We live in a time when the concept of “Peace” is slowly being eroded away, especially after the events of September 11, 2001. While our Western world is becoming increasingly aggressive, we’ve been conditioned to believe that we are the “moral” ones, and that those who don’t behave like us are somehow less than human.

Humans are pretty much the only animals on earth that are capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions, and that’s why we get so worked up when we see the news of a crime. But, the media is making it seem like the world is a dangerous place, so some anime creators are making shows that repond to the media’s negativity towards the world.

Anime has become so popular in the West that  it’s hard to believe that it isn’t a norm in Japan. However, it is, and the Japanese are known for having their own, unique manga and anime culture. However, it’s not always what you’d expect:  Japan has some of the most dark and heavy anime out there.

In a room full of anime lovers, the last thing you want to say is, “Oh, you’re watching cartoons?”

Anime enthusiasts are eager to point out that anime encompasses more than simply Japanese animation. While the visual style and genres associated with anime are frequently seen as juvenile or even vulgar, the sophisticated stories that animation companies include into their series and films have stayed with viewers, altering how they perceive the world.

The most frequent method fans attempt to convince others that anime isn’t childish is to refer to the flood of gloomy anime that has been released in recent years. B-movie gorefests to the more intellectual, but equally gruesome, Made in Abyss are just a few examples (2017).

Darkness, on the other hand, is more than simply blood and violence. What makes these thirteen gloomy anime episodes and movies really grim is the way they reflect our actual reality.

13. The Fireflies’ Grave (1988)

Yes, we’re going to start with this one.

For those who are unfamiliar with Grave of the Fireflies (1988), it tells the tale of two brothers who are frantically fighting to live during World War 2. Seita is forced to find out how to live while caring for his younger sister, Setsuko, when their mother is killed in an airstrike and suffers serious burns.

What distinguishes it as a dark anime?

Many anime and non-anime films include war in their plotlines, but the true horrors of war are often overlooked in favor of a hero’s arch or a feel-good tale about national pride. Grave of the Fireflies (1988) accomplishes none of these goals.

Its plot is solely on the horrors of war and the people who are most affected by them: children. We are plagued by recollections of pre-war Japan and the promise of a life after the war throughout the film. Audiences are forced to witness the brothers hunger, get beaten by other people attempting to save them, and flee from American bombs dropping from the sky.

Even while it would be nice to say those days are gone, the life-altering consequences of war are still felt by children today, regardless of whose side of a fight they are on.

Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the 12th installment in the Full Metal Alchemist series (2009)

Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009) may be a new series, but the heartwarming and tragic story of Alphonse and Edward Elric’s brotherhood helped the series secure its place as one of the greatest shounen anime of all time. The fundamental concept of this dark anime is that it takes place in a universe where alchemy, or the study of matter transformation, is a legitimate science. What is the issue? Alchemy necessitates the trade of something equally value to the alchemist’s desired outcome.

The Elric brothers are dealing with the loss of their mother, which left them orphans after their father’s unexplained absence. At this stage in the narrative, the brothers are still youngsters, but they learn that people can be formed from a set of fundamental components. There is one caveat: no one has ever done it correctly since there seems to be a component lacking. Alphonse Elric’s body is damaged after a botched effort to revive their mother, forcing Edward to attach his soul to a set of armor. This tragic blunder propels the brothers on a journey to reclaim Alphonse’s corpse.

What distinguishes it as a dark anime?

In this gloomy anime episode, there’s a lot of screwed up stuff going on. Viewers have front-row seats to human experimentation, which has a history that includes the Tuskegee experiment and Nazi medical experiments. Amestris, a country that has forcefully annexed its neighboring nation of Ishval via a war effort that included mass extermination of native Ishvalans, has a ‘Fuhrer’ as its leader, which is a bit less subtle.

Notes on Death 11 (2006)

What is the definition of justice?

That is the central question of Death Note, our next dark anime suggestion (2006). The title of the program is derived from a mystical artifact known as a Death Note, a notebook in which Japanese death gods known as shinigami record the names of people who are destined to die. A shinigami’s power over life and death is linked to their own Death Note, thus they may pass it on or lose it to humans. For better or worse, the Shinigami Ryuk’s Death Note ends up in the hands of Light Yagami, a high school student.

Light is well-known at school for being a genius and for his excellent breeding and background, owing in part to the fact that his father is a police officer. As a result, he became very sensitive to problems of crime and justice, prompting Light to utilize Ryuk’s Death Note to exact vengeance on those he considers to be sinners.

What distinguishes it as a dark anime?

Light’s desire for retributive justice is bolstered by a life spent on a pedestal. While he begins off with a pretty strong, if a little dubious, moral compass, a life spent on a pedestal bolsters Light’s taste for retributive justice. When you encounter or see something you believe is unfair, you have a visceral response of anger and a want to lash out at the perpetrator.

“I will hunt you down wherever you’re hiding and I will eliminate you,” rival geniuses Light and L agree in their cat and mouse game. “I am the law!”

Death Note (2006)’s dark anime classification is determined by the evil that lies beneath what we justify as morality, not by how many people Light kills. Wisecrack, a YouTube channel, delves further into how this gloomy anime drama deals with the issue of what genuine justice is.

Psycho-Pass (#10) (2012)

Psycho-Pass (2012) is a gloomy anime that attempts to answer the issue of what constitutes justice. The program is admittedly a rip-off of Minority Report (2002), with the same concept of capturing criminals before they can commit a crime.

The universe of Psycho-Pass is set in a cyberpunk version of Japan controlled by a computer network known as the Sibyl System, which is a reference to ancient Greek prophetesses. The Sibyl System generates a document known as a Psycho-Pass, which includes the results of the supercomputer’s psychological and biometric evaluations. When a citizen’s Crime Coefficient reaches 100, the highest allowable level for a degraded mental condition, law enforcement arrests them and either imprisons or executes them.

What distinguishes it as a dark anime?

Psycho-Pass (2012) challenges our perceptions of what constitutes a crime. All definitions of crime have one thing in common: they are all positive. No, this does not imply that crime is a desirable thing, but rather that it occurs and is committed. If no unlawful conduct is done, there is no crime for which individuals should be punished.

Consider a future where law enforcement is proactive, meaning you might be prosecuted for crimes you haven’t yet committed. Is it justifiable because it protects people from injustice? Is preemptive law enforcement unfair because it punishes people without cause? While this may seem to be an useless thinking exercise, it is the same issue that the legal system faces when it comes to non-offending pedophiles.

Jigoko Shoujo (Jigoko Shoujo) is a Japanese manga series (2005)

This is the gloomy anime for you if you enjoyed Girl From Nowhere (2018).

Jigoko Shoujo (2005) is a Japanese animation based on the urban legend of ‘Hell Girl.’ People seeking revenge on those who have mistreated them visit the Hell Correspondence website and fill out a form requesting that Enma Ai, the Hell Girl, transport their adversaries to, well, hell. It’s similar to Death Note (2006), but on a smaller scale and with a third party conducting the murders. Jigoko Shoujo (2005), like Girl From Nowhere (2018), treats each episode as a standalone short narrative.

What distinguishes it as a dark anime?

It’s likely surprising that this gloomy anime is categorized as a shoujo anime, a genre best recognized for pleasant programs like Sailor Moon (1992), which focus on magical girls, friendship, and love. However, the program has a magical girl named Enma Ai, and many of the episodes involve young ladies pursuing vengeance. Jigoko Shoujo (2005) deals with retributive justice as well, but in a manner that highlights the heinousness of those who use the Hell Correspondence website to murder others.

Unlike Light or L, Enma Ai is a supernatural entity that is uninterested in or emotionally invested in her customers’ problems. The only thing she has to say about it is that after sending someone to hell, her customers will go to hell as well. Jigoko Shoujo (2005) sends a clear message: vengeance-based justice is still wicked.

Ghost in the Shell (#8) (1995)

The famous dark animation Ghost in the Shell (1995) has been turned into a Hollywood live-action film starring Scarlett Johansson. While the live-action adaptation was a failure, director Mamoru Oshii’s original animation remains one of his most highly praised films.

The film is a neo-noir cyberpunk tale that follows the policemen and detectives of Public Security Section 9 on their mission to combat crime and even prevent it in a future version of 21st-century Niihama Prefecture. The tale makes full use of its environment, imagining a slew of cyber-criminals as well as plain old-fashioned political intrigue. Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg who serves as the group’s second in command, is the most well-known of the numerous members of Public Security Section 9. The show’s title comes from her less-than-human character.

What distinguishes it as a dark anime?

Apart from its bleak backdrop, Ghost in the Shell (1995) is a gloomy anime because of its introspective look at the typical sci-fi concept of man vs. machine. Because of the rapid advancement of technology and our collective desire for higher living standards, our future may be filled with cybernetically modified people that are almost indestructible and functionally immortal. However, achieving this degree of indestructibility and perfection necessitates eliminating everything that is flawed, i.e., what makes a person human.

Ghost in the Shell (1995) is an action sci-fi film that also serves as an education in existential philosophy. When Major Kusanagi first appears in the film, she is hardly human, since much of her body has been replaced with robotic components. Her increasing estrangement from humanity causes her to question whether the ‘ghost’ in this cybernetic’shell’ still exists; the ghost in this instance being her human soul. Her line of reasoning leads to the following question: Are souls real? Is Kusanagi still human if they aren’t?

This gloomy anime film has some great combat sequences, but it’s eerie perspective on the Ship of Theseus, the contradiction depicted in the Wandavision (2023) serial, is one of the reasons Ghost in the Shell (1995) has lasted so long.

Black Butler (number 7) (2008)

Black Butler (2008) is a gloomy anime with stereotyped characters. It recounts the tale of Ciel Phantomhive, the heir to an English earldom and the owner of Funtom Corporation, a toy manufacturing business. At the start of the episode, the tiny eye-patching wearing earl is only 13 years old, yet he acts as the Queen’s Watchdog, performing the dirty job for the show’s fictitious version of Queen Victoria.

Earl Phantomhive is a supernatural noir dark anime that takes a gothic spin on Detective Conan (1996) and follows him as he attempts to solve the mysteries the Queen gives him with the aid of his not-so-human butler.

What distinguishes it as a dark anime?

Black Butler (2008) has a lot of gloomy anime stuff in it. For one thing, Ciel has been a victim of human trafficking and still carries the scars of the cult that enslaved him before. The anime and manga cover a variety of themes related to the show’s historical context. The horrors of upper-class decadence, the systematic brutalization of Victorian England’s underclass, the colonization of India, and even the cruel treatment of people with disabilities in circuses are all explored in this gloomy anime.

Code Geass is the sixth game in the Code Geass series (2006)

One of the more recent entries to this list, Code Geass (2006), acquired popularity in the mid to late 2000s. The dark anime’s high stakes tensions won it a devoted fan following, and the show’s fans will soon be rewarded with a sequel.

This gloomy anime series follows Lelouch Lamperouge, an Ashford Academy student who meets a strange lady called C.C. by accident. C.C grants Lelouch a power known as a Geass as a thank you for saving her life. This power enables Lelouch to mind control anybody with whom he makes eye contact. Why is it that a student get involved in a war? Lelouch isn’t a pure-hearted hero like many shounen anime heroes. His goals are motivated in part by his own morals and a desire for revenge against the Holy Britannian Empire, which has conquered Area 11, formerly known as Japan.

That stated, Lelouch isn’t even a native of the Japan of Code Geass (2006). He’s really an exiled prince of Britannia seeking vengeance for the death of his mother in a political conspiracy.

What distinguishes it as a dark anime?

If it hasn’t already been clear, Lelouch’s path from student to disguised revolt leader Zero is a gripping anti-imperialist tale. Though Lelouch has his own goals, the narrative is primarily driven by his Zero alter-ego. Zero walks a fine line between opposing imperialism and serving as an authoritarian dictator.

Area 11 residents are shown as second-class citizens in their own nation in the program. Area 11 residents, commonly referred to as “Elevens,” live in dismal circumstances in ghettos, whereas “Honorary Britannians,” Japanese people who work for the British government, are provided with better housing and assistance. Suzaku, one of the show’s characters, is an Honorary Britannian, but even that doesn’t protect him from the Britannian army’s systematic injustice.

Evangelion (Neon Genesis Evangelion) (Neon Genesis Evangelion) (1995)

This is a dark anime that has been a fan favorite for a long time. The anime Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) is generally regarded as one of the finest of the 1990s.

The Evangelion is a massive bio-machine used by mankind on this future Earth to combat Angels, alien harbingers of doom who deliver cataclysms to the planet. Given that the Earth of Evangelion has already been exposed to an apocalyptic catastrophe, the Japanese have gathered in a settlement named Tokyo-3, a fortified future replica of the real-world metropolis, it isn’t really a “save the world” tale.

What distinguishes it as a dark anime?

This anime series, like Code Geass (2006), involves gigantic robots controlled by adolescents that are employed as war machines. Doesn’t it sound bleak? It becomes bleaker from there. Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) was one of the first anime to flip the popular mecha genre on its head, transforming it from a feel-good tale about youngsters beating up bad people to a serious examination of the psychological consequences of war. Many of the characters in this gloomy anime obviously have mental health problems, the most prevalent of which is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Given that many of the mecha pilots in Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) are essentially child soldiers, this isn’t surprising.

Red Garden No. 4 (2006)

The 2006 anime series Red Garden, like Jigoko Shoujo (2005), stands out for its distinctively feminine take on the gloomy anime aesthetic. Red Garden (2006) is a seinen anime series (essentially an elder brother to the shounen genre) that explores the personal lives of each of the major characters.

The females aren’t Japanese high school students, which is a departure from anime norm. Instead, they all go to Roosevelt Island, New York City’s renowned private school. If they weren’t stars of a horror anime series, the all-female main ensemble might be from Clueless (1995).

Kate Ashley is a self-described “ideal student council president” who suffers with the burden of having to be a model student. Meanwhile, Rachel Benning embodies the nasty girl stereotype, caring more about her nails than the other characters and struggling under the perception that she’s an easy lady a la Heather Chandler. Claire Forrest portrays the traditional tomboy, while Rose Sheedy plays the gentle and timid part.

What distinguishes it as a dark anime?

This gloomy anime series is very sensitive to women’s problems, especially the perils of adolescent girlhood, while being a purportedly male-oriented program. Although many of the sequences in the program are still devoted to battling supernatural monsters, its dark anime status is more melancholy than the others on this list.

3. Shjo Tsubaki: Midori (1992)

With this gloomy anime film, there are no subtlety. Midori: Shojo Tsubaki (1992), directed by Hiroshi Harada, recounts the tale of Midori, an orphaned girl forced to join a freak show circus when her father abandons her and her mother dies of sickness. You’d assume that’s the cause of her death, but this gloomy anime goes all out with the gore. Rats and mice devour Midori’s mother.

Mr. Arashi, the boss of the Amazing Freak Show, takes the unsuspecting Midori to the circus, where the monster cast members brutally assault her both physically and sexually. On Twitter, where many people have challenged themselves to watch what is claimed to be the most screwed up anime of all time due to the unrestrained exhibition of violence, it has become something of a circus freak show.

What distinguishes it as a dark anime?

There is a lot of violence and explicit descriptions of rape. Though it seems to be a shock piece of ero-guro at first, some viewers have looked beyond the film’s provocative (and trippy) visuals, concentrating on the similarities between Midori and comfort women, who were women compelled to perform “sexual comfort” services for Japanese troops during WWII. This is the anime show for you if gore is your thing, which I’m sure some of you are considering that you clicked on a “dark anime” collection.

However, if you’re searching for something a bit more moving, these following gloomy anime films are for you.

2. Akira Kurosawa (1988)

Returning to the cyberpunk subgenre of gloomy anime films. The bleak future of Akira (1988) is set in, wait for it, 2019. Shotaro Kaneda, the head of a motorcycle gang, rides through Neo-streets Tokyo’s with his closest buddy, Tetsuo, as they battle the Clowns, a rival biker gang.

This gloomy anime film is a classic work in the sci-fi genre, similar to Ghost in the Shell (1995). It’s a tangled web of political upheaval, gang bloodshed, and terrorism. Akira’s universe is a mix of science fiction and human experimentation (1988).

Tetsuo meets Takashi, a man with psychic powers who has just escaped from a government laboratory with the assistance of resistance fighters. When the government arrives for Takashi, they take Tetsuo with them and find that he has strong psychic powers comparable to those of the eponymous Akira, who destroyed Tokyo in 1988.

What distinguishes it as a dark anime?

Akira (1988) was created by artist Katsuhiro Otomo to reflect on Japan’s nuclear bomb scarred history by transferring it to a far future planet. Tetsuo’s slide into lunacy may be interpreted as a warning tale about the dangers of nuclear energy, told by a Japan still suffering from the atomic bomb’s catastrophic consequences.

While its contemporary, Grave of the Fireflies (1988), takes a personal approach to the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Akira (1988) is allegorical, using Tetsuo’s growing pride and ambition to be the savior (and destroyer) of the new world to warn us about the other side of what is often touted as a safe and clean source of energy.

1. The Color of Perfection (1997)

Satoshi Kon’s dark anime masterpiece is a psychological thriller that many people today would compare to Black Swan (2010). The Western picture, however, simply follows in the footsteps of Perfect Blue (1997), a mind-boggling mystery centered on Mima.

Mima is the main vocalist of CHAM!, a Japanese idol girl group managed by Rumi Hidaka, a former pop star who has long since passed her prime. Mima wants to act more than she wants to sing, despite her successful career as a singer. Her admirers are outraged by her shift in character from the innocent girl stereotype her agency marketed her as when she eventually gets a small part in the detective series “Double Bind.”

As the controversy around Mima develops, she is pursued by an obsessive admirer who has made it his particular goal to “clean” Mima’s reputation.

What distinguishes it as a dark anime?

Perfect Blue (1997) is the epitome of a slow-burning film. The filthy underbelly of Asian idol culture is exposed in this disturbing anime. In order to encourage fans to establish parasocial connections with their stars, several entertainment companies in South Korea prohibit their stars from pursuing romantic relationships, thus controlling a major part of their personal life. After all, if your favorite celebrity remains single, there’s a possibility they’ll fall for you.

This is one of the reasons why a stalker has publicly threatened to kill Lisa Manoban, a member of the popular BLACKPINK idol group, if she does not get into a relationship with him. Meanwhile, over the pond, Japanese idols are compelled to apologize to fans after being attacked by them, and they are forced to shave their hair as a penalty for having personal lives.

This gloomy anime film has been around for decades, yet idol culture shows no signs of slowing down.

Want to learn more about how real-life tragedies inspire fiction? From Dracula to Edward Cullen: The Evolution of the Vampire Myth is a must-read.

The idea of a dark anime has been discussed in previous articles, as it has been the step-child of the anime community for a very long time. Some claim that the genre should have died along with the mecha anime genre, while others insist that there are plenty of redeeming properties in the genre. Still others maintain that anime is for children, but that doesn’t mean the anime that has been made outside of that realm shouldn’t be reviewed.. Read more about dark dystopian anime and let us know what you think.

This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • dark fantasy anime
  • dark anime
  • dark action anime
  • dark anime shows
  • dark anime girl
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