For those looking for more mature anime, this list will highlight some of the best dark anime titles that span a variety of genres.
This article will include both older and newer titles, with a focus on anime with deep plots and/or plot twists.
Of course, there are so many dark anime out there and we couldn’t include all of them in this list.
However, check out our honorable mentions section at the end.
Warning: It should go without saying that all of these anime are for mature audiences only. The titles on this list may contain scenes depicting sex, abuse, violence, and gore, that some viewers may find disturbing. If you are sensitive to certain content, please do further research before watching any of these anime.
Surprisingly Dark Anime List
1. Goblin Slayer
Goblin Slayer is one of the most controversial fantasy anime to come out in the past decade.
It is set in a world filled with adventure, magic, demon lords, elves, dwarves, and of course, goblins.
The anime follows an unnamed silver-ranked adventurer known only as “Goblin Slayer”, who got his name because, despite his high rank, he only accepts quests to kill goblins.
As a child, Goblin Slayer watched as his entire family and village were slaughtered by a swarm of goblins right before his very eyes.
Since then, he has dedicated his life to hunting down all the goblins in the world.
That plot may seem straightforward and even slightly cliche.
However, the darkness of the Goblin Slayer anime comes from its exploration of good versus evil.
There is a striking scene where Goblin Slayer explains that from the goblin’s point of view, he is the monster.
He even says that it is possible that there are good goblins in the world that never come out of their caves.
He then finds a nest of goblin babies and slaughters them all.
Much of the darkness of the anime comes from its explicit scenes depicting nudity and even rape (at the hands of goblins), as well as gory depictions of violence in its action scenes.
In fact, it is one of the only anime I’ve ever seen that included a warning in the opening credits stating “This show contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing.”
For those who are looking for a dark fantasy anime, Goblin Slayer is the anime for you.
By legendary manga writer Naoki Urasawa (20th Century Boys, Pluto), Monster is a gripping mystery anime based on the manga of the same name.
It is also considered one of Urasawa’s best works.
Monster is about a Japanese man named Kenzo Tenma who is the best surgeon in one of the most renowned hospitals in Germany.
Tenma is also engaged to the hospital director’s daughter, giving him significant pull in the hospital and putting him in position for a great promotion.
Everything seems to be going well for him, until one tragic night when a child is brought into Tenma’s operating room.
With serious gunshot wounds, Tenma decides to operate immediately. However, at the same time, the town’s mayor is also brought in for urgent care.
For political reasons, the hospital director orders Tenma to attend to the mayor and leave the child in the hands of less-capable surgeons.
Unable to silence his conscience, Tenma refuses and begins operating on the child. The mayor then dies in surgery.
Unfortunately for Tenma, not only does he lose his job, but he also learns that the boy he saved has a dark past, and perhaps saving him was the worst mistake of Tenma’s life.
For those that like murder mystery stories and government conspiracies, Monster will be right up your alley.
While this anime may look like fanservice for furries, Beastars is actually a deep anime with a dark story and serious themes.
Developed by Orange and licensed by Netflix, the anime is set in a world where anthropomorphized carnivore and herbivore animals live together in an amalgamated society.
While it appears that predator and prey live together in harmony, there are countless tensions rising below the surface.
Beastars follows a young wolf named Legoshi who is a male high school student at Cherryton Academy. The anime opens with an alpaca student being killed and eaten on school grounds by one of his carnivore classmates.
As a large powerful wolf, Legoshi tries his best to hide his fangs and blend into the background. All that starts to change when he falls in love with Haru, a dwarf rabbit.
Throughout the anime, Legoshi goes through the tumultuous times of male adolescence, meanwhile trying to suppress his carnal nature.
In Beastars, the anthropomorphization of animals is taken to the extreme.
With scenes including partial nudity and sexual intercourse, it is definitely an anime for a more mature audience.
Hearing animals speak about intercourse with other species can be jarring, to say the least, and some scenes depicting the illegal consumption of herbivores are hauntingly dark.
All in all, Beastars was a surprisingly deep anime presenting issues that reflect the racism and discrimination present in many human societies today.
4. School Days
Originating as a visual novel, the School Days anime was developed by TNK studio and licensed by Discotek Media.
While School Days is mentioned on numerous anime lists, it is one of the darkest anime I’ve ever seen and thus I had to include it here.
Throughout most of the anime, School Days presents itself as a light-hearted typical high school romance anime, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The anime follows Makoto Ito, a first-year high school student who has a crush on his classmate, Katsura.
At first, Makoto’s female friend Saionji helps bring the couple together and tries her best to cheer Makoto on in his pursuit of Katsura. Before long, however, Saionji develops feelings for Makoto and the infamous love triangle appears.
The darkness of this anime lies in the crazy twist ending that many could not predict.
If you start watching School Days and think it is just another run-of-the-mill romance anime, just trust me, and keep on watching.
You will be glad (or disgusted) that you did.
5. Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni (When the Cicadas Cry)
While this is a title most dark anime lovers must have heard of by now, it would be downright criminal to exclude it from this list.
Also known as Higurashi: When they Cry, this anime is iconic in horror anime circles and often shows up in best horror anime lists.
Based on the critically acclaimed anime visual novel game of the same name, Higurashi is about a group of middle school students in a small rural Japanese town called Hinamizawa.
In fact, the town is so small that there is only one school and one class in the entire town.
When the protagonist Keichi moves to Hinamizawa, he is thrown into a class filled with children of various ages.
How the actual education works is anyone’s guess.
The anime starts out rather playfully, setting the scene for a relaxing slice-of-life story. Keichi gets to know his classmates, makes friends, and learns new things about the town.
However, soon Keichi learns of unexplained deaths and disappearances that happen in the town every year, like clockwork.
The story takes a darker turn, as Keichi starts to see the peaceful town of Hinamizawa in a new light.
The masterpiece that is Higurashi: When They Cry lies in its impressive use of contrast and juxtaposition.
On one hand you are introduced to these cute characters that all seem to have a happy-go-lucky attitude.
Then, those same cute little children are shown committing horrific and even gruesome acts. This stark contrast creates hauntingly scary and jarring scenes that will stay with you far longer than any jump scare ever will.
Undoubtedly, Higurashi: When They Cry is one of the darkest anime I’ve ever seen.
Best Dark Anime: Honorable Mentions
We couldn’t write about every dark anime out there, so here are a few that we didn’t highlight.
Nevertheless, these too are definitely worth checking out. We’ll briefly introduce them below, without giving away any spoilers.
School-Live! - An anime about a group of high school girls who are part of the “school living club”. They not only attend the school, but live at the school together 24/7.
Like, Higurashi, the power of this anime lies in the power of juxtaposition. Why is this club so small and why do these girls never go home? The answer to these questions will come as a dark surprise.
The Promised Neverland - I so badly wanted to include this anime in the list above, but decided to focus on lesser-known titles.
The Promised Neverland is one of the most famous anime of recent years and also one of the best. It is about a group of genius orphans who realize there is more to their orphanage than meets the eye.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - A remake of the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime, many consider Brotherhood to be the better and more definitive version of the story.
It is more mature than the original, depicting horrific scenes of The Occult. While this is more of an action anime, things get dark as we dive into the forbidden world of alchemy.
Elfen Lied - A classic sci-fi anime that everyone (with a strong stomach) should check out.
Elfen Lied is one of the most violent and gory anime I’ve ever seen. It also has a strong story about an elevated species of humans with supernatural abilities.
Once again, we know we couldn’t include all of the dark anime out there on this list.
If we missed your favorite anime, don’t hesitate to reach out on social media and we may include it in an update of this article down the road!