Anime is often an intense and surreal experience in any genre. But there is something uniquely titillating about dark fantasy anime. Hold on to your bong tight for this one, because it’s a pretty wild ride.
Dark fantasy can encompass a variety of things, from psychological horror and intrigue to chaotic bloodbaths and gore. Berserk is a classic anime that covers all that and more.
It follows the story of Guts, a lone mercenary who travels through a medieval world filled with demons, magic, and political intrigue. Known for its graphic violence and gory scenes, Berserk is a perfect choice for those who enjoy the darker side of anime. The characters are compelling and the storyline is multi-layered, requiring a certain level of attention and engagement to fully appreciate.
Beyond its content and themes, Berserk also features some of the most detailed and stylized artwork and animation of any anime ever created.
Attack on Titan (2013)
With its final season currently airing, Attack on Titan is breaking hearts in more ways than one. But the most important way it does so is with its gut-wrenching plot. One that is sometimes compared to Game of Thrones in the level of brutality and shock factor.
The anime is built around humanity’s fight for survival. It opens with a commune that has been forced to live within giant walls to protect themselves from giant humanoid creatures known as Titans.
Right from its opening, this anime proves to be gripping. It features smooth animation, stunning action scenes, and horrifyingly graphic imagery. The characters are well-developed, but the plot is never stale or predictable. With twists and turns that are sure to give you a serious case of whiplash, this anime isn’t for the faint of heart.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011)
When they say to never judge a book by its cover, they mean this show, specifically.
The show follows a group of middle school girls who become contractual magical girls and battle enemy witches. The art style appears like a classic shoujo, with adorable character designs, bright colors, and cute voices to match.
But if you’re expecting a cute show, you’d be gravely mistaken. The bloody, action-packed show is an interesting take on fantasy. While the battles are gripping, it is ultimately the pain and horror of this world the girls have signed themselves into that is the real dark element of this story.
And the juxtaposition of traditionally adorable visuals with thematically disturbing and depressing elements is what really makes this show stay with you for some time.
Death Note (2006)
A high school student gains the ability to kill anyone whose name he writes in a magical notebook. What could possibly go wrong?
Death Note was an instant hit when it dropped. The premise is terrifying enough. But it builds into a suspenseful cat-and-mouse game between Light, who has acquired the power of the death gods, and L, a mysterious detective on the case. Admittedly, some elements of the show might seem a little less compelling in hindsight, but overall, it still holds up.
If you’re a fan of psychological thrillers, this one is definitely for you. It’s a beautifully executed howcatchem, with an underlying exploration of morality and power. Death Note’s status as a classic also makes it a must-watch for those who enjoy dark fantasy anime.
Hell Girl (2005)
One of the most intriguing aspects of Death Note was its take on morality. Particularly when it asked the question: is murder justified if the victim was an awful person? The answer to this might seem black and white. Yet the further down the rabbit hole you go, the more muddled it gets. And Hell Girl is the perfect representation of that journey.
The show begins by introducing a website, Hell Correspondence. It appears to be an abode for those who suffer daily torment until they reach a breaking point. At this point, they request the services of the titular Hell Girl, who will return the favor to their tormentors before dragging them to hell. The catch being the poster must damn themselves as well.
It kicks off slowly, but after the first eight episodes, the story really takes off. What really makes this an intriguing show is the very premise itself. Much like other dark anime, we are forced to acknowledge the monstrosity of humanity. How much torment and abuse can any one person take? And how far would one person be willing to go to exact revenge once they’ve snapped?
The answer, of course, lies with Hell Girl and all that she has witnessed.
Claymore is a dark fantasy anime that features half-human, half-demon warriors who fight to protect humans from supernatural threats. Wielding towering Claymore swords and brandishing icy silver eyes, the warriors are an imposing presence. Yet, behind them sits an even more imposing and mysterious organization. One that seems to know more than what their black coats reveal.
This anime is known for its strong female characters and its exploration of themes such as identity and purpose. But beyond its themes, it features some stunning fight scenes that are sure to get your blood pumping. As the mysteries of this world unfold, you’ll find yourself questioning everything.
Be warned, however, that the anime ended prematurely. Thankfully, the manga it is adapted from kept going until its full resolution.
Devilman Crybaby (2018)
If you enjoyed Claymore, you’d probably like the core concept of Devilman Crybaby.
When demons return to reclaim the world, Akira is convinced to merge with one to awaken a hybrid that can combat the invading forces. Much like Claymore, this show follows the battles of Akira as a hybrid on the surface. But behind the flashy action, the viewer to begins questioning who the real monsters in this world are.
Devilman Crybaby has earned some criticism for its animation. But some argue that the style lends itself perfectly to the themes of the show. That said, make sure you have your comfort show on the ready. Because this one will leave you feeling just a bit despondent when it ends.
Vampire Hunter D (1985)
Vampire Hunter D is an ongoing novel series that has spawned a massive franchise. But from across all the media it encompasses, the 1985 film holds a special place in the hearts of anime fans worldwide.
The original novels are set in a bleak post-apocalyptic world that appears to be the lovechild of every pulp horror genre in existence. Amid the horrors of a cruel Nobility of vampires and a nuclear holocaust, humans find themselves battling for more than just survival.
The 1985 film focuses on the story of Doris, a young woman who hires the mysterious Vampire Hunter D to kill Count Magnus Lee. As it turns out, the 10,000-year-old vampire has bitten her, and her only salvation lies in his death.
Vampire Hunter D is a cult classic. And while it may not be widely known today, it made enough of a splash in its time to have been featured in the music video for “Scream” by Micheal and Janet Jackson.
Boogiepop Phantom (2000)
Psychological horror, intrigue, chaotic bloodbaths, and gore. There is, truly, so much to love about dark fantasy anime. But if you want to be terrified to your very core, you’d best indulge in Boogiepop Phantom.
The original novels by Kouhei Kadano and illustrator Kouji Ogata launched the light novel craze in Japan. The show found its own audience with horror and thriller fans. This shouldn’t be a surprise. The anime is helmed by writer Sadayuki Murai (Perfect Blue) and key animator Shigeyuki Suga (Serial Experiments Lain). Both well-known masters of the craft in their own right.
Boogiepop is a nightmarish tale including a serial killing rampage, mysterious lights from the sky, superpowered teenagers, mysteriously vanishing students, and the angel of death. A blend of reality, escapism, and existential fear, this is a show that lingers long after the end credits roll.
And that is, in part, because it truly understands horror in ways too many modern shows don’t.
Deadman Wonderland (2011)
Of course, reality-based horror that crawls under your skin may not be what you’re looking for. In that case, you could test the waters on the other end of the spectrum. A nightmarish gore-filled tale of prisoners on death row whose demise comes in the form of a twisted version of the Hunger Games.
The story follows Ganta, a student falsely accused of murdering his entire class and sent to the titular prison. Once there, he finds himself confronted by the horrific nature of the institution. It doubles as an amusement park where inmates are poisoned every few days and are forced to participate in dangerous games for the entertainment of viewers. If they win, they get the antidote. If they lose, well, they lose in the worst ways possible. And if you think that means death, think again.
Be forewarned, this anime features some extreme and horrific imagery that will leave you feeling sick to your stomach. That is, of course, the point. But it helps to know what you’re getting into.
Darkness Falls Across the Land, The Midnight Hour is Close at Hand
Eerie themes, complex storylines, unforgettable characters, and blood-curdling visuals. As wonderful as standard anime can be, there is something uniquely captivating about dark fantasy anime. And while the creep factor might be the seemingly obvious reason, it’s usually something much deeper than that. Something beautifully unsettling, and frequently, life-changing.