15 Anime That Are Hard To Understand

Over 4.2K Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of 15 Anime That Are Hard To Understand
Voting Rules
Vote up the anime that left you baffled.

Some anime are just absolutely bewildering. Whether it's an abstract anime that's rife with symbolism, like Mawaru-Penguindrum, or a meta anime that breaks the fourth wall, like FLCL, these confusing anime are likely to leave you scratching your head.

Note that confusing doesn't automatically imply a lower degree of quality. In fact, some of the best anime ever made, like Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL, are difficult to understand without background knowledge and careful thought. These series are still worth watching, but it's best to do so with the understanding that they might not make sense on the first viewing, if at all.

These series are not just simple anime to relax with and have on in the background. These are challenging and complex programs that demand total attention and commitment.

Photo: Mawaru Penguindrum/Brain's Base

  • Neon Genesis Evangelion
    Photo: Gainax

    Neon Genesis Evangelion is so difficult to understand that fans have written entire essays in attempts to break down all its content. Not only does it demand viewers follow the conflict between NERV and the Angels, it also brings in Freudian concepts, religious allusions, and complex metaphors.

    If someone is looking for a straightforward mecha show, this is not that, but if they feel like giving their brain a workout, they should watch Evangelion.

    1,973 votes
  • Serial Experiments Lain is notorious for not making sense. When 14-year-old Lain receives an email from a seemingly deceased classmate, she discovers the Wired, a combination of the internet and virtual reality. As she spends more time in this mysterious world, the boundaries between the Wired and her actual life become porous and blurry. Lain questions the nature of reality, but it never provides its viewers with any clear answers.

    957 votes
  • 3
    1,251 VOTES

    FLCL is one of the trippiest anime ever made, so while it's enjoyable whether you understand it or not, it not an easy watch. On a thematic level, it's a coming-of-age story, but on a literal level, it's about a pink-haired alien who opens up a portal in a 12-year-old's forehead and pulls robots out of it. Teasing out the actual meaning of this utterly insane anime is easier said than done.

    1,251 votes
  • 4
    930 VOTES
    Photo: Shaft

    Monogatari is a dense series of several anime, all centering around the nearly immortal Koyomi Araragi and the various supernatural happenings that surround him. Many of the basic conflicts that Araragi deals with are easily comprehensible, as he's trying to help protect people from curses, hexes, and other magical problems.

    However, the details surrounding them are not simple at all. Every image, every word spoken, every piece of text scrolling across the screen is of some metaphorical significance. It takes multiple viewings to understand it all, and even then, it's a challenge.

    930 votes
  • Mawaru-Penguindrum is one of the most abstract anime ever created. It focuses on Shouma and Kanba, brothers trying to save their younger sister, Himari, from a terminal illness. After she dies, she's brought back to life by a magical being who lives inside a penguin-shaped hat. To keep her alive, the brothers must find the Penguin drum, a mysterious object the magical being tasks them with acquiring.

    Because it's chock-full of the types of metaphors and symbolism that typically appear on an English final, it's best to tackle this one after a full night's sleep and a good breakfast.

    282 votes
  • 6
    341 VOTES

    Imagine a cocaine addict traveling at the speed of sound and you might get a feeling for the overall pace of this anime. The series follows Pandy and Retro as they kill nearly everyone they come across, can leave viewers slack-jawed and baffled. This thrill ride of an anime movie is characterized by its gratuitous violence, raunchy moments, and purposeful lack of explanation for anything that's taking place.

    Do not watch this anime for the plot, which leaves much to be desired. Instead, watch it for the Technicolor, blood-soaked insanity it actually offers.

    341 votes