Anime Watchlist is ComicsVerse’s anime recommendation series, where we spotlight some of the best lesser-known shows out there.
It’s Halloween, which means it’s time for costumes, candy, and anime! To celebrate the spooky holiday, I bring you the best horror anime to check out in this special edition of Anime Watchlist.
(Please note that the list is not in any particular order.)
1. HIGURASHI WHEN THEY CRY, Season 1 (26 Episodes)
Five young friends live in Hinamizawa, a small rural village that celebrates a festival in honor of their god, Oyashiro. This celebration, however, has been marred by kidnappings and brutal murders for the past few years. There are six arcs in the first season, each one repeating the same timeline of events, sometimes from different perspectives. In each arc, one of the five characters becomes paranoid and murders one or more of their friends. When the arc ends, everything resets and the horror repeats.
This show is just pure awesomeness. The character designs may look ridiculous, but as you watch the first season, you realize how rich and dynamic each character is. Each story change increases the overall tension because there’s no set protagonist or antagonist. You can cheer for a character in one arc and hate their guts in another. Their backstories stay consistent, but the personality changes in each arc enrich the story as a whole as you try and guess what the hell is going on.
2. CORPSE PARTY: TORTURED SOULS (4 Episodes)
A group of high school students makes a friendship pact in their classroom after a school festival. Suddenly, an earthquake strikes and they’re swallowed up by a hole that opens in the floor. They wake up in a different school, separated from each other, and quickly realize something is very wrong. As they attempt to find each other, they find vengeful spirits and other students who have turned murderous along the way. Unfortunately for our heroes, they are not exempt from the insanity-inducing effects of this otherworldly school.
CORPSE PARTY is the shortest on this list, but it packs more violence than the others combined. While the story is pretty basic, it provides a solid framework for creepy and gory scenes. For example, one scene features a skinless male high school student torturing a middle school child who looks and sounds even younger than that. And that’s not even the worst thing that happens. As I mentioned before, it’s not the most thought-provoking series, but it’s essentially great horror junk food. If you check it out, beware of the occasional panty shot.
3. YAMISHIBAI (65 Episodes)
YAMISHIBAI is an anthology series; each episode covers a different Japanese folktale and lasts about 4 minutes. It is artistically based on the style of kamishibai, a form of Japanese street theatre that was popular during the Great Depression and post-WWII, until the television set was invented. Narrators travelled to street corners and used illustrated boards to tell a story to their audience, switching the boards when there was a scene change. In a similar way, the characters in YAMISHIBAI look like paper cutouts in front of painted backdrops. When a character is speaking, their cutout moves slightly, like a puppet, resulting in very little motion.
Despite its simple animation, this is by far the scariest entry on this list. I absolutely love horror, but it takes a lot to affect me well after the credits have rolled. YAMISHIBAI, however, still gives me nightmares weeks after I first watched it. Even though each episode is so short, every story is expertly paced, building an unnerving sense of tension before the big reveal, usually a jumpscare or twist ending (sometimes both). On top of that, because of the character designs and the way the series depicts action, any kind of 3D movement becomes that much more creepy. If you check out only one series on this list, let it be YAMISHIBAI.
4. PARASYTE -THE MAXIM- (24 Episodes)
Mysterious parasites land on Earth one night, using humans as hosts by taking over their brains. High school student Shinichi Izumi manages to prevent a parasite from going into his brain, but burrows into his right hand instead. The parasite, known as Migi (the Japanese word for “right”), becomes a conscious being able to communicate with his host, unlike the rest of his kind who completely take over their host’s brain and body. As a result, Migi and Shinichi challenge each other’s perceptions of the world while working together to survive it.
This is one of my favorite anime series ever. While not scary in a supernatural sense, the body horror is downright terrifying. Beyond the gore, however, the series deals with big questions about morality, humanity, and who or what has the right to live. Part of what makes the series so compelling is that it challenges your sense of place in the universe. Even though the parasites are “the enemy,” they’re not wrong in wanting to live, but at the same time, they need human hosts to survive. PARASYTE also has plenty of tense action scenes and one of the best opening songs in anime history. If all that doesn’t convince you to give the series a shot, I don’t know what will.
5. HELL GIRL, Season 1 (26 Episodes)
A website, known as Hell Link, gives people the opportunity to exact revenge on those who have wronged them by banishing them to Hell. Using the site summons Ai Enma, a young girl with long dark hair and haunting red eyes. Making a deal with her will immediately send the antagonist to Hell, but in doing so, the summoner will also go to Hell when they die. As Ai says, “curses come home to roost.”
HELL GIRL is, for the most part, pretty formulaic: Hell Girl appears before someone seeking revenge, they make a deal, and someone ends up going to hell. But in addition to the series sometimes tweaking its formula in smart ways, the show’s mysteries carry it when each episode’s largely standalone storyline does not. From the get-go, interesting questions surround Ai, her associates, and Hell Link, each of which eventually get satisfying payoffs. The show is also packed full of gorgeous visuals, providing a different experience from other horror entries on this list.
PARANOIA AGENT (13 Episodes)
Satoshi Kon’s work is — in a nutshell — different. And PARANOIA AGENT is no exception. In the series, a mysterious boy with a bat, known as Lil’ Slugger, is terrorizing citizens in Tokyo. It’s weird, creepy, funny, and confusing, but definitely worth watching.
SCHOOL-LIVE! (12 Episodes)
This series is almost impossible to talk about without spoiling anything. It’s a “cute” horror, with bright colors and a cast of four girls living at school together. It’s not scary or gory, but the final episodes will make tense and possibly cry. Just be prepared to be sucker-punched in the heart at the end.
UMINEKO WHEN THEY CRY, Season 1 (26 Episodes)
This series is basically the love-child of HIGURASHI and an Agatha Christie novel. It’s very different from its predecessor, and while I can’t say it lives up to HIGURASHI, it’s still entertaining to watch.