Psychological anime is wholly of its own, and at the same time, the genre cannot stand alone making it coupled with other genres constantly. Psychological anime loves to present users with some form of a dilemma that usually involves death or solving a puzzle of some sort to move forward. Others enjoy presenting the viewer with what the future or the far distant future might look like. Then it likes to look us dead in the eyes and ask us if we like what we see. Thankfully though, so many anime lean towards this genre, that there is a range for everyone. If you are looking for something to help you get into the Psychological branch of anime, then we have some shows lined up for you. The best part is too, is that there are so many more waiting in the wings. Let’s see what we can find!
Think, Think, Think!
As the term implies, Psychological anime want you to think, and they really want you to think hard. Nothing is as it seems and every step that the main character takes forward only makes the story more twisted and difficult. Let us repeat that psychological anime will NEVER spoon feed you anything. You must either deduce it for yourself or wait for the main character’s exposition where they will rationalize everything for themselves thus cluing in the viewers. Sometimes too, that doesn’t even happen! You are given crumbs as you try to piece together what would have been the loaf of bread that was the story. If you love a good brain massage where you actually have to think and enjoy a story rather than be told everything, then psychological anime are where you want to be. Let’s take a look at a classic.
Mousou Dairinin (Paranoia Agent)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Feb. 2004 - May 2004
Paranoia Agent sets us in the popular-to-live-in city of Musashino in Tokyo. When a popular character designer known as Tsukiko Sagi is attacked, the city barely makes note. However, as incidents mount in the city, they all seem to have a similar story: a boy with golden rollerblades and a baseball bat attacked them. His face was impossible to see however, so it’s hard to land a perp, which is the issue facing two detectives Keiichi and Mitsuhiro as they investigate just what the heck is going on. When they try to pump the victims for information, it gets them nowhere as all seem to have had their psyche broken. If things couldn't be any worse, paranoia sets in among the townspeople as they try to make sense of what is happening. Now it becomes a race to see if they can get to the truth behind lil slugger or if they too will succumb to paranoia agent.
Paranoia Agent is about as good as it gets when it comes to a quintessential psychological anime that every anime fan should see at least once. Satoshi Kon, the mastermind behind Perfect Blue and Paprika was the director for the series and his skills and talent really shine in this series. The scenes effortlessly flow to the next one leaving the viewer often perplexed as to why it changes so suddenly, but also why, randomly, there is an old man mumbling to himself and writing a massive formula on the sidewalk or why a stuffed animal has now come to life only to stop moments later. There are also great–for lack of a better word–torture moments where say, Sagi will hear something that sounds like rollerblades and panic thinking that Lil slugger is back to get her once again. The ending may just leave you scratching your head, but know that not every anime out there requires a solid conclusion.
A Race Against the Clock
Another great aspect that psychological anime enjoy toying with, is the concept of what could be should the task in front of you not be completed. This usually involves dark, grim games or realities that the protagonist will face should they not be able to complete whatever the task is at hand. It could be saving someone from being murdered by exposing the killer, and it could also be something much more simple like bowling or an arcade game. One thing is for sure, we get to watch the main character anguish through exposition after exposition as they struggle to rationalize how to solve the problem at hand. Thankfully though, these almost always make for excellent anime.
Boku dake ga Inai Machi (ERASED)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan 2016 - Mar 2016
Satoru Fujinuma has this strange ability. When some kind of accident is about to occur, he is given the chance to re-do his most recent few moments. He always takes this as a chance to prevent or obstruct whatever incident is about to occur. When he is framed for the murder of a very close family member though, in a moment of desperation, he begins to flee, only to see a butterfly? Suddenly he is back in the past. You see, Satoru didn’t live in a metropolis; he lived in cold, lonely Hokkaido. He realizes, in his young body, that there must be a reason why he is sent back. It must be connected with his classmate, a girl named Kayo Hinazuki, who died when he was his current age. Satoru makes up his mind to pull the curtain back on this masked killer and set the record straight once and for all, but with the killer still trying to kill Kayo, what can a young boy do against cruel fate?
Boku dake ga Inai Machi hits the ground running and does not stop till the end of the series. Every time that you think and he thinks that the mystery has been solved, he is ripped back to the present, or the past, in order to try again. The crushing reality that he might not be able to save Kayo from dying is ever present. That and the fact that the further he sticks his nose into things, the more it puts those from his past in the eyes of danger. The real winning psychological aspect is that a lot like Paranoia Agent, there is so little that you are privy to see even though Satoru’s eyes and explanations that you too have to come to conclusions on your own. Married to the thriller genre means that this series is really going to keep you thinking hard while rushing to watch the next episode!
Boku dake ga Inai Machi Trailer
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Oct 2016 - Dec 2016
Yuuta Gamon runs a blog mocking the supernatural along with his friend and canon big breasted anime character, Ryouka Narusawa. He runs it wanting to make money, but one day, he happens to stumble across something and investigates. This takes him on a path to meet people who would never have even bothered to read his blog or even care what he has to say. However, fate, ever the cruel mistress, has bound these nine individuals together in a way that is beyond unexpected; it’s flat out outlandish. Yuuta must now confront that something supernatural is going on as he tries to solve the mystery plaguing both the city and their lives.
Occultic;Nine is like a puzzle box. It’s a puzzle box that has been mixed with about four other puzzles, or eight if you would like. Somehow at the end of all of this though, the puzzles will all be put side by side and connected, but never in the way that you would expect. To be honest, that is the story of Occultic;Nine. At first, nothing seems to be connected at all and nothing makes any sense. In fact, it just sounds like characters going down a rabbit hole about nothing and nonsense. But then… somewhere along the line something clicks. Two seemingly unconnected pieces connect. Then that leads to another piece and then another. Occultic;Nine is an anime best enjoyed when you have a large amount of time on your hands because there is so much critical thinking and concentration required, that missing even the slightest piece of information will require you to backtrack so as to not be lost. If you really want to exercise your brain, then this dangerous incident is something to get involved in.
Let’s Play a Dangerous Game of Ethics
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan 2015 - Mar 2015
When you die, there is no heaven or hell. There is just one thing: a bar. This bar is purgatory and helps find out which of us deserve to move on to reincarnation and which of us are doomed for oblivion. Two people always arrive here and when they do, the meet Decim. After Decim makes them a drink, he proposes a game. This game is much more than it seems as it is actually part of Decim’s job. Through the game, he sees the darkness residing in someone’s heart and will send the one who harbors it to oblivion while the other heads to reincarnation. When a strange woman with no memories shows up through, cracks begin to appear in the foundation.
Death Parade caught almost everyone off guard when it came out. The series was adapted from a one-shot called Death Billiards and while the premise seems simple and there are new characters each time, the story is incredibly captivating. One major aspect of psychological anime that is often overlooked is the line of ethical versus unethical. This permeates through many but is often forgotten by the viewer. Death Parade thrusts this into the center spotlight confronting the viewer with many a question or dilemma as they watch things unfold. If you want something that is equal parts dark and oddly satisfying, Death Parade is an excellent place to start.
Death Parade PV
These are just some of the suggestions that we have for you if you find yourself new to anime and want to explore the psychological genre a bit more. Of course, there are many, many more shows where this list came from like Psycho-Pass, Monster, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, NHK ni Youkoso, Perfect Blue, and many, many more. Again though, this article is for newcomers, so if you think you are a seasoned pro, be sure to drop some recommendations of your own as well! Till next time!