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Thrillers are characterized by capturing the audience’s attention with heightened feelings of suspense, excitement, and surprise. Suspense being the main factor as the purest form of a thriller relies on an unknown aspect that piques either a psychological fear or an intense curiosity. It’s a big reason why murder mysteries, hard-boiled detectives, and police procedurals are common narrative pieces for a thriller.
Now, it’s been almost a couple years, since we a released a thriller list. With the passing seasons, we’ve been introduced to some shows that contend with past entries, even with the classics, and so it’s time to update the list and show some love for the dominating forces of modernity. Apologies here and now as this list will only cover the past decade. Monster and When They Cry fans can cry foul now if they want, but the last ten years have shown some great strides in the thriller genre deserving recognition.
10. Tokyo Ghoul
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Jul. 2014 – Mar. 2015
Tokyo has become a dangerous and divided city with the existence of ghouls, beings that must eat humans to live. Even though humans have found ways to fight against the ghouls, a violent revolutionary group of ghouls threaten to overthrow everything. In the midst of these changing times, a college boy, Ken Kaneki, finds himself thrown fully into the war as he’s turned into an artificial half-ghoul.
Like most thrillers, there’s fear of the unknown, uncertain livelihoods, precarious relationships, and epic battles. However, what Tokyo Ghoul does best is portray both sides to the story with characters of various levels understanding and tolerance. On the ghouls side, we have characters like Hinami who has never eaten a living human, and yet must live knowing that she’s considered a monster. There’s Kureo Mado on the human side who’s very inhumane is his relentless and disturbed pursuit to kill ghouls. Thus, personalities intermix and histories are revealed in a seamless, yet shocking fashion.
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Jan. 2016 – Apr. 2016
Polygon Pictures’s winter thriller, Ajin, takes us into a world where supernatural beings, said to be immortal, exist. For a long time, these supposed immortals have lived in relative peace with humanity with a few documented interactions. However, this all changes in Japan, when one Ajin, Satou, begins to terrorize the nation. No longer are Ajin some mysterious force for scholars to theorize about, but a daily terror. It’s when this fear is growing that Kei Nagai discovers in a terrible bus accident that he is one of these supernatural beings.
If you’re not into CG, this might be a tough one to swallow. However, it’s definitely worth a shot. Ajin provides a very detailed portrait of a society and its dependence on information. Between students gossiping about a viral video in which an Ajin is murdered multiple times to news reports with the names of suspected Ajin an innate sense of fear and paranoia is built throughout the world. Heightening the fear and causing mass discrimination towards the Ajin are the extreme, gritty terrorist actions of Satou. Overall, this anime not only sets up intensive questions of morality and truth, but feels extremely relevant to many contemporary dilemmas.
8. Koutetsujou no Kabaneri (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Apr. 2016 – Jul. 2016
Otherwise known as Attack on Titan season two, Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is the best thriller this season. Created by Wit Studio, this anime follows the main character, Ikoma, in a steam punk, apocalyptic world that is overrun by zombie-like monsters, the Kabane.
A perfect mix of the graphic novel Snowpiercer and the series Attack on Titan, Koutetsujou no Kabaneri pushes and pulls viewers between a desire to find out the historic events that triggered such a world calamity and the fear of what further discoveries the future will hold.
Though many might see it as a rip off of AoT, the creators have clearly developed a more concise narrative. You won’t find yourself pointlessly watching an episode of training that was difficult due to a technicality. From the first episode, there’s a train attack, a city overran, and a hero who wants to haunt the memories of those who left him to die by sacrificing himself for them.
7. Mirai Nikki (The Future Diary)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Oct. 2011 – Apr. 2012
Mirai Nikki sends Yukiteru Amano down one terrifying journey as he finds himself in a rat race to become the new god of time and space. With 11 other contestants, each holding a future diary with an incredible power, Yuki must meticulously maneuver himself through increasingly dangerous situations in order to survive.
Episode by episode, Miraii Nikki proves itself to be a thriller of outstanding proportions. Paranoia, fear, and excitement mix together into a compelling narrative is Yuki propelled through a world where he can’t trust anyone. Furthermore, the one person he relies on frequently, Yuno Gasai, is an insane stalker. The best part of this is show is that you always feel a cold sweat, as if someone’s watching you. However, instead of being able to turn around, you’re shot forward, as Yuno decidedly blows up entire classrooms of students or axes someone in the face to protect Yuki.
6. Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu (Parasyte the Maxim)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Oct. 2014 – Mar. 2015
Normal life is challenging enough, but apparently to Madhouse it’s not hard enough. Apparently, Earth needs to be invaded by aliens who are able to burrow into brains and take full control of their hosts. From there they basically normal, but are able to morph into insane forms in order to kill and eat their prey, more humans.
That’s the setting that Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu throws you into. Now, our protagonist in this world, Shinichi Izumi is one such human who has had an alien species invade his body. However, it wasn’t able to get to this brain and thus it simply resides in Izumi’s right hand. Essentially he has become a hybrid of sorts that threatens the parasitic invaders and so has a hit on his head. This circumstance forces a tenuous collaboration between Izumi and his right hand, Migi, who together must carefully navigate this dangerous environment. Keeping us strapped in each and every episode is this thriller’s extraordinary synthesis between brutal fights and murders to the personal drama of Izumi as he tries to side step the attention of friends and family in order to protect them.
5. Death Note
- Episodes: 37
- Aired: Oct. 2006 – Jun. 2007
Death Note’s narrative follows the events after the Shinigami Ryuk drops his Death Note into the human world. By chance, it falls into the hands of the idealistic and slightly bored high school senior Light Yagami. From there, Light begins to use the Death Note, which has the power to kill anyone whose name is written within its covers, in order to create a utopia. However, his version of justice is questionable to say the least and catches the attention of the world-renowned detective known as ‘L’.
It’s hard to believe that almost a decade ago Death Note had us chasing after Light Yagami as he made himself into a literal god. This anime is considered a classic for a reason. Government officials, secret societies, gods of death all come together in glorious battles of the mind. However, the main two in the ring, consistently challenging each other more, is Light and L. Whether it’s admitting to Light he’s “L”, challenging him to a tennis match, or handcuffing himself to Light; L constantly throws down the gauntlet. From there, we get the joy of watching Light finesse his way out after some intense reasoning.
4. Death Parade
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan. 2015 – Mar. 2015
You find yourself in a bar-like setting, with a person you may or may not know. There’s also a bartender with great hair who goes by the name Decim. He says it’s time to play a game to decide whether or not you’ll be reincarnated or sent to a void. This is Death Parade.
Death Parade demands your attention from start to finish as it presents an extremely unique thriller. With its singular environment, our attention focuses in on the characters as they play rather ordinary games to decide their fate. However, each game has a twist, and so every single character quirk or twitch becomes heavily pronounced and holds levels of meaning. Emotional and psychological warfare are a constant in this thriller, and you won’t be able to look away as you consistently wonder what death really means in this world.
3. Zankyou no Terror (Terror in Resonance)
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: Jul. 2014 – Sep. 2014
Zankyou no Terror follows the activities of the two-member terrorist organization, Sphinx, and the desperate attempts of the government to solve each of their riddles. Now, Nine and Twelve, two high-school aged boys, are the ones leading the attacks in order to enact revenge against the experimental and cruel government program that they were brought up in. As they, push forward though, they recruit a quiet and reserved girl into their schemes as well as earn the attention of some incredible detectives.
Zankyou no Terror is the modern portrait of the police procedural/psychological thriller that shows like Monster and Death Note popularized years ago. It shares their twisting plot, dynamic characters, and unflinching look at the darker depths of human nature. However, it’s more concise in its narrative, driving each episode home with one battle in this war having been won or lost. Thus, there is never a wasted moment as we are pulled into a terrorized world where stuffed animals are the make up for bombs and Greek riddles must be analyzed and situated in context of modern infrastructure.
Really pushing this show forward is the intelligence of the characters and their ability to test one another to greater degrees. It’s a constant chess match, with explosions for every pawn or rook taken. Everyone has something invested in the plot and everyone, whether or not they care to admit, have something to lose.
2. Steins; Gate
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Apr. 2011 – Sep. 2011
Steins; Gate shoves us through the maddening consequences of time travel as we follow the adventures of Okabe Rintarou, a self-proclaimed “Mad Scientist” and head of the Future Gadget Research Laboratory. Alongside two other members of the Future Gadget Research Laboratory, Okabe happens to invent a phone microwave capable of sending messages to the past and thus changing their lives.
In the words of the main character, “No one knows what the future holds. That’s why its potential is infinite.” This quote is the show’s inherent strength. Anything is possible and as his crew’s antics with time travel unravels into a universe ripe with tragedy, Okabe finds himself frantically sending messages to the past and getting into insane situations in order to get a happier outcome.
Nailing this show so high up on the list is the fact that it is successfully able to incorporate so many different aspects into its narrative with ease. Okabe’s Dr. Pepper jokes, the perverse nature of Daru, and the swift tongue of Kurisu play out humorously, adding an extra layer to the show overall as well as enhancing the darker aspects of the show.
1. Boku dake ga Inai Machi (ERASED)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan. 2016 – Mar. 2016
Boku dake ga Inai Machi blew the anime community away this this January. Without trepidation, it sends Satoru Fujinuma into the past, and, in doing so, throws viewers into an emotionally charged, dramatic thriller. You see, Satoru has this strange ability, which he calls ‘Revival,’ that activates when a tragedy occurs. Basically, said tragedy occurs, his ability activates, and then the he is sent back generally several minutes just before the incident. For the most part, he uses this ability to constantly save the lives of others. However, when his mother is killed and he’s framed for the murder, his ability goes into overdrive sending him 18 years in the past, to when he was only 11.
This happens, as Satoru soon figures out for himself, because his mother’s death might have something to do with the abduction and murder of his quiet classmate, Kayo Hinazuki. So not only can he possibly save his mother, but also a child whose memory has haunted him. Well, rather than turn this show into a simple murder mystery, which could have been solved in about half the episodes, the creators at A-1 Pictures focus on the complex ways that human interactions can play out and how intensely certain relationships can define our personalities and actions. Parental abuse and bullying play a heavy part in this anime, but so does friendship and a mother’s uncompromising love.
In many ways, Boku dake ga Inai Machi really portrays the range of humanity and the importance of connecting with one another. However, to make such ideals shine as brightly as possible, an extremely dark shadow must be cast over the entirety of the show. Be prepared to be glued to your screen for this one as you explore just how impressionistic human nature is.
Word of warning: starting any of these shows will likely have you binging the series until it’s finished. As a result, starting one of them while finals or something important is coming up might not be the best idea. Also, two small shout outs must be given. One to Pscyho-Pass, which has continued to impress with its futuristic dystopian finally overlapping into international territories, and the other to Gakkougurashi!, which has such a deceptive art style when compared to the psychological horror that plays out within its 12 episodes. That being said, those are the top 10 thriller anime in the past ten years. Were there any shows perhaps overlooked or deserving of at least an honorable mention?
There are a lot of various genres of anime where everyone can find what they like, and there is always a specific anime or genre that we enjoy the most. Among them, thriller anime. A particular dark genre of anime where the pressure is always high and the viewers cannot do anything except hold their breath until the very end.
Whether they are associated with horror, action or science fiction, the particular genre of thriller anime keeps the attention of the viewers and often remains stuck in their mind even after they finished viewing it. Among all the existing thriller anime, some of them could shock the viewers because of its events, but this genre of anime is unquestionably popular.
So, this Top 10 would mention some of the best thriller anime ever among all those which have been created until now. As it is hard to rank some anime without being subjective, I hope you would agree with my choice for this selection !
10. Higurashi no naku koro ni (When they cry)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Apr 2006 – Sept 2006
The story follows Keiichi Maebara, who just moved to the little town of Hinamizawa. Making friends and having a peaceful life there, he will soon be in the middle of strange events. Keiichi will realize that his friends are not really what he thought they were as a lot of horrific events will begin all around him.
In this show, there are a lot of different stories which are dealt within a few episodes. The story then goes back to the beginning and follows a totally different scenario with different characters. It is interesting in the way, all characters are treated equally until their darker side is awakened.
9. Mirai Nikki (The Future Diary )
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Oct 2011 – Apr 2012
Yuki is a high school student who doesn't have any friends and doesn't want to make any. He is always fantasizing about unreal things and writing a diary in his phone about every little thing that happens to him. Until the day he is offered to enter a battle royale where each participant owns their specific and unique diary which allows them to see the future.
An anime with a lot of psychology well mixed with the thriller aspect. The pressure is always present and the characters are interesting for they are as dark as the scenario itself. The suspense is also present until the very end and the story is amazing.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan 2012 – Mar 2012
Kouichi Sakakibana is a transferred student who just came to the Yomiyama North Middle School. In his new class, there is a dark and loud atmosphere that he can feel, but he doesn't know why. Mei Misaki, one of his new classmates, is a mysterious young girl and Kouichi will find himself attracted to her, as she seems to be a loner with a lot of secrets. Also, everyone else in their class doesn't seem to notice her presence, and Kouichi will try to discover this as well as all the other mysteries of his new class.
Mostly considered as an horror and mystery anime, there is still a lot of thrilling aspects in this show which is brought mostly by the main character and his feelings of perception as the show progresses. Fans of intense anime would like this!
7. Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World)
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: Sept 2012 – Mar 2013
In a futuristic Japan, Saki Watanabe lives a peaceful life with her family in an idyllic place separated from the outside world and said to dangerous to live in. Some people of her world have psychokinesis powers, which allows them to be part of the leaders of their community. Saki discovers she is able to use these powers, she then goes to the Zenjin Academy and will be teamed with five other students during their division.
In the academy, there are some rumors about the disappearance of some students, who are captured and killed by a monster. Because of this, the world Saki has known will gradually collapse and with their friends, she will discover the truth behind their community and their origins.
This show is intense, with a lot of tension and turnarounds, the story is really stunning and the viewer should be sucked up by all the different events as well as the mysteries of this anime.
6. Death Note
- Episodes: 37
- Aired: Oct 2006 – Jun 2007
Light Yagami is a 17 year old genius who is tired of the world around him and doesn't find anything fun or interesting. One day, as he is attending his classes, he sees a strange diary falling from nowhere and when he goes to pick it, he discovers that this is a particular diary which has the power to kill anyone who writes their name in it. With this diary, Light is destined to change the world he's living in.
A really famous show that the majority of people should have seen and it should be a classic as a thriller anime. The tension is well presented in the story and the psychological aspect is also interestingly mixed with the disturbed characters that we can see evolve.
5. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magika (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan 2011 – Apr 2011
Madoka Kaname is a middle school girl who lives an ordinary life with her loving friends and family. She can see herself being very happy with her life and nothing could change the way she was. Until she meets with some evil forces and is saved by a magical girl. Not aware of an unknown world until now, the familiar, Kyubey, will propose to her to become a magical girl as well, in exchange for a wish.
Everyone who hasn't seen this show would never wonder why it is on this selection, but we cannot say that this is the normal magical girls type show. The story is dark, tense and psychological in a lot of aspects. Bye, bye to cuteness and romance, hello to thriller and horror !
4. Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: Apr 2013 – Sept 2013
After humanity was almost annihilated by the Titans, survivors have built walls tall enough to protect themselves from other Titan attacks. A few hundred years after, humanity is still fighting and surviving, but the sudden appearance of a colossal Titan whose able to break the walls will change everything and sink humanity in despair once again. ç, with his friends, will enlist in the army and try to fight against this threat.
A doomsday scenario with horror in a fantastic world where the pressure is always high enough to make us spellbound. A recent anime which has probably kept everyone's attention and remains famous with a great scenario.
3. Zankyou no Terror (Terror in Resonance)
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: Jul 2014 – Sept 2014
In a modern Japan, Tokyo is struck by a violent threat planned by a group of two young terrorists who have posted a video on the internet just before the explosion of the building they targeted. Calling themselves the “Sphinx,” the two young terrorists, Nine and Twelve, will continue their terrorist attacks in order to reach their goal and to “awake” the world they are living in.
With a tense topic, the story makes us hold our breath until the end, and the characters are in total adequacy with the scenario. There are a lot of psychological aspects mixed with the tension and pressure as a great thriller anime.
2. Psycho Pass
- Episodes: 22
- Aired: Oct 2012 – Mar 2013
In the futuristic world of Psycho Pass, it is possible to measure an individual mental condition and to determine if someone could be a danger for the population or not. Based on a standard of mental state, people considered dangerous to some point are not allowed to do certain things. Shinya Kougami, member of the Enforcement Division, is charged to maintain order in a disturbed civilization.
A present police atmosphere mixed with a science fiction environment which offers a really interesting story full of action, pressure and psychology. The tense scenario of Psycho Pass is fabulous and this is one of the best anime of this genre!
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Apr 2011 – Sept 2011
Kyouma Okabe, self named the "Mad Scientist," is the chief of the Future Gadget Research Laboratory with two friends. As they spend their time in the construction of strange items, they will accidentally make a phone microwave able to send messages to the past and changing their lives, especially Kyouma, who possesses a particular ability.
Everything in this anime is stunning, whether the story, the characters, or the topic they deal with. The show talks about all the consequences of time travel with the main character totally disturbed and tries to change some events in order to catch up with things that are beyond his control. This one deserves the first spot of this Top 10 list!
With all the thriller anime that have been aired throughout the years, all of them could, of course, not be mentioned in this list. However, I hope the majority of you would agree with this ranking. The selection was hard, and a lot of other anime could have been mentioned in it, like Shiki, Monster or Rainbow, but these selections felt best.
So, as for you,what do you think about this Top 10 list? What anime would have you choose for it? Let us know in the comments below!