Psychological can be defined as substance “of, pertaining to, dealing with, or affecting the mind, especially as a function of awareness, feeling, or motivation. That’s a pretty wide premise. However, it also captures the essence of how the substance not only presents heavy subject matter, but presents it in a way that forces our minds into a statement of awareness. It’s this requirement, the ability to force analytical action from the audience towards the show as much as themselves, that defines this list. Without further ado, let us take a trip down some rather perilous, almost psychedelic, anime.
10. Death Note
- Episodes: 37
- Aired: Oct. 2006 – Jun. 2007
As most of us probably know, Death Note follows Light Yagami, a young idealist, as he attempts to create a utopia through the power of the Death Note, which kills whomever is written in its pages.
Now, there’s going to be some hate for Death Note not being near the top of this list, but this list is focused on a show’s ability to warp the audience’s mind. Death Note is great at capturing the reader’s imagination, but it touts its ideologies as straight forwardly as possible, as do most investigative thrillers such as Terror in Resonance, Monster, and Psycho-Pass (all of which are great, just not for this list). Nonetheless, these shows do give the audience quite a bit to ponder (what is justice, harmony, utopia?) as well as consistently intense mental games.
9. Aku no Hana
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Apr. 2013 – Jun. 2013
Ever wonder what would happen if you got caught stealing someone’s laundry? Aku no Hana does exactly that as Kasuga Takao is spotted by another student as he steals his crush’s gym clothes.
Despite its rather simple premise, this anime’s episodes are filled with cryptic requests, gestures, and moments for us to unravel. There aren’t any long soliloquies of what’s right and wrong, so it’s our job to figure out the motives and question the internal dialogues. More importantly, the artwork of this show forces introspection. Its blurry, impressionistic animation diminishes the feel of a medium between us and the characters, putting us in their shoes.
8. Serial Experiments Lain
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Jul. 1998 – Sep. 1998
This classic unleashes a world of cyberpunk mystery upon its audience the moment Lain Iwakura receives a disturbing email from a classmate who committed suicide. Without batting an eye, Triangle Staff’s psychological thriller toys with Lain’s perception of reality as she traverses the contents of the real world and the world of the Wired (aka the Internet).
Each choice made in this anime has resounding consequences that keep the audience on its feet. More importantly, this anime deftly handles issues of identity and consciousness with the advancement of technology. It’s asking what happens when we interact intimately and consistently with an impossible store of knowledge. Obviously, things begin to blur and unhinge themselves, and yet there’s power as well. In the end, it forces you to consider your interactions with technology and the countless possibilities that are at your fingers.
7. Ergo Proxy
- Episodes: 23
- Aired: Feb. 2006 – Aug. 2006
Mankind has been forced to live in isolated establishments scattered across the world. It is in one such colony, a metal metropolis, that we meet the triad of heroes who will begin to unravel the complicated and unmarked territories of this world. There’s Inpsector Re-I Mayer, Proxy Vincent Law, and the child-AutoReiv Pino who make up a rather diverse group of individuals who struggle as much to figure out their own desires as to understand one another.
Ergo Proxy is easily the most confusing of all the series on here, and can easily derail a lot of viewers. This is not, however, because the narrative is told sloppily or incoherently but rather through an intricate mix of references and symbolism. From Greek mythology to the ideas of multiple philosophers, this anime winds together an epic of self-discovery that few shows can compare to. Bending your mind each step of the way, Ergo Proxy forces you into settlements and landscapes that defy genre by exposing the inner turmoil of separate mental hives and ideologies.
6. Mousou Dairinin (Paranoia Agent)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Feb. 2004 – May 2004
Mousou Dairinin is one of those shows you don’t want to watch with the lights off. It purses the case of apprehending the infamous Shounen Bat (Lil’ Slugger) who has been flying across Musashino City on rollerblades an pummeling people with his golden baseball bat. The detectives Keiichi Ikari and Mitsuhiro Maniwa are on the case, however, with each passing day, paranoia is spreading and the Shounen Bat’s terror is spreading.
Mousou Dairinin incredibly handles the infectious nature of paranoia and anxiety. Within its narrative there’s an active discourse on panic and the erosion of one’s mind to fear as rumors seize the entire community about who the culprit is. In doing so, it also successfully toys around with your expectations to an incredible degree. Furthermore, its representations of characters heavily toys with certain notions of perception. Is it the character that views himself/herself, society, or simply the artist’s desire to meet the audience’s expectation?
5. Kuuchuu Buranko (Welcome to Irabu's Office)
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: Oct. 2009 – Dec. 2009
Kuuchuu Buranko is all about chasing the rabbit down its hole as we get a firsthand look at the quirky practices of one Dr. Ichiro Irabu. It’s one trippy ride as patients file in, looking for him to help solve their problems.
Visually, the show is a psychedelic madhouse of environments and colors that will both assault and mesmerize your eyes. Its vivid animation acts as a perfect backdrop to symbolize the unconscious, its wild power, and how little we truly understand of ourselves.
Plot-wise, this anime tackles mental issues unlike anything else. A lot of the time, the treatment methods seem rash or bizarre, escaping even the understanding of the patient. Yet, that’s one of the beautiful points. Mental health problems, issues of fear and anxiety, don’t have a plain and simple treatment.
4. Death Parade
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan. 2015 – Mar. 2015
How weird would it be to die and then find yourself in a bar where you must play a simple game against another to determine your fate? That’s the premise of Death Parade as the bar’s master Decim, observes each game to determine who will be reincarnated and those will not.
Death Parade demands your attention from start to finish as it presents an almost too simplistic environment. Indeed, its rather plain setting forces our attention on the characters and every little action they make. It wants us to analyze them and make judgments of our own as even the most minor of games becomes a battlefield for psychological and emotional warfare. Wrapping this show’s open discourse up quite nicely is the realization that Decim might not know what he’s doing. Suddenly, death is once more realized as another factor of life. It is uncertain and never clear cut.
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: Nov. 2006
Paprika throws viewers into a world where it’s possible to enter into the subconscious of another person through the use of a DC Mini. Captaining the rise and use of this technology is Dr. Atsuko Chiba, whose alternate identity of Paprika, when entering another person’s mind, can benefit society to great lengths by analyzing and resolving deep-rooted issues in people. However, the first of this technology, a prototype DC Mini, has been stolen and someone is using the machine to instigate psychological warfare against society. Inception anyone?
Traversing dream state backdrops of different minds while chasing down the person who stole the DC Mini sets up the plot for Paprika. Abstract and beautiful, you will find yourself in settings that both confuse and draw you in. Ripe with questions of identity, and what defines reality Paprika will keep you glued to the screen the whole time.
However, rather than simply interweaving the lines of reality and fiction to create tension, Paprika suggests that there is really only a thin veil between the two. Sight is a medium, memories are a medium, everything is subjection to refractions of light streaming through faulty lenses. Thus, everything, including the wildest scenarios of our dreams, are open to us. Is there still drama, of course, but there’s a sense of delight too, that comes from the belief that we can break past our own concepts.
2. Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei (The Tatami Galaxy)
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: Apr. 2010 – Jul. 2010
If Kuuchuu Buranko is chasing the rabbit, then Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei is tailing the groundhog. Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei focuses on a nameless protagonist, who, in his endeavors to make the most of his college life, consistently repeats his first two years. In a revolving door of life’s joys and disappointments, our main man sets out to conceive his ideal self.
Director Masaaki Yuasa does not waste any time blasting the audience with psychological warfare. Immediately, were are introduced to a world of folklore sand oddities as our hero unleashes an almost rabid chorus of mental ingenuity while sitting down at a ramen stand that possibly serves cat soup, we are introduced into a world of crazy folklore and oddities.
The animation is one of temporal space with everything shifting, constantly moving about us with very little to root us besides the repetition of a few familiar faces. It’s easy to get lost, and depicts well our struggles with stepping past our self-imposed boundaries of routine and habit. Topping off the incredible narrative is the sense of connection we feel with our protagonist, whose namelessness helps make such a bond all the more poignant. In many ways, he is the voiced manifestation or our anxiety and concern that we’re missing one thing or another in our lives.
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: Feb 28, 1998
Perfect Blue revolves around the life of Mima Kirigne as she decides to leave her pop idol group and become an actress. Not only is one of her more ‘intense’ fans extremely upset about this, but, upon starting her acting career, crazy things begin to happen to people involved with the film she’s starring in. Thus, begins the mental breakdown of both Mimi and ourselves.
This movie is one of the earlier and most renowned works of Satoshi Kon, who was also at the helm of both Paranoia Agent and Paprika. Clearly, the man had mastered his trade. With each passing moment in Perfect Blue, the lines between nightmares, dreams, and realities become more and more interwoven. Deciphering the labyrinth of Mima’s mental state is a task of the upmost perception, and yet, the things you’re bound to pick up are just as likely to bait you into a misconception.
This is not one of the shows with a lighter side to it as it drags us down into a blood-curdling anxiety that has you gripping the edge of your seat. You will keep hoping for freedom, for the cycle to break as you yourself get lost in Mima’s spiraling madness. Throw in some extremely gory moments, and Perfect Blue is a psychological thriller that pushes our comfort levels to their limits.
Psychological shows just offer a plethora of worlds both mental and physical to explore, and if you haven’t jumped into the genre before, then use this list as your guide. With all that said and done, a little shout out needs to be given to Mayioga, which is currently showing potential to screw with your mind on multiple levels. Were there any mind blowing shows that you think deserve a shout out?