Some high school students go through something known as an “emo” phase. The image of what that person might look like is fairly universal – black or dark clothing, dark hair, a large amount of make-up, with a general sense of apathy or despair. But what is emo? What does it mean? The term is actually abbreviated from “emotional,” meant to give its shortened form a bit more edge. Emo is traditionally seen as a fashion style or music choice, but it has expanded to form a sort of culture all its own.
So what makes an emo anime? While most anime have some sort of emotional element to them, there are a few that stand above the rest. These anime touch on important subjects, ones we might not want to think about or discuss in everyday life. They tend to be darker and strike a deeper chord in the viewer – overall, more emotionally hardcore or “emo.” Here is our list of the best emo anime!
10. Ergo Proxy
- Episodes: 23
- Air Date: Feb. 2006 – Aug. 2006
In the doomed apocalypse of civilization, Romdo is one of the last places humans live, together with their android-ish robots. These “AutoReivs” have suddenly started gaining self-awareness, as they contract a disease called the “Cogito Virus.” Being the granddaughter of Romdo’s ruler, Re-l is sent to investigate why this is happening. But Re-l quickly discovers more than she bargained for as she learns of a dark conspiracy. With the help of an AutoReiv specialist named Vincent Law and a child AutoReiv called Pino, Re-l must find the truth.
Re-l herself embodies many of the outward characteristics typical of an emo person, and is about the same age most people go through that phase of life. Ergo Proxy is dark and questions a lot of preconceived notions about life. The animation used in this series is excellent, embodying the dark despair and apocalyptic nature of the setting in a way that comes across as very real. As Re-l and her group learn more about the truth in Romdo and the beings known as “Proxies,” they will also learn what it means to be human. However, this anime is more analytical than emotional at times, which places it lower on our list. Yet, Ergo Proxy is a great example of an emo-styled anime.
9. M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane (M3: The Dark Metal)
- Episodes: 24
- Air Date: Apr. 2014 – Sep. 2014
The Lightless Realm has been terrorizing people since the moment it came into existence. Staying for too long among the darkness can cause serious damage to a person’s psyche, let alone if one were to be attacked by one of the Admonition monsters that live there. No one seems to know where the Lightless Realm came from or why the Admonitions are attacking people, but humanity must fight back! Eight teenage boys and girls have been gathered to fight the Admonitions. Yet, as they get closer to the truth, their past and present selves will collide in an unexpected inertia of emotional pain. Will they be able to survive to see the end of this war?
A distorted and dark mecha, M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane encompasses a lot of the characteristics of a good emo anime. Perhaps the most jarring part of the series is that the people fighting the Admonitions are teenage boys and girls. They are the center of the fighting force, and also at the center of the mysteries surrounding the Lightless Realm. With a couple of devastating twists to the plot, these young people will go through even more undeserved hardship and sorrow than they have already been through in their pasts. While this anime may be confusing at first, it is well worth the emotional ride!
8. Hell Girl (Jigoku Shoujo)
- Episodes: 26
- Air Date: Oct. 2005 – Apr. 2006
According to rumor, if you have a grudge against someone, you can access a supernatural website called Jigoku Tsuushin at midnight. When you enter someone’s name on that website, that person will be sent straight to hell. Ai Enma, the Hell Girl, will enact the punishment herself, with the help of three straw dolls. She doesn’t even judge if the target is guilty or not – any person’s name written on the website is condemned automatically. But whoever writes a name on Jigoku Tsuushin is also condemned to spend eternity in hell.
Hell Girl is one of the most jarring and thought-provoking anime on this list. This anime focuses on the darkness within humanity. Each episode of the series focuses on a different person and their story, showing why they decide to condemn someone else to hell, and thus become condemned themselves. Ai Enma herself is quite horrifying, as she comes for each character to both help and hurt them. The basis of this show is to get the audience emotionally invested in each of the characters, so that you will eventually want to see them get their justice in life, even if that means writing a name on Jigoku Tsuushin. With a lovely and dark animation style, Hell Girl easily succeeds, making it one of the only horror anime on our list. And it is definitely one anime that is well worth investing time on.
7. Darker than Black (Darker than Black: Kuro no Keiyakusha)
- Episodes: 25
- Air Date: Apr. 2007 – Sep. 2007
An anime that is aptly named, Darker than Black focuses on the story of an investigator, and a “Contractor” called the Black Reaper. When the mysterious Gates known as Heaven’s Gate and Hell’s Gate first appeared on Earth, people started seeing Contractors – supernatural beings who have exchanged their humanity for powers. The Black Reaper, also known as Hei, is part of this group. He operates in the shadows, working for the Syndicate, while also uncovering a dark plot that could change everything the Contractors have worked for…
Darker than Black is a very unique anime. This is shown both in how it tells its story, as well as in the story plot itself. Set in a neo-noir style, the anime deals with psychological and investigative questions about the world it is a part of. However, these questions directly translate over to the human experience in the here and now as well. This series is full of dark emotion, and has definite surprises along the way.
- Episodes: 13
- Air Date: Jul. 2015 – Sep. 2015
After years of getting ahead in school by using his ability to control others (for five seconds at a time), Yuu Otosaka is finally caught by Nao Tomori. Nao convinces Yuu and his sister Ayumi to transfer to a school for the supernaturally gifted, and then Yuu is forced into the student council! The student council is tasked with tracking down young people who are using their powers selfishly. Yuu and his friends are faced with many formidable challenges along the way, and discover that there is a price to pay for having powers.
Yuu and his friends might seem like typical carefree students, especially in the beginning of this series. The reason that Charlotte takes a spot on our list is because of the tragic and sad circumstances that occur as the series continues. As we learn more about each character’s back story and the different trials they’ve faced, the audience grows attached to these characters, really starting to feel connected to them in the end. And as we grow more emotionally attached to Yuu, Nao, and the others, the things that happen to them in turn feel more real to us.
- Episodes: 23
- Air Date: Oct. 2007 – Mar. 2008
One of the most compelling anime on our list, Clannad follows Tomoya Okazaki, an average student who finds his life dull. Tomoya and his friend Sunohara regularly skip school, until Tomoya meets an unusual girl named Nagisa Furukawa who has a severe illness. Nagisa decides that she and Tomoya are friends, and eventually Tomoya concedes to this, deciding to help Nagisa in her dream to bring back the school’s drama club. Along with the help of four other girls, Tomoya and Nagisa set out to make Nagisa’s dream a reality. Tomoya helps each girl through their own difficulties, and along the way he finds a reason to live himself.
Clannad is one of the most well-known tragic anime, second only to anime #4 on this list! It seems so innocent upon first glance, but Clannad has a sadness all its own. While it may not have many of the darker elements a typical emo anime displays, Clannad still has the tragic emotional aspect to it. This anime is cute and endearing, drawing you in to make you care about each character in the cast.
4. Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai)
- Episodes: 11
- Air Date: Apr. 2011 – June 2011
Jinta Yadomi spends his days skipping school and playing video games – basically doing whatever he wants. But one summer day, his childhood friend Meiko “Menma” Honma shows up, asking him to fulfill a promise he promised to her a long time ago. Jinta pays her no mind at first, thinking Menma is a mere hallucination – the real Menma died when they were still kids. However, he soon becomes convinced this is the real ghost of Menma. As his old childhood group of friends comes together once more, they must figure out how to put Menma to rest and finally move on.
Anohana is the most well-known tragedy on this list. Jinta and his friends are dealing with the emotional trauma of losing their close friend at a young age, and almost every episode you learn something new about how their lives have been falling apart since then. As each character deals with the loss and the process of moving on, so too can the viewer see the reflection of this in dealing with their own losses in life. Every episode will have at least one moment that leaves you in tears, especially as the series draws to a close. In terms of emotionally hardcore, this anime is one of the few that leaves you with strong emotions for years after you’ve watched it!
3. Death Note
- Episodes: 37
- Air Date: Oct. 2006 – June 2007
When high school student Light Yagami finds a strange notebook called the Death Note, his life changes forever. A genius who thinks the world is falling apart, Light decides to test the Death Note by writing a criminal’s name in the book. The criminal dies immediately after his name is written down, and Light discovers the immense power he has found. Accompanied by the actual owner of the Death Note, a shinigami named Ryuk, Light decides to eliminate all the people he sees as criminals and become the god of a new world. However, the police are out to find Light, and they have the help of an eccentric detective who goes by the name of L.
Light Yagami’s story is full of dark and gritty suspense as he tries to kill off all criminals. Each turn that Light and L take to outsmart each other causes others to die, lose their hope or even their minds. The truth is that both Light and L care about very few people, making them heartless and calculated in their decisions. Yet, this anime still has a very emotional aspect, as there are many loveable side characters that end up suffering because of the main battle between Light and L. Death Note is a beautifully dark anime, contemplating the darkest natures of humanity while investing the audience deeply in the plot.
2. Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Episodes: 26
- Air Date: Oct. 1995 – Mar. 1996
In a world suffering from war between the Angels seeking to destroy and the Nerv agency’s Evangelions seeking to protect, 14-year-old Shinji Ikari is called upon to do more than he ever imagined! His average life is completely changed when he finally meets up with his father, the head of Nerv. Shinji is asked to become the pilot for Evangelion Unit-01 and defend all of humankind. This average boy must become a legend overnight, shouldering his newfound burden. Will Shinji be up to the task?
Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of few mecha on this list, and most definitely the best. As Shinji learns to cope with his new destiny, so many questions arise, particularly about the amount of burden that is placed upon one young boy to carry. This series is dark and thought-provoking in the way it looks at the situation presented and questions it. All of the characters have flaws, and they must work through them in a very real way. Evangelion takes the idea that most people had of mecha, and adds to that with its characters and story, making it much more emotional.
1. Tokyo Ghoul
- Episodes: 12
- Air Date: Jul. 2014 – Sep. 2014
In Tokyo, people and creatures called “ghouls” now live side by side. While ghouls may seem exactly like regular people, they actually have a vicious desire for human flesh, which makes the rest of society fear them. Ken Kaneki is a shy college student who likes to read. When he meets Rize Kamishiro, a fellow reader like himself, he believes he has found his perfect match. Unfortunately, Rize is not what she seems, and Kaneki is left in a place he does not want to be – halfway between the human world and the ghouls’. With the help of Touka Kirishima and a few others, Kaneki must begin a new life, caught between the two worlds. Will he find a way to belong?
Tokyo Ghoul is arguably one of the darkest anime, making it the top of our list. Though it is relatively short in length compared to some of the others, the depth of emotion Kaneki goes through in that short number of episodes is just as impactful as other, longer anime series. Although Tokyo Ghoul sometimes can get lost in the horror side of being a ghoul, it also focuses on deeper levels of emotions such as loneliness and hopelessness. Kaneki's story is certainly tragic, as he is forced to the sidelines of both dominant societies and belonging nowhere. The one downfall with this short anime is that it doesn’t have as much time to invest in getting to truly know many of the characters, partially because there are so many! Yet its premise, depth, and animation style all combine to make Tokyo Ghoul the best emo anime on our list.
Each of the anime on our list has its own way of being emotionally hardcore. And the wide range of genres included means there should be at least one “emo” anime for everyone!
What do you think of our list? Are there any you believe we should have included? Let us know in the comments below!