As we work our way through the spookiest time of year, it’s easy for our thoughts to turn toward all manner of ghosts, ghouls, and goblins. Maybe it’s the thinning of the veil between this world and the next (or maybe it’s all of the Spirit Halloween stores popping up in every abandoned strip mall like a festive, invasive weed), but it just feels like the perfect time to curl up on the couch and enjoy some scary stories. Luckily, the wonderful world of anime has plenty of options to offer. Whether you’re a seasoned genre fan with a taste for hardcore gore, or you need your creepy creatures with a hefty dose of comic relief, we’ve got you covered. All treats, no tricks.
So dim the lights, cuddle up with a mug of your favorite seasonal beverage, and let’s get spooky.
If You Like: Supernatural, The Conjuring
Scare Vibe: Creepy (Mild)
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll
Sometimes all you want out of a horror story is some good old-fashioned ghosts, and the people who catch them. Ghost Hunt follows the paranormal mysteries solved by the Shibuya Psychic Research team, a ragtag group of psychics, spiritualists, and paranormal research enthusiasts investigating unexplained supernatural phenomena all over Japan. The series balances light and darkness expertly, pairing tense and eerie ghost stories with a fun, engaging, and sometimes bizarre cast of characters. The two main characters, Mai and Kazuya, have strong personalities and bounce off of each other well as they encounter haunted dolls, cursed classrooms, and an Australian guy named John. All equally frightening things.
If You Like: Ghost Whisperer, Tales from the Crypt
Scare Vibe: Spooky (Mild)
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime
The best episodes of xxxHOLIC feel like listening to someone tell a ghost story by candlelight in a dark room. In fact, that’s the premise of one of the show’s scariest episodes. xxxHOLIC follows a teenage boy named Watanuki who makes a curious deal with a witch named Yuuko: if he works for her at her mystical shop, she will take away his ability to see spirits, a talent which has brought him untold grief and frustration over the years. As you might expect, her shop is no ordinary store, and the customers get more than knickknacks when they shop there. She trades in unusual artifacts and dealings with creatures straight out of classic folklore, from kitsune to The Monkey’s Paw.
Featuring CLAMP’s iconic, unusual art style, and a winning cast of characters including Boss Witch Yuuko, poor long-suffering Watanuki, and the cutest store mascot of all time, Mokona, there’s a lot to love here even for those who don’t consider themselves big horror fans. Episodes of xxxHOLIC range from magical romps, to somber tales of loss, to chilling encounters with dark spirits, but there is almost always something going bump in the night.
Zombie Land Saga
If You Like: iZombie, In the Flesh
Scare Vibe: So Cute It’s Scary (Mild)
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll
If even something like xxxHOLIC sounds a little too scary for you, then I’d like to turn your attention to this next entry. To be perfectly honest, Zombie Land Saga is barely a horror series at all. It’s basically just a story about a bunch of girls from different worlds coming together to form the best dang girl group the world has ever seen! Except, they are also all zombies. So, it counts.
Ten years after her death, high school student Sakura Minamoto suddenly wakes up, brought back as a zombie, along with six other girls from various points in Japan’s history. They have all been revived by Kotaro Tatsumi, a mysterious man who plans to shape them into an all-zombie idol group that will bring life and glory to the Saga prefecture. There’s the occasional bit of body horror due to the girls’ undead status, but overall the show is charming and sweet, packed with catchy songs and lovable characters who’ve got a whole lot of heart- even if theirs aren’t beating anymore.
If You Like: The Walking Dead, All of Us Are Dead
Scare Vibe: Deceptively Scary (Moderate)
Where to Watch: Amazon, Crunchyroll
Slice-of-Life meets Zombie Apocalypse in the deceptively cute School-Live! Yuki Yakeya and her friends run the School Living Club, a group dedicated to improving life at their school for all students. Except, all is not as it seems. The girls are hiding out in their school as a zombie outbreak rages on outside, doing their best to carve out a safe and comfortable life for themselves in the face of imminent death. Unable to cope with the reality of what is happening, Yuki has retreated into a fantasy world, imagining their day-to-day activities as charming and mundane rather than the desperate bid for survival that they actually are. The zombies themselves are only part of the horror of School-Live!, as the story zooms in on the emotional and psychological toll of living as a teenage girl at the end of the world.
If You Like: The Final Destination franchise, The Grudge
Scare Vibe: Deadly (Moderate)
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll
There is something terribly wrong happening at Yomiyama Middle School. When Kōichi Sakakibara transfers into his new class there, he and a mysterious girl named Mei encounter a gruesome mystery. People at school, particularly those related to their class, keep dying in a variety of horrific freak accidents. There are falling sheets of glass, malfunctioning elevators, and a particularly infamous incident involving an umbrella in the wrong place at the wrong time. As Kōichi digs deeper into the curse on Class 9-3, he discovers that there is far more at work than simple bad luck. Death itself may be taking his classmates out one by one, and if he doesn’t act quickly, he might be next. Another takes its simple premise and runs with it right over a cliff into a downward spiral of murder and mayhem. You’ll never look at an umbrella the same way again.
Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories
If You Like: Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Tales from the Darkside
Scare Vibe: Spine Tingling (Mild to Moderate)
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll
When it comes to horror anime, Yamishibai is something truly special. Told in bite-sized episodes animated to imitate the Japanese storytelling form of kamishibai (or “paper play”), each five-minute short recounts a different myth or legend. Though the episodes go by quickly, there are over 115 to choose from, and because there is no chronological story, you can skip around to whichever stories sound the most intriguing. Each episode is compelling and scary in its own way, but some standouts include “Farewell Confession,” “Museum of Taxidermy,” “Wrong Number,” “Night Bus,” and “Tormentor.”
If You Like: Twin Peaks, The Sinner
Scare Vibe: Stressful (Mild to Moderate)
Where to Watch: Prime Video, Crunchyroll
If you’re familiar with the work of Satoshi Kon, you probably already know that he is a master of psychological horror, frightening and disturbing audiences with brilliant animated films like the twisted, beautiful Perfect Blue. His 13-episode anime Paranoia Agent captures the same frantic, disorienting horror that Kon is known for in his features, focusing on a series of seemingly unrelated attacks by a strange boy wielding a baseball bat. It’s an ensemble piece, focusing on the various victims as well as the detectives covering the case, but the real star of the show is paranoia itself, and what can happen to a community when fear takes over.
If You Like: Hannibal, Red Dragon
Scare Vibe: Heart-Pounding (Moderate)
Where to Watch: Amazon
Sometimes the scariest monsters aren’t zombies, spirits, or ancient curses. Sometimes they’re just seemingly ordinary people with a capacity for acts of unimaginable evil. Monster revolves around Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese surgeon living in Germany. He is faced with a difficult choice one day on the job, forced to decide whether he will leave an ongoing surgery to save the mayor’s life, or prioritize the young boy he is already treating. He chooses to save the boy, but no good deed goes unpunished. Years later, Dr. Tenma’s life is turned upside down by a series of deaths connected to the very boy he saved, now a serial killer named Johan Liebert. What follows is a tense push and pull between the two men as Dr. Tenma tries to defend himself, and reckon with the fact that he helped keep this “monster” alive in the first place.
If You Like: Midnight Mass, Salem’s Lot
Scare Vibe: Bloody (Moderate)
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll, iTunes, Vudu
There’s never anything good going on when the residents of a small, isolated town begin dying mysteriously. Like, it’s never just a fun, silly prank that all turns out to be fine in the end. In Shiki, the town of Sotoba is distraught after a series of mysterious deaths, which just so happened to coincide with a reclusive new family moving into a mansion on top of a hill in town. Nothing suspicious about that. A local doctor suspects a new disease is the culprit, but it turns out to be something far more supernatural, malicious, and vampiric.
As the influence of the invading creatures creeps further into the village, the civilians must prepare for an all-out battle between the lives they know, and a powerful force that seeks to change them forever. Shiki is comparable in tone to something like Death Note, a compelling story with some frightening moments and dark material, but nothing so disturbing that it could turn a fledgling horror fan off of the genre forever. It’s an intriguing twist on the archetype of the vampire that combines familiar elements with its own unique flavor.
If You Like: Pyewacket, Creepshow
Scare Vibe: Hellish (Moderate)
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll, Amazon
If you could send someone to Hell just by typing their name into a text box on a mysterious, unassuming website, would you do it? What would it take for you to seek that kind of high-stakes demonic revenge? This is the premise of Hell Girl, in which the desperate and vengeful can punish those that they feel wronged by—for a price. Once someone has damned another person, they’ve sealed the deal on their own soul, too.
Though Hell Girl has an ongoing narrative, it frequently feels far more like an anthology, with most episodes focusing on a different person who has decided to employ the services of the website, and Ai Enma, also known as the titular “Hell Girl.” The depictions of Hell can be harrowing, but the scariest part of the show is the picture it paints of human nature, of petty revenge and wicked intentions, and people willing to doom others to an eternity of torment over the smallest slight.
Higurashi When They Cry
If You Like: Uzumaki, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Scare Vibe: Nightmare Fuel (Hardcore)
Where to Watch: HIDIVE
Based on the series of visual novels of the same name, Higurashi When They Cry follows a teenage boy, Keiichi Maebara, as he adjusts to his new life in the quiet village of Hinamizawa. Though it’s a big change, he quickly makes friends with his schoolmates, Rena, Mion, Satoko, and Rika. What delightful shenanigans await them during their summer vacation? Surely no horrific mutilation, unsolved murders, or deep dark secrets lurking beneath the village’s idyllic facade.
When They Cry is infamous for its shocking violence and abrupt tonal shifts, veering from a relatively lighthearted coming-of-age story with a bit of mystery, to shocking, stomach-churning horror. Like Keiichi, the viewer is sucked down into the cesspool of death and madness that is Hinamizawa, each arc of the story carrying them deeper into the chaos, the conspiracy, and a mind-bending mystery that is far more expansive and dangerous than anyone can know. It’s a well-told story filled with truly impactful twists and turns, but I wasn’t kidding about the violence, physical and psychological. Don’t mess around with this one if you have a weak stomach. Or any anxiety around, um, trauma to someone’s fingernails.
If You Like: The Strain, Blade
Scare Vibe: Blood, blood everywhere and lots of drops to drink (Hardcore)
Where to Watch: Funimation, Crunchyroll
Hellsing: Ultimate isn’t the first adaptation of the manga that serves as its source material, but many fans regard it as the best (and the scariest). The 10-episode series takes place in an alternate history where one of the only things standing between humanity and bloodthirsty monsters like vampires and ghouls is Hellsing, an English organization led by Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing. Integra and her group have many weapons at their disposal, but their greatest is Alucard, a rare vampire that fights on behalf of humanity and against his fellow creatures of the night. The action sequences are gorgeously animated, the characters are compellingly complex and flawed, and the atmosphere is slick, stylish, and bloody enough to satisfy any vampire’s thirst.
Corpse Party: Tortured Souls
If You Like: Silent Hill, The Devil’s Backbone
Scare Vibe: Haunting (Hardcore)
Where to Watch: DVD and Blu-Ray
If you consider yourself too squeamish for the likes of When They Cry then you should probably run in the opposite direction of Corpse Party. Probably while screaming. If the title didn’t give it away, Corpse Party is a pretty intense watch. When one of their members is about to transfer schools, a group of friends perform a ritual to bind them all together and strengthen their friendships.
It goes horribly wrong, however, and transports them to Heavenly Host Elementary school, an abandoned school haunted by the spirits of its murdered students. Just girly things! This is no apparition-laden fun house jumpscare fest, but a disturbing tale of trauma and tragedy that goes to some truly depraved places.
Whether you’re in the mood to jump, shiver, or stare into the middle distance as you rethink everything you thought you knew about the world, yourself, and the human potential for cruelty, there’s a seasonally appropriate anime out there for you. Just try to keep the screaming to a minimum while you watch though, okay? You wouldn’t want to wake the dead.
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