The Horror of Japanese Psychological Anime

What is a Japanese Psychological Anime?

Anime is one of the many things that make the Japanese culture popular not only throughout its country but all over the world. Through the years, animation had become advanced and unique. Since the time that anime became popular in the world, there had been a continuous number of developments and innovations. There used to be a few number of genres but there are now numerous fusions of different genres.

One particular innovation in anime and manga genre would be the idea and concept of psychological anime. This kind of anime focuses deeply on the existential issues of the main character. It focuses on the way of thinking and the mind of the main character. They involve thought experiments and paradoxes. It involves the constantly changing battle between an individual and their world or surroundings. Most often, these involve mysteries and mind games. There are times that there plot twists that the reader does not expect at all.

Themes of the psychological anime also focus on fantastical (or sometimes satirical) takes on modern day issues like crime, life, death, calamities, and the like. It also involves themes and ideas that the reader cannot fathom or give meaning to. It is quite different from supernatural and horror, on the other hand. The psychological genre usually has a unique element of wonder and mystery that deals with other worldly or unexplainable incidents.

Examples of Hollywood movies which fall under the psychological genre would be Inception and Shutter Island. Both films can be considered as crosses between suspense thrillers and horror but do not exactly fall under such genres. They deal with horrors that are unavoidable and exists in real life – horrors that man cannot avoid nor control.

Most animated series last no longer than a month. However, there are some series that can last longer than a year. However, there are usually breaks in the release of the episodes. For instance, some shows release their episodes during the summer time. Once the 20 episode show is finished, the next season or installment will be released in the fall. In the same way, shows that are released during spring time has a second installment released during winter time.

Different kinds of Psychological Anime Sub-genres

What a lot of people must understand is the fact that not all psychological anime is scary. There is a list of psychological sub-genres that deal with other much deeper concepts and ideas. Both the shoujo and seinen genre of animations can cover psychological themes.

Psychological Horror

Most psychological anime deal with supernatural creatures that are not always cute and pleasant. Since most of the anime that fall under this genre targets male readers and followers, they are classified under shounen and seinen. They also cover much grimier storylines and plots dealing with death, bloodshed, murder and the like.

However, most psychological anime can be considered under the horror sub-genre. There are some stories that have zombies, ghosts, and other savage creatures which have been crafted by the imagination. The settings also usually involve darkness and hell. The story usually involves tragedy and death as well.  

Psychological Thriller

Besides all those stories that deal with monsters, ghouls, ghosts, and zombies, there are also stories that pit man against other men. Such as the story of the Mirai Nikki, the main character is placed in a situation where he has to murder other characters for him to attain his desires. These thrillers are also the sub-genre with the most following because it involves a wider range of storylines. They have action, mystery, suspense and even horror in just one series.

Psychological Romance

These kinds of anime series may deal with deep ideas and life concepts. However, it is not always horrifying. Also, it does not always revolve around fear. Sometimes, it also revolves around tragedies in love and family. There are some stories that focus on romance and love. These are the types of stories that do not have monsters, ghosts, and zombies.

Psychological Drama

What is interesting is the combination of drama and psychological themes. Although this is an unusual blend, there are a number of films and animated series that create a harmonious fusion of these two themes. There are cases or stories where in the main character has an emotional struggle with the works of his mind. There are times as well where the backstory of the main character provides the emotional drama that will create the story’s interesting struggle.

What is the best Japanese Psychological Anime?

Death Note

This particular anime is based on a long running manga and may be considered as one of the best psychological anime of all time. This particular anime is so popular and has the wide following not only in Japan but also in different parts of the world. It is on almost every website’s must watch list.

By Tsugumi Ōba, Takeshi Obata ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The story revolves a young high school student who stumbled upon an incredible power of taking someone’s life by writing their name on a book called a death note. With so much power in his hands, he decides to write names of criminals to fully extinguish crime in the world. However, saving the world does not come easy as authorities have started to wonder about the death of a number of criminals. They think that a serial killer is on targeting criminals in Japan.

This particular story is a psychological anime because it revolves around the idea that a man with the intention to do good things eventually be accused of doing something bad. It is evident in the film that the young student started to play god and is being caught to pay consequences for his actions. Readers are now torn between deciding if the kid was doing the right or wrong thing by taking matters into his own hands.

Mirai Nikki

The anime entitle Mirai Nikki is ranked second in the world’s most popular psychological anime list because of its enthralling story. The story is a combination of suspense, thriller, action, and even mystery. This shounen anime is popular that it has a wide following in the west.

The story is somewhat similar to that of Death Note with a young kid being given powers that are beyond his understanding. The main character is given a “random diary” by an entity known as the god of space and time. He is introduced to other young kids that have the same capabilities but it is to their surprise that they are to battle one another. The ultimate winner will then be given the power to the god of space and time.

On the other hand, it involves a competition which is not like any other. He is supposed to kill all the other contestants to be hailed the winner. Readers are now torn between supporting the character in his desire to become all powerful and the decision to let others live but endangering his own life.  

Psycho Pass

The main storyline of this anime is about the right enforcement of justice. Fast-forward to a century from today, there are new technological ways of determining whether a person has the genetic tendency to commit crimes. If the system (known as the Psycho pass) finds out that a person does have the tendency, then they will immediately be subdued. The climax happens when a young girl finds out that the Psycho pass is not all that accurate.

Tokyo Ghoul

The story revolves around a futuristic Tokyo where cruel beings are living alongside humans. Known as ghouls, they are known to take lives of others mercilessly. The storyline revolves around a young man who is half ghoul and a half human who is trying his best to fit in with society. He is torn between fully accepting himself as a savage, blood-thirsty monster or an innocent and helpless human. This particular anime series is one that has the most following because of its harrowing plot twists and surprises.

By Cosplay Vogue1 (DSC_3537) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Ping Pong the Animation

This is one of the most interesting storylines of all. Instead of the typical supernatural, horror, fantasy themes, this series focuses on the struggle of a few ping pong prodigies in becoming part of the professional arena. It is more of a coming-of-age and self-realization theme where a younger generation becomes open to the harsh realities of competitive sports.

The good thing about this particular series is that there are a lot of people who can relate to it. The existential struggles of the ping pong prodigies are also problems that typical individuals face. The story involves no magic, no fantasy. It only involves pure reality.

Serial Experiments Lain

The story of this revolves around a young girl who is totally obsessed with virtual reality. There are incidents where the girl cannot anymore distinguish between reality and imagination. This is a good psychological anime series because a lot of people can become victims of this but to a lesser extent. It shows how much humans are now dependent on interconnectivity and technology.

The story is made even more appealing with the mystery and sci-fi elements which are harmoniously fused into the plot. There are also supernatural aspects within the story.

What is interesting is that this is very timely with the influx of social media’s popularity. A lot of the members of the younger generation are so dependent on the internet that they lose their skill in socializing with other people. Also, it is becoming a very serious problem when people rely too much on internet connectivity for finding relationships and friends. This is more of a philosophical theme rather than psychological, but watching it does put its audiences into perspective.

Popular Directors of Japanese Psychological Anime

Satoshi Kon

This man was a famous manga artist, screen writer, and animator. He studied Graphic Design at the Musashin Art University and started out his career in animation in the early 1980s. It was in 1993 when he wrote a short video animation called JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Then in 1997, he debuted his first directed film entitled Perfect Blue. Most of his written and directed works revolved around three different elements – idol, horror, and stalker. All of which are favorites of his fans. Among his most famous works would be the TV series Paranoia Agent and Paprika.

Unfortunately, his career was cut short when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Then in 2010, he eventually succumbed to his illness. Many people were saddened by his sudden passing at a young age of 46.

Tetsuro Araki

This man is the director of the famous story Death Note. His other notable works include Highschool of the Dead, Attack on Titan, and Guilty Crown. He has been in the industry since the early 2000s.

Shuhei Morita

Shuehei Morita is one of the most popular Japanese anime directors. He is known internationally as one of the most talented young animation directors. He started out as an animator during the beginning of his career until eventually, he became a screenwriter, a director, and a producer.

His popularity skyrocketed when he successfully directed the animated film entitled Possessions. His work was recognized not only in Japan but all over the world. His talents even gained him a nomination for Best Animated Short Film at the Academy Awards in 2013. Then in 2015, he also got an animation for his robot anime shorts in the Oscars. Among his other famous works is A Farewell to Arms, and all installments of Tokyo Ghoul.