Anyone familiar with the exciting rush that comes with mystery-solving needs to watch a brilliant detective anime at least once. With varied tropes, characters with incredible development potential and interesting, engaging cases, detective anime have had their place on the watchlists of seasoned veterans. Understanding their artistic and entertainment value, we figured we draw up a list of the top 10 anime centered on detectives. With our impressive skills of deduction, we’ve drawn up 10 suspects – read on to find out which anime are guilty of being the best detective anime!
10. Kamisama no Memochou (Heaven’s Memo Pad)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2011 – September 2011
Fujishima Narumi is a social outcast who grows more and more isolated from his peers. When Ayaka, the head of the Gardening Club and its sole member, introduces him to a reserved girl who lives above the ramen shop, he realises that she is a NEET (Not Employed, Educated or in Training) but far from idle. Alice is a hacker and private detective who has a liking for stuffed animals. After meeting Alice, Narumi is quick to realise that he is part of her rag-tag assembly of NEET friends, which means that he’ll be in the fray when they go after gangs, murderers and the worst criminals!
Using the amazing skills she has at her disposal, as well as the talent in her periphery, Alice cracks down on various different cases. Heaven’s Memo Pad uses a decent dose of foreshadowing in some parts, which is appropriate for a detective anime. The characters in Heaven’s Memo Pad are familiar in that they are a group of eccentrics suddenly joined by a so-called “normie”; however, the rag-tag NEET crew are all unique characters who pull together in a team detective effort to get the job done.
9. Subete ga F ni Naru (The Perfect Insider)
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: October 2015 – December 2015
Tucked away in a research laboratory on a distant island is the genius programmer, Magata Shiki. Living as a recluse for the past few years of her life, Shiki barely sees guests but this time around, associate professor Saikawa Souhei and student Nishinosono Moe seek an audience with her. Unfortunately for them; however, their meeting is cut short when they are embroiled in a locked-room murder mystery. Trapped in isolation, the three find themselves having to uncover secrets and delve into the past in order to solve the gruesome and mysterious murder.
A classic locked-room murder mystery is a brilliant setting to explore many tropes associated with the mystery/detective genres. However, the aspect which carries Subete ga F ni Naru the most is the intricate conversations between its characters – the heaviness in dialogue is somewhat characteristic of detective anime. The anime’s more realistic approach to its art as well as its characters and storyline create a slower feel to the show’s progression.
8. Persona 4 the Animation
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: October 2011 – March 2012
Narukami Yuu moves to the quiet town of Inaba where he makes many friends, like Hanamura Yousuke, the transfer student, Satonaka Chie and Amagi Yukiko, the beautiful heiress to “the treasure of Inaba”, Amagi Inn. Soon after Yuu arrives in town, a chain of murders on foggy days begins and rumours about a mysterious “Midnight Channel” on TV spread. According to the rumour, if one stares into their TV at midnight, they may see their soulmate. After he sees the most recent murder victim on the Midnight Channel, Yuu tries to watch it again and realises that he’s able to travel into the TV and enter a world overrun with evil creatures. Soon after his arrival in this strange realm, Yuu realises the link between the hidden realm and the series of murders happening in the real world. Using the awakened manifestations of themselves known as “Personas”, Yuu and his friends explore the world of the Midnight Channel in order to find clues that will help them crack the murder cases.
Nothing screams "let’s find the truth" more than homicide cases and Persona 4 protagonist Narukami shares the same sentiment. Persona 4 uses a fair amount of foreshadowing in order to grant the audience more information than the characters themselves, but still not enough to crack the case for ourselves. The interplay between the supernatural and the ordinary allows for an interesting mystery experience with beautiful art, characters and animation, while exploring these aspects using the supernatural component. It has been said before, but it will be said again: the art is fantastic.
7. Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru (Beautiful Bones – Sakurako’s Investigation)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2015 – December 2015
Tatewaki Shoutarou meets the enigmatic Kujou Sakurako, an eccentric woman whom he believes is behind a disappearance in his neighbourhood. He soon realises that she is an expert at bone analysis and keeps a collection of reconstructed animal bones in her home. Her obsession with bones, particularly of the human variety, invites a lot of concern from other people. Shoutarou begins accompanying Sakurako on several unsolved cases, which usually present decomposing corpses and the strange, niggling feeling that there is more to the flurry of incidents than they’re catching onto...
Like the title suggests, Sakurako’s Investigation is in various ways your quintessential detective title. With its pair of protagonists, the title explores various cases involving death and continues to purvey imagery which one associates heavily with Death: bones. The way in which the anime advances the story in such a way which marks Sakurako as the clear main character is interesting given the perspective seemingly coming from Shoutarou. The dynamic between the two is one of Sakurako’s Investigation’s hallmarks, as it is the lens through which we spot the small changes to the main duo as the series progresses.
- Episodes: 22
- Aired: April 2012 – September 2012
Oreki Houtarou is a high schooler who believes in living a life of “energy conservation”, choosing to do nothing more than the bare minimum. However, when he signs up for his school’s Classics Club, he realises that there is more to it than he initially thought. Despite his lack of motivation for it all, Oreki is dragged into an investigation into the 45-year-old mystery surrounding the club room. With his fellow members and friends Fukube Satoshi, Ibara Mayaka and the ever-curious Chitanda Eru, Oreki must use his hidden talents of deduction in order to find the truth.
Curiosity killed no cats in this high school detective anime. Somehow tortured and mesmerised by Chitanda Eru’s curious gaze, Oreki uses his incredible skills of deduction to give us a detective anime that maintains a high level of mystery. Watching Hyouka means being exposed to detective anime done slice-of-life style, with the edge generally associated with such titles swapped out for a mellower tone. One of Hyouka’s greatest strengths is the sheer beauty of the art, which wraps up the entire experience beautifully.
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: January 2011 – July 2011
Kujou Kazuya is a Japanese student attending school at Saint Marguerite Academy, a boarding school located in the Southern European country of Sauville. Due to his jet-black hair and brown eyes, his racist peers shun him and call him the “Black Reaper”, based on the urban legend about a harbinger of death who comes in the springtime. One day, Kujou visits the school’s massive library in search of ghost stories, but the apparition he finds among the shelves is a golden-haired beauty known as Victorique de Blois – a girl dubbed the Golden Fairy. After their fated meeting, the two must rely on each other as they find themselves embroiled in mystery after mystery; with the past chasing them everywhere they go.
With its intense supernatural and romantic aspects, Gosick is a detective anime that has a lot going on. A whole lot. The show addresses some aspects of life as a foreign international, all while giving us an intense series of cases, some of which have proven to be incredibly dangerous for both Kujou and Victorique. In that aspect, Gosick betrays the sweetness of its first impression by exploring the characters’ dark pasts. Gosick: so dark its gothic!
4. Paranoia Agent (Musou Dairinin)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: February 2004 – May 2004
Shounen Bat or Lil’ Slugger is a rollerblading youth known for beating people with a golden baseball bat. Seemingly impossible to catch, the authorities have a hard time trying to track down the assailant. His first victim, a well-known character designer named Sagi Tsukiko, is thought to be behind the attacks; however, she is but one of many victims. As the Shounen Bat assaults continue, detectives Ikari Keiichi and Maniwa Matsuhiro begin looking into his identity, but more victims continue to come to the surface and news of Shounen Bat spread. Paranoia sets in. Will the detectives ever be able to find the assailant?
The kind of anime which stays with you for the rest of your life, Paranoia Agent is a creepy seinen tale which draws from various perspectives, exploring the same thing from different characters. Each Shounen Bat encounter in the anime opens up an opportunity for characters to be fleshed out and grown and the real-world setting of it all creates a new dimension of mysterious wonder at the apparition that is Shounen Bat. In true Satoshi Kon fashion, Paranoia Agent is whimsical at times, eerie and outright unsettling, but a notable example of interesting detective anime.
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: October 2011 – December 2011
Detective Yuuki Shinjuurou is a notorious Tokyo detective known to many as the “Defeated Detective”. Alongside his eccentric partner Inga, Shinjuurou uses his deductive talents and genius mind solve cases, especially homicides. Despite Shinjuurou’s impact in solving cases around Tokyo, his partner Inga’s intentions surrounding each case seem shrouded in mystery; even more so given that Inga’s very identity is itself mysterious.
Hidden under heaps and heaps of other anime which came out that year, Un-Go is a hidden gem which will draw you in, confuse you and keep you enamoured with its interesting character designs, eccentric characters, vibrant colours and fluid animation when needed. The cases in Un-Go are themselves incredibly captivating and the way in which everything ties together is evidence of a well-written, easy-to-binge detective anime. Also, the name of the anime is a pun – it’s up to you to figure out the code… What are you waiting for? Um, go!
2. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 2002 – October 2003
2034. Humanity’s technological advancements have ushered in a stage where complete body transplants into machine hosts is a possibility, increasing the physical prowess of the individual. Naturally, criminals have gotten their hands on this technology and have produced incredibly innovative methods of committing heinous crimes. In response to this wave of cybernetically-enhanced criminals, the Japanese government established Section 9, an independent police unit created specifically to deal with such crimes. When a hacker known as “The Laughing Man” begins to wreak havoc on society, Section 9 led by Major Kusanagi Motoko jumps into the fray to stop him.
Diving into the dark alleyways of a futuristic Tokyo with Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is an interesting journey of visiting one iteration of a well-known anime title. The anime is dark and sometimes verging on disturbing as cases will vary while Major Kusanagi and her team work towards apprehending The Laughing Man. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex will have you at the edge of your seat with good animation coupled with a fair use of CGI, characters who are intricately layered and presented, as well as a narrative experience that tends to stay with you for a long time. Like the cybernetics.
1. Detective Conan (Case Closed)
- Episodes: TBC
- Aired: January 1996 –
At 17-years-old, Kudou Shinichi is already an expert detective known for having solved many complicated cases. One day he sees two suspicious men and decides to follow them, consequently witnessing a crime that they commit. When they notice him, they administer a dose of their organisation’s experimental drug and leave him to die. However, when Shinichi comes to, he soon realises that he now has the body of a seven-year-old, but his intellect remains intact. He is forced to hide his identity from everyone including his childhood friend Mouri Ran and her private detective dad, Kogorou. He takes up the pseudonym Edogawa Conan, inspired by mystery writers Conan Doyle and Edogawa Ranpo and as Conan, Shinichi secretly solves Kogorou’s cases while trying to find out more about the organisation responsible for his current form.
Spanning over 900 episodes and counting, Detective Conan is one of the longest-running anime franchises. Its longevity can be owed to several things, the brilliance of protagonist Kudou Shinichi is one; however, the way in which the overarching storyline never fades into the background is one thing the show does well. With an expanding roster of characters, incredibly interesting cases and continued change and development in the plot itself, Detective Conan has, for a very long time, proven itself to be top of the class when it comes to detective anime. After a few episodes of this, figuring this out is just… elementary, dear reader.
Detective anime bring together tropes which have been in use for a very long time in other media and the inspiration gathered from these other works continues to be an incredible driving force today. That being said, the genre itself in anime has developed a flavour of its own. Eccentric characters, supernatural elements, long, flowing conversations between characters which seem irrelevant but give much needed perspective are all elements characteristic of anime’s take on detective anime. Be that as it may, there is always more out there, and that’s where you come in! If you enjoyed a detective anime that isn’t on this list, drop a cryptic clue about what it may be in the comments below and let people use their brilliant minds to figure it out!