What Constitutes a Thriller Anime? [Definition, Meaning]

Thriller anime, or rather, the concept of a thriller anything novel, show, story etc. has been around for centuries. You need a good story, typical elements that can be found across storytelling, and above all else, enough mystery to keep the audience/reader/consumer entertained long enough to get them to invest in the story. How does that apply to anime? Really easily actually. All you need are mysterious deaths and the threat of danger, multiple storylines interwoven, or employ more genres to lend to your story. While many an anime fan has an idea of what thriller anime are, we at Honey’s Anime decided to take a look under the hood of this genre to break down the basics of what thriller anime are and some great examples. Let’s go!

What is a Thriller Anime?

It should be noted, before we start, that thriller is slightly different to everyone, so please bear in mind that you may not like everything here, but these are indeed thriller anime. Now that is out of the way, what are thriller anime? Well, there are great stories where people start dying and the threat of death lingers as we do not know who the killer is. These are known as good death game anime. There are also stories involving time and trying to get something or get past a point. Finally, you have mysteries that need to be unwound and pique our interests. In fact, this is what is so crucial to a thriller anime. While yes, you don’t need a total mystery and could simply go at full speed throwing things out at the audience, usually a good thriller anime has enough sense not to tell you the whole story until very late in the game so that you are hooked and cannot stop.

A great concept of thriller anime, and this really needs to be driven home, is death, or the threat of it. The threat of death, be it in real life or in anime, is something that grabs us. Human instinct is to avoid it, and anime characters obviously do not want to die and spill 10 gallons of blood everywhere. Storytelling is also extremely important here. Telling characters to run or investigate something is not interesting if that is all you tell them. There has to be some compelling reason as to why you want to keep watching and that is what is so important. While thriller anime can be about the chase, others can be very laid back while being very intense. One thing is for sure, you do not always realize what is going on at first. Please note that some spoilers will inevitably happen.

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (When They Cry)

  • Episodes: 26
  • Aired: Apr. 2006 - Sept 2006

Keiichi Maibara has just moved to Hinamizawa (Shirakawa-gou in real life), a sleepy, small countryside town in June of 1983. He makes new friends in his school almost immediately and before he knows it, his happy life is full of nonstop fun with Rena, Satoko, Mion, and Rika. The village is even getting close to an annual festival, so Keiichi is looking forward to it. That is, until he learns that a string of unsolved murders also plague the town. When he starts asking questions, people, including his friends, shut down and some even get downright scary. Then, things get worse and before he realizes it, paranoia is getting the best of him, but is it because a friend is coming to kill him or something else? He snaps and kills someone. Keiichi blacks out, and the next episode opens like nothing ever happened. In fact, he’s now back in time with no memories. This time though, things are different? What is going on?

Higurashi, while old for sure, is a classic example of a good, gritty thriller anime. We are told so very little that it makes total sense as to why you want to rush to watch season two—yes there is more—after season one. The threat of death is ever present, but it seems that the characters, or sometimes, not even at all, do not realize the danger that they are facing until it is too late. Something very hard to absorb in the first storyline, is how quickly things change in the next one. By the time you are trying to piece together what possibly could have been the cause of death or why characters acted the way they did, you are on to the next complicated, twisted, and new story.

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Trailer:

Does It Play Well With Others?

There are some things that don’t make sense and shouldn’t be put together. Horror & Fantasy with a cute, tender romance, emotionally traumatized characters with comedy, pineapple on pizza, etc. But thankfully, the thriller genre does play well with just about everything else it appears with. Mystery has to be one of the biggest along with death games, but tragedies, time slips, adventure, and even mahou shoujo all play well with the thriller genre. What are some other shows that we can comfortably explore while getting our heart rates up and interests piqued?

Death Note

  • Episodes: 37
  • Aired: Oct 2006 - Jun 2007

Ryuk is a shinigami, or god of death, who has a special book where as long as he sees someone’s face, he can write their name in it and that person will die. Ryuk is bored with watching people die though and decides to have some fun by dropping his book into the real world. When Light Yagami stumbles cross it, he at first doesn’t believe it, but decides to test it out anyway on a criminal. When that person dies instantly, he’s shocked. Light suddenly realizes his goal in life is to become the savior of the world. He starts killing criminals in all sorts of creative ways which naturally gets the police involved. Murder is still a crime after all, even if the victims are criminals. As the police aren’t getting in anywhere, they bring in a young, genius detective named L. Surely, he will be able to crack the case. Thus an inevitable race against time begins.

Regardless of whether you are a seasoned anime pro or not, the first—and sometimes only—time you watch Death Note leaves you pounding the next button to see what happens as the plot feeds into ridiculous drama. Looking back, it might not have been as intense as we felt, but thank goodness for that one limitation of the Death Note author needing to see the face of the human they want to kill, or this would have been a short-lived anime! Episode after episode, as the story gets darker and we sink a little bit deeper to learn more, Death Note keeps your blood pressure high as you crave to see if Light is really going to pull it off. Death Note is an excellent foray into the mystery genre. However, this thriller does, more or less, lay the story out for you.

Death Note Trailer

Shinsekai Yori (From the New World)

  • Episodes: 25
  • Aired: Sept. 2012 - Mar. 2013

Set in the town of Kamisu 66, Saki Watanabe, and her classmates Satoru, Mamoru, Maria, and Shun are all students at Sage Academy, a school for psychics. Everyone in this city has psychic powers. It is how many day-to-day things are handled. As their powers awaken too, they get to work more with them. However, when an excursion leads to them heading to a place that they are not supposed to go, they encounter a strangle, translucent, rainbow-colored creature that works for them. Confused, they press it for answers and what they uncover is a past where psychics murdered countless non-psychics before eventually isolating themselves in order to keep peace. When Saki starts to question why Shun—a boy she liked—left, things take a turn for the worst and these teenagers—who have the emotional and mental capacity of children—have to learn what the real world is like outside their little paradise.

Shinsekai Yori shows just how truly dark and twisted the thriller genre can go. There are so many twists, turns, and close calls where they pull through by the skin of their teeth, that you cannot help but binge as much of the show as possible. What makes Shinsekai Yori so well done is the fact that this does not spoon feed you the story—a crime committed by many anime—but rather, drops a few breadcrumbs for you here and there to see how well you are paying attention before telling you a story–not the full one until the very end–through the eyes of a character. What’s more, the story is so well-done that you feel for the emotional and mental struggles that the children face as they are basically shown that everything they have been taught is lies. Whole humans are just erased from their memories. Our advice would be to make sure you have a lot of free time before diving into this one. Stopping to do anything is very painful.

Shinsekai Yori PV

Final Thoughts

This article only touches on a few major thriller anime but there are other great countless ones out there. Steins;Gate, Mirai Nikki, Another, Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu, Shiki, Kara no Kyoukai, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, and more are fantastic examples. So, please do not feel as if we have slighted your favorite anime by not including it as this is meant as a starting spot for anime fans who do not know much about thriller anime. We said it in the beginning too, but bear in mind that these types of articles are for newcomers and not meant to plunge a seasoned fan into recommendations. However, if you have suggestions for newer anime fans that are must-see or excellent thriller anime, then be sure to let us know down below! Till next time!

Shinsekai-Yori-Akizuki-Maria-capture-700x394 What Constitutes a Thriller Anime? [Definition, Meaning]


Author: Nagareboshi

American by birth; international by choice. I am trying to bring attention to one of my favorite causes; me. I translate by day and write by night. Aspiring polyglot. My dream would be to be the personal translator for Amuro Namie. Other than that, my hobbies include languages, weightlifting, sleeping, karaoke, GOOD coffee and music. When I’m not doing any of the above, I am most likely laughing hysterically at Willam Belli videos or EV farming. I ain’t gunna Rupologize for it neither. Waifu are Shirai Kuroko & Euaerin.

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