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The Most Disturbing Anime Ever Made

When it comes to horrifically disturbing movies and shows, very few countries produce the plethora of shocking content that Japan does. If you want a horror film that will rock you to your very core, you look to the land of the rising sun. From "Audition" to "Ringu" to "Dark Water," Japanese cinema is chock full of celebrated horror classics. The country is also known for its rich appreciation of animation, specifically through its own style known as "anime."

Anime has been the silent hand of pop culture for many years now, with many titles even influencing Western creatives. With both these elements in mind, it should be no surprise that there is a plethora of truly disturbing anime, from demons and vampires to sadistic gore to dark deconstructions of the human mind. The titles on this list — some films and some episodic series — are not for the faint of heart, so definitely proceed with caution.

Akira

In any medium — be it cinema, music, or literature — there tend to be certain titles that are viewed as the gold standard. In the world of anime, there are many titles hailed as must-see films, such as "Ghost in the Shell" and "Spirited Away." And one title that proudly stands right alongside these classics is "Akira," written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo. Set in the far-off future of 2019 (the film was released in 1988), we meet young biker Shōtarō Kaneda, whose friend, Tetsuo Shima, begins developing strange telekinetic abilities. Soon, all of Neo-Tokyo is threatened as Tetsuo goes mad with power and begins destroying everything in his wake!

The film's true strength lies in its animation, perfectly portraying a tangible cyberpunk future mixed with grotesque body horror visuals. To say that "Akira" changed everything would be an understatement — 25 years later, the film is still hailed for its kinetic pacing and its vibrant visual style. It proved to be the gateway for many into the sprawling and diverse medium of anime, creating many new fans of the medium.

Happy Sugar Life

Now, we know what some of you are probably thinking: How can a series called "Happy Sugar Life" possibly be disturbing? Based on its title and animation style, you'll probably mistake it for a cute slice-of-life anime, but this assumption is wholly inaccurate — "Happy Sugar Life" is a series that will leave you feeling repulsed and emotionally withered. We are introduced to Satō Matsuzaka, a high schooler who one day comes across a strange little girl named Shio. Almost immediately, Satō becomes very protective of Shio and even takes her home to live with her. Things are seemingly okay, with Satō working a 9-to-5 job to support Shio, but things quickly turn sinister, and Satō must conceal her horrific double life in the name of protecting her beloved Shio.

Unlike other entries on this list, the series, for the most part, doesn't show anything overly horrific, choosing instead to imply its truly horrific content. However, this still makes for a truly skin-crawling experience and one that'll have you fully immersed in its drama. From its first moments to the last, "Happy Sugar Life" is a disturbing, riveting, and heart-pounding thrill ride.

Genocyber

"Genocyber" is the kind of anime you'd almost walk past while browsing a video store, as it possesses very little to set itself apart. Upon first glance, the series' style is very much in line with the kinds of anime released in the early 1990s. However, to lump it in with the rest would be severely underplaying its tidal wave of body horror and sickening mutilation. The series revolves around Elaine and Diana Reed, two sisters with telekinetic powers raised to be biological weapons. Things take a turn when their father, Kenneth Reed, arrives with a plan to fuse the sisters together and create the ultimate monstrosity. Along the way, other forces vie for their power and cause everything to go completely sideways — which is when things get messy.

Split into three separate storylines told over five chapters, "Genocyber" is a bizarre story that tries to convey many heavy themes. But whatever moral or insight the OVA attempts to communicate are muffled by the absurd amounts of sadistic violence presented. Nothing is left to the imagination — from unwanted invasive surgery to piles of overly detailed intestines and copious bodily fluids. "Genocyber" can be best described as an endurance test, and if you can last the full five episodes, you deserve a medal.

Death Note

Despite its penchant for violence and disturbing moments, "Death Note" makes for a thrilling and very accessible viewing experience for anyone just getting into anime. We are introduced to Light Yagami, an honors student with top marks who is hopelessly bored with his everyday life. Things are knocked for a loop when he finds a mysterious black notebook labeled "Death Note" and begins to test it. He soon discovers that the book's promise to kill anyone whose name is written within it is completely true. 

Light, using the name Kira, is soon taking out criminals and wrongdoers by the hundreds of thousands, which gets the attention of high-ranking officials. This lands Light in the crosshairs of L, a mysterious detective who quickly deduces certain truths about the identity of Kira. This kicks off the true core of the series and its strongest element — the epic chess match between Light and L. Along for the ride is Ryuk, a Japanese death god with a penchant for apples that is the Death Note's original owner.

The truly disturbing nature of "Death Note" comes from Light's various crimes — he outsmarts and claims the lives of several innocent people. Throw in some top-notch animation combined with some haunting gothic imagery, and you have the ingredients for a classic shonen anime.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

You might take one look at the art style for "Madoka Magica" and immediately write it off as a standard magical girl anime. But dismissing it like that would be doing a great disservice to a show that is just as surreal as it is disturbing. We meet two Japanese school students named Madoka Kaname and Sayaka Miki, who one day make a rather bizarre discovery — a white cat-like creature named Kyubey who offers them both the opportunity to become Magical Girls. The girls then learn about the lives of Magical Girls and how they receive a wish for their service in hunting witches. Now, in any normal magical girl anime, this is typically where the shenanigans and fun adventures start, but that's not the case for "Madoka Magica."

We quickly learn just how dangerous being a Magical Girl is and eventually see the sinister truth behind them. Things go from frilly and cute to grim and sadistic very quickly, resulting in several moments of dismemberment and emotional turmoil. In addition to stellar animation — especially when it's showcasing the various witches — the series is bolstered by an incredible soundtrack by Yuki Kajiura. Throw in an exceptionally well-crafted time travel twist, and you have an anime that'll have your brain short-circuiting in all the best ways.

Perfect Blue

There's a good chance that even if you haven't seen "Perfect Blue," you've likely seen a film that was heavily influenced by it. The film is often regarded as one of director Satoshi Kon's best — right alongside "Toyko Godfathers" and "Paprika." In the film, Mima Kirigoe has opted to leave her role in the J-pop trio "CHAM!" and pursue a career in acting. Things start to take a turn when a fan site titled "Mima's Room" pops up that is seemingly written by Mima herself. This — in conjunction with the newfound stress of being a full-time actress – begins to distort Mima's perception of reality. Her paranoia only intensifies when several people involved in her career begin to turn up dead, and she is the prime suspect. Much like other entries in Kon's filmography, "Perfect Blue" finds a way to showcase the blurred lines between fantasy and reality.

It's a film that really keeps you feeling a sense of unease and discomfort right up until its final moments. It was a definite influence on Darren Aronofsky, who reportedly bought the rights to "Perfect Blue" just to recreate a scene for "Requiem for a Dream." Almost 25 years later, many are still spellbound and horrified by Satoshi Kon's masterfully crafted look at fame and distorted self-perception.

The End of Evangelion

Explaining "Neon Genesis Evangelion" to a newcomer would be an act akin to explaining complex mathematics to a newborn. It's fair to say that "Evangelion" is a show of two halves, marked by a very clear turning point. Midway through its run, the show changed from a teen drama/monster of the week affair to a moodier and more nihilistic psychological deconstruction. This culminated in the series finale, which is still regarded as one of anime's most divisive endings. The finale sees the main character Shinji Ikari sitting in a room as the world ends, contemplating his existence. It's a finale that was so poorly received that the show's creator, Hideaki Anno, received death threats; fans clearly wanted a new ending.

This new ending comes in the form of the theatrically-released "The End of Evangelion" — essentially the big-budget version of the series finale. The televised ending of the series is a somber but ultimately hopeful ending where Shinji determines that his life is worth living. But in the film, he's given a front-row seat to the Earth's destruction amidst his own mental breakdown. It's a conclusion that leaves you equal parts disturbed and mystified, but it's certainly a unique creation and an unforgettable conclusion to the series.

Another

Based on the novel of the same name, "Another" is a unique gem of a series — a murder mystery with a heavy emphasis on the murder. Set in the late '90s, we meet Kouichi Sakakibara, who has recently moved back to his birth town of Yomiyama to live with his grandparents and aunt. Upon arriving at his new school, he's immediately put off by its gloomy vibe — one that seems to be permeating throughout the entire student body. Things get even stranger when he meets a strange one-eyed, eyepatch-wearing girl named Mei Misaki. Soon enough, bodies begin to pile up as Kouchi and Mei are dragged deeper and deeper into their town's dark hidden secrets.

"Another" is a series that is just as enthralling as it is violent, and believe us when we say that it doesn't hold back. If you're looking for a dark and disturbing mystery with a heavy dash of gore, "Another" is most definitely for you.

Paranoia Agent

When talking about weird or disturbing anime, it's nearly impossible for Satoshi Kon to only appear once on this kind of list. Kon's style is one that can easily suit either a cinematic release or a multi-episode series, with "Paranoia Agent" being the latter. The series is presented in anthology format, and each episode focuses on a new person encountering a serial killer named Lil' Slugger.

Much like many other entries in Kon's catalog, the series is unrelentingly surreal, with a heavy emphasis on the various characters' perceptions of reality. One additional commonality amongst the episodes is a pink dog cartoon character named Maromi, who pops up in different forms throughout the series. The animation is spectacular at conveying a down-to-earth feeling — a sense of normalcy that is soon to be shattered by the events to come. The series boasts a sense of (fittingly) paranoia and dread, only enhanced by its style and a superb score by Susumu Hirasawa. If you are already a fan of Satoshi Kon's work, then "Paranoia Agent" is a must-watch title — perfect for a dark and stormy night.

Serial Experiments Lain

"Serial Experiments Lain" is one of those anime that you really need to give yourself to and accept its inherent strangeness. The series is heavily entrenched in technology's vast utility in our daily lives, conspiracy theories, and cyberpunk visuals. The plot kicks off with our main character, Lain Iwakura, an introverted junior high student raised by a rather bizarre family. Her humdrum life is knocked for a significant loop when her fellow students begin receiving emails from a deceased student, Chisa Yomoda. Lain begins interacting with Chisa through these emails and quickly learns about the true nature of her strange disappearance.

It's an undeniably strange story, but it isn't weird just for the sake of being weird — the series' narrative is heavy on very fascinating themes. These include abandoning your physical body in favor of a digital one and the eroding line between the digital world and reality. Indeed, the truly disturbing aspects of "Serial Experiments Lain" come from its themes of distorted reality, which are complemented by its equally surreal animation.

Corpse Party: Tortured Souls

Considering its subject matter, we would kindly recommend not eating anything during "Corpse Party: Tortured Souls." Despite being a very short watch — clocking in at a minuscule four episodes — this series takes advantage of every second. It all starts with a group of nine high school students who are saying goodbye to their friend Mayu, who is transferring schools. They mark this farewell with a ritual with paper dolls that is meant to sustain their friendship forever. Unfortunately, this ritual results in the entire group being transported to Heavenly Host Academy, a burned-down elementary school that their school currently sits upon. Now the group must fend off the damned spirits of the students claimed in the fire before they lose their own lives themselves.

Considering this series' status as one of anime's most gruesome titles, it should be expected that it boasts quite the body count! It's a show that knows its own depravity and ensures that you, the viewer, are subjected to every single second of it. If you are looking for an unrelenting yet enthralling attack on your mind and stomach, definitely check this one out.

Shiki

Demons and the occult are a recurring trope within dozens of anime titles, including "Demon Slayer" and "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood." Another anime that dwells heavily in the deadly world of the occult is "Shiki," a story with an interesting history. "Shiki" is an adaptation of a horror novel of the same name written by Fuyumi Ono and centers on young Megumi Shimizu, who is far from where they want to be in life. Megumi is bummed that in place of life in the big city, she's stuck in the small village of Sotoba. But her life is soon turned into a nightmare as gruesome deaths begin to occur — all caused by Shiki, also known as Corpse Demons.

The series, much like any great horror story, allows dread and tension to build until the viewer's fingers have torn through their seat. If you're a sucker for a good vampire story set in a small town with some interesting characters, definitely check out "Shiki."