I am not a fan of horror anime. I used to love scary movies, but that time has since come and gone. Nowadays, I stay away from things that give me frights, and am even more wary of series that feature gore/graphic violence (sorry, Inuyashiki, I barely knew ye), frightening or otherwise. But I can handle series that are a bit spooky, that put me on edge, that are more psychologically chilling – in fact, I sometimes really enjoy them. Here are seven anime that manage to be creepy without going full-on horror. Oh, and they’re also all really, really good series to boot!
Happy only-kinda-scary Halloween!
I just said that these were all really good series, but the first one on the list is actually kinda questionable (whoops). Actually, minus the last two anime-original episodes, which are an unforgivable trainwreck, Claymore is an awesome series based on an amazing manga. It’s not for everyone – the violence is graphic (it feels like this is a feminine version of Berserk) and there’s lot of nudity, but the story is captivating and the character designs are absolutely stunning. If you’re looking for something beautifully grotesque, look no further.
Claymore is available for streaming on Hulu.
Kara no Kyoukai (Garden of Sinners)
I’m reworking my way through the Kara no Kyoukai movies, which feature some of the best animation you’ll ever see and one of the most quizzically philosophical stories in anime. The setup itself is enough to give you the heebie jeebies – a soul, trapped in a “doll” (artificial forms that look and move like humans), can see the “mortality” of all things, which frequently leads her into violent contact with the supernatural. This stunning series is an anime classic, and will leave you equal parts excited for the action and grimacing for scenes and violence and sadness.
Garden of Sinners is available for streaming on Anime Strike.
Mouryou no Hako
Mouryou no Hako is the first of two detective stories in this group, which are often rich ground for creepiness. An excellent, excellent series based on a novel, the show features a crime writer, journalist, and spiritist who are investigating a a serial killer while kidnappings and supernatural events also seem to be occurring. It’s as close as anime gets to an HBO-style show, which has you thinking about what’s to happen next and also unsettled by the events of each episode.
The Perfect Insider
And here’s number two. A personal favorite, Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider features one of my favorite duos, Saikawa, a brilliant and slighly aloof professor, and Nishinosono, the excitable and equally clever student, as they investigate a mystery surrounding the shut-in genius, Dr. Magata, whose entire existence (and later backstory) feel spooky. If not in episode one, you’ll start feeling fully disconcerted by the second, when an armless, legless bride start wheeling toward the laboratory staff in the darkness.
The Perfect Insider is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.
Building on the success of Evangelion, RahXephon takes much of the same structure and details – conspiracy theories, young hero, beautiful mentor figure, mecha – and goes all out in setting a very specific tone, leading to a series that purposely feels a little off-kilter, and both beautiful and cold. That coldness permeates the series, which saturates with bluish tones throughout, heavily features the theme of death and loss, and uses music as a key component, primarily with sad, ringing tones, which carry the show throughout its melancholic run.
RahXephon is available for streaming on Anime Strike.
Serial Experiments Lain
Our own staff is diving headlong into Serial Experiments Lain for a group watch night, and I’m eager to see how they’ll like it. The imagery in almost every scene of this series, about the eponymous lead, a girl who discovers that her classmates, and then herself, are connected inextricably to technology and the Internet, is meant to be haunting and sometimes troubling (Lain’s father smiling uncontrollably while looking at a computer screen with Lain standing at the doorway particularly stands out to me). So, too, are the music and spoken parts. This series will surely stays with you after you flip off your computer screen or phone, as it’s meant to do.
Serial Experiments Lain is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.
Shinsekai Yori (From the New World)
Quick admission here – I haven’t yet finished Shinsekai Yori, but I will. Part of the reason for that is this is because as the most unsettling series on the list, each episode requires me to take some time to recoup; it’s an intense journey. Featuring children with psychic abilities living in an agrarian society, the show creates a haunting tone by removing certain characters and unveiling violent truths bit by bit. I won’t give away too much, except to say that as the series slowly moves on and mysteries unravel, it becomes more and more uncomfortable.
Shinsekai Yori is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.
Do you have any recommendations for us that fit this mold of spooky series that aren’t necessarily horror anime? Share with us in the comment section below!