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The sun is out, the birds are chirping, and the cherry blossoms are preparing to bloom. On this lovely, bright, sunny day leading into spring, let’s talk about our favorite gothic anime. First, we should be clear about the qualifications for appearing on this list. Within anime, gothic is not as much a genre marker as it is an indicator of style. Some of the base elements of gothic style include: a dark storyline, ever-present death, resurrections, feelings of dread or terror, taboo romance, and medieval archetypes.
You might remember our “Top 10 Gothic Anime Girls” list, which contains a few expected choices, but a few unexpected choices too (I’m pretty sure nobody watches Bleach or One Piece with the hope of filling a goth quota). Anime has the unique ability to subvert the expectations of genre set forth by traditional media, and we’re going to see that reflected a bit in the following list. With a mix of action, comedy, horror, romance, adventure, and intrigue, the shows on this list interweave as many constituent parts as they can, but still fit the bill handily.
10. Berserk (2016)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jul. 2016 - Sep. 2016
When’s the last time you were wronged? I don’t mean the guy who got on the subway and stepped on your fresh white Reebok Pumps this morning, I mean really wronged. Guts, the MC of Berserk, is a posthumous child. His birth is what is known as a “coffin birth”, or postmortem fetal extrusion. If that sounds gross it’s because it is, but you do remember you’re reading a gothic anime list right?
After birth, Guts is adopted by a member of a mercenary group and is trained in the ways of violence. After the cruel wheels of fate force Guts to kill his adopted father, Guts strikes out on his own and eventually attracts the attention of a team of mercenaries known as the “Band of the Hawk”. He becomes close to the leader of this merc group, rising in the group’s ranks, only to be betrayed by the leader who sacrifices the group’s members to achieve the power of a god. Guts is the only member to escape the sacrificial ritual and sets out on a quest of vengeance against the leader of the Band of the Hawk. This backstory sets off the 2016 continuation of “Berserk”.
You would be correct to describe Berserk as dark, bloody, evil, monster-ridden, and wrought with despair. This is a world that shares much with the dark themes of classic gothic literature, while also fitting into the long running shounen format. Guts wields his terrible blade “Dragonslayer” against scores of monsters throughout the course of the show, including demonic goats, skull knights, Byzantine saints, and many more monsters all cut from the same cloth. What cloth is that? The oppressive cloth of gothic character work. The characters, settings, motivations, and general storyline of Berserk are all gruesome and dreadful, and perfectly gothic. To use a currently trending comparison, Berserk is the Dark Souls of anime.
9. Dance in the Vampire Bund
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan. 2017 - Apr. 2017
If you found out that vampires lived among us, you would be a little worried right? Dance in the Vampire Bund covers this idea in depth. Mina Tepes is the leader of all vampires on Earth, and she lives in hiding, as do all the vampires. With the connectivity of 21st century media, stories about vampire attacks begin to spread and public intrigue reaches a boiling point. To counteract potential hysteria and chaos, Mina Tepes builds a colony for vampires in Tokyo bay, and then exposes their existence. The narrative of Dance in the Vampire Bund follows Mina Tepes and her number one protector Akira Kaburagi as they deal with the aftermath of a post-vampire world.
Dance in the Vampire Bund deals with the fundamentals of a world where humans are forced to face their fears. One of the cardinal tenets of goth is the existence of monsters. In a story like Dracula, you get one vampire. In this story, you get a city full of vampires, and some werewolf guardians to boot. The soundtrack of Dance in the Vampire Bund consists largely of ringing church bells, choral chants, and organs, which is definitely supposed to evoke feelings of classic gothic dread. The blood factor is high in this show, and it doesn’t mince details when it comes to violence, death, or horror.
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Apr. 2005 - Oct. 2005
At the beginning of Trinity Blood, you’re buried in exposition. Humanity, knowing it couldn’t last forever, sent colonists to Mars. Those colonists discovered an alien technology that turned some of them into vampires. Hearing about an armageddon on Earth, the colonists return to help, and end up choosing sides - some with the humans and some against. The story of Trinity Blood takes place after the armageddon, in a world where vampires and humans wage a constant war with one another. The Vatican, leaders of the human faction, employ many super-humans to aid them in their war against the vampires.
Trinity Blood employs a lot of tropes to achieve a style that seems accidentally gothic. The tone of the show can be lighthearted and loving, while also action packed, but it never feels overly oppressive. The goth tag is unavoidable with the use of the church, gothic architecture, witches, vampires, vampire hunters, and the constant plague of death. The nomenclature of the people and places in Trinity Blood would have you believe that the show takes place during the crusades, and I suppose you could say that the show does take place in a future crusade. When you tie together the setting, characters, themes, and story of this show, you are left with a gothic adventure.
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Oct. 2001 - Jan. 2002
Hellsing is the titular organization of knights at the center of the anime Hellsing. The role of Hellsing is to protect the world against supernatural evils, and most importantly, to protect the royal family. The Hellsing team includes: Sir Integra Fairbrook, a knight and primary servant to the queen; Alucard (Dracula backwards anyone?), the original vampire who swore loyalty to the Hellsing family after being defeated by Van Helsing; The Hellsing family butler; and Seras Victoria, a police officer that Alucard turned into a vampire. The gist of the story in Hellsing revolves around the organization investigating scenes of violence and absolving vampires and ghouls of their sins via death.
There is no lack of drama in Hellsing. The majority of the scenes take place at night, and most scenes that don’t involve someone dying are used to set up an impending massacre. The soundtrack to Hellsing includes a lot of electric guitar and cooler than cool slap bass. This doesn’t mean the show doesn’t occasionally receive an organ (the instrument!) treatment or an organ (the body part!) treatment. Hellsing is definitely action-packed, and perverts classic gothic characters for its own means. The Holy Church, the original vampire, the ever-night setting, and the battles with the occult define Hellsing.
6. Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Oct. 2008 - Mar. 2009
Ciel Phantomhive has a cool name. He also has a black butler who takes care of his every need. At age 10, Ciel’s mother, father, and dog are murdered. Then he is kidnapped. While in captivity, Ciel summons a demon named Sebastian and forms a contract with him. In order to get revenge on the people who wronged him, Ciel returns as head of his estate and takes up position as the Queen’s protector with Sebastian, his Black Butler. Through the course of Kuroshitsuji, Ciel and Sebastian will investigate many evils in London, in hopes of untangling the mystery of his family’s demise.
Victorian London is the setting for Black Butler. This time period is significant as the era that birthed gothic literature. This is also a time when Jack the Ripper roamed the streets, murdering unchecked. The baroque strings throughout the background of this show serve to highlight the eerie feeling presented by the setup of Kuroshitsuji. Investigating monsters, murders, and things that shouldn’t be happening, Black Butler is an exercise in slow-building dread.
5. Soul Eater
- Episodes: 51
- Aired: Apr. 2008 - Mar. 2009
In the Soul Eater universe, there is evil and there are those who fight against it. Against evil are Meisters, individuals who wield death scythes. Death Scythes are humans who can turn into weapons, and can only bond with a Meister who shares a matching “wavelength”. The cast of Soul Eater are students in training, and throughout the show, they fight against demons of all varieties in order to capture 100 souls and become a weapon wielded by Death himself. As the show progresses, the training school comes under fire from powerful enemies, and the students of Death Weapon Meister Academy must work together to defend the school and fight evil.
Soul Eater is set up like a classic shounen anime. With heavy doses of comedy and action-packed fight scenes, you might be asking what puts this anime on a gothic list? The students are taught by Dr. Franken Stein. Their school is a castle. The head of their school is the grim reaper. One of the student’s is the grim reaper’s son. In the beginning of the first episode, Soul eats the soul of Jack the Ripper. They fight werewolves, witches, vampires, demons, monsters. If you name a character or setting commonly found in gothic literature, it’s likely to be found here.
4. D.Gray Man
- Episodes: 103
- Vired: Oct. 2006 - Sep. 2008
Allen Walker is an exorcist who uses his powers to battle against weapons created by “the Millennium Earl”. The Millennium Earl uses resurrected souls to power mechanical skeletons called Akuma which inhabit the bodies of the living. Because the Millennium Earl has the ability to resurrect the souls of lost family and loved ones, he has great power. When Allen Walker decides to join the Black Order (an organization tasked with defeating the Earl), he will use the weapons at his disposal to exorcise the Akuma and defeat the Earl.
D.Gray Man takes place in the 19th century, and hews to the style of the time. Apparitions haunt people, spirits are resurrected, and a cloud of death hangs over the whole world. D.Gray Man contains something a lot of shows on this list skip over - exorcisms. In Japanese mythology, an Akuma is a fire spirit - what we would call a demon. In D.Gray Man, akuma are monsters who take over the dead and use their bodies for ill will. Ill will fills every crack and seam in D.Gray Man - the sense of dread is portrayed through the music, story, and scenarios in this long-running series.
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Dec. 2010 - Jul. 2011
In 1924 Kazuya Kujou attends a new school called Saint Marguerite Academy, which resides in a fictitious country called Sauville. The hot topic at Saint Marguerite Academy is horror stories, and when Kazuya arrives at the school, his fellow students give him the name Black Reaper (after a monster from an urban legend) because his Japanese appearance stands out so starkly in the otherwise all-European school. Gosick’s story revolves around the friendship Kazuya forms with student Victorique de Blois, and their Sherlock Holmesian investigations into the mysteries in the school and surrounding area.
More than any other anime on this list, Gosick holds true to a gothic setting. It takes place in a French-speaking country, set in the remote countryside. In a place like this, anything could happen - and often does. The central idea behind the show is that there are a LOT of ghost stories in the country of Sauville and they all seem to be rooted in reality. As Kazuya and his friend Victorique explore these stories, they will get involved with many supernatural entities, all deeply embedded in the history of horror.
2. JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken (TV) (JoJo's Bizarre Adventure)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Oct. 2012 - Apr. 2013
The chances are that you have heard of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure before. Set in the 19th century, a conman comes across the wreckage of a carriage that fell off the side of the road. The conman goes to the wreckage with the intent of cleaning out the pockets of the inhabitants, only to find that one of them is alive. The survivor is George Joestar, who now feels a great debt toward the conman. After the conman’s death, George adopts his son Dio. Dio, however, isn’t satisfied to be an adopted son. He wants to be the head of the Joestar household, which puts him at odds with George Joestar’s birth son JoJo. Dio discovers the power of a mysterious stone mask which allows him to turn into a vampire, full of hatred for JoJo and the Joestar family. This marks the beginning of the Joestar family’s battle against Dio and his minions.
Depending on what you have heard or seen, you might not be sure how JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken fits onto this list. It’s true that the later seasons “Stardust Crusaders” and “Diamond is Unbreakable” are less gothic than the first season of JoJo’s Bizarre adventure. Part of the charm of the show lies in the period pieces set up inside the JoJo universe. The primary antagonist in JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken is Dio, a vampire. On a scale from “The Vampyre” to “Twilight”, Dio is definitely leaning toward the Dracula end. He lives in a castle, sleeps during the day, creates minions to do his bidding, and just wants to drink blood. Season 1 of the JoJo reboot tells a story that’s in some ways as conventional as vampire stories get.
1. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
- Episodes: 64
- Aired: Apr. 2009 - Jul. 2010
You might have seen Fullmetal Alchemist and thought that Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was just a remake. You would be a little bit right and a lot of bit wrong. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood splits from the original anime at episode 12. When the original anime was created, the show got ahead of the manga and ended up having to create an original story. Brotherhood follows the story fully, as it was written in the manga.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood tells the tale of Edward and Alphonse Elric, two brothers who learn to harvest the power of alchemy. When the brothers’ mother dies, they try to use alchemy to bring her back. The process is unachievable and Alphonse loses his whole body, while Edward loses an arm and a leg (insert pun about the cost of alchemy here). Edward manages to affix Al’s soul to a suit of armor, and the two set off to become “state alchemists”. Their goal in becoming state alchemists is to gain access to the state maintained library, where they might be able to pick up the knowledge necessary to resurrect their mother. Nothing is ever that easy, though, and becoming state alchemists means the brothers now act on behalf of the state in solving mysteries and defeating enemies of the state.
Alchemy, as a form of magic, is another old theme of gothic lit. Throughout their journey, the two Elric brothers run up against homunculi, chimaera, golems, and humans with magic powers. Although the show can be light-hearted, it often turns sharp corners and becomes steeped in the mourning of tragedy and loss. One of the fundamentals of alchemy is that in order to gain something, another thing must be lost. This show manifests that idea in many ways, and explores the depth of humanity's desire to achieve power at all costs.
The history of all things gothic is long and very well documented. Part of the gothic ideal is the celebration of the macabre. The anime on this list are often gruesome, ghastly, and repugnant - which is why we love them. Luckily, if your stomach isn’t cast iron, some of the choices on this list are much lighter affairs only sprinkled with darkness. Whether you live a perpetual Halloween, or you’re just bored with high school harems, we hope this list has something for you.
Are there any great gothic anime we forgot to put on this list? If you can think of an entry we missed, tell us what it is - and what show should it push off?