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.
Easily one of the most misleading horror series ever, the first episode tricks viewers into thinking this show will follow the misadventures of cute high school girls, like K-On!. Nothing could be further from the truth. As it turns out, the shoujo life envisioned by protagonist Yuki is an illusion she created to mask her reality: living in a dystopian world after a zombie outbreak.
This is not your average survival story, as Yuki's delusions constantly keep you guessing what (and who) is real or a figment of her imagination. The use of an unreliable narrator elevates the show to a more unconventional experience, as this device is rarely present in anime, regardless of genre. The series certainly derives horror from good ol' zombie scares, but it also examines the psychological terror of living in a post-apocalyptic environment, and how one comes to terms with accepting the actions they must take to survive.
A testament to the argument "not all anime is for kids," the violence in Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyn might even be a little too much for some adults. Main character Rin is not only a badass detective, but an immortal one too, an aspect that is explored in the 60-year span this show covers. The progressive timeline and the fluid details that go with it present a unique atmosphere for a horror show, fully utilizing Rin's immortal status instead of making it a simple character trait.
Additionally, the gory situations Rin and the other characters endure might make it seem like a typical slasher show, but each episode proves that it isn't being gory just for the fun of it. Every near-death injury Rin suffers inspires questions about her humanity, and explores the pleasure people feel in both receiving and inflicting pain. The story doesn't pull any punches with its mature themes, including explicit sexual encounters, which are rare in your everyday anime. The series also features a lesbian relationship outside of the yuri genre, which really pushes Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyn into truly noteworthy territory.
From acclaimed filmmaker Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue) comes Paranoia Agent, which follows mysterious attacks committed by a young boy wielding a baseball bat, dubbed "Lil' Slugger." The clip featured above, aside from being every student's worst nightmare, highlights the surreal and unique violence experienced by the victims of Lil' Slugger, who attacks their mental stability more than anything else.
The depths of depression and anxiety are key aspects to the plot, and the main sources of horror within the film. The story bypasses any hackneyed tropes within the horror/thriller genre by presenting imaginative psychological crises, and then muddying the waters by suggesting improvements to the character's psyche after their attack. When it comes to horror, character development is often sacrificed for the sake of a fast-paced plot, especially for a film with a limited run time. Paranoia Agent, however, delivers a very unusual and well-developed cast, which makes it that much more interesting.
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.