13 Chilling Horror Anime Series and Films You Need to Watch

Animation at Its Most Terrifying

shadow of a stranger
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When you're looking for a good scare, think about checking out anime series and films. You'll discover a chilling universe of vampires, bogeymen, urban legends, and demons from beyond. Of course, there are a few ghosts and zombies to be found as well. Note that many of these are suggested for teens and up. A few are definitely for mature audiences only.

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Boogiepop Phantom

A silly name camouflages a disturbing and challenging series. It's about the various people connected—however tentatively—to a string of murders that took place five years ago.

The show plays with chronology, expectations, and emotional responses. It's one of those experiences that leaves a mark even when you can't say precisely what it's about. This series rewards rewatching, and close rewatching at that.

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Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales

This series is the result of a curious experiment in which an animation team brought to life a series of horror stories from Japanese folklore. The character designs were created by top-ranking Japanese illustrator Yoshitaka Amano—the same artist who gave Vampire Hunter D his iconic signature look.

Amano's designs don't translate to animation as well as they ought to, yet the stories are fascinating, moody, and redolent with period flavor. The series is well worth sticking with as a whole. You'll just have to ignore the ridiculous hip-hop-flavored opening theme music.

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A clan of what appear to be vampires move into a bucolic little village in the country and begin feasting on the locals. You might think that the battle lines seem clear: humans good, vampires bad. However, one of the many, many surprises of "Shiki" is in how it plays with, confounds, and ultimately sabotages your expectations for everyone and everything involved. This is a genuinely horrific story, and not at all for the reasons you might expect at first.

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Hell Girl

Log into Hell Girl's website at midnight and she'll send one person of your choice straight to hell...for the cost of your immortal soul. From this simple premise comes a remarkably complex story with any number of supernatural overtones and chilling twists. It also has some intriguing roots in Japanese mythology. While many of the same story beats tend to repeat themselves, that's only an issue if you watch more than one episode at once.

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Who's the best person to send after a vampire? Another vampire, of course.

Based somewhat loosely on the manga of the same name, "Hellsing" follows the adventures of the vampire (and now vampire hunter) Alucard and his female partner Seras Victoria. In it, they comb England and points beyond to find and stop the plague of undead. A perennial fan favorite, the series exists both in a TV incarnation and an even better direct-to-video (OAV) version.

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Higurashi: When They Cry

Five young friends living together in a small village in the Japanese countryside are confronted with the mystery of a series of murders that happens at the same time every year. The outward cuteness and humor of the show do not hint at the horrific turns it takes over time. It's also more about psychological horror and mystery than out-and-out gore. That doesn't stop them from throwing in the occasional ax murder to make things interesting.

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Paranoia Agent

When a young woman invents a story about being attacked by a shadowy urban-legend figure named "Shonen Bat," the legend takes on a life of its own. A rampage of destruction begins that might consume all of reality.

Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue) created this 13-episode series with a large cast of characters whose actions influence each other peripherally. It's like a nightmare version of movies like Traffic or Crash.

This one is creepy in a cumulative way. It also lingers with you long after it's over in a way that many more conventional "horror" stories don't.

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Perfect Blue

A former member of a Japanese girl pop group dives headfirst into her new acting career. This may simply be a front by persons unknown to drive her mad.

Perfect Blue is a terrific homage to everyone from Alfred Hitchcock to Italian experimental horror director Dario Argento. Perfect Blue definitely demands more than one viewing to make sense but it is jolting right from the start.

This was Satoshi Kon's first feature-length effort. That fact by itself says something: if his first movie was this mindblowing, what would he come up with next? To find out, be sure to look into Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress, and Paprika.

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Requiem from the Darkness

A would-be writer in pre-modern Japan wants to create an anthology of 100 horror stories. He ends up in the company of three wanderers who show him no end of terrible things as fodder for his storytelling.

Adapted (very loosely) from a popular novel, Requiem from the Darkness merges a fantastic-looking animation style with the kind of old-school, Hammer-Horror-style chills that they don't make much of anymore.

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Tokyo Majin

When the dead start coming back to life, it's up to a gang of high-school kids with extraordinary powers to fend them off. They also need to discover who's pulling strings behind the scenes. The answer stretches back through their own pasts and even into previous lives.

This is a show with style to burn, although it also tilts more towards straight-up action than horror as it goes further on. It has great animation which doesn't decay as markedly in later episodes as it does in other shows of the same ilk.

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Vampire Hunter D and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

These animated adaptations of Hideyuki Kikuchi's immensely popular novels about a half-human, half-vampire vampire hunter are both worth checking out for different reasons.

The original is a bit more of a nostalgia item at this point. Yet it's fun to watch and has some incredibly striking moments. Be sure to look for the shot of the bad guy getting split up the middle, which Guillermo del Toro paid homage to in "Blade II".

The movie—adapted from the third book in the series—is spectacular from beginning to end. It benefits further from having a well-constructed story to buoy it up.

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Vampire Princess Miyu

Miyu was transformed into a vampire when she was only a teenager. Now she wanders the modern world along with her sidekick Larva, looking for victims willing to give themselves over to her.

The TV series (released by Tokyopop in English) is superbly done, but out of print and difficult to find. Your best bet is the four-episode OVA released by AnimEigo, which has less story but plenty of atmosphere.

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Pronounced simply "holic", this series features a young man who has a propensity for attracting spirits. This puts him in the thrall of the mysterious Yūko, the "dimension witch".

The emphasis is less on shocks and scares than it is on humor, fantasy, nuggets of fortune-cookie-like wisdom, and moments of quiet wonder. That doesn't make it any less enjoyable or creepy when it needs to be.