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15 Unique Takes On Horror In Anime

Updated June 14, 2019 6.3k votes 2.2k voters 272.9k views15 items

List RulesVote up the horror anime you really never saw coming.

These unique horror anime series offer a different look into a genre known for its blood, fangs, ghosts, and ghouls. Featuring some of the weirdest horror anime out there, these stories explore themes and motifs that remain inimitable and unparalleled, from sibling cannibalism to the invasion of sea creatures in Tokyo. These series don’t rely on the classic horror tropes and weave much more intricate narratives than run-of-the-mill thrillers, serving up content you haven’t seen before (and probably wish you could unsee).

Each anime achieves its unique touch in different ways, from bizarre premises to explorations of distinctive themes largely ignored within the genre. Some actually mask its hidden horrors; Gakkougurashi! and NaruTaru in particular are notorious for suggesting much more happy-go-lucky plots than they deliver. Like all pretty good horror anime or the top horror anime of all time, these stories are best watched with the lights on. Now, as this list examines atypical examples of horror, there may be spoilers and/or disturbing content. Proceed with caution.

  • Shin Sekai Yori
    Video: YouTube

    Just the first 60 seconds of Shin Sekai Yori prove that this anime is remarkably different from anything in the horror genre. The true terror of Shin Sekai Yori lies within the dark truths uncovered by the protagonists, which encompass human experimentation, prejudice, mass murder, and histories of violence.

    The scope of existential themes explored throughout the show paired with its world-building are what really set this series apart, presenting questions of morality that linger even when it's over. Though the series provides its fair share of love polygons, the absence of sexual/gender stereotypes in the relationships add an extra layer of distinction. Plus, the romance not only doesn't distract from the plot (a setback many horror anime suffer from), but actually adds to the complexity of the show.

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    The Empire Of Corpses

    The Empire Of Corpses
    Photo: Toho

    While zombies are a horror staple, The Empire of Corpses considers a more practical perspective on the use of reanimated bodies: put them to work. The film manages to provide a new spin on the classic monster by introducing a science fiction element (artificial souls), which allow resurrected corpses to serve as laborers, soldiers, and more.

    What makes this story even more interesting are the characters, many of whom are historical and literary figures like John Watson, James Bond, and Ulysses S. Grant. There are plenty of references throughout the film to their respective lives and stories, which makes this one of the nerdiest zombie anime films ever. 

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  • Serial Experiments Lain
    Video: YouTube

    Psychologically thrilling, Serial Experiments Lain examines loneliness and isolation to a frightening degree, following middle schooler Lain Arakawa and her descent into "the Wired," a virtual network that encompasses all form of communication. This series differs from conventional horror anime in the way it relies less on traditional jump scare tactics or excessive gore and more on bizarre, inexplicable events to make its point.

    The alien scene featured above is only one of the show's many strange moments. They occur practically out of nowhere, and establish Serial Experiments Lain as pure nightmare fuel. The storytelling is also fractured, mirroring the breakdown of the protagonist's psyche as her reality starts to cave in. This show may not be action-packed or a game of survival, but the existential crises of consciousness make this series distinct among the genre.

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  • Mononoke
    Video: YouTube

    Mononoke's striking animation is part of what makes this series so unique, and the monsters and environments of the medicine seller's realm really are exceptionally intricate and striking. In addition, the show's historical backdrop (Japan's Edo period) sets the series apart from most horror anime, which typically feature science fiction or post-apocalyptic elements.

    Mononoke's horror is also much more understated than the loud and brash likes of Another or Elfen Lied. It's found in the paranormal events brought about by the myriad creatures, which inspire people to relive their worst fears or bringing to light terribly dark secrets among trapped individuals. While the mystery of the medicine seller remains a question, his adventures make for a worthwhile otherworldly experience.

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