Many shounen anime are understandably crowd-pleasing when it comes to the genre as a whole, as they’re lighthearted and colorful, but seinen series like this year’s Golden Kamuy and even the giant shounen Attack on Titan season 4 show just how darker anime can be compelling. .
Making great dark anime can be its own challenge, as it can’t afford to be dark for dark’s sake. However, many Redditors have cited some of the best dark anime they’ve ever seen. More anticipated anime like Berserk and Neon Genesis Evangelion were noted, but there are also more subversive ones like Made in Abyss.
Made in the Abyss (2017-)
Stream to Amazon Prime Video
On the more unexpected side, at least based on the show’s art direction, Made in Abyss is one of the most popular dark anime going. It recently wrapped its long-awaited second season airing with the same success as its predecessor. Redditor shilunliu cited it as a major recommendation and said “don’t be fooled by the chibi characters, not a kids show.”
Made in Abyss follows Riko, a young girl aspiring to be an elite diver like her mother who vanished while exploring the depths of the titular Abyss. She meets and befriends robotic boy Reg along the way and, despite the endearing character designs, delves into darker and darker emotional and psychological elements as they move forward in uncovering the secrets of the Abyss.
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996)
Stream on Netflix
Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most iconic series available, mecha or otherwise, and is also a notoriously depressing anime to boot. In another recommendation thread, Redditor napoleonfanboy said “The second half of Neon Genesis Evangelion and The End of Evangelion fits that bill,” regarding particularly dark anime series.
Evangelion is known for being somewhat of a deconstruction of the typical mecha anime subgenre, as it serves as a deeply psychological and thematic exploration of the pitfalls of various mental illnesses. It also doesn’t hold back on sociopolitical commentary, with the story focusing on groups of children essentially conscripted into a war by a shadowy paramilitary organization to fight off an alien invasion.
Devilman Crybaby (2018)
Stream on Netflix
A demonic-themed dark fantasy series, Netflix’s animated adaptation of Go Nagai’s Devilman (subtitled Crybaby) has received strong critical acclaim while being considered notoriously dark. Redditor Sujallamichhaneakasl praised the impact of the series and said, “To call this show dark would be an understatement. The art style is unique, the animation is smooth, and the whole ordeal is really messing you up. »
Devilman Crybaby centers on two friends who seek to uncover the demons lurking in the world. However, in a chaotic mix-up, the tender-hearted Akira Fudou bonds with a demon to save Ryou Asuka. Using demons as a vehicle, Crybaby delves into themes of intense existentialism, bigotry, and coming of age as a male teenager.
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One of the best seinen anime according to MyAnimeList, mangaka monster Naoki Urasawa is a completely engrossing crime thriller. Redditor pRophecysama chimed in with a threatening comment recommending it as one of the darkest anime ever released and went so far as to say “I would honestly hold back on the monster [because] once you watch it, everything else looks crap in comparison. »
Like other darker, more mature anime and manga, Monster is reluctant to enter the more troubling corners of philosophy and psychology. Following Kenzo Tenma, a former Japanese doctor living in Germany, he sees his life spiral out of control after the young boy he sacrificed his job for appears years later as an elusive, bigoted serial killer.
Black Lagoon (2006)
Stream on Hulu
Black Lagoon is a solid choice for fans who want a combination of explosive, gory action and grim social commentary. Redditor Vainglory1 thought it was a standout dark anime and said, “It’s not completely dark, but there’s definitely some immoral evil and dark parts here and there.” Black Lagoon begins with a twenty-something Japanese employee who inadvertently becomes a pawn in a nuclear weapons trade his corrupt employers have taken part in.
Increasingly cynical from his life in Japan, he joins the titular mercenaries to start over. Where the series gets particularly dark is in the incredibly nihilistic worldviews of its morally ambiguous cast, as well as commentary on how world governments and the criminal underworld often go hand in hand with establishing the status quo. what.
Stream on Hulu
While certainly not as over the top as the mecha anime, Steins;Gate is another critically acclaimed sci-fi series that subverts elements of its subgenre. Redditor ChaseCid vouched for this and noted that it’s “not completely dark, but has significant dark themes present and moments that are amplified by the lighter tones surrounding other parts of the anime.” »
Steins;Gate is on the darker side, in a more unconventional way, as its debut almost lulls audiences into a false sense of security with grounded, slice-of-life-like storytelling. But it’s before it morphs into a deeply conspiratorial story with real life-and-death implications when the characters uncover the secrets of time travel.
Stream on Netflix (December 2022)
Often hailed by longtime fans of the medium as the greatest Seinen manga ever written and illustrated, Berserk by the late Kentaro Miura is one of the most thrilling fantasy series to watch or read. It hasn’t had the best of luck when it comes to consistent (and high-quality) TV anime adaptations, but the original 1997 series is still viewed with some warmth.
Naturally, many fans like Redditor StarWarsNerd57 included it in their shortlist of dark anime recommendations. Berserk may be relentless in the way it punishes its Game of Thrones and The Witcher world and how cruelly it treats its main cast, but if fans choose to read on, it reaps the full themes of inspiring human resilience and the healing he still has. sown. And that without sacrificing its atmosphere and world-building as a dark fantasy story.
Vinland Saga (2019-)
Stream on Netflix
It doesn’t go to the same dark depths as Berserk, but Makoto Yukimura’s Vinland Saga has all the nuance and engaging, character-driven storytelling that fans would want from a darker anime. Redditor Cynique_Noir also shouted it out in a suggestion thread, with much of what makes Wit Studio’s animated adaptation such a gripping watch coming from the emotionally impactful stories of its cast.
This expansive Viking-themed epic follows young Thorfinn’s bloody quest for revenge on the man who killed him. Vinland Saga gets thoroughly introspective from its characters, with Thorfinn’s supporting cast providing equally interesting motivations.
Psycho Pass (2012-)
Stream on Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime Video
While Ghost in the Shell is understandably considered the most influential cyberpunk anime, Psycho-Pass is an admirable modern entry into the subgenre. Redditor Cynique_Noir put it on their list of recommendations and, at least for the first season, it’s one of the most impressive modern anime originals.
Psycho-Pass is set in a techno-dystopian future where the Japanese government monitors its citizens’ propensity to be criminals and, if they fail this test, are dealt with by the Enforcers, even lethally. As one would expect from such a premise, Psycho-Pass’ obscurity stems from its minority report and Blade Runner-like narrative influences.
Kaji: Ultimate Survivor (2007-2008)
Stream on Crunchyroll
You wouldn’t normally think that an anime series revolving around gaming could be particularly dark, but Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor accomplishes just that. Commenting on the series’ merit, Redditor majora24 mentioned how “there are a lot of mind games” that contribute to making it so consistently tense.
Focusing on the depressing protagonist of his luck, the titular Kaiji is pressured by loan sharks to settle a debt imposed on him by a colleague. As a result, Kaiji joins a ruthless underground gambling tournament where contestants essentially gamble for their lives. Intense strategy games and ruthless backstabbing make Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor a grueling watch in the best way.