Nobody really knows what happens after death, but the world of anime has given us countless interpretations of what the afterlife could look like. Since Japanese culture borrows much more from Buddhism and Shintoism than traditional Christian mythology, many of these proposed afterlives focus on reincarnation, shinigami, and solving unfinished business on Earth before a spirit can truly pass on.
Today, we’re going to explore 10 different shows that portray the afterlife in unique and interesting ways. They’re spread across all different genres and styles, but all of them give insight into their interpretation of the great beyond. Let’s look at the Top 10 Anime About the Afterlife!
- Episodes: 366
- Aired: October 2004 – March 2012
When anime fans hear the word “shinigami”, Bleach is the first show that comes to mind (or Death Note, but since it’s not about the afterlife, it doesn’t count here). And while Ichigo and his friends aren’t exactly dead, their main job as shinigami is to soothe the corrupted souls of Hollows—deceased humans who can’t move on to the next life.
Hollows have intriguing designs that combine eerie smiling masks with gaping holes where the human’s heart once was. And once the series introduces variations like Arrancars and Fullbringers, the journey that a spirit must take after death becomes even more complex. It gives Bleach an identity all to itself and has changed the perception of shinigami in people’s minds forever.
9. Yuu☆Yuu☆Hakusho (Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files)
- Episodes: 112
- Aired: October 1992 – January 1995
Yusuke is your typical ‘80s/early ‘90s Japanese delinquent who curses, fights, smokes, skips classes, and styles his hair with enough gel to suffocate a lesser man. He suddenly dies saving a small child from an oncoming car, a selfless act that throws grim reaper Botan for a loop. She offers him another chance at life, which Yusuke uses to become a spirit detective who protects the human world from supernatural threats.
Yu Yu Hakusho doesn’t delve into as many moral dilemmas or ruminations on the nature of death as some other anime on this list, but it successfully uses the afterlife as a backdrop for classic shonen action and character development. And sometimes, that’s all you really need.
8. Yami no Matsuei (Descendants of Darkness)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: October 2000 – December 2000
Tsuzuki is a laid-back shinigami with a penchant for sweets and an overly lax attitude towards his job of investigating unnatural deaths. He ends up partnered with a new shinigami named Hisoka, whose stone-faced seriousness clashes horribly with Tsuzuki’s style. Together, they solve mysteries and gradually form an unbreakable bond with one another.
Descendants of Darkness is loaded with all the hallmarks of ‘90s shoujo anime: beautiful character designs with pointy chins and long, flowing locks, comedy scenes that shift characters into chibi or animalized versions of themselves, and tons of yaoi subtext that doesn’t explicitly go anywhere. However, it also features some dramatic death-related plotlines that elevate the show above its dated appearance and make it worth watching to this day.
7. Zombieland Saga
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Ocotber 2018 – December 2018
Six girls from different time periods throughout Japan’s history have been brought back to life as zombies so that they can form an idol group to raise the floundering Saga prefecture from total obscurity. It’s a completely insane idea for an anime, but somehow Zombieland Saga makes this mashup work in the best possible way.
While the show mostly goes for a comedic tone, the episodes that focus on the girls trying to adjust to modern culture or meeting with friends and family who still mourn their deaths are masterfully written and bring an unexpected realism to what would’ve otherwise been just another vacuous idol anime. It even made us cry!
6. Angel Beats!
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: April 2010 – June 2010
Angel Beats is a quintessential afterlife anime, envisioning purgatory as an otherworldly school where students engage in constant battle against a mysterious girl named Angel who makes people disappear when she comes into contact with them. Who is Angel, and what are the students really fighting for?
This show’s iconic ending is so tragically beautiful because it explores the relationship between death and love, showing how human connections can have a lasting effect on the real world even after a person dies. With exciting action, intrigue, and one big tearjerker of an ending, Angel Beats definitely deserves its place on this list.
5. Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai (anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day)
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: April 2011 – June 2011
When a loved one dies, their memory never completely fades away. We always wish we’d had more time to spend with them and wonder what they would think of us after so many years. Anohana tells the simple story of an estranged group of friends who come back together to fulfill the wish of their tragically deceased former comrade, Menma.
Menma appears as a ghost who only one member of the group can see. Even so, her presence brings her friends closer together as they try to figure out what her wish could be. Anohana’s ending may even beat out Angel Beats for the sheer volume of tears shed by everyone who watched it, and it’s all because of how it rings so true to the human experience of losing someone we love.
4. Hoozuki no Reitetsu (Hozuki’s Coolheadedness)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: January 2014 – April 2014
If you love Shinto mythology but wish it had more pitch-black humor and bureaucracy, Hozuki’s Coolheadedness is perfect for you. As deputy chief to the king of Hell, stoic demon Hozuki’s job is to keep the dark realm running smoothly and to make sure the endless hordes of damned souls behave themselves.
Since it’s based on a gag manga, this anime doesn’t exactly have much of an overarching plot. But it hardly matters when the audacious comedy is so expertly crafted and delivered with a completely straight face (such as when characters in the foreground don’t even notice people being tortured in the background). Plus, you’ll get to learn more about Shintoism and traditional Japanese beliefs along the way!
3. Noragami (Noragami: Stray God)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2014 – March 2014
In this world, the spirits of dead humans can be contracted by Shinto gods to work with them as living weapons, a la Soul Eater. That sounds like a pretty sweet job—and certainly a better alternative than turning into a monstrous ayakashi—but the newly contracted Yukine hates his new life with the stray god Yato.
Throughout Noragami’s first season, Yukine and Yato’s living friend Hiyori helps the two clashing personalities learn to work together and respect one another. The specific mechanics of the god/spirit relationship, like how any sin Yukine commits physically damages Yato, make this urban fantasy anime a deep and emotional journey the whole way through.
2. Jigoku Shoujo (Hell Girl)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 2005 – April 2006
Hell Girl is an anime about how a desire for revenge can ruin someone’s life, no matter how justified the grudge may seem. Ai, the titular “hell girl”, makes contracts with people to send someone of their choosing directly to Hell, at the cost of the original person also being sent to Hell when they die no matter what else they do in life.
This show’s version of Hell consists of terrifying visions of torture and fear that attempt to persuade the victim to repent for their sinful actions. But, in the end, it shows that Hell is all around us. The contractors and even Ai herself suffer for their role in the malicious exchange, cementing the theme that revenge is a deadly cycle where nobody wins.
1. Death Parade
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2015 – March 2015
One of the most unique but refreshingly straightforward interpretations of the Japanese afterlife comes from 2015’s anime original Death Parade. Two people enter an ethereal bar and the bartender informs them that they’re both dead. Then they must play a game of some kind with each other in order to determine which of them will be reincarnated and which will be cast into the void.
By interweaving episodic storylines from the players with an overarching plot concerning the entire nature of the bar system, Death Parade creates meaningful and touching moments in every single episode. What does it mean to be human, anyway? And what is the true value of a single life?
Even if your personal beliefs don’t line up with the concept of an afterlife, these anime are all worth watching because of their fresh and exciting takes on the concept of life after death. Just pick a show from your favorite genre and let it take you to places you never thought could exist!
What did you think of our list? Which anime afterlife would you like to live in? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!