5 anime films and shows that reshaped my own perception of fear

Piyush Singh
New Update

Horror can go beyond the basic ideas that we once believed in as it explores complex themes and multifaceted genres. Here are some anime films and shows that proved this!

Horror films were primarily about ghosts, supernatural entities, and paranormal activities growing up. This idea evolved over time as we understood that the stories about serial killers, psychological torment, and visceral violence could be equally bone-chilling. Ghosts from movies did manage to send shivers down my spine, believing that horror was only limited to the supernatural. Not everyone is terrified of the same thing, with many growing out of their past fears only to have new ones. But a grown-up me has realized that a horror story is good not just when it is scary but also when it finds a way to stick in your head. And there have been some anime films and shows that have been able to do that.

I'm fond of anime films and shows that Satoshi Kon has worked on, and these stories always make it into discussions. If you have watched enough of his work, you'll notice how the stories often revolve around the duality of characters. His stories have explored what it is like to exist with different personas in a single body like his film "Perfect Blue" (1997). It is a story of a pop idol, Mima that is disturbingly relatable to how we all spend time creating the best version of ourselves to be presented on the internet for people to see. We might not have lived the same story, but we do have different personas to show in various settings. And that's why when these terrible things happen in the film, it's difficult for you to distance yourself from them. The movie leaves you wondering if the real horror is in losing your sense of self not knowing if your thoughts are your own or if the personality you put forward for the world to see is taking over your reality.

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Another Satoshi Kon work that explored similar ideas and one of my personal favorites has to be "Paranoia Agent." Almost all the characters in Paranoia Agent are at risk of failing their responsibilities until they find themselves emotionally cornered because of their mental state. The characters find resolution in lying and blaming it all on an imaginary culprit created by the imagination of one of the characters. Paranoia Agent doesn't rely on the usual horror tropes like gruesome scenes, blood, gore, etc., to convey its message because it doesn't need to. It's about characters unable to deal with life, feeling distressed for things they can't control, and uncannily showing us a piece of ourselves in each of them. It's this familiarity that disturbs you to the core.

Paprika is another movie that needs to be mentioned when talking about escapism. The story revolves around how people find escape in dreams, shown mainly through the experiences of Toshimi Konakawa, who finds escape in his dreams. The film shows the horrors of living for too long in these escaping worlds and the horrifying consequences it can have. The movie gives us a check on how maybe the ghastliness of it all is in lying to ourselves or failing to admit our failures.

paranoia agent

Attack on Titan is known to be horrifying for its gruesome scenes and sad backstories. To live a life confined within walls and be scared of human-eating giants all your life is terrifying enough to begin with. As the show progresses, especially with Eren finding out about the coast of Marley and attacking the citizens of it, the show becomes more horrifying. The fear of the show comes from how well you understand it. You discover the real culprit to be the age-old stereotypes and widely accepted racism that everyone is a victim of in one way or another. Attack on Titan explores the idea of wars and how actions driven by hate lead to drastic consequences, also a mirror of real-world horror. The 2012 series "Tokyo Ghoul" also explores similar ideas. Kaneki Ken hates ghouls because they eat humans, only for him to realize how victims and oppressors are on both sides after becoming a one-eyed ghoul himself. This just has you wondering if the actual horror is having a black-and-white perception of the world. The horror isn't in living with your ignorant beliefs but in seeing the bigger picture, understanding the consequences, and still being unable to do anything about it.


The concept of "The Promised Neverland," about a group of orphans living happily in an orphanage until they discover that their caretaker is preparing them to be sold as human meat, is inherently frightening. It instills a hidden paranoia, reminding us that not everyone around us has our best interests at heart. The institutions meant to help us can also prey upon us. This reminds me of the Liore arc in "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" when Edward Elric exposes the religious cult created by Father Cornello. The population is divided between people who falsely believe in their religious convictions and those who do not, leading to conflict and a massacre. Despite having some terrifying plotlines, we wouldn't categorize "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" as a horror anime. However, the common thread in both of these storylines is the villains' ability to create a false sense of security and dependency among people who are vulnerable enough to fall for it. The horror is realizing that you are being controlled, manipulated, and used by those in power for their own gain. This brand of paranoia never seems to dissipate.


"Neon Genesis Evangelion" is another show that is a kaleidoscope of psychological horror cleverly hidden under the guise of a Mecha anime. Set in a modern dystopia where some children are forced to combat apocalyptic beings, we primarily view it through the perspective of Shinji Ikari who is reluctant to risk his life to save humanity from the apocalypse. It's not just a tale of aliens battling robots; it compels you to explore the internal psychological struggles of the characters involved. People shape their personalities based on past experiences, like Asuka, who was ignored as a child and now strives to earn praise and recognition as an adult. The unsettling feeling of having to confront your struggles alone each day, not knowing if there's an end in sight, is terrifying.

After watching the show, I went through what people often refer to as the post-NGE phase, where the disturbing plot and themes kept me awake for days. Asuka experiences one of the most harrowing fates in the show, not because she loses her final battle but because she didn't die gloriously. Perhaps the true horror lies in believing that only your responsibilities and the approval of others can give your life meaning, driving you to do anything in your power to attain it.


These anime series and films found me when I was on the verge of losing interest in horror, as I had a limited perspective of what horror could entail. In these most horrifying stories, I saw a reflection of the real world we inhabit, and what I find truly frightening is the fact that these stories aren't based on lore, these are just some of the many shows that stood out with their concepts. 

As different things can terrify different people, what does horror mean to you? Tell us in the comments below!

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