What defines an anime as dark? Here at Honeys Anime we think it’s a brutal and realistic representation of history, a sense of hopelessness felt by the protagonists, a bleak and desolate aesthetic or even the visual recognition of abusive relationships and fetishism.
We have compiled a list of our top 10 darkest anime series or films. We’ve considered the thematic concepts, art direction, characters and emotions. The following anime have abrasive art styles, non traditional, twisted, broken characters and stories that will make you question the true meaning until you reach the final desolate act.
10. Shigurui: Death Frenzy
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jul 2007 - Oct 2007
Shigurui is a historically relevant Edo period drama where Lord Tokugawa Tadanaga holds a fighting tournament. In the past, matches were fought with wooden swords. This time, real swords will be used. One-armed Fujiki Gennosuke and blind Irako Seigen will fight each other in this match. Both are disciples of Iwamoto Kogan, who is known as Japan's greatest swordsman. Each of them are determined to prove himself the successor of Iwamoto's school. What follows is a visually striking animation the provides insight into life in Edo period Japan.
Shigurui is worthy of a place on our list of darkest anime for its frank and brutal representation of life in historic Japan. The animation is beautiful, echoing traditional Japanese tapestry paintings while encapsulating the stark realities of life for people outside of the samurai classes in feudal Japan. The darkness of this anime doesn’t come from an archetypal ‘evil’ antagonist or from a psychologically disturbing phenomenon. It is instead a brutal reminder of how far society has come that we now longer live in an era in which a lower born person would have their head removed from their shoulders for forgetting to bow at the correct angle to their shogunate lord.
9. Dangan Ronpa: The Animation
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Jul 2013 - Sep 2013
Despair. This single word perfect is at the epicentre of this 2013 anime adaptation of the equally excellent PSP/VITA visual novel series. Makoto Naegi is an average student with extraordinary luck when he is invited to join the prestigious Hopes Peak Academy, home to the brightest group of ‘ultimate’ talents in the country. However after awakening with no memories, Makoto and 15 other classmates each with a unique personality and ultimate talent are confronted by the deceptively evil teddy bear MonoKuma. What unfolds from here is a game of despair, where the only way to escape being trapped in the school forever is to kill one of your classmates and escape being caught by the rest of the group. If this isn’t enough motivation to kill, then MonoKuma is more than happy to provide Makoto and the others with ample motive.
While the animation and voice acting may be relatively bright and far from groundbreaking, the overall theme and story is a dark and frank examination of how far individuals will go when back into a corner. The first murder that occurs will leave viewers shocked, even more so witnessing the execution of the culprit. The terror and despair felt by the characters is tangible, yet the reasons for murders taking place often hit very close to home. These aren’t bad people, they simply believe they have no other options. This sense of hopelessness is what gives DanganRonpa: The Animation a spot on our Top 10 Dark Anime.
8.Mousou Dairanin (Paranoia Agent)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Feb 2004 – May 2004
From the mind of Satoshi Kon (Paprika, Tokyo Godfathers) comes what initially seems as a simple premise but will later have all the hallmarks of his twisted, mind warping style. An elementary school kid dubbed with the title "shounen bat" or "lil slugger" has been going around attacking people with his bent, golden bat. Now, two detectives are investigating so they can stop this kid from making any more attacks, but they will find out soon enough... that this case is much more than they expected.
As fans of Satoshi’s previous work will expect the initial detective ‘whodunnit’ story quickly diverges into the type of disturbing and psychologically dark anime that deserves to make our top 10 dark anime list. The animation is unique and has a rough dynamic along with a dark and earthy colour palette. The story involves more twists and turns than a rollercoaster, it will never let you feel comfortable in the knowledge that you know what will happen next. An excellent selection from one of the masters of twisted psychological anime.
7. Aku no Hana (Flowers of Evil)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Apr 2013 - Jun 2013
Kasuga Takao is a boy who loves reading books, particularly Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. A girl at his school, Saeki Nanako, is his muse and his Venus, and he admires her from a distance. One day, he forgets his copy of Les Fleurs du Mal, in the classroom, he finds not only his book, but Saeki's gym uniform. On a mad impulse, he steals it. Now everyone knows "some pervert" stole Saeki's uniform, and Kasuga is dying with shame and guilt. Furthermore, the weird, creepy, and friendless girl of the class, Nakamura, saw him take the uniform. Instead of revealing it was him, she recognizes his kindred deviant spirit and uses her knowledge to take control of his life. What follows is a black drama that is genuinely uncomfortable and disturbing to watch.
Aku no Hana fully deserves a place on this list of dark anime, the whole show is a lesson in abusive control bordering on fetishism. The art style, which has drawn criticism from some corners of internet fandom, is a jarringly authentic portrayal of real high school students. The character models are often plain or ugly, not the usual, bikini figurine selling moe trope common among most modern anime. This is actually a bold change from the original manga release which helps to elevate this series above its source material. Kasuga’s inability to actively think and decide for himself and Nakamura’s abusive treatment of him make this a deep dark examination of personality. There are many scenes in which the protagonist is subjected to humiliation which is difficult to watch, however his character arc will come full circle by the excellent final episode for some hope of redemption.
6. Serial Experiments Lain
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Jul 1998 to Sep 1998
Lain Iwakura, an awkward and introverted fourteen-year-old, is one of the many girls from her school to receive a disturbing email from her classmate Chisa Yomoda, the very same Chisa who recently committed suicide. When the technophobe opens the email, it leads her straight into the Wired, a virtual world of communication networks similar to what we know as the internet. Lain's life is turned upside down as she begins to encounter cryptic mysteries one after another. With the boundaries between reality and cyberspace rapidly blurring, Lain is plunged into more surreal and bizarre events where identity, consciousness, and perception are concepts that take on new meanings.
A conceptually ambitious dark anime series, that examines the role of technology in society as well as the perception of reality. Very ahead of its time in 1998, with a uniquely jarring art style and brooding mystery filled atmosphere. This anime is able to make us truly question conventions of life we hold as truth and effectively deals with delicate issues like depression and suicide. With excellent characterization that is the main driving force behind the story, Serial Experiments Lain is a modern contemporary classic.
5. Ergo Proxy
- Episodes: 23
- Aired: Feb 2006 – August 2006
After the explosion of the methane hydrate layer, the remaining members of mankind are forced to live in isolated domed cities scattered across the arid and inhospitable planet. They live in a controlled society and are assisted in daily life by autonomous robots called AutoReivs. In one of these cities, Romdo, Inspector Re-l Mayer, granddaughter of the regent, leads an investigation concerning AutoReivs that have gone mad after being infected by the Cogito virus. In the process, she comes in contact with a monster called Proxy. Elsewhere in the city, immigrant Vincent Law is on the run after being framed for involvement in several Cogito cases. Together, along with the adorable child-AutoReiv Pino, they set out on a journey to the dome city Mosk in order to unravel the mystery of the Proxies.
Ergo Proxy is a superb piece of post apocalyptic fiction and social commentary fusing a dark and mysterious aesthetic and story with a well developed and likable cast that deviate from typical anime archetypes. The story in particular can be difficult to decipher immediately, it requires you to pay attention and also to think for yourself and question your own beliefs. This mystery will last throughout the series with slight moments of clarity at the end of each episode that culminates in an excellent finale. If you like your sci-fi grounded, dark and gritty then Ergo Proxy is a must watch.
4. Perfect Blue
- Episodes: 1 Film
- Aired: Feb 28, 1998
Mima Kirigoe, a member of a pop-idol group called "CHAM!", decides to quit singing to pursue a career as an actress. Some of her fans are displeased with this decision though, particularly a stalker named Me-Mania. As Mima progresses into her new career, those close to her are violently murdered one by one, and Mima begins to lose the ability to distinguish reality from fantasy.
A harrowing psychological mystery that blurs the lines between the real world and the darker side of the human mind, perfect blue is certainly not a film to be viewed by our younger readers. This classic adaptation of a Japanese novel ticks all the boxes for what we consider dark or disturbing in any form of media, let alone in anime. Be forewarned there is sexual violence, graphic murder and an art style that rarely deviates from the darker side of the colour palette. This is all wrapped around a phenomenal story whose twists and turns will leave you stunned and hugging your nearest loved one/pillow.
3.Corpse Party: Tortured Souls
- Episodes: 4 (OVA)
- Aired: Jul 24, 2013
Corpse Party: Tortured Souls is a 4 piece OVA owing its name to the Visual Novel series on PSP and also a short form manga. The story is set in Heavenly Host Elementary School, an elementary school that was torn down following the murders and disappearances of several of its staff and students. By the start of the story, another school called Kisaragi Academy has been built over the elementary school site. One night, a group of students from Kisaragi are telling ghost stories when a sudden earthquake transports them to another dimension where Heavenly Host Elementary still exists and is haunted by the ghosts of the school's murdered children.
Murdered children in the description alone effectively conveys why this is consider one of our top 10 dark series. It is a shocking, isolating mystery horror that will draw viewers into feeling the same sense of entrapment and despair as Kisaragi and her friends. Drawing upon classic elements of Japanese horror and superstition, Corpse Party uses jarring examples of human brutality to bring realism to the supernatural mystery. We guarantee you will not be the same after finishing its short, 4 episode story arc.
2. Higurashi no naku koro ni (When they Cry)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Apr 2006 - Sep 2006
After moving into the quiet town of Hinamizawa, Maebara Keiichi spends his days blissfully in school often playing games with his local friends. However, appearances can be deceiving. One fateful day, Keiichi stumbles upon news of a murder that had occurred in Hinamizawa. From this point on, horrific events unfold in front of Keiichi, as he soon learns his close friends may not be all that they seem. Based on the amateur mystery game by 07th Expansion, the story is told in a series of different scenarios.
Higurashi is a compelling murder mystery that lulls viewers into a false sense of security with it’s typical romanitc comedy high school moe trope female casts. The true horror and shock is derived from the stark contrast of its character style, voice acting and setting, with the brutal acts of murder that effects likable multiple protagonists. Watching Higurashi is like observing a terrible experiment in human behaviour and the darkness that exists in unlikely places. Viewers will feel compelled to see the mystery through the end in the hope of being able to save these victims and prevent this picturesque town from fully descending into darkness.
- Episodes: 74
- Aired: Apr 2004 - Sep 2005
Dr. Kenzo Tenma is a renowned young brain surgeon of Japanese descent working in Europe. Highly lauded by his peers as one of the great young minds that will revolutionize the field, he is blessed with a beautiful fiancé and is on the cusp of a high promotion in the hospital he works at. However, all of that is about to change with one critical decision that Dr. Tenma faces one night; whether to save the life of a young child or that of the town's mayor. Despite being pressured by his superiors to perform surgery on the mayor, his morals force him to perform the surgery on the young child, saving his life and forfeiting the mayor's. All of a sudden, Dr. Tenma's world is turned upside down by his decision leading to the loss of everything he previously had.
The only long form series that will make this list, which is a testament to the quality of writing found throughout Monster. While most series would struggle to maintain darker themes over this length of time, Monster manages to eschew conventions and deliver a stark and realistic examination of morality and the value of human life. Dr. Tenma tries his best to try and fix the desperately broken world around him and the main antagonist Johan Liebhert will likely top many most evil characters in anime lists. The animation is grounded in the real world with a dour colour palette and non traditional anime design for the character models which all combines to makes Monster one of the dark pieces of fiction we have ever seen.
There we have it, our list of the top 10 darkest anime films and series to watch during Halloween and the dark winter months. Do you agree or disagree? What would you have included and omitted? Please leave a comment and tell us what you think!