Thriller is a genre that elicits suspense, anxiety, and even excitement, covering almost all of the emotional spectrum. Anime with a lot of plot twists often fall into this category and are among the most interesting in the whole medium.
If you are looking for something thrilling and different from the usual slice-of-life shows, look no further.
We present you a complete listicle with all of the anime that we deem to be the best representatives of thriller anime. This ranking is largely subjective and you don’t have to take it literally.
Table of Contents
28. Future Diary
A widely known and discussed anime that many people love and others hate, especially because of the main character Yukiteru.
The main character, Yukiteru Amano, is an antisocial boy who keeps a diary on his cell phone in which he notes everything that happens around him.
Yukiteru thinks he has an imaginary friend called Deus Ex Machina, the lord of time. One day Deus decides to organize a game and makes a change to his diary, which now reports future events.
This “modification,” however, is soon applied to the diaries of eleven other people besides Yukiteru.
Thus is born the game, which consists of a survival game where participants must try to kill each other or destroy their opponents’ future diaries. Whoever survives the confrontation will take the place of Deus as the god of time and space.
A strong thriller and suspense component characterizes this anime, capable of making you feel constantly on your toes.
An animated adaptation from the light novel of the same name written in 2009 by Yukito Ayatsuji.
Another tells the adventures of Mei and Koichi, two students at Japan’s Yomiyama North High School, who investigate to end a curse that has plagued their school for 26 years.
This curse will lead the two protagonists to encounter paranormal phenomena and to discover, as the solution to the mystery approaches, disturbing secrets that will change their lives.
The anime’s narrative is very much in the investigative genre, and it doesn’t make mysteries and paranormal occurrences end in themselves. A not inconsiderable dose of splatter will also be present, with terrifying deaths.
26. When They Cry
When They Cry is an anime based on the sound novel of the same name published in 2002 by 07th Expansion.
The plot chronicles the lives of Keiichi Maebara and his friends who live in Hinamizawa, a small country town plagued by a macabre curse linked to the worship of a local god Oyashiro.
After the protagonists begin to investigate the mysteries surrounding the quiet town the situation will begin to escalate, with various characters committing terrible acts as the truth is revealed.
An anime that has the virtue of constantly keeping you in a constant state of anxiety with the tension sky-high between one gruesome scene and another.
This is also one of the best anime with a ghost town setting if you like this subgenre.
25. Time of Eve
Time of Eve is a 2010 film. The story tells of young Rikuo, his pet android Sammy, and the bizarre patrons of the android café Time of Eve, all of whom are big tea and coffee drinkers.
The theme of the relationship between man and machine is certainly no stranger to anime of this caliber, but what is surprising about Time of Eve is the extreme optimism with which this theme is addressed.
This movie tells us that coexistence with machines is also possible, and not just dystopian scenarios are contemplated.
The thriller and investigative components then are just the nice touch that makes this film a must-view.
24. B: The Beginning
A fairly recent anime owned by Netflix, released in 2018 and consisting of multiple seasons.
Brilliant but quirky investigator Keith Flick returns to the scene after a long absence to lend a hand in nabbing serial killer B, a vigilante who seems to only pick on other killers.
An entertaining and over-the-top investigative anime, thanks to the presence of the exuberant and peculiar protagonist. The antagonist B also puts in his own though, making himself an interesting villain.
23. Welcome to the NHK
You have all probably heard of the Hikikomori at least once. They are young boys who self-isolate themselves from society by totally locking themselves up at home, out of fear of going out caused by various reasons.
The protagonist Tatsuhiro Sato is one of them, due to past dramas. One day like any other, however, to his surprise and unbeknownst to him there will be a knock on his door from a religious old woman in the company of a girl.
What Sato will not know is that the same girl will later get in touch with him, claiming that she can and will help him out of his condition.
Although the premise does not entirely give it away, Welcome to the NHK is a deep and even more profound anime. But its real strength is the optimism with which these issues are treated.
22. Terror in Resonance
A captivating story released in 2014 which consists of only 11 episodes, with an extremely fascinating thriller and detective component, and one of the best anime that will only get darker progressively.
Tokyo is under attack, and a group calling itself Sphinx has begun planting explosive devices around the city and posing riddles via the Internet daring the police to solve them or the bomb will explode.
But who are these Sphinx, why do they act this way, and will the police be able to keep them at bay? To answer these questions, you need only embark on this watching.
A dark anime with plenty of plot twists and interesting fights, with the power of letting you think about sensitive themes like ethics and what it means to be human.
The protagonist of the opera is Shinichi Izumi, an ordinary student whose right hand is infested by a mysterious alien parasite interested in taking over his body.
Migi, a nickname given to the parasite, is just one of a race of parasites intent on taking over human bodies to conquer Earth.
The forced coexistence between the two leads them to clash with other malicious parasites in an ongoing struggle for their survival and that of humankind.
20. The Garden of Sinners
The Garden of Sinners is an incredibly underrated anime with strong thriller, mystery, and supernatural themes released in 2010.
A series of unexplained suicides is mysteriously taking place in an obscure late-1990s Japan.
Shiki Ryogi is the protagonist of this story, tasked with getting to the bottom of these strange events.
Shiki has special powers and a dark past, but she doesn’t know which strange mysteries await her.
The Garden of Sinners is a great anime if you want to binge on something short but extremely impactful.
Its great setting is dark and suggestive, and the plot is engaging and full of suspense, with plot twists that will keep you glued to the screen from the first to the last minute.
One of the major exponents of Isekai anime, the protagonist Subaru ends up following an accident in the mysterious magical world of Lugunica.
Here he will make the acquaintance of Emilia, a half-elf with whom he falls in love from the start. But following an unfortunate accident in which they will both lose their lives, the protagonist will realize that he can come back to life, much like a respawn in video games.
What mystery lies behind this strange event?
An anime that although it falls into the Isekai genre, which might turn some people’s noses up, has much more to offer and tell.
The thriller component is pronounced, with Subaru having to come to grips with many mysteries in between deaths to create the best possible future.
The last movie by Satoshi Kon, released in 2006 and acclaimed as a worldwide success.
The story gravitates around the so-called DC Mini, an innovative tool that allows entering people’s dreams. Atsuko Chiba, the head researcher of the project, starts using this tool to help patients affected by psychiatric problems, even though this would break the rules.
Atsuko takes on the form of Paprika, her virtual alter ego to enter the dreams. The plot then thickens as more mysteries appear and dreams and reality merge.
The entire premise is reminiscent of the typical thriller movie and Paprika is a masterful example of good direction and plot.
The setting at the edge of dream and reality adds suspense to an already anxiety-inducing anime, capable of shocking and confusing you at the same time.
17. Ghost in the Shell
Based on the manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell is a work by Mamoru Oshii. This movie is the apotheosis of the thriller genre, examining themes like existentialism and the breakdown of the self.
Technological singularity and the role of innovation are some of the core elements of the philosophy in Ghost in the Shell.
It is 2029 and the world is almost completely automated. Much of the population consists of individuals who have cybernetic grafts that can enhance their senses and faculties. Coupled with this, it is possible to find completely artificial people, cyborgs.
One of these is Motoko Kusanagi, and she is part of Section 9 of the police. It will be up to her to solve the case concerning a particular terrorist called the Puppeteer, who operates through cyborgs themselves.
In a world where entirely artificial people exist, can one find one’s own identity? What does “living” really mean?
16. Death Note
We are sure you are familiar with Death Note, one of the most popular and famous anime ever, which has now become pop culture.
The long and captivating war of wits between Light and Detective L is and always will be one of the best rivalries and mental battles ever, without a doubt.
If you are a fan of anime thrillers you will surely have already seen it, if not, do it now, because you cannot miss it.
15. Paranoia Agent
Paranoia Agent is the only anime series by Satoshi Kon, and the themes are once again thought-provoking and deep.
The protagonist Tsukiko Sagi claims to have been attacked by a young boy with a baseball bat, moving around on roller skates.
Following this testimony, a chain of similar cases began to follow one another. Thus is born the urban legend of Shonen Bat, the mysterious masked attacker.
Don’t be followed by the premises, this anime is convoluted and psychological, and deals with some complex themes like mass delusions and traumas.
It’s a continuous tension escalation and some of the characters’ backgrounds are pretty relatable.
In the futuristic world of Kaiba it’s possible to transfer people’s memories into a chip, which can be conveniently transported to another body.
Physical death is no longer a problem for humanity thanks to science. However, this comfort is reserved only for wealthy people, thus creating great social inequality and forcing the poor to live inside shoddy bodies in abject poverty.
As if this were not enough, an electric cloud is also created to divide the rich from the poor, which, if crossed, completely erases the memory of the unfortunate person, short-circuiting the chip.
Thus begins the story of Kaiba, our protagonist, waking up in a room unknown to him with no memories in search of his identity. His only clues? A locket and a blurry photo of a girl.
A dystopian anime with a hint of mystery and a lot of considerations about memories and the fragility of life as we know it.
Psycho-Pass is set in a futuristic society where it is possible to monitor and control an individual’s mental state and personality. It is then possible to assess the probability of a person committing a crime or not, the so-called Crime Coefficient.
This anime is filled with anxiogenic moments where right and wrong are constantly discussed. One of the central themes of Psycho-Pass is fear, as stated by the author himself in an interview.
The villain of the first season is one of the main reasons why you should watch this anime and one of the main factors of anxiety too.
12. Shinsekai Yori
Let us now turn to a 25-episode series released in the middle of 2012 and 2013, capable of making the viewer feel a roller coaster of emotions.
Set in a dystopian future, Shinsekai Yori is the story of five young boys and their discovery of a rotten and dark society. In a world where people are born with telekinesis abilities, Saki and his friends will have to come to terms with a harsh reality.
The surprise and disgust that will arise in you when you discover that these individuals with powers are monitored from their birth to end up being exploited will shock you profoundly.
11. Haibane Renmei
Haibane Renmei is a 13-episode anime created by Yoshitoshi Abe in collaboration with the Radix studio.
Rakka is a girl with angelic features who lives inside thick, stifling walls together with her fellow humans, called Haibane.
None of them remembers who they were before they found themselves there, why they have this strange appearance, nor even why they live inside this wall, isolated from the outside world.
A must-see if you are a lover of suspense and mystery, with a comb-over plot that keeps you glued to the screen.
All, of course, with that touch of reflection and depth of theme that distinguishes the anime on this list. A great mix not to be missed for any reason.
2003 saw the birth of Texhnolyze, an original series gone produced by Madhouse studio and with character design by Yoshitoshi Abe.
The story takes place in the crumbling underground city of Lux, marked by a harsh conflict between 3 factions.
The focus is on the protagonist Ichise, an orphan boy who has become a bounty hunter by circumstances, mutilated and without a leg and arm, replaced by advanced technological prosthetics that are as inhuman as they are powerful.
It must be said, this anime is far from light and linear. In fact, the episodes will be marked by a slow and un-paced pace, with the presence of little dialogue.
9. Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song
Produced by the more than well-known Wit Studio, Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song is an unreleased anime recently aired in 2021, consisting of 13 episodes in total.
The deeply science-fiction-driven story is set back in 2056, when humanity has invented androids. Our protagonist, Vivy, is one of them.
Vivy, the first-ever autonomous AI and her rather peaceful life will be disrupted by another android who claims to be from the future.
He will ask her to help him stop a war that is destroying the future world so Vivy will find herself in the future trying to stop a war that is hundreds of years in the making.
A decidedly futuristic anime, but with a truly captivating plot.
8. Boogiepop Phantom
Boogiepop Phantom is a 12-episode anime, fantasy/horror genre, released in 2000, based on a light novel also adapted in 2000.
The story recounts events in a small town where, 5 years after a chain of murders, mysterious cases of student disappearances begin to occur, bringing to mind the horrors that have already happened. These events will connect the protagonists to Boogiepop, also called the God of Death.
The anime was a huge success at the time, also receiving several praises for the multiplicity and depth of the characters, and for the author’s deep and remarkable research in creating the work.
Don’t miss out on it if you are a fan of the horror/fantasy genre with a twist of mystery.
Steins;Gate is one of those series dealing with time travel in one of the best ways possible. Unfortunately, this trope is also paired up with quite sad and thriller themes.
The main character Okabe Rintaro will suffer a lot during his adventure, as he will be the only one to solve all the problems.
Steins;Gate starts rather slowly in the first 10 episodes and then explodes, with a consistent crescendo in tension. The time travel trope is used masterfully to add that extra suspense layer we all needed.
This anime adaptation is not as good as the visual novel but you will still feel anxiety and experience the same dread as Okabe.
A 74-episode anime based on Naoki Urasawa’s masterpiece of the same name, it represents a true staple of the investigation and thriller genre.
The work follows the story of Kenzo Tenma, a renowned surgeon. One day he decides to rebel against his boss, thus saving a child from a fatal wound instead of the mayor of Düsseldorf, the city where the hospital is located.
Time will prove Dr. Tenma wrong as he realizes that the child he saved, Johan Liebert, has become over time a serial killer who continues to claim lives.
It will then be up to him to investigate to get to the bottom of and stop Johan, to make up for his mistake.
Nothing is taken for granted, from the twists and turns to the evolution of the characters, all the more reason not to miss this absolute masterpiece. Johan, moreover, is considered no less than one of the best villains ever.
5. Mawaru Penguindrum
If someone extremely dear to you were to pass away, what would you do if he or she came back to life, but possessed by another entity that promises to bring your loved one back to life in exchange for a favor?
Such are the premises of Mawaru Penguindrum, an anime created under the direction of Kunihiko Ikuhara, famous for working on masterpieces of the caliber of Sailor Moon.
It must be said that this work was born after a decade or so of absence in Ikuhara’s scene, so it marks an important turning point for the author.
As you can therefore imagine, the work revolves around several topics including mainly fate and love, mainly familial love toward loved ones.
The soundtrack also plays an important role, with memorable tracks such as the iconic Rock Over Japan, which we recommend you go listen to even if you have never seen the anime.
4. Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Puella Magi Madoka Magika is a dark Maho Shojo that shows the struggles of a group of magical girls.
The narrative starts in much the same way as other anime in the genre, the protagonists gain magical powers to fight against witches, who are guilty of various terrible deeds against humans.
The real revolution occurs later in the plot when the relaxed and playful atmosphere is dropped and the focus is on dark and deep themes.
A great virtue of this anime is that it deals with adult and fatalistic themes, where every choice must be weighed as a potential cause of nefarious events, to say the least.
Making the narrative even more disturbing is the style, which, thanks to a mixed technique between the classical and the experimental, creates an eerie and anxiety-inducing atmosphere.
3. Serial Experiments Lain
Serial Experiments Lain is a 13-episode series created by Yasuyuki Ueda and Yoshitoshi Abe that you can’t miss if yoy’re looking for the best cosmic horror anime.
The anime begins with the suicide of a girl, Chisa Tomoda. After this event, some girls receive a strange e-mail from the victim. One of them is Lain Iwakura, who becomes particularly intrigued.
The girl gets the Navi, an advanced PC, to navigate the Wired. From here on, a series of unexplained events disrupt her life.
Lain is a series that wants to be disturbing, and it succeeds perfectly. Mystery elements contribute to adding tension and restlessness to an already cryptic anime.
2. Neon Genesis Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion is an anime created by Hideaki Anno that depicts a world under attack by so-called Angels, mysterious entities that threaten the quiet of humanity.
Through the use of special mechs, it is possible to fight these beings, for which the Special Agency Nerv has taken responsibility. The protagonist Shinji Ikari will be hired by this very group to pilot one of the robots, EVA 01, and attempt to put an end to these attacks.
All the focus is on the characters and their psychology, as well as their traumas and personal experience. For this reason, you will find a lot of suspense and tension throughout the show, especially in the second half of the show.
A futuristic, disaster-rebounded world is the perfect setting to create the strong sense of suggestion and reflection that makes Evangelion so special.
1. Perfect Blue
Perfect Blue is one of the best examples in the thriller genre.
The protagonist Mima Kirigoe is an idol who decides to switch careers and become an actress. She gets stalked by an obsessed fan and goes through heavy psychological stress after her decision.
If you watch this movie, you won’t be always able to distinguish between what’s real and what’s not. That’s what makes Perfect Blue so charming and unsettling at the same time.
Anime dealing with the self theme is always uncanny to some extent and this is no exception. It’s one of the best productions in the Japanese animation industry and we will always recommend it.
You can know more about its production with this long interview by Satoshi Kon, the director of this movie.