Psychological anime are all about examining the mind, whether it’s the struggles of an individual or the collective unrest of an entire group. Oftentimes, these shows will subtly (or not-so-subtly) comment on issues in the real world through their storytelling, making them excellent time capsules for future generations to look back on. So how did the genre tackle the hot topics of this decade? Let’s take a look together at the best psychological anime of the 2010s!
10. Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji: Hakairoku-hen (Kaiji: Against All Rules)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 2011 – September 2011
This sequel to the critically acclaimed Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor is a fascinating look into the psychology of gambling from the perspective of a normal guy caught up in the madness of it all. Kaiji finds himself in crippling debt yet again and ends up in an underground labor camp, doomed to toil there for 15 years unless he can gamble his way back to the surface. Each confrontation feels unique, with clever opponents and new twists to familiar activities. 2017’s Kakegurui attempted something similar, but Kaiji captures the stress and excitement of gambling better than any other show this decade.
9. Mirai Nikki (The Future Diary)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 2011 – April 2012
Twelve unwitting people enter into a death game where the winner becomes the new god of the universe. Each of them has a diary (usually in the form of a cell phone) that predicts the future in some specific way, which they use to outwit and kill their fellow players. Mirai Nikki is best known for its secondary protagonist Yuno, the ultimate yandere who gaslights her “boyfriend” Yukiteru into abandoning his friends and family to help her win the game. Although the storytelling can be rocky at times, the anime’s novel twist on the standard death game plot as well as Yuno’s sheer star power make Mirai Nikki a must-watch for fans of the psychological genre.
8. Ping Pong the Animation
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: April 2014 – June 2014
Ping Pong the Animation is ostensibly a high school sports anime, but it eschews almost all tropes of the sports genre to focus on the deeply personal struggles and ambitions of its two main characters. They’ve dedicated their entire lives to table tennis, pursuing greatness and pouring all of their hopes and dreams into tournaments that happen once a year. This series comes from the mind of Masaaki Yuasa, director of Tatami Galaxy and Devilman: Crybaby, so it’s no surprise that the art style is deranged beyond all belief, but the distorted faces and sketchy movements help visualize the intense emotions that Smile and Peco feel during their matches. Keep an open mind and give this anime a shot!
7. Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu (Parasyte -the maxim-)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: October 2014 – March 2015
Parasyte updates the classic ‘80s manga of the same name to a modern-day setting, where the increasingly connected world sets the stage for a story about xenophobia and what it means to be human. Alien parasites descend upon the Earth, taking over human bodies and feeding on unsuspecting people. The idea that anyone, whether they’re a total stranger or your own mother, could be a parasite in disguise is what drives the absolute horror of this series. It neatly mirrors how the internet and social media bring us together, but also drag out the worst in people. For a similar setting update of a classic horror manga, also check out the previously mentioned Devilman: Crybaby!
- Episodes: 22
- Aired: October 2012 – March 2013
For fans of Black Mirror-style technological dystopia stories, Psycho-Pass should definitely be on your plan-to-watch shortlist. New police inspector Akane Tsunemori enters into the world of the Criminal Investigation Division, which uses the Sibyl System to target people with criminal intent and stop them before they hurt anyone. She quickly learns that this draconian approach to justice may be doing more harm than good and that the Sibyl System’s mysterious origins could be to blame...
With an all-star production team at the helm (Gen Urobuchi wrote it, Akira Amano designed the characters, and Yugo Kanno penned the score), Psycho-Pass was pretty much guaranteed to be a success. Its second season lets it down, but the first is a work of art that more than makes up for any shortcomings.
5. Mawaru Penguindrum (Penguindrum)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: July 2011 – December 2011
From Kunihiko Ikuhara (of Revolutionary Girl Utena fame) comes this dramedy anime about two brothers whose terminally ill sister is taken over by a dominatrix spirit that resides within a penguin-shaped hat they bought for her at an aquarium. They must find the titular “penguindrum” to save their sister, but along the way they learn much more about each other and discover what fate has in store for them. Ikuhara also directed this year’s Sarazanmai, which also explores the connections between people through a copious amount of slapstick and animal antics, but Mawaru Penguindrum is our favorite of his works from this decade. Even if you’ve watched it before, try it again – you’re sure to discover something new!
4. Yakusoku no Neverland (The Promised Neverland)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2019 – March 2019
The Promised Neverland is the perfect example of an inherently silly series that still manages to be dramatic and engaging every step of the way. Three orphan children live happily with their “siblings” in an idyllic countryside home, but soon discover that they’re actually being raised as meat for demons! They use their wicked cunning to devise a plan of escape, but their adult overseer is always one step ahead...
The conflict between our main characters and their “Mom” plays out like something out of Death Note or Code Geass, complete with melodramatic confrontations and 5D chess mental maneuvers. And yet, the characters are so well written that none of it feels overly cheesy. We can’t wait for the second season next year!
3. Boku dake ga Inai Machi (Erased)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2016 – March 2016
Satoru Fujinuma possesses a magical ability called “Revival” that transports him back several minutes in time whenever something dangerous happens around him. But when he’s accused of murdering his mother, he’s sent back 18 years to his childhood and discovers that the disappearance of one of his classmates may be connected to his mother’s murder. In order to return to his own time, he must unravel the mystery and save the victims from their deadly fates.
Erased is less of a supernatural story and more of a mystery thriller that uses time travel to get the plot going. The characters are realistic and compelling, the animation is absolutely stunning, and it’s difficult to predict what will happen next. The ending has caused some controversy due to its odd pacing, but the series overall is a fascinating psychological study well worth sinking your teeth into.
2. Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2011 – April 2011
Magical girl anime are generally seen as harmless fluff for young children, providing little more for the adult viewer than cute character designs and some entertaining fight scenes. And while some franchises like Precure and Lyrical Nanoha have subverted those expectations in one way or another, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica was the anime that really turned the entire genre on its head.
This show examines how fighting life-threatening monsters on a daily basis for some cause they don’t fully understand would actually affect young girls in the real world. The ethereal animation and music create a foreboding atmosphere that sets the stage for some of the most intensely emotional scenes of any anime this decade. Many imitators have tried to repeat its success, but none can match Madoka itself.
1. Death Parade
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2015 – March 2015
Decim runs a bar in the afterlife where he hosts two souls at a time and forces them to play demented parlor games to determine who will be reincarnated and who will be sent to the void. It’s a simple premise, but Death Parade makes the most of it by giving each character (both the one-episode guests as well as Decim and the other recurring staff) their own realistic motivation and compelling storyline. We were in tears by the end of most episodes, especially the ones that dealt with extreme topics like suicide. The worldbuilding is original and compelling, the animation and voice acting are superb, and the storytelling has everything we could ever want out of a psychological anime. It’s truly a masterpiece.
We also loved Kaguya-sama: Love is War for its unique premise of a psychological romantic comedy, Zankyou no Terror for its biting commentary on modern Japanese culture, and Beastars for its dark look into the psychology of predators and prey.
What did you think of our list? Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!