Horror is one of my favorite anime genres for various reasons. It’s a very difficult genre to do well. When we watch anime, we’re more aware that we’re viewing a piece of fiction so it’s much harder to scare someone than it is through horror films or TV shows with human actors, realistic graphics, makeup, and special effects.
But the Japanese are the best at creating horror games, films, and of course, anime. There’s a host of horror anime done well enough to inspire the kind of subconscious anxiety that follows you into your nightmares. And these anime are driven by some truly terrifying characters—the ones that embody your worst fears in real life.
From freaky anime girls to restless ghosts and grotesque demons, here are just a few of the scariest.
1. Demons from The Promised Neverland
One of the best anime series of recent years, The Promised Neverland takes the apocalypse to another dimension, literally.
The anime is set in a parallel world ruled by monstrous demons. In this world, humans are cattle and human body parts line the supermarket aisles. With multiple eyes and grotesque deformations, the demons are a disturbing sight to behold. The Promised Neverland follows a group of cattle children who escape their farm. However, their path to safety is plagued by demons looking to take a bite.
2. Rena from Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni (When the Cicadas Cry)
Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni (“When the Cicadas Cry”) is one of the best horror anime of all time. Instead of cheap jump scares, Higurashi inspires terror in its brilliant plot and abrupt shifts in tone and characters. The story follows Keiichi, a young boy who moves to the remote town of Hinamizawa. His first days in the town start off innocently enough and set the foundations of a sweet, slice-of-life anime. However, after learning of the town’s supposed curse, everything takes a turn for the worse.
The juxtaposition of the sunny elementary school setting and gruesome death scenes make the anime incredibly jarring. With junior high school and elementary school children making up the majority of the main cast, it’s disturbing to see these vibrantly-colored young characters commit unspeakable acts.
One particularly creepy character is Rena. Her most memorable scene is when she visits Keiichi late at night to drop off some mochi (Japanese rice cakes). After taking a bite, Keiichi immediately spits them out, realizing that needles have been hidden in them. Needless to say, Rena isn’t someone you want to mess with.
3. Sachiko from Corpse Party
A prime example of classic Japanese horror, Corpse Party is one of the best games and anime series. The story follows a group of high school students who are celebrating the end of their school’s culture festival. In order to strengthen their bond and in the hope of making sure they remain friends forever, they perform a ritual known as Sachiko Ever After. Little did they know that this would be the worst mistake of their lives.
The ritual transports them to a hellish place called Heavenly Host Elementary. There, they are faced with ghostly apparitions, bloodied intestines in the halls of the decaying school, and the epitome of scary anime girls, Sachiko. Can they survive and make it back to their own world or will they not last the night? Only Sachiko can decide.
4. The Colossal Titan from Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)
It’s often the case that the scariest anime isn’t filled with jump scares or gore, but instead a brilliantly crafted story universe that’s all the more unsettling for its complexity. I can’t think of an anime that does this better than Attack on Titan. Set in an alternate world, the anime takes place in a land where humans are not at the top of the food chain. Instead, giant monsters known as titans rule the land. The titans’ food of choice? Humans. And their stomachs are never full. The few surviving humans cower in fear behind enormous walls they have built to keep the titans out.
The reason the titans inspire sheer terror is because there is no defeating them. With hundreds of times the power of a single human, humanity’s only hope is to run away and hide. Particularly threatening is the king of all titans, The Colossal Titan. Much larger than all of the other titans, The Colossal Titan towers over humanity’s last walls of defense. All muscles, bones, and ligaments, its lack of skin makes it all the more gruesome and terrifying to behold.
5. Tetsuo from Akira
One of the famous film’s most iconic scenes, Tetsuo’s transformation in the 1988 Akira is also one of its most unnerving moments.
While armed with unmatchable superhuman powers, Tetsuo is a force to be reckoned with. However, it isn’t Tetsuo himself or his merciless bloodthirsty disposition that makes him so frightening. Instead, it is his mutation. Near the end of the movie, Tetsuo loses control of his powers and starts to morph into a mass of flesh, pulsating intestines, and viscera. I love horror and have a fairly strong stomach for gory scenes. However, this scene is shown in such a way that it made me squeamish and almost nauseated. Let’s just say being consumed by Tetsuo has got to be one of the worst ways to go.
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