. These are grouped by taste and content not necessarily plot. But each and every one of these horror recommendations does come with the warning that traditionally, horror anime are violent, gore-filled, and not safe for work. So with all that known, happy haunting!
Horror Movies: Hellraiser, Hostel
Tokyo Ghoul is an easy pick to start with. While it features torture, cannibalism, and disturbing body morphing, it was toned down enough to garner wide praise and attention from the anime community. While other pure horror titles remain in the shadows, Tokyo Ghoul was able to garner enough of a wide-fanbase to get its own video game.
A dark fantasy, the anime is based on a manga by Sui Ishida, and follows a Tokyo college student after he is attacked by a ghoul, a superpowered human who feeds on human flesh. He survives but has become a ghoul hybrid and fugitive on the run. What follows is a story filled with emotion and torture that will work for those who are fans of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser series. In the midst of all the blood, the religious tones and philosophy elevate the gore to larger commentary on what it means to be human. Plus, at 12-episodes, it’s easy to binge, and once you’re done there, you can move to Tokyo Ghoul:re.
High School of the Dead
Horror Movies: Shaun of the Dead, Grindhouse: Planet Terror, Return of the Living Dead
Fanservice doesn’t always work, but mixing it with badass ladies fighting the undead and a harem anime isn’t too bad. Highschool of the Dead is set in present-day Japan at the beginning of the end of the world as the deadly pandemic that turns humans into zombies, euphemistically referred to by the main characters as “Them” (奴ら Yatsu-ra), who are taking over the city. High School of the Dead follows a group of high school students and the school’s nurse as the group tries to survive the zombie apocalypse and all the horrors that come with it, including other survivors.
This anime is hilarious, filled with fan service, but also offers up some great zombie kills and hard-hitting moments. You get what’s on the cover, just like horror-comedy absurd zombies movies.
Parasyte: The Maxim
Horror Movies: The Fly, Videodrome, Alien
Body horror one of the most interesting subgenres. Contorting, ripping, and morphing the human body into something unrecognizable is a staple of the genre. From the hole in the stomach and “handgun” in Videodrome to the pinnacle of gross transformations in The Fly, bodies doing what bodies shouldn’t do scratches a horror itch like nothing else. When it comes to anime, there is no greater example of the subgenre than Parasyte: The Maxim.
Based on the manga by Hitoshi Iwaaki, Parastye: The Maxim follows 17-year-old Shinichi Izumi after he is partially infected by a parasyte, an alien worm that butchers and consumes its hosts after they show up on earth. Instead of burrowing into his brain, the parasyte attempts to enter Izumi through his arm instead. When he stops it there they each maintain their own identities and he must learn to co-exist with the creature if he is to survive both the life of a parasyte and human, as part monster, part person.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Horror Movies: Scream, Cabin in the Woods
Meta horror has been a staple in the genre since Scream. Playing with tropes and calling out the obvious plot progression with some humor to cut some gruesome deaths and you have the makings of a great watch. With Puella Magi Madoka Magica, or Madoka Magica, you get a magical girl anime fit with the exploitation of teens and an exploration of what goes into becoming a magical girl.
While we’re all familiar with the anime genre, Madoka Magica follows a group of female middle school students who choose to become magical girls and join the battle against surreal enemies called witches. The series is bright, beautiful, and extremely dark as each girl learns of the anguish and perils associated with their new roles. While this isn’t traditional horror, the darkness and danger that the girls face are scary and the way the creators work with existing tropes in the magical genre will make meta fans excited to binge.
Horror Movie(s): Final Destination
Creative kills can add a lot to a bad horror movie; add them in with an intriguing story and you have yourself a winner. With Another, you get all the creative and household object kills from the Final Destination franchise but with more depth to the narrative of the 12-episode series.
Based on a horror novel of the same name which was later serialized into a manga novel, we follow Kōichi Sakakibara as he transfers into Yomiyama North Middle School’s class 3-3, where he meets Mei Misaki, who is ignored in by every student and teacher in the series. The class is soon caught up in a strange phenomenon, in which students and their relatives begin to die in often gruesome ways. We come to realize that these deaths are related to the death of a student named Misaki in 1972.
Now, during the yearly calamity that has struck almost every class 3-3 since 1972, Kōichi and Mei seek to figure out how to stop it before it kills any more of their classmates or them. Another shocks with every death getting more and more creative and bloody as Mei and Kōichi attempt to solve the mystery around the Misaki of 1972’s death.
Horror Movies: Silence of the Lambs, American Psycho
Sometimes the scariest things in horror anime aren’t supernatural monsters or ghosts, but human beings. At the beginning of Monster, Kenzou Tenma, a surgeon, is presented with a difficult choice: the life of the mayor, or the life of a child? For the rest of the series, he has to live with the consequences of his choices for the rest of the show as the person from his past reveals himself to be a psychopath.
There isn’t much that I want to say about the series other than that the cold stare and actions of the series antagonist Johan Liebert out-horror even the most gruesome entries on this list. In true psychological thriller fashion, Monster is one of the scariest pieces of anime out there because it shows you just how bad the most put-together people can be.
Corpse Party: Tortured Souls
Horror Movies: Boarding School, Trick ‘r Treat
Based on a videogame of the same name Corpse Party: Tortured Souls is gore everywhere and is most definitely not for the faith of heart, or for those who don’t like evil children or child death in their horror. The story takes place inside Heavenly Host, an elementary school which is destroyed because of the recurring disappearances and murders of its students and staff members. But, evil passes with time and another school, Kisaragi Academy, is built at the former site of the mysterious and deadly school.
In true scary story fashion, a group of Kisaragi Academy students decides to tell ghost stories. But, instead of scaring each other with urban legends, a sudden earthquake rocks the school and sends the children into a dimension where Heavenly Host still exists. Throughout the four-episode series, you learn that the transported students aren’t alone and the murdered ghost children are anything but friendly.
The subgenre of this series is hard to place outside of simply ghost stories, but if you’re a fan of 2018’s Boarding School, Trick ‘r Treat, or just gory hauntings, this is one for you.
Horror Movies: Overlord, Blade
Vampire hunting is great, vampire hunting as a vampire is better, and killing Nazis as the demon-hunting vampire Alucard is best. In Hellsing Ultimate we watch Alucard, his master Sir Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing, and his newly sired ward Seras Victoria try to protect England from a war-crazed SS-Major who seeks to start an eternal war with his vampire army. It’s bloody, campy, and dark as all Hell. If you were a fan of last year’s Overlord, this is the perfect series for you, and with more anime, manga, and full movies out, Hellsing is a franchise that’s perfect to jump into even if you aren’t too familiar with anime.
Devilman Crybaby (2018)
Horror Moves: Deadalive, Nymphomaniac, RAW, Hellraiser
First written in 1972 by Go Nagai the Devilman manga and the anime that followed it have been a deep cut for anime fans. In 2018, Netflix reanimated Devilman Crybaby for its streaming platform the company dialed the psychedelia, sex, violence, body horror, and debauchery up to 11 by changing centering Akira receiving his demon power through a drug-hazed orgy.
Let me back up. Akira’s best and strange friend tells him that ancient demons have returned to take back the world from humans and suggests that he unite with a demon. Akira does just that, becoming a demon himself and transforming into Devilman, a being with a demon’s powers but who retains the soul of a human. After that, it’s blood and guts as Akira begins killing and hunting demons as they begin taking over the world. But then things change and Akira sets out to save other demon-human hybrids like himself.
The blood and body horror in this anime is enough to make anyone squirm in their seats as the techno beats run in contrast to the scenes of violence. With 10 episodes, Devilman Crybaby is an easy watch time-wise, but be warned, it’s ending will leave you speechless.
Horror Movies: Videodrome, Martyrs, Hostel
Speed Grapher is a 24-episode series that follows former war photographer Saiga as he lives his new life as an unrespected tabloid paparazzi. Set in the new Tokyo, where every fetish has a face, he is sent to dig up dirt on the underground elite. In doing so, he stumbles upon a depraved ritual below the city.
When he tries to photograph the club’s “goddess”, a 15-year-old, exploited girl named Kagura, he is discovered and almost killed until Kagura saves him through a kiss. Her kiss isn’t just any, as she grants him the ability to destroy anything he photographs. The series revolves around Kagura’s ability to give people powers that relate to their secret desires, fetishes, and obsessions. What starts as Saiga trying to save the young Kagura turns into him taking on an entire secret underground society and the powerful and corrupt Tennōzu Group mega-corporation that operates it.
If you’re into deep dark mysteries around secret societies that are capable of all types of horror and murder, then this is for you.
Horror anime may not be the most widely-released genre, but it does offer the perfect gateway for fans of the larger genre who haven’t ventured into anime yet. It’s an easy leap, with the proliferation of J-horror ghost stories that took hold in the American horror collective in the 2000s and left their mark on filmmaking by influencing styles production both visually and content-wise. Now, this list is just the start, so hit play and welcome to a weeb life.
What horror anime would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.