Editor's Note: This list is from 2007. An addendum with seven more titles of anime horror has been published recently. To check out that list, go here.
As we all know, anime is legion and contains multitudes. One of the things it does very, very well is scare the pants off you. But when you want something scary (or at least bloody) and don't know where to start, what should you watch? Here is Needcoffee.com's list of Top 10 Horror Anime. Left off the list are things like Uzumaki that were manga and maybe even live-action, but never animated; I've also avoided things that are "horror" only because of where tentacles are put or what sadists will do to children (see the Director's Cut of Kite for what I mean here, or rather don't see it). Those aren't fun, and anime should be fun.
And so it beginsâ€¦.
10. Mermaid Forest.
You wouldn't think a mermaid tale would be horror, but in the hands of an anime master, it is. Rumiko Takahashi's moody and affecting series is based upon a Japanese folktale that suggests that those who eat mermaid flesh will gain eternal life. However, it seems that sometimes, the diners will instead become monsters. The main characters, Yuta and Mana, didn't intend to become immortal, and now wander the world trying to find mermaids who they think can make them normal again. The world, however, is full of nasty people and monsters, and the quest is never easy. The video excerpt we picked provides a nice sample of the show's animation and style, as well as lost souls, murder, and human sacrifice. For my reviews of the title--check those out here. (Find Mermaid Forest titles at Amazon.)
9. Trinity Blood.
In a post-apocalyptic future, the Roman Catholic Church is at war with vampires, who themselves prey upon the struggling humans. Part of the horror is in seeing how both sides use "lost technologies" such as computers and missiles to wage war. Various vampires (or "Methuselahs") have varying powers, and they use these abilities to devastating affect. There is also a quartet of man-made vampires, known as Crusniks, who feed upon the Methuselahs and come complete with nanomachines. Thanks again to YouTube for providing a space for this snippet; the quality isn't the best, but it provides a look at the show's feel and aesthetic. (Click here to buy the title at Amazon.)
8. Vampire Princess Miyu.
This eerily beautiful series relates the tale of the forever-young Miyu, born a vampire, who feeds upon and is charged with the destruction of the shinma, who cause human suffering. With her is a mysterious demonic protector known only as Larva. The main character, a spiritualist named Himiko, relates the tale as she learns more about the object of her fascination, Miyu; a twist is that Himiko might have some vampiric secrets of her own.
Our video selection here is an interesting Anime Music Video (AMV) that does a good job of summing up Miyu's life and quest.
That video has been taken down...we've switched to a bit from the first episode. (Click here to buy the title from Amazon.)
7. Kakurenbo: Hide & Seek.
This short film is a chilling tale of what happens on the street where no one lives after dark. A group of children gather together to help find the missing sister of one of their number, but they don't quite know what to expect when the darkness falls and the lights start to flicker on by themselves. What is a child's game really like? Like the greatest of live-action horror, just enough is left to the imagination to make the sucker-punches of the plot really hit home. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)
6. Boogiepop Phantom.
The disjointed storytelling style of this series is the perfect accompaniment to the scattered terror and mystery of this series. Five years ago, the city was shocked by a series of brutal murders, and now the murders may be starting up again. Is a demon death-god responsible? Or is it the ghost of a murdered child? The various characters develop different themes of the story, which is itself a commentary on the evolution of human consciousness.
The YouTube music video we've selected, set to the show's closing theme, gives you a pretty good look at what the show is about. Are you ready?
That vid's been taken down as well, but we've replaced it with an image from the series since we can't find another decent embeddable video. (Click here to buy the title from Amazon.)
5. Perfect Blue.
An example of a slasher flick in anime, Perfect Blue shows the psychological disintegration of a J-pop star with a seriously disturbed stalker. This is horror in part because it could actually happen. In order the stave off the typical fate of the aging pop idol, the singer in question has reinvented herself as a sensual actress, dropping her good-girl image and infuriating fans. A scathing critique of the pop idol system in Japan, as well as a finely wrought psychological horror, Perfect Blue is well-worth its fame. The rape scene, a dramatic and disturbing play within a play, gives us Mimi's character realizing that her identity is entirely a construct at the same time we realize Mimi's disassociation is increasing. It's affecting and brilliant. Nine Inch Nails' "Perfect Drug" was an inspired choice for the AMV we've posted up there. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)
4. Jin-Roh: Wolf Brigade.
A retelling of the faery tale of Little Red Riding Hood set in a fascist-run near future, this is psychological horror of the first order. It's a classic in itself, as well as a classic of situational and possible horror. What has been done to the soldiers to make them such perfect killing machines? Why is the little girl carrying a bomb...or is she? The mysteries and the tragedies blend into a horror that isn't about the blood you see, but about the blood you feel. If you want to say Jin-Roh isn't horror, think for a minute about how very easily this world could become the world we live in--chilling. I can't think of anything more perfect and inspired than an AMV for this series set to "Paint It Black." (See up top there.) Beware the big bad wolf. You can read Doc's review of the DVD here. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)
3. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.
It's the less-campy sequel to the anime classic and a classic in its own right, Bloodlust provides another chapter in the life of the much-beloved and dashing dhampire, D. This time, Our Hero faces off against a creepy-as-Hell group of circus-freak vampires, other vampire hunters, and a master vampire or two, along the way providing enough atmospherics, chills, and bits of moody scenery for a dozen lesser films.
The AMV we've selected provides an interesting visual introduction to the movie.
Gritty and modern without being painfully post-modern, Gantz puts normal people into an impossible situation and forces them to do things they never thought they'd doâ€¦ but will. Before Saw's hopelessly cockeyed interpretation of will they-won't they, Gantz creates a fresh idea--people who are already "dead" and don't want to die again--trapped in a room and at the beck and call of a mysterious black sphere. Sartre's "Hell is other people" never had such proof as this, nor did the idea that humans are still animals. What is Gantz? A game? A secret government project? Who knows? This is one anime that forces you to care about people you know are probably damned and is a rare example of how to be mysterious without just being ham-handedly confusing. Awesome.
See our assassins at work in the AMV, which does a great job of addressing the themes of death and resurrection.
Hellsing is among the best of anime, period. Combining fantastic characterizations and an interesting world with an engrossingly complex, but not ridiculous, plot, this short series manages to combine standard horror tropesâ€”vampires, blood, Cthulhu-esque monsters, and moreâ€”while never forgetting it should also entertain. Along the way, we also get a huge helping of action, complete with one of anime's best soundtracks, high-caliber weaponry, explosions, endangered national buildings, the best boss ever, and lots of shooting people in the face. What more could you possibly want? Rammstein provided the music for this Hellsing AMV. Check out Alucard's smile. My reviews of the title are here. (Click here to buy the title from Amazon.)