One of the hardest genres to describe is the Psychological Genre, also known as Psychological realism. It exists in the grey area created between horror, thrillers, and drama, as it focuses on the characters rather than the plot. Sure, the plot is important, but it's more important to understand why it happens, and what motivation every character has. As a result, some of the stories in this genre are incredibly dark.
And we, the viewers, love them. We adore getting to know the characters we follow inside and out because then, if the series is long, we can try to predict the characters next actions and if it’s a shorter story, we can understand the situation better. We can put ourselves in their shoes and wonder what we would do in their place. And that becomes a bit addictive.
2019 has some great psychological anime ready for us, but today we’re going down memory lane a bit and counting down the best psychological anime series and movies of 2018.
10. Mutafukaz (MFKZ)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: October 2018
Angelino and his friends Vinz and Willy go days without much to do in Dark Meat City. Sure, it is a crime-ridden city where there's the danger of ending up involved in a gunfight quite easily, but they had found a way to be happy with Angelino's pet cockroaches. Despite Vinz having a flaming skull for a head and Willy being bat-like, Angelino considers his life pretty normal. That is until one day after an accident in his scooter when he discovers that he can see tentacles coming out of certain people, that his father was an alien, and that his father’s race is trying to conquer the Earth.
Mutafukaz is a very weird movie, but at the same time, it’s quite mesmerizing because of the strangeness of both the plot and the characters. While no one can know what it is like to be a space alien hybrid, it's easy to understand Angelino's feelings of not belonging to either race or his desire to find a place to belong, which makes the movie quite memorable. In a meta sense, it's also a very interesting creation as it's a rare cooperation between France's Ankama Animations and Japan’s Studio 4C.
9. Lostorage conflated WIXOSS
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2018 – June 2018
What would you do in exchange for a wish? The card game Wixoss asks this question and offers you your heart’s desire as long as you are willing to lose your memories and your sense of self if you lose three games—the price for losing is to disappear. However, that doesn’t mean that there are no consequences for you if you win. After many battles and many lost friends, Kiyou gets ready for the last battle, to try and figure out all the secrets behind the Wixoss and if possible, save those whom she lost.
Lostorage conflated WIXOSS is the long-awaited fourth season of the Wixoss franchise that started in 2014 with Selector spread WIXOSS as an attempt to get more girls to play card-based games. And yet, it managed to become a very complex and deep study on the nature of wishes, sacrifice, and cruelty. In particular, this season that also marks the end of the story deals with consequences and lets us know much more about the world than the previous seasons which makes it an incredible end to an exciting ride.
8. Chuukan Kanriroku Tonegawa (Mr. Tonegawa: Middle Management Blues)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: July 2018 – December 2018
Yukio Tonegawa has one of the most stressful jobs in the world: As the right hand of the president of the Teiai Corporation, he is not only responsible for dozens of gambling tournaments, some of which are not completely legal, he also has to keep the President Kazutaka Hyoudou in a permanent good mood or he and his subordinates will face the consequences of failing him, which are never good. In order to keep the boss with a smile on his face, Tonegawa has to organize a “game of death” and try to keep the morale in the company from dropping.
We first meet Yukio Tonegawa in the Kaiji series as Kazutaka Hyoudou’s right-hand man and one of the most loyal employees at the Teiai Corporation. There, he was one of the most terrifying opponents that Kaiji had to face to stay alive despite his numerous debts and loses but we couldn’t really focus on him in the original series because we had Kaiji as our main character. Thus, this spinoff gives more humanity not only to Tonegawa but to the whole corporation of evil gamblers. While for some it may sound strange to enjoy humanizing the villains of the story, Chuukan Kanriroku Tonegawa gives much evidence of why it's a good idea and how it makes for a great story.
7. Dorei-ku the Animation
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2018 – March 2018
Slavery is one of those things that we as a society can agree is always wrong. Human beings are not objects to be possessed and personal freedom is a human right that can only be lost in very specific and extreme cases and even when someone is in prison, they can't be forced to work without pay. However, in different times of history, Slavery was not only allowed but praised as part of civilization. That said, there’s always someone who wants to enslave others, and that’s where the SCM (Slave Control Method) comes in. When two people are using the SCM and one of them loses a game against the other, the loser is forced into subservience to the winner until the winner frees them. With your autonomy on the line, what would you do to win?
What makes Dorei-Ku quite interesting is that we not only see the feelings and thoughts of those who want to enslave the other SCM players, but we also get to know some who want to be slaves to change their lives. Everyone has a different motivation to use the SCMs and then there’s the question of who created them and why. It all gives us a nice mystery to ponder, which is all we need from a good psychological thriller.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2018 – March 2018
What would you do to save your loved ones from a cult that has kidnapped them? Juri Yukawa and her family find that question easy to answer: Anything, including breaking the laws of reality. When her brother Tsubasa and her nephew Makoto are kidnapped by the Genuine Love Society, they don’t doubt following their grandfather into “Stasis”, a world where time has stopped, in order to infiltrate the Genuine Love Society’s headquarters. Problems begin when they discover there are members of the Genuine Love Society who can enter Stasis too, and that humans aren’t the only living things inside this strange world.
Kokkoku starts with a very interesting premise and gives the viewers a ton of questions from the very beginning. What is the Genuine Love Society? Why can they enter Stasis? Why can the Grandfather enter Stasis? What are the creatures living there? And more importantly, why does Juri suddenly finds herself with special abilities once in Stasis? While the questions drive the plot, the most interesting thing is how every character reacts to the answers, which makes Kokkoku an enjoyable series to watch.
5. Happy Sugar Life
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2018 – September 2018
Obsession and love are very similar to each other, so similar that they can be confused quite easily. When you can’t imagine life without your “beloved” and do everything in your power, legal or not, to keep them by your side, it’s an easy bet that no, what you have is not a happy life, but a prison for someone who may not reciprocate your feelings. Satou Matsuka doesn’t care about the distinction; she has kidnapped a girl named Shio Kobe and is more than willing to kill in order to keep her by her side.
Happy Sugar Life doesn’t only show us how horrible the situation with Satou and Shio is, it also gives us Asahi, Shio’s brother, who is as obsessed with Shio as Satou is and won’t stop until he finds his sister. And Taiyou, a young survivor of sexual abuse who knows about Shio and, of course, has also been charmed by Shio. This shows a pattern where every person who comes into contact with Shio and Satou has something horrible happen to them and we, as the viewers, are mesmerized into wanting to know what else can go wrong because we know it will happen sooner or later.
4. ReLIFE: Kanketsu-Hen
- Episodes: 4
- Aired: March 2018
Have you ever felt that you wasted your life? That if you had the chance to go back to your teenage years you would do things differently and perhaps find a better direction in life? Well, if that's the case, the ReLIFE Laboratory has an offer for you: Become their guinea pig for a pill that will turn you into a 17-year-old and have that new chance in life for a year. The only catch is that you can't let anyone know about this situation, or your memory and everyone's memory of you will be erased. Arata Kaizaki accepts that deal, and thus, his life changes completely, but does it change for the better?
The original ReLIFE series was aired in 2016, and it quickly became a viewer favorite. Every character, from Arata and his new classmates to the people behind the ReLIFE program, was intriguing and somewhat relatable because who hasn't wished for going back to a simpler time? But due to its short run, it left some questions unanswered. Specifically, what would Arata do once the experiment ended? And what about the other experiment subjects that he met during his time as a 17-year-old? ReLIFE: Kanketsu-Hen answers those questions and makes the whole series an unforgettable experience.
3. B: The Beginning
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: March 2018
For the RIS of the Kingdom of Cremona, finding dead bodies is part of the job. But a new serial killer code-named B has them scratching their heads. This is why they have to call back Keith Kazama Flick, one of their best investigators who left after his sister was killed by a different serial killer who was never captured. At the same time, the Market Maker, a covert strike team that has gone rogue, is targeting Killer B in order to fulfill a prophecy that can affect the fate of the country, and maybe the whole world.
B: The Beginning is a very good example of what the psychological genre can be when used well. During the short run of the series, we have two distinct plot lines that don't seem connected: Keith's search for both Killer B and his sister's killer and Koku’s—Killer B—search for his true love Yuna who happens to be part of Market Maker. The deep connections every character has is what makes the stories intertwine and what makes the series an enjoyable ride.
2. Satsuriku no Tenshi (Angels of Death)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2018 - September 2018
Rachel has no memories of her life after she woke up in Floor B7, the basement of what seems to be an abandoned building. She has no idea why she was there or how she got there but after a chance encounter with Zack, a bandaged man who claims to be a killer, they strike an uncommon deal: She will help him to get out of the building they’re trapped in, and in exchange, he will kill her once they’re free. But as they move through the dangerous floors of the abandoned hospital, they both find out that there are things that can be more dangerous than Zack.
One of the most interesting things about Satsuriku no Tenshi is Rachel’s death wish. The series is based on a videogame where said death wish is an informed trait: The player knows Rachel wants to die and why, but as her death would mean a Game Over, the player never really acts on that wish. The series, however, could explore both Rachel and Zack’s mental state much better, becoming quite memorable in the process.
1. Steins; Gate 0
- Episodes: 23
- Aired: April 2018 – September 2018
In 2011 we met Rintarou Okabe, a self-proclaimed mad scientist who managed to figure out the way to send messages to the past. For 24 episodes, we witnessed the way in which this ability changed the world and Okabe’s life, sometimes for the worse, until the moment when Okabe had to choose between the world and the life of his friend Makise Kurisu. After that moment, and as the only one who remembers everything that happened, Okabe decided to abandon science and try to live a normal, unassuming life. But those plans get diverted when he meets an AI that can emulate Makise perfectly and the temptation to disturb time comes back into his life.
Steins; Gate was one of the best psychological thrillers of 2011, and the long-awaited sequel Steins; Gate 0 definitely blew that out of the water. While it is necessary to watch the original series to fully understand both Okabe and the world he lives in, the new characters and their personal stories make this new series a completely different experience for the viewer without losing the connections with the first. If you felt heartbroken for Okabe and his impossible choice at the end of Steins; Gate, this series will cut deep into that wound at the same time that it questions the idea of how the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
With such a broad genre as the psychological one, it’s hard to decide which is better, as the difference between a psychological drama and a psychological thriller is vast and at the end of the day, much of the preferences depend on how much you enjoy straight dramas or straight thrillers. Some of them can be slow burning, and thus not be the best series for those viewers who crave action, while other stories start right in the middle of the plot, confusing those who prefer linear plots but being perfect for those who like to solve mysteries as the story advances. Because of these reasons, ranking all of them together is a challenge.
Of course, we love tackling challenges for you. And we like knowing what you think of these series even more, so please let us know which ones you enjoyed during 2018, which ones were your favorites, and if you agree with our list and the order. We’d love to know if we missed your favorite so please don’t forget to tell us in the comments below.