Putting The "Boo" In Weeaboo: 7 Horror Filled Anime You Need To See
Anime tends to be pretty genre-fluid, and there’s more of it out there than one person could ever hope to see. It can be hard for Western horror fans to know where to start. While the items on this list may not all fit neatly within a single genre, they all offer hefty doses of the thrills and chills horror fans crave. Whether you’re looking for a good entry point or doing a deep dive, these are some of the most fascinating films and series the world of anime has to offer.
Belladonna of Sadness (feature film, 1973)
A young woman in medieval France who is raped and accused of witchcraft turns to the devil for the power to enact revenge on those who have wronged her.
Belladonna had a minuscule budget, and large portions of the film were made by panning the camera strategically around large painted scrolls. The effect is strange but hypnotically beautiful, and the traditionally animated sections are so wild and psychedelic that it never becomes boring. If it wasn’t obvious from the synopsis, there is some nasty stuff in here, and it’s made more problematic by the borderline-pornographic presentation. But Belladonna is also feminist in its own deeply imperfect, dated way. If you can handle the subject matter, you will be rewarded with an affecting story and some of the most gorgeous art in the history of animated cinema.
Vampire Hunter D (OVA film, 1985)
and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (feature film, 2000)
A powerful dhampir (human/vampire hybrid) wanders a post-apocalyptic world full of mutants and monsters, lending assistance to humans terrorized by vampires.
These films are a bizarre genre mishmash of sci-fi, action, western, and gothic horror. They are based on a long-running series of novels, and the lead character and world are so complex that it can sometimes feel like you’ve jumped into the fifth season of a television series (even though the 1985 film was adapted from the first of those novels). Nevertheless, both films are ceaselessly entertaining, dense with fun ideas, striking images, and creative monster designs. Strap in for the ride, don’t ask too many questions, and you’re in for a great time.
Perfect Blue (feature film, 1997)
A Japanese pop idol retires from music to pursue a career in acting. She soon becomes the victim of a dangerous stalker, and as her her mind unravels, the line between fiction and reality becomes ever blurrier.
This nerve-jangling psychological thriller was the feature directorial debut of anime icon Satoshi Kon (who will appear again later on this list). The film is a dark exploration of celebrity, sexuality, and the frightening ways in which those things are amplified and warped by the internet. It is sometimes reminiscent of early Brian De Palma, and was likely a key influence on Black Swan, but there’s still nothing quite like Perfect Blue.
Serial Experiments: Lain (13-episode series, 1998)
A young girl receives messages from a recently deceased schoolmate, prompting a deep dive into the internet that raises troubling questions about her identity and the nature of reality.
This philosophical sci-fi masterpiece anticipated many of the core anxieties that would come to define the internet age. It also has a handful of suspenseful scenes and macabre images, but its pervasive atmosphere of dread is what really lingers in the mind. Every piece of Lain is drenched in paranoia and existential uncertainty, right down to its innovative visual style and sound design. Elements of the story may leave you scratching your head, but that’s just part of the delicious arthouse flavor. Sometimes not understanding why you’re spooked just makes things that much spookier.
Paranoia Agent (13-episode series, 2004)
A number of people around Tokyo fall victim to seemingly random attacks by a young boy wearing golden inline skates and wielding a bent, golden baseball bat. The hunt for this enigmatic attacker leads down an increasingly surreal rabbit hole.
Satoshi Kon’s television opus is part anthology, part serialized mystery, and part Lynchian horror. You never know what you’ll get from one episode to the next as the series jumps wildly between genres and tones, but it eventually coheres into a fascinating statement about escapism in post-WWII Japanese society. And though the story comes to a satisfying conclusion, it leaves just enough unanswered questions to chew over long after you’ve finished watching. This one can be hard to track down, but if you want something brilliant and offbeat (or just have a Twin Peaks-shaped hole in your life), it’s well worth the effort.
Junji Ito Collection (12-episode series, 2018)
This anthology series adapts 24 of Junji Ito’s manga short stories (two per episode), featuring ghosts, curses, monsters, and plenty of his signature body horror.
Ito is a horror manga legend, best known in the English-speaking world for the graphic novels Uzumaki and Gyo, and the short story “The Enigma of Amigara Fault.” While the animation here doesn’t quite match the beautiful grotesquerie of his art style, the Collection nails the eeriness and occasional oddball humor that makes much of his writing work so well. The seventh episode is a highlight, consisting of “Used Record,” in which a haunting piece of music triggers a crazed obsession in all who hear it, and “Town of No Roads,” which explores voyeurism and dream logic in a narrative too strange to even describe. But whether or not those particular tales tickle your fancy, this collection of bite-sized stories is so compulsively watchable and so varied that you’re bound to find something to enjoy.
Devilman Crybaby (10-episode series, 2018)
A teenager takes on the powers of a demon in order to stop the coming invasion of Satan’s army.
Devilman was a popular manga series that began in 1972, with an anime adaptation airing concurrently on television. That first adaptation is pretty fun, but it sanitized the contents of the manga and will likely feel stilted to most modern audiences. There is nothing sanitized about 2018’s Devilman Crybaby, which hews much more closely to the story of the manga and has enough deranged violence and sexuality to surprise even the most jaded horror fan. The show keeps ramping up the insanity throughout its ten episodes, eventually building to a stunning conclusion you’ll have to see to believe. Come for the monsters and the eye-popping animation, stay for the emotionally involving story.