When it comes to developing an interest in anime, the average person might be surprised at just how many different genres of anime there actually are. Action, science fiction, romance, adventure, horror, comedy, drama, sports, mystery…the list goes on and on. In addition, you have different branches within each genre that focus on different aspects of the genre itself. For example, in romantic anime, you have stories that focus on a specific type of relationship, and with science fiction anime, you can have an emphasis on steampunk, the future, aliens, and so on.
When it comes to psychological or “psycho” anime, you have a subset of anime that either builds a story that focuses on psychological themes such as the human condition or a subset of anime where certain characters themselves are considered to be “psycho” based on their actions and motivations. With plenty of excellent examples to represent both of these types, here are the top 10 psycho anime.
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Jul 5, 2013 to Sep 27, 2013
Makoto Naegi was just your average student that happened to be selected to join an elite high school named Hope’s Peak Academy. However, upon arrival, Makoto immediately loses consciousness and wakes up to find himself locked inside the school with 14 other students and a deranged teddy bear who wishes to play a dangerous game with them. According to this teddy bear (who calls himself Monokuma), there is only one way to escape, or “graduate”: murder another student and successfully get away with it without getting caught. Each time a murder happens, a “class trial” will be held to uncover the murderer, with a successful verdict resulting in the murderer’s execution and an incorrect verdict resulting in the death of everyone except the culprit, who will be free to leave.
If you’re a fan of The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, then this anime should be right up your alley. The concept of fighting to the death and becoming the only survivor of a certain ordeal is something that would take a toll on anybody; the effects this would have on high school kids are almost guaranteed to be permanent. We see a change over the series occur to Makoto as he struggles to cling to some sense of sanity after being thrust into a situation where there are no brakes to stop it, and the only thing left to do is to play the game. We also get to see the various effects the game has on the other characters, and the variety of choices and conclusions they come to in order to survive. One thing is guaranteed: whoever leaves Hope’s Peak Academy leaves it a very different person from when they first arrived.
9. Higurashi When They Cry
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Apr 5, 2006 to Sep 27, 2006
Keiichi Maebara is a regular boy who moves to a new village called Hinamizawa and soon begins to adjust to his new life. He even befriends 4 girls: Rika Furude, Satoko Hojo, Mion Sonozaki, and Rena Ryuugu. However, things begin to change after Keiichi learns about a murder that occurred in Hinamizawa’s past, and as Keiichi begins to explore more about what exactly happened, he begins to realize that not everyone is as they said they were…
Although this story starts out normal enough, it definitely shifts gears pretty fast, what with characters dying everywhere and time being reset. We also get to see the first officially “psycho” character on this list, Shion Sonozaki. It’s one thing to lose someone you love, but it’s another thing entirely to become demented to the point where the solution for your loss is to go on a killing rampage. We also see some horrifying sides of the other characters as well as they continue to make similar choices and make the same mistakes whenever time resets, adding an interesting dynamic to an already complicated relationship between the characters. To say that this anime is psychotic is only putting it mildly.
8. Puella Magi Madoka Magica
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan 7, 2011 to Apr 22, 2011
At first glance, it might appear that this anime might not have any deep thinking at all, as the first impression one would have of middle school girls being dressed in elaborate costumes would result in identifying it with the “magical girl” genre. However, this anime stands as a great example for the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Even though there’s truth to this anime for it to belong to the genre it appears to represent, the viewer experience of unexpectedly witnessing death and violence set amongst a deeper story are what make Puella Magi Madoka Magica psychological. For some people, watching the series a second time is necessary in order to fully understand just what exactly happened. This is definitely one of the newer psychological anime that stands out from the crowd.
7. Tokyo Ghoul
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jul 4, 2014 to Sep 19, 2014
There are plenty of things to be a little nervous about when going out on a date with someone for the first time. Your date attempting to murder you and getting turned into a ghoul as a result should not be one of them. Yet Ken Kaneki ends up experiencing just that; receiving an organ transplant from his date (who was seemingly killed before she could kill Ken) in order to save him ends up turning Ken into a half ghoul/half human hybrid. Just what exactly that means is something that Ken and the audience come to learn, as Ken has to learn how to use his new abilities, who his friends and enemies are, and just overall cope with the whole new lifestyle that ghouls lead. Although this series is rather short, we see a lot of psychotic behavior displayed by the ghouls (and eventually Ken), and we also get to witness Ken work out the good from the bad when it comes to his newfound existence. As the series ends, we are left with one question: what exactly defines a human being?
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Apr 6, 2011 to Sep 14, 2011
Rintaro Okabe is a self-proclaimed “mad-scientist” who, together with his friends, accidentally discovers a particular form of time travel. Although it seems like a dream come true for Okabe at first as he attempts to grant his friends’ biggest desires, things suddenly get out of hand and take a dramatic turn for the worst. With Okabe being the only one that remembers every change that’s happened, it’s up to him to attempt to undo every change that’s happened and return everything to normal.
The lasting effects of trying to comprehend time travel can result in a minor headache; the lasting psychological effects of someone who’s experienced what Okabe has experienced concerning time travel can only be guessed at. Watching your friend die over and over again and failing to save them no matter what you do takes an incredible toll on someone, not to mention being able to comprehend the nuances of your previous time travel attempts enough to the point to effectively undo them. And after all is said and done and being the only person who remembers everything, it’s a miracle Okabe was able to escape unchanged at all (although the movie further explores this concept). A scene of Okabe near the end of the series going back in time places him at a moment where we’re first introduced to him being arrogant and laughing manically for fun, only this time we see an inwardly older version of him who looks mentally exhausted yet determined to set things right. These before and after scenes not only perfectly sum up the psychological effects done to Okabe, but also exemplify why this psycho anime has a unique interpretation of both a “psycho” character and a psychological world setting.
- Episodes: 22
- Aired: Oct 12, 2012 to Mar 22, 2013
If you’re a fan of Blade Runner and Minority Report, then this series will more than meet your psychological needs. In the year 2113, the Sibyl System is what’s responsible for keeping criminals in check. Measuring an individual’s state of mind, personality, and likelihood of committing a crime, a Psycho-Pass is issued to that individual; if that individual ever exceeds that level, then they will be hunted, arrested, and even killed if it’s deemed necessary. The series follows Akane Tsunemori, a new Inspector that works alongside other more experienced Inspectors as they pursue Enforcers, a special team of latent criminals. A lot of issues concerning ethics and morals are addressed throughout the course of the story, and we get to see characters’ motivations change and other characters struggle with making the right decision. There’s also a second season that builds off of the events and decisions made from the characters and goes even deeper with regard to some of the issues explored in the first season.
4. Future Diary
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Oct 9, 2011 to Apr 15, 2012
Yukiteri “Yuki” Amano is a loner in every sense of the word, as he has no friends and spends his time conversing with his imaginary friends. Things take an unexpected turn, however, when his imaginary friends soon place him and selected others to compete in a specially designed competition based on the abilities of special diaries they’ve been assigned. The last person standing gets to become what Yuki’s imaginary friend actually is: the God of Time and Space. They must also finish the contest in less than 90 days; if there is no winner once this deadline is reached, then the world will end.
A similar dynamic to that of Danganropa, we get to see how different people react to the knowledge of fighting in a special contest to become the only survivor. The stakes are much higher this time, as not only is there a time limit to this contest, the world will cease to exist if there’s no winner after 90 days. But more importantly, however, is the unique psychotic character that is Yuno Gasai. A tragic backstory that included being locked in a cage by her own mother for extreme lengths of time, Yuno’s chance encounter with Yuki at her most vulnerable emotionally leads to one of the strongest obsessions of any kind in anime. Yuno defines her existence as being with Yuki: stalking him by means of her special diary almost every 10 minutes, kidnapping him so that she can “take care of his every need”, and remorselessly murdering anybody that endangers Yuki (even so far as making the preparations for killing Yuki’s mother if things appear to take a turn for the worse). There’s a reason why the picture of Yuno below has become so iconic, as it encapsulates everything you need to know about her. While Future Diary is certainly decent in terms of its story, watching it to observe the character of Yuno Gasai and how Yuki interacts with her is what earns this anime’s ranking on this list.
3. Death Note
- Episodes: 37
- Aired: Oct 4, 2006 to Jun 27, 2007
Probably the most accessible anime to new fans beginning to explore this genre, Death Note is highly considered to be one of and arguably the best psychological anime thus far. The series begins with our introduction to Light Yagami and thoroughly explains the type of person he is and his intentions to change the world with the Death Note he was given by Ryuk, a Shingami. As the series progresses, we witness one of the greatest tactical mind games played in anime between Light and L, a world renowned detective who has made it his goal to discover the identity of Kira (Light’s alter ego). With each character coming up with ingenious ways to outsmart the other, a tension develops that sucks people in wondering who is going to come out on top. When the victor finally does end up winning in an incredibly ingenious way, you’re left applauding not just the winner, but the incredible battle that ended up being fought. The secondary characters aren’t too bad either, as each has their own motivations as to why they want Kira to either succeed or fail. If you’re just getting into the psychological genre, Death Note succeeds in accomplishing what a good psycho anime strives for.
2. Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Oct 4, 1995 to Mar 27, 1996
Neon Genesis Evangelion is a perfect example of an anime that does what it does so well with the characters and genre elements it possesses that it stands out in multiple genres. Its setting and events years after a global cataclysm place it in the “apocalyptic” genre, and the use of bio-machines to fight the monsters known as Angels places it in the mecha genre as well. But it is because of the combination of both the deep personal struggles of the various Evangelion pilots and the representation of multiple religious themes that contribute to this anime’s psychological nature. At a time when anime was not as widespread as it is now, Neon Genesis Evangelion set the tone with a series that begins with a young boy being forced by his estranged father to join the war that’s occurring to save humanity and delves deeper and deeper into some of the biggest questions people ask in regards to their own existence. From the use of introspection as a way to narrate the story down to even the character’s appearances reflecting their personalities, everything was meticulously done to represent deep psychological themes. This is an anime worth watching if you’re favorite thing about anime is how it makes you think and ask questions.
- Episodes: 74
- Aired: Apr 7, 2004 to Sep 28, 2005
Monster stands as, very simply, a psychological anime that has a perfect balance between a psychological theme that is perfectly explored and characters that can certainly be classified as “psychos”. Monster focuses on Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese brain surgeon working in Germany that has everything going for him in life until a crucial decision about which patient to save results in a chain of events that changes everything. Even though the focus is on Dr. Tenma and the patient he chose to save, no character is left out of being developed; from the main characters down to the very minor ones, every character in some respect has development in some type of aspect in regard to their personalities, emotions, and inner most thoughts. In addition, Monster has an incredibly masterful storytelling approach that connects the plot in a complex yet unique fashion, leaving the viewer in suspense throughout. It is because of this approach that makes Monster’s psychological themes that much more real, leaving a lasting impact on the viewer. It is for these reasons that Monster takes the #1 spot on this list.
Here is the final ranking of the top 10 Psycho Anime. Should one of these have been been ranked higher? Is there an anime here that should have made the cut? Post your opinions in the comments!