Hell, Underworld, demon realm - call it what you want, but the kingdom of everything dark and sinister is getting closer to us in the spooky month of October. The timing couldn’t be better to talk about Hell in anime.
Many anime discuss the most fundamental aspect of life. Love and hate, war and peace, life and death. And this is exactly where Hell comes in. Some anime stick to our Western definition of Hell (suffering souls, demonic punishments, eternal fires - you name it), while other shows combine the concept of Hell with Japanese beliefs. We have tried our best to find a good balance between these two interpretations to create a varied list.
So what are we waiting for? It’s time to descend into the realms of Hell. Enjoy!
10. Dragon Ball Z
- Episodes: 291
- Aired: April 1989 - January 1996
First up on our list is an old show that should still be close to most of your hearts, the all-time classic Dragon Ball Z.
For those of you that don’t know what Dragon Ball Z is about or those who need a quick reminder after all these years, let us give you a quick overview. Goku has grown up and now tries to live a peaceful life with his wife and son. His quiet days are over, though, when he is visited by Raditz and is told that he is, in fact, a survivor of the Saiyan race which is known for its great powers and destructiveness. A new adventure awaits Goku and his friends.
You might be surprised to see Dragon Ball Z on this list; after all, Hell isn’t really the first thing that pops into your head when thinking of the show’s storyline. However, their version of Hell - a spiritual realm where all deceased go - is definitely interesting enough to deserve a quick shout-out. In fact, it is based on common Japanese and Chinese concepts of the afterlife; oni or ogres are thought to be hell’s assistants and the bloody pond you can see in one or two episodes is also widely known in Japanese culture. Dragon Ball Z deserves to be on this list for being culturally accurate while still being entertaining.
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: October 1997 - April 1998
For many years we’ve waited for the new remake of the Berserk series. Today, we want to go back to the original anime adaptation and give this gruesome masterpiece one more minute in the spotlight.
This show follows mercenary Guts on his daily adventures that usually involve tough battles and lots of bloodsheds. Fighting is all Guts knows and he only has himself and his powers to rely on if he wants to stay alive. His solitary days might be over when he meets a group of mercenaries who want him to join their cause. Watch Berserk to find out where Guts’ story leads him.
Most of the action in Berserk is situated in this world (even though Gut’s life seems to be gruesome enough to come straight from Hell), but towards the end of the show, you are presented with the most frightening version of Hell we have to offer on our list. Called “Astral Realm”, this place is not for the faint-hearted since it shows a fair amount of blood and gore. Guts has to fight the lords of darkness themselves while simultaneously giving up everything he has known and loved. Berserk is a recommendation for all fans of dark and gruesome stories.
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: October 2008
What better story to include on a Hell-themed list than Hells, the charming movie from 2008?
Amagane Rinne is your typical high school girl who is stressed out by her daily academic duties. Her young life ends abruptly when Rinne gets caught up in an accident. Instead of moving on to the afterlife, though, she finds herself lost in Hell. And what does Hell look like? Like a high school of course, with the exception that this one is filled with demons rather than pubescent teenagers. How will Rinne adapt to her new school life?
What we like about the Underworld featured in Hells is the fact that it combines horror with comedy. While the artwork of Hells is rather gloomy and has an eerie vibe to it, the storyline is definitely supposed to entertain you. Its gothic cartoon style is unique while also reminding of Tim Burton’s creations or the hit show Soul Eater. Hells is a precious little gem that deserves more recognition, so why don’t you check it out when you get the time?
7. Kamisama Hajimemashita (Kamisama Kiss)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: October 2012 - December 2012
After all these dark and gloomy versions of Hell, why don’t we talk about a more uplifting place where both good and bad demons live?
Nanami Momozono might be young, but she has already been through a lot. After her father abandoned her with a huge gambling debt, she finds herself homeless on the streets. Her tough fate doesn’t stop Nanami from helping out a man in need and this little favor will turn her life around. As a token of appreciation, the stranger offers her a place to live. What Nanami didn’t see coming was the fact that this place is a shrine and she has now inherited the duties of a local shrine goddess.
The afterlife or maybe parallel universe presented in Kamisama Hajimemashita might not be your common definition of Hell, but we still wanted to include it on our list. Why? Because it depicts the Japanese idea of spirits and how they interact with each other. Kamisama Hajimemashita shows a hierarchy between different beings that determines their everyday interactions. This demon world is as unique as it is entertaining and interested us enough to include Kamisama Hajimemashita on our list.
6. Blood Lad
- Episodes: 10
- Aired: July 2013 - September 2013
After charming Nanami and her shrine spirits, we are moving on to another demon world, one that is filled with vampires and other scary creatures.
Staz Charlie Blood is a fearsome vampire who rules over parts of the Demon World. You might expect him to be a cold-blooded killer, but what most people don’t know is the fact that Staz is an otaku. He loves everything related to anime, manga, and videogames and couldn’t care less about his duties. Lucky for him, a Japanese girl gets lost in his kingdom and requires his help to return back to life - a golden opportunity for Staz.
So what do we have here? A demon world, a vampire lord, Japanese pop culture and lots of questionable characters. This unique mixture makes up most of the charm of this Comedy show. The demon world of Blood Lab is a lively place filled with all kinds of supernatural beings such as vampires, ghosts, demons and more. Blood Lad doesn’t necessarily try to creep you out, but rather to entertain you with its version of life after death, and that is why we think it makes a good addition to our recommendations.
5. Makai Ouji (Devils and Realist)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2013 - September 2013
After Blood Lad, we have another comedic view on Hell with Makai Ouji or Devils and Realist.
William is the perfect son of aristocrats: he is smart, educated, interested in business and gifted in natural sciences. Too bad that he has a run-in with spirits from another realm he doesn’t believe exists. While trying to retrieve anything of worth from his family’s old mansion, William accidentally summons a devil who tells him he has been chosen to determine the next ruler of the demon world. This is a challenge young William hasn’t faced so far.
Seeing someone being torn between Heaven and Hell, while still being a normal human in this world is something we haven’t seen on this list so far. Makai Ouji puts Hell into a bigger concept and talks about it in connection with a realistic point of view, while still remaining an entertaining show. The clash of supernatural beings and a realist who only believes in science is also a fun idea we don’t see too often in the anime world. Makai Ouji is our fifth recommendation!
4. Hoozuki no Reitetsu
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: January 2014 - April 2014
Hells isn’t the only show set in the Underworld - Hoozuki no Reitetsu, too, depicts the everyday craze of Hell in its own, unique way.
Hell doesn’t have to be an unruly world suffering from chaos. In Hoozuki no Reitetsu, Hell is more like a business and Hoozuki is the one in charge. The right hand of the King of Hell, Lord Enma, is in charge of keeping all of Hell’s inhabitants in order and making sure that their demonic enterprise succeeds.
Who would have thought of combining the idea of Hell with modern business and management strategies? What sounds like a weird story actually works out for Hoozuki no Reitetsu and offers a new perspective on the afterlife. The show convinced us and the characters you’ll meet throughout the show are all unique, charming, creative and simply hilarious. Hoozuki no Reitetsu is a show that puts a smile on your face, so we couldn’t resist to include it in today’s recommendations.
3. Saint Seiya (Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac)
- Episodes: 114
- Aired: October 1986 - April 1989
You might think of old-school anime what you want, but you have to admit that many of them are still as entertaining today as they were in their days. One of these shows is the classic Saint Seiya.
An ancient tale tells of a group of brave men who have devoted their lives and powers to the goddess Athena. These heroes are known as Saints and are more powerful than you could imagine. Now, it’s time for a new generation of Saints to emerge and one of them is more courageous than the others: young knight Seiya.
Here we have another show that convinces with its detailed and intricate depiction of Hell. In fact, the Underworld of Saint Seiya is based on a version depicted by Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy. This Hell features well-known characters like Hades and is divided into different areas known as Prisons. Saint Seiya found a beautiful balance between ancient folklore and modern fantasy and that is why it deserves the third spot on our list.
2. Ao no Exorcist (Blue Exorcist)
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: April 2011 - October 2011
Next up is one of the most popular Shounen shows out there featuring our favorite son of Satan: Ao no Exorcist.
Rin Okumura is an unlikely hero; the teenager seems to fail at everything he touches and is known as a good-for-nothing delinquent. His tough life is about to take another turn for the worse. The disrupted family he grew up in is attacked by supernatural beings and Rin has to find out a shocking truth: he is, in fact, the son of Satan and has to be trained in the art of exorcism if he doesn’t want to end up in the pits of hell.
Ao no Exorcist might take place in this world, but this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make you feel the horrors of Hell. We don’t know about you, but the few scenes featuring the fiery realm of Satan left a deep impression on us and that is exactly the reason why we included Ao no Exorcist on this list. You might never get a glance inside the gates of Hell, but the producers have succeeded at making their version of Hell seem mysterious, powerful and most importantly scary. A worthy recommendation for our list!
- Episodes: 366
- Aired: October 2004 - March 2012
It’s the end of our demonic trip, but before we leave you, we have one more show to talk about: Bleach.
Ichigo Kurosaki’s life as a common teenager changes when his family is attacked by evil spirits known as Hollows. To save them, he takes over the powers of a mysterious Soul Reaper. But his battle doesn’t end there. With his new powers come new duties and it is now up to him and a group of friends to protect their loved ones and free this earth from other Hollows.
Bleach’s idea of Hell seems to be pretty straightforward: it’s an ungodly place where lost souls go after they’ve died. But this is where the simplicity ends because the creative masterminds behind Bleach have spent a lot of time on making their Underworld as detailed and fascinating as possible. On top of pretty impressive looking Gates of Hell, you are also presented with lots of demonic creatures and a layout into several layers, each one more horrible than the previous one. We couldn’t get enough of Bleach’s Hell and that is why it deserves the top spot on this list.
So many Hells, so little time to talk about them all.
We tried our best to include as many different versions of Hell as possible in today’s list so that you can get an idea of how versatile the idea of the Underworld really is. We have mentioned it in the introduction, but there is a difference between how Hell is depicted in the West and how it is depicted in the East. When these two worlds collide to make one anime show, we are presented with unique settings and entertaining storylines that are perfect to enjoy in the days leading up to Halloween.
What do you think of our choices and which other shows would you include? Let us know in the comment section below!