With a growing pool of anime viewers being adults, a demand for dark and gritty shows is on the rise. While some of these shows solely rely on gore and violence to be appealing to a mature audience, there are others that adopt darker themes that delve into the deepest of human emotions to offer you an unforgettable experience. But be warned, some of these anime have such extremely desolate aesthetics that they’ll make you feel miserable and hopeless.
The anime mentioned below either have some very twisted and unorthodox thematic concepts or they simply have disturbing characters and stories that give you a darker reflection of the real world. So without further ado, here’s the list of the darkest anime ever made. You can watch several of these top dark anime on Crunchyroll, Netflix or Hulu.
14. Attack on Titan (2013-)
‘Attack on Titan‘ has always been known for its bold depiction of gore and violence. It revolves around giant monstrous creatures trying to take over a small human civilization. The recent seasons of the anime go beyond the mere portrayal of darkness through bloodshed. Season 3 of ‘Attack on Titan’ has been a complete game-changer for the anime as it dives deep into the murkiness of human nature and shows how politics can completely destroy even the smallest of civilizations. What was once a story of characters uniting with each other to destroy a greater threat has now turned into a tale of corruption where allies are being pitted against each other to become enemies of their own people.
13. Rainbow (2010)
‘Rainbow‘ is one of those lesser-known gems that leaves no room for you to breathe. In the very beginning, it gives a warning that claims that what follows will have explicit disturbing content and it sure does live up to that. Think about it, in a medium where fan service and gore are considered to be pretty normal, you’re being warned that you need to be prepared for what lies ahead. It has a simple plot that revolves around the atrocities that are faced by 7 young teenagers at a Special Reform School. They are forced to go through brutal humiliation that is inflicted upon them by a sadistic guard and pedophile doctor. But the only thing that keeps them alive is their unbreakable bond and hope that they’ll again get to be on the other side of the prison walls someday.
Anime shows like ‘Elfen Lied‘ can go a little overboard with their portrayal of bloodshed but for a show like ‘Rainbow’, it’s necessary. While it does have a deeper heartwarming story that sheds light on the value of friendship, overall, ‘Rainbow’ is one depressing show that will remind you that the world we live in is not all sunshine and rainbows for everyone.
12. The Promised Neverland (2019-)
For a while, ‘The Promised Neverland‘ fools you by portraying a perfect little world where some orphans are being looked after by a loving mother figure referred to as “Mama”. These orphans are surrounded by wonderful friends all the time and life just seems to be great for them. They’re just not supposed to wander outside the grand gate of their facility and every once in a while, an orphan has to leave the heavenly place to live in the world outside. But it turns out that all of this is just a false idea that is being fed to innocent adolescents who live in there and the truth behind this facility is disturbingly dark. ‘The Promised Neverland’ has a very unique plot that has a few minor flaws here and there. But there are moments where it completely hits it out of the park with its portrayal of an unforgiving world that is full of terrifying twists and turns.
11. Elfen Lied (2004)
Since its release, ‘Elfen Lied‘ has become a victim of mixed reviews that lie on two extreme ends of the spectrum. The ones who are able to look beyond its extreme display of bloodshed where heads literally pop out of human bodies with fountains of blood, are the ones who are able to appreciate the brutally honest and shocking message that it tries to convey. With a melodious Latin opening theme titled “Lilium”, ‘Elfen Lied’ sets the bleak tone of the show and right off the bat, it starts off with one of the most graphic scenes in the history of anime. Its anti-climax can be a bit of a let down for some and not to mention, its gratuitous fan service can be downright annoying. But if you’re able to look beyond all of this, you’ve got one disturbing anime that’ll stay with you for a long, long time.
10. Texhnolyze (2003)
If your main squeeze is raw action in an anime, then ‘Texchnolyze’ has very little to offer. But if you’re looking for something that’ll give you a dark, realistic reflection of the world we live in, then you’re in for an unforgettable ride. Its plot revolves around an underground world where years of neglect towards repairs are starting to crumble the whole place down. But despite being of aware of all the gloom that has dusked upon this city, the people who live there are not willing to let go. As it slowly breaks down into nothing but ruins, people brutally fight each other to gain control over it. You’ve probably never heard of this show but if you’re patient enough to keep up with its slow pace, you’ll find yourself a series that is no less than a solid 10.
9. Perfect Blue (1998)
Watching ‘Perfect Blue’ is a horrifying experience as it slowly blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. And it does this in a way that you start questioning your own sense of existence. It centers around a character named Mima Kirigoe who is the lead singer of a pop band. But she later decides to move away from her music career and decides to become an actress. To her surprise, her small role in a video series gets her the “big break” that she needs but all of it comes with a price. Soon, she is stalked by a man who knows every single thing about her and things get worse when he starts posting these details on the internet, which was a fairly new medium back then. And as the sanity of the main character starts to fray, you start questioning your own lucidity as a viewer. ‘Perfect Blue’ is pretty much the definition of “dark anime” but be warned that this one has explicit depictions of extreme nudity, violence and even rape.
8. Serial Experiments Lain (1998)
Socially awkward and introverted teenager, Lain Iwakura, receives a strange email from her dead classmate Chisa Yomoda. As soon as she opens this email, she finds herself in a whole new world called the “Wired” which is quite similar to what we call the internet today. Here she comes across cryptic messages that lead her deeper into this dark world that diminishes the line between her reality and the cyberspace she’s trapped in.
It’s surprising that ‘Serial Experiments Lain‘ was premiered way back in 1998. The concepts that it presents about one’s self-identity, consciousness and the role of technology are way ahead of its time. That’s probably the reason why, even after all these years, it’s considered to be a timeless cult classic.
7. Berserk (2016-17)
When I say “dark anime”, I’m sure that the first show that comes to the minds of most viewers is ‘Berserk‘. Released in the late 90s, ‘Beserk’ is one anime that has absolutely no positive characters and pretty much everyone in it is living in some sort of squalor haunted by deep personal issues. Earlier, when I mentioned in the introduction that certain anime can literally take away all your peace and drown you in a wave of hopelessness, I was referring to ‘Berserk‘. The anime makes sure that not a single ray of light finds its way in and leaves you with painful stories that are full of betrayal, gore and extreme sorrow. It’s downright depressing to witness the main character Guts who just keeps moving forward after going through situations where most people would peacefully accept death.
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6. Hell Girl (2005-)
Every time a person becomes a constant victim of someone else’s mistreatment, a strange website called the “Hell Correspondence” pops up on his/her computer screen. This website allows the victim to write the name of anyone who has been abusing them in any way and that’s when that person is instantly taken to hell by Ai Emma, the Hell Girl. Nothing much is known about Hell Girl and the reason why she does what she does. But anyone who makes this deal with her will have to pay the price by condemning themselves to an afterlife in hell.
‘Hell Girl‘ follows an episodic format where each episode brings in a unique story of humans being treated in the worst possible ways. All of this reaches a point where even you start waiting for the victim to just pull the plug against their violators. If an anime is impactful enough to make you believe that a certain someone deserves to die, it sure as hell deserves to be on this list.
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5. Another (2012)
Since the death of a young middle school girl named Misaki, the town of Yomiyama has never been the same. 26 years after this event, 15-year-old Kouichi Sakakibara joins the same school and notices that everyone seems to have this constant dark gloom. He then meets a girl with an eye patch who, for some strange reason, is ignored by everyone, including the teachers. Although a little scared in the beginning, he decides to get close to her and soon, just like her, even his existence becomes unnoticeable to those around him. But the more he gets closer to her, the more he gets to know about the dark mysteries that have been lurking in the shadows of the school.
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4. Death Note (2006-2007)
‘Death Note‘ barely needs an introduction even to those who are fairly new to the world of anime. This dark thriller is known to be one of the best anime shows of all time and has been acclaimed internationally. While the first half of the anime is more of an intellectual game of cat and mouse between two very interesting characters, it’s the second half of the anime that takes a demented tone which will keep you at the edge of your seats.
The main protagonist, Light Yagami, who just started off with the mere motive of changing the world, turns into this psychotic lunatic who is driven by nothing but his own self-interest. The obvious shift in the tone of the anime is also reflected in its opening theme that goes from being a subtle melodious Japanese tune to a raging heavy metal score that represents Light’s madness.
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3. Hellsing Ultimate (2006-2012)
In ‘Hellsing Ultimate‘, there are no good or bad guys and a parallel is drawn between the protagonist and the antagonists of the show. In a way, ‘Hellsing’ tries to portray that when it comes down to a war, no one’s really right or wrong. Each of the sides is simply fighting for their own reasons and this idea alone will haunt you till the very end.
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2. Blue Literature (2009)
‘Blue Literature’ may not be as popular as other psychological thrillers like ‘Death Note‘, ‘Elfen Lied‘ or even ‘Monster‘. But it is surely one of the darkest and most complex anime shows out there. In each of its arcs, it picks up literary masterpieces of Imperial Japan, wherein each of them delves deep into the darker side of human psychology. It has no lighthearted moments and does not lose track of its main storyline. If you’re in the mood for something that is insanely dark and yet deeply captivating, ‘Blue Literature’ will perfectly fit the bill.
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1. Monster (2004-2005)
‘Monster‘ creates an incredibly uncomfortable atmosphere with its classic, slow-burn mystery story. Being a long-running anime, it slowly drives you into a world that is full of hate, murder and angst. Only a few shows are able to effectively resurrect the horrifying realities of this world and ‘Monster’ is definitely one of them. It’s one show that you should be acquainted with if you’re looking for an anime that is both thought-provoking and disturbing.
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