As the world begins to open up (somewhat), you’ve gotta start making the best choices for you and yours. Maybe the angel on your shoulder is telling you not to change anything and keep on with your sourdough baking and Animal Crossing islands. But maybe the demon on your shoulder is telling you to change things up and start some new anime.
On the chance that the latter is proving to be your Siren’s Call in a slowly vaccinating world, here’s a list of the top 27 best Demon Anime (in no particular order).
Demon Slayer (2019)
Demon Slayer has one of the most unique takes on demons in anime. Although the show’s demonic lore follows the trends of, “demons are evil and anti-human,” this anime adds nuance and depth to the mythology and the demonic characters. While watching, you’ll find demons who are more human, compassionate, courageous, and empathetic than the “good guys.” You’ll find yourself wondering: if these demonic characters are the scourges of the world and a danger to all, then maybe the societal idea of “goodness” is one that needs to be adjusted.
Or, if you’re not wanting to tussle with the philosophical questions of “good” and “evil,” perhaps you’re looking for a show that displays a healthy and loving brother-sister/human-demon relationship.
Or, perhaps you’re specifically looking for a show with beautiful, hand-drawn animation, a stunning soundtrack made by the magical genius Yuki Kajiura (.hack//Sign, Aquarian Age, Sword Art Online), and a wide cast of characters you can sink your teeth into and love.
If you’re looking for any of these things, then Demon Slayer can tick all those boxes.
(Also, Nezuko is the best character. Change my mind.)
The “Medicine Seller” is a deadly and mysterious master of the occult who travels across Feudal Japan in search of malevolent spirits called “mononoke” to slay. When he locates one of these spirits, he cannot simply kill it; he must first learn its Form, its Truth, and its Reason in order to wield the mighty Exorcism Sword and fight against it. He must begin his strange exorcisms with intense psychological analysis and careful investigative work—an extremely dangerous step, as he must first confront and learn about the mononoke before he even has the means to defeat it.”
Not only does it exist in a class all its own in that it’s a spinoff of a different show (Ayakashi ~ Japanese Classic Horror), but it’s one that goes, “Demons mean horror, right?” and runs with it. It’s not the type of horror anime that will necessarily give you nightmares, but it will make your skin crawl with discomfort and uncertainty and your brain whirl with possibilities.
The story is broken into five different arcs that focus on a different supernatural spirit (again, with that Japanese folklore! Gotta love it), but delves into their mythos in unique and surprising ways. Twist you would’ve never seen coming will play out across the screen, and I won’t be held accountable if you start shouting to yourself in your room.
The art (from style to color to inspirations) is stunning and unique.
The soundtrack (if you can call it that)? God-tier. The way the show plays with sound to skew your expectations will make you rethink everything you thought you once knew about music.
Although this may be a bit of an oddity on this list, don’t pass it up. If you give it a chance, you’ll either love it, or be terrified over its execution (or even both! It’s giving like that).
When it comes to demon anime, most otaku won’t hesitate to mention Inuyasha as a must-see. When Kagome Higurashi accidentally falls through a portal that takes her 500 years into the past (Feudal Era Japan), she ends up meeting a kaleidoscope of characters—demonic and human alike. Even though the grand majority of demons they come across have been tainted by their own negative emotions or by the Shikon Jewel shards (which, you could argue, then means their “villainy” is Kagome’s fault, as she’s the one who broke the jewel), the ones who are “good” elevate the whole show to a higher level.
It’s the side characters who are the ones you remember—the ones who stick with you long after the final credits roll. Sure, there are the demons in the main cast (Inuyasha, Shippō, Kirara, Kōga) that are memorable and hilarious, but the fact that Rumiko Takahashi (artist and author) then spent so much time on the hundreds of side characters as well…it’s masterful.
And it makes you think so much more widely than just the mainstream plot of Kagome’s journey, too. This show makes you question if perhaps, painting all demons with one brush is really the best course of action, or if—in fact—judging an individual on their deeds, rather than their species, is smarter.
Not to mention that Inuyasha, as a series, is a gift that keeps on giving; the sequel, Yasha-hime was released in late 2020, and follows the adventures of the Inuyasha protagonists’ children. So, if you don’t want the adventures in Feudal Japan to end, they don’t have to. Fall in love (again) with the characters you already know and love, as well as with some you’ve yet to meet, as well.
Chrono Crusade (2003)
“Set in New York during the 1920s, Chrono Crusade follows the story of Rosette Christopher, and her demon partner Chrono. As members of the Magdalene Order, they travel around the country eliminating demonic threats to society, while Rosette searches for her lost brother, Joshua.”
“Demons are evil, and humans are good,” you say!
If you say that, you’re wrong…
…at least that’s the case, when it comes to Chrono Crusade! This anime proves that sometimes, the true demons in your life are the humans you associate with. Sometimes, labeling a demon as such is a too-cruel-for-words misnomer. For example, Chrono, the demonic main character, is actually the textbook definition of a cinnamon roll; very little “demon-y” attributes here. In fact, despite (accidentally) being to blame for a lot of events of the series, the only crime Chrono committed was one of naivety/trusting the wrong person. And then he spent the course of the show trying to fix his mistakes.
Although there are humans in Chrono Crusade who are “good” (fewer of them than the in-media Church would have you believe) and there are demons who are “bad,” the show—through its animation, plot, and character arcs—argues that these labels are slapped onto some truly undeserving individuals, ones who are only into unfortunate situations.
Also, who doesn’t want to watch Chrono and Rosetta become everything to one another?
(i’m not crying, you’re crying)
Blue Exorcist/Ao no Exorcist (2011)
If you’re looking for demons that might feature in the Judeo-Christian Bible, look no further. The main character is literally Satan’s son.
You don’t get more Biblical than that.
Ao no Exorcist is another one on this list that makes you question whether or not demons are truly bad creatures. Sure, when left to their own devices in this universe, they may wreak havoc and murder people (to the point where an entire school to train Exorcists was built)—All right. Perhaps my love of Rin Okumura has blinded me to the faults of demons in this universe. But, in my defense, he’s just so easy to love! He’s a relatable, down-to-earth individual who is trying to navigate through his changed circumstances (let’s see you get slapped in the face with some half-demon heritage as your foster father is being murdered by your biological father), but he also doesn’t let the chaos of his life get him down for very long. And, adding to his relatability, the depiction of his relationship with his younger, twin brother is goals.
Their bond is unbreakable and pure, solidified by loyalty and love, but despite this, they still act like siblings. They both feel pent-up jealousy for the other for things outside of their control/that they feel they lack, and although their relationship is never 100% friendly, it is always positive.
tl;dr: If you’re looking for a story featuring familial love and how that concept tussles with ideas of duty and lineages, Ao no Exorcist is a show I highly recommend checking out.
Jujutsu Kaisen (2020)
“Negative human emotions—regret, bitterness, shame—are the source of all curses that infest the world and hide in everyday life, leading to death in the worst cases. Yuji Itadori, a particularly strong young man, attempts to save a friend from a curse and awakens to new, cursed powers after eating a finger from a very powerful curse. Because only a curse can eliminate another curse, Yuji’s career as a cursed person who must exorcise curses has now begun.”
Jujutsu Kaisen is a new anime (it just finished its first season!) that unexpectedly came for my heart. With a wacky cast, this show does something that few others have managed: the plot will spin you to dizzying highs and drag you to terrifying lows, all mixed in with comedic elements, fan-service, and The Hottest Blue-Eyed Man To Ever Be Drawn™. Although this sounds like a recipe for disaster, somehow, it works.
And Itadori’s role as a vessel for a dangerous curse/demon throws philosophical stakes into the plot as well. Just because he has a demon inside of him that wants to subjugate humanity and destroy the world doesn’t mean that he’s evil, right? So then, is it right for him to have to die to take the demon with him and save the world from its machinations?
(I hope the answer is no, but we’ll have to see how the show progresses!)
Not to mention that the animation is top-tier (MAPPA Studios, you never disappoint!) and the characterization is unmatched; particularly that of the female characters. Not only do many of them pass The Bechdel Test, but they then go on to discuss gender inequality and how much harder they have to work in order to receive even a shred of the recognition that the male characters are gifted.
Trigger Warning: gore, body horror, prostitution, disturbing images
“A young ronin named Hyakkimaru—along with a young urchin, Dororo—must face multiple demons in Sengoku-era Japan who have stolen his various body parts in order to get them back.”
The demons in Dororo are not nice. They are not friendly. They will not let you pass go and collect $200; instead, they will eat you and laugh over whatever remains of your corpse.
Dororo’s demons stand paramount out of the others on this list in that they are definitively evil. Their goal is to cause harm, full stop. Because the breadth of their cruelty-for-cruelty’s-sake is hard for most viewers to sympathize with, it paints them in a distant light, as if they’re saying, “We’ll far outlive the humans on the planet, so why not let them entertain us while they’re here?”
Additionally, short of the immediate pain of those demons when they’re killed by Hyakkimaru, the demons as a unit don’t appear bothered about being killed; in fact, on the rare occasions when a demon’s death leads to an emotional outbreak, said outbreak typically comes from the humans.
And that’s frightening. A creature that is so far beyond death to not fear it is, in my opinion, a true nightmare.
However, horrifying demonic entities aren’t all that Dororo offers. It also offers questions about humanity and what a life is worth; is a person actually a person if they’re missing body parts? Is a murderer a person? And, at the same time, it will make you question war, as it paints very realistic (animated) images of it and the widespread toll it takes on the world.
Finally—and most distressingly—it depicts a very clear Trolly Problem. If the death of one will save thousands, should that person roll over and die?
I’ve watched this show twice now, and I’m no closer to finding an answer.
Yu Yu Hakusho (1992)
Wrapping back around to the loveable demons, Yu Yu Hakusho is one of the best demon anime shows from its era. It’s the perfect encapsulation of the 90s, from the style of dress to the humor, and even the animation style.
At the start of the story, Yusuke Urameshi is a normal, fourteen-year-old delinquent who, in an uncharacteristic act of heroism, sacrifices his life to save a child. However, he’s then informed by the Grim Reaper (an advocate of The Spirit Realm, which is a parallel to Hell, except more bureaucratic) that it wasn’t actually his time to die, and that if he wants to come back to life, he’ll have to become a Spirit Detective (sort of like a cop for The Spirit Realm).
Of course, things don’t stay that clear-cut. Within his first mission, Yusuke manages to rope two demons into his crew and start a wild adventure that leads him into finding so. Many. More. Demons. (And many humans who he has amazing, relatable, and wholesome relationships with as well—I’m looking at you, Keiko and Genkai.)
But back to the demons.
Yusuke even ends up in a Demon Tournament. We’re talking demon fans, demon audience members, demon family members, demon opponents . . . Honestly, this show may, in fact, have the largest amount of demons per capita (if capita is episodes, of course).
If you’re looking for a show with more demons than you could possibly remember or notice, this is definitely the one to pick up. In fact, even characters you thought you knew might surprise you!
MAJOR SPOILER: Yusuke Urameshi himself. You thought he was a human boy? You thought wrong.
Kamisama Kiss/Kamisama Hajimemashite (2012)
One of the most definitively shojo shows on this list, Kamisama Kiss has everything a fan of the genre might be looking for: romance, humor, character depth, multiple love interests, and general tomfoolery.
And yes, before you ask, much of said tomfoolery comes at the hands of the demons in this show. They fall into one of two categories: they are either of the more friendly variety, or they won’t hesitate to murder anyone who looks at them wrong. (It’s always extremes on a spectrum, isn’t it?) Yet, despite the potential for murder, the show is generally relaxing and fun entertainment.
The humor in Kamisama Kiss is laugh-out-loud funny without ever crossing over into trite or overly-gag-filled. Despite this show having so many demons (many of which are pulled from Japanese lore, which is always a fun time), the humor grounds this show in such a way that you could imagine yourself in the main character’s shoes (minus the supernatural elements, of course).
From the first episode, where Nanami is tricked into become a god and taking over a semi-dilapidated shrine and its fox yōkai groundskeeper (who she is definitely going to fall in love with, come on), you’re invested. The art style is stunning and crisp while still evoking feelings of popular artistic styles, which meshes beautifully with the Japanese-centric and Japanese-inspired soundtrack.
If you’re looking for a lighthearted comedy that will leave you with warm feelings and a smile on your face, look no further. And, because it’s not as deep as others on this list, it holds extremely high re-watch value.
“Priests are paragons of virtue, and demons are evil.” Saiyuki takes that belief and says, “Hmm . . . I think not.” The premise is based on Journey to the West, but, as this is anime, there have been some . . . adjustments.
“Saiyuki is the story of four punk-like heroes: the monk Genjyo Sanzo, the monkey king Son Goku, the half-demon Sha Gojyo, and the man who turned into a demon Cho Hakkai. They have been dispatched by the Sanbutsushin (the Three Aspects of Buddha, who relay the orders of heaven) to travel to India to stop the possible resurrection of the Ox-Demon-King, Gyumaoh as well as halt the “Minus Wave,” a forbidden mix of magic and technology that is infecting all of the demons in Shangri-La with madness.”
It’s almost the same story if you squint?
All right, it’s quite different but no less entertaining for its differences.
I may be betraying quite a few others on this list, but Saiyuki has my favorite demons in all of anime. Son Goku (yes, pulled from the same myth that has given us Goku from Dragon Ball), Sha Gojyo, and Cho Hakkai are hilarious. Although some of their jokes haven’t aged well (some very terrible and outdated “no homo” situations, unfortunately), the ones that still land well will have you howling at your screen.
And demons aside, Genjyo Sanzo is absolutely everything you would never want in a monk. He smokes, he drinks, he curses, he uses a gun and has next-to-zero patience, but at the same time, his devotion to his religion is staggeringly deep. He’s a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a contradictory priest wrapping.
tl;dr: Saiyuki is “Four idiotic himbos travel West in a dragon-turned-jeep in an attempt to save the world from rampaging demons.” (Admit it, you laughed.)
Although demons are of unparalleled power and importance politically, environmentally, and mentally (for their human hosts) in Naruto, they don’t play a terribly active role in the forefront of the events o. But to make a list of demon anime and not have Naruto on it would be a crime.
There’s a reason why this show, one of the Shonen Jump Big Three, is still so popular nearly twenty years later (wow, that number made me feel old). Naruto has so much to offer to all of its viewers. There’s comedy, tragedy, drama, political intrigue, backstabbing, etc. If you gave me a list of anime tropes, I’m sure I could point out a fair few that exist in the show.
And don’t even get me started on the fighting sequences. Absolutely. Stunning.
One of the wonderful things about all of them is that, unlike other shonen anime that can ultimately be boiled down to, “I punched you harder, so I won,” Naruto’s characters frequently think on their feet mid-battle, which turns the bouts into, “Who, in this moment, is most successfully and creatively using their abilities to their fullest potential?” Because the battles are scripted through this lens, each fight is unique and awe-inspiring. They set a precedent for all fights that were produced concurrently and after.
Now, I could wax poetic about Naruto for a solid ten thousand words, but I’ll instead free you with this: I’m not sure how you could’ve possibly missed Naruto unless you’re brand new to anime, but in case you’re in that 1%, check this show out.
The Promised Neverland/Yakusoku no Neverland (2019)
Trigger Warning: body mutilation
The beginning of The Promised Neverland wastes no time in drawing a thick line in the sand: Demons Eat Children And That Is Bad. I mean, that’s pretty simple. Easy to get behind.
So then, of course, the second season of this anime decides to tip that on its side. Not to go into too much detail (to avoid spoilers!), but just as the events at the end of season one broadened the horizons of Emma and Co., their changed circumstances are quick to let them know that some things they considered Fact are not what they seem.
Of course, the music and animation for this show are of paramount excellence, weaving together as a visual and aural force powerful enough to practically be their own main characters. The small details, in-universe and out-, are what make this show a cut above the rest. Checking out the first season on this random Tuesday might be one of the best things you do for yourself this week.
(Fair warning, if you’ve finished season one and have access to the manga, I highly recommend reading that for season two, as the anime inexplicably skips a significant chunk of content.)
And yet, this list would be lacking without The Promised Neverland on it, perceived faults and all.
Seven Deadly Sins/Nanatsu no Taizai (2014)
In Seven Deadly Sins, the appearance of demons really sucker-punches you in the face. Demons are mentioned briefly as beings that once existed who were sealed away, but then, they return to start a full-blown demon war.
Yet clearly, not all of them were sealed. Although this is a slight spoiler, the leader of the Seven Deadly Sins, Meliodas, is a demon. Although he managed to avoid having his body locked into the demon realm, he chose to seal away his demon side and embrace his humanity.
And yet, does Meliodas’s rejection of his demon powers mean that he is no longer a demon at all? What is it that makes a person a demon: their blood? Their actions? Their powers? It’s questions like these you’ll find yourself asking while watching this show.
And the cast! This show does not want for a fully-fleshed out cast. In the first season, you meet most of the Sins. Then, the second season introduces Camelot and the Demons, but does so in a way that allows for you to feel like you’re getting decent screen time with all of the new additions. (Case in point, my younger sister has watched a sum total of one episode, and yet, she can recognize and name more than half of the main players.)
There are a great many reasons to watch Seven Deadly Sins, and I’m positive if you give it a shot, you’ll enjoy what I’ve presented and more.
Although never expressly called “demons” in the show, Noragami is another anime wherein the very existence of said creatures forms much of the backbone for the universe. There are good demons, bad demons, apathetic demons, and everything in between, which means that there’s a number of different facets to play with when it comes to the character motivations.
And yet, this show is so much more than the lore. It’s the idea of paving your own way and making your own connections, that’s right: it’s found family time.
Jokes aside, Noragami hammers home the idea that a found family can be just as real as a blood one. To the characters in this show, particularly the main three (Yato, Hiyori, and Yukine), it doesn’t matter who’s a fallen god, who’s a demon, and who’s a human; their differences aren’t what makes them strong. Instead, it’s their connections to each other that give them power. And it’s this strength and faith in one another that allows the trio to save one another over and over and over again, even when the deck is stacked heavily against them.
This show also explores ideas of bonds in life and bonds in death, and how the connections you’ve made and actions you’ve taken while in life don’t just stop when you die. It’s powerful, it’s poignant, and it might utterly shatter your worldview before rebuilding it anew. It’s beautiful.
If you’ve been sleeping on Noragami, wake up.
D. Gray Man (2006)
Perhaps one of the more underrated shows on this list, D. Gray Man is definitely one to check out. Although it may seem like a generic shonen anime on the surface (and does follow a number of those tropes), it also offers something many other shonen anime doesn’t: extreme character depth outside of “must get stronger to protect my loved ones” and realistic powerups. Although it has a bit of a slow start, the payoff for giving it the space to breathe and find its footing is unparalleled. The music, the art style (I could write a multi-page essay on the artists’ use of color alone), the character arcs, and the later pacing is memorable to the extreme.
Unfortunately, the anime was cancelled after 126 episodes, but the manga exists for those fans who love the show and want to experience it to its intended conclusion. And it’s still ongoing, so you can catch up with the backlog and then wait for new content like the rest of us poor souls.
Black Butler/Kuroshitsuji (2008)
Attractive, demonic butlers. Contracts where the currency is your soul. An intelligent main character who acts more like a puppeteer than a preteen. Victorian high societal politics. If any of these sound interesting, Black Butler is the show for you.
“In Ciel Phantomhive’s past lies a secret tragedy that enveloped him in perennial darkness—during one of his bleakest moments, he formed a contract with Sebastian, a demon, bargaining his soul in exchange for vengeance upon those who wronged him. Today, Sebastian is the perfect servant to carry out his master’s orders—all the while anticipating the delicious meal he will eventually make of Ciel’s soul. As the two work to unravel the mystery behind Ciel’s chain of misfortunes, a bond forms between them that neither heaven nor hell can tear apart.”
That squeal you heard when you uttered the words, “Black Butler?” That was me, shattering windows in an attempt to curb my desire to gush ad nauseum about this show. Its plot is unique to the extreme and bolstered by how realistic its art style makes the setting feel. It takes place in Victorian Era London and can easily boast a well-drawn art style with clean, uniquely designed characters with depth and understandable motivations. And the soundtrack???? Near-perfection. Here, listen.
Not to mention that Ciel is a one-of-a-kind main character. Although he’s only a child, he’s so committed to his revenge and he doesn’t let people look down on him. It’s exciting to have such a young protagonist who is vengeful, unashamed of his goals, and willing to use his skills to manipulate London High Society to do his bidding.
On the one hand, Ciel’s ability to do so speaks to a frightening amount of intelligence, but also a lonely existence. When the only person who truly understands you is the demon that’s waiting to consume your soul, can you say you’re being fulfilled?
And Sebastian? Oh, he’s one hell of a butler.
Phantom Thief Jeanne/Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne (1999)
(Same creator as Searching for a Full Moon, which was highlighted in our picks for the best fantasy anime shows.)
Is it wacky? Yes. Will it make you cry? Quite possibly.
It’s anime, so of course, it’s going to toe the line of oddities, but Phantom Thief Jeanne really sort of leans into the idea of oddities while still managing to keep it serious. Yes, let’s give the not-so-normal high-schooler who has been mostly abandoned by her parents a mission from God to stop demons from overtaking humanity! But the only way to stop them…is to exorcise them from works of art?
Phantom Thief Jeanne gives you all the fun things you know and expect from a magical-girl anime (even if the monsters Maron fights are unique) and uses those things as a tool to discuss fantastical representations of Angels and Demons in a way that remains enjoyable and memorable.
And no shojo would be complete without genre-specific romance; you can watch Maron deal with relationship woes during the day, and thievery at night. Definitely meant for younger audiences who may still be of the belief that good and evil are black and white opposites without any gray areas in between. But for all that Maron is a thief, she’s also loyal, friendly, understanding, and a genuinely stannable role model for those watching the show.
3×3 Eyes (1991)
Trigger Warning: gore, violence
“3X3 Eyes is the story of a young man named Yakumo Fuuji, who through a strange series of events becomes the immortal slave of the last of a race of 3-Eyed demons. The demon absorbs his soul to save his life, making him immortal in the process. Now, he begins a journey with the female demon, Pai, in an attempt to find a way of becoming human. Of course, there are many complications along the way, not the least of which being that the demon is a female with a split personality, one achingly cute and the other being no-nonsense destructive power, and the romances that develop between.”
Although the animation for this series consists solely of seven episodes across two OVAs, the manga spans far and wide, with a story arc to match. Although this one may be unfamiliar to most readers, it remains near-and-dear to my heart. It was one of the first stories I watched that dealt with relatively “adult” themes and depictions, as well as grotesque and vivid violence (characteristic of 80s media, when the manga began serialization). 3×3 Eyes was awe-inspiring, terrifying, and eye-opening.
Not to mention that this story, following two people who are weak and strong in turns and who only wish to protect the other . . . it was heartbreakingly real to teen-me. Remove the demons and you’d be stuck with two teens blundering through their lives towards a destination that never felt real.
(Real-life parallel…puberty and that post-high school life. There, I said it.)
The OVAs give you just enough to taste the story and get a feel for the characters, as well as leave you wanting more. They’re fast-paced without lots of explanation, which means they have more time to delve into the idea of humanity and what it might mean to try and retrieve that which has been lost.
Perhaps this show only made the list for the nostalgia factor, but I doubt you’ll be disappointed if you check this out.
Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle/Maoujou de Oyasumi (2020)
I. Relate. To. Suya. So. Much.
The world is collapsing around my ears? Perhaps I could sleep, and when I wake up, it’ll be better.
Suya, upon being kidnapped, doesn’t panic or worry about it too much. Instead, she’s angry that the Demon Lord has he’s given her subpar sleeping materials. In this situation, what would any self-respecting princess do?
Murder anything that might increase the quality of these furnishings. Heading down a life of chaos in order to catch those sweet Zzzs? That’s my girl. She’s driven and easy to relate to.
Luckily, as this anime doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s a perfect one to relax to. Soothing voice actors, low-stakes obstacles, and a lively art style, this show is perfect for scratching that stress-itch that appears after working those long, ten-hour days.
Devil is a Part-Timer/Hataraku Maou-sama! (2013)
Another one that skews more towards comedy than actual plot on this list, The Devil is a Part-Timer is another show that has fun playing with the genre it’s meant to inhabit. Hands down one of the wackiest premises (but not besting Phantom Thief Jeanne), this show follows the demon lord, Satan, who flees his magical land in the middle of a war, only to end up in the human world.
With no clout, little magic, and no way of living, said demon lord decides he needs to find a way to survive in this new world . . . meaning he fakes an identity as Sadao Maou, gets a job at fantasy-McDonalds, and becomes determined to climb the corporate ladder.
Yet, despite how silly it might seem on the surface, The Devil is a Part-Timer is yet another anime that asks you to tussle with the idea about what is truly demonic and what is human; are those two things truly that different? Perhaps they’re just two sides to the same coin. Sadao shows more compassion and empathy for his coworkers and the random humans he encounters than the so-called “good” guys, to the point where more than a few of them switch sides and ally with him.
(You know you’re doing something wrong when your allies find literal Satan to be the better choice.)
This show is full of humor and mostly ignores romance; it knows what it does and it knows how to do it well. Why deviate from the path if it works? If you’re looking for a show that will rope you in with laughter and then stab you in the feels with emotional growth, look no further.
Also, Sadao named his bike Dullhan. Is there anything better?
The Betrayal Knows My Name/Uragiri wa Boku no Namae wo Shitteiru (2010)
“Growing up as an orphan, Yuki Sakurai questions his reason for living and ability to see a person’s painful memory by simply touching them. After receiving anonymous notes telling him to die, Yuki is unable to shake off the nagging feeling forming inside of him. Unbeknownst to him, he is being watched, both by people who want to harm him and those who want to protect him.
One foggy night, Yuki’s life is saved by a beautiful man with silver eyes and jet black hair—a man he has never met before yet seems familiar. With the arrival of this mysterious stranger, Yuki’s forgotten past has been awakened and the purpose of his existence has appeared before him.“
The Betrayal Knows My Name follows Yuki Sakurai and Luka Crosszeria, who were lovers in Yuki’s past life (during which he was female).
Get yourself a partner that will follow you through all of your lifetimes and reincarnations, am I right?
But, in all seriousness, despite how integral their mysterious love connection is, the story stands on its own merit. It doesn’t pull any punches from the outset, making Yuki deal with some of the most negative human emotions and yet come out on the other side of the ordeal innocent and willing to believe in others. (Yes, Yuki is a worthy challenger for Chrono’s cinnamon roll title.)
Through a series of events (and a long-lost brother!), Yuki ends up with a found family of demon hunters (some of which are demons who work on their side). And this family he’s found? So well characterized. Rather than 2D side characters who have as much plot weight as window dressing, they breathe so much additional life into this story, highlighting how Yuki is finding different types of love (romantic and familial).
Trigger Warning: body mutilation, blood, gore, violence
“When a shapeshifting demon with a thirst for human flesh, known as “youma,” arrives in Raki’s village, a lone woman with silver eyes walks into town with only a sword upon her back. She is a “Claymore,” a being manufactured as half-human and half-youma, for the express purpose of exterminating these monsters. After Raki’s family is killed, the Claymore saves his life, but he is subsequently banished from his home. With nowhere else to go, Raki finds the Claymore, known as Clare, and decides to follow her on her journeys.”
Perhaps it’s the unique art style or perhaps it really does come down to the subject matter, but Claymore sits as an anime that’s a cut above the rest. It’s grim, it’s dark, and in most cases, feels viscerally hopeless. The resigned acceptance Clare exudes at her eventual fate—murder at the hands of a trusted friend—is evident in almost every scene. She knows she’s a tool meant to be disposed of at the proper time. The only light in her life is Raki, who proves to be her most loyal companion. He takes the role of Clare’s late-mother figure, who was willing to burn down the world, no matter the cost to her or others, in order to make sure Clare was safe.
However, this show stays relatively realistic (within the guidelines of its own narrative rules) and doesn’t leave the task of being Clare’s optimism solely on the shoulders of a child. As the story delves further into Clare’s organization and shines light on other Claymores, her support network grows.
As has been said before, it takes a village to raise a child. Although there is no village and no child, the adage still works to explain Clare’s emotional journey in Claymore.
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan/Nuraihyon no Mago (2010)
Don’t let the (amazing, yet simple!!!) art style confuse you. Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan has more depth than people would, perhaps, attribute to a show that looks like it’s “meant for children.” Another slow starter, this show introduces the viewer to a wide cast of characters (many, again, based in Japanese lore) through the lens of Rikio. They support him—mostly—in his determination to remove himself from the clan’s dealings, no matter that it would leave them somewhat in a lurch.
And the same can be said for Rikio.
It’s inspiring, in a way, to watch as Rikio goes from wanting to distance himself from his demon genetics to embracing them in order to protect his family. Seeing the growth of a reluctant protagonist who grows into his own is always a treat, and Rikio’s journey doesn’t disappoint. Wary though he may have been about following in his family’s footsteps, the moment it became a choice between his family’s safety and his wishes, his true values shined through.
I just love this little bean, okay?
Also, any show Jun Fukuyama (Rikio’s voice actor) is in is bound to be good.
Berserk/Kenpuu Denki Berserk (1997)
Trigger Warning: violence, gore, rape, assault
DISCLAIMER: This is about the 1997 version, not the 2016 one!
If the series description and trigger warnings didn’t make it clear, Berserk deals with heavy themes and events. Grimdark doesn’t begin to cover some of the stuff that occurs in this show. And yet, in a strange way, that’s part of the show’s charm (if you can call it that). The show knows that life isn’t easy—that sometimes, people have to fight for their survival no matter the cost to others—and it refuses to shy away from that fact.
It’s shown even more so with the main character. Despite his fighting prowess and large stature, Guts is so very, painfully, human in his actions. He doesn’t know the right answer to succeed in life, and he hopes that his actions are enough to make his existence worthwhile. All he knows how to do is put one foot in front of the other on his path and hope that his choices are the right ones . . . except, in a world where “right” and “wrong” aren’t as delineated as black and white, his only option is to flounder towards an uncertain future.
As all humans do.
Natsume’s Book of Friends/Natsume Yuujinchou (2008)
Would you like to cry? Yes or yes? This was the warning I was given, and I didn’t listen. And, I absolutely cried.
The story of Natsume’s Book of Friends is more atmosphere and characterization than plot, and its widespread resonance with its audience is unparalleled because of this. Natsume is the protagonist who has the powers and doesn’t want them . . . but, since he’s stuck with them anyway, he might as well use them for good.
When you look at a character and reduce them to their base parts, and when those base parts are, “Let me help others so that they don’t suffer like I do,” you’ve found someone who is the closest one can get to “perfect.”
(Yes, this boy is joining the Cinnamon Roll Ranks™.)
From the revolving cast of characters (hello again, Japanese folklore!) with their own desires and motivations, as well as the simplistic art and music that allow for the heart of the show to take up, Natsume’s Book of Friends is a masterpiece.
If you’re looking for a show that will make you feel the wild gamut of emotions, you should immediately queue up Natsume’s Book of Friends.
Ushio to Tora (2015)
I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with Ushio to Tora…and then Ushio threw a punch at his father, only to receive one back.
I was hooked. I don’t think I want to examine what it says about me that seeing a father and son come to blows—as a way of showing their affection—got me all giddy. But it did a ton of customization in a scant amount of time, and I was here for Ushio’s adventures.
Also, thank goodness that Ushio has half a brain on him. When he entered the basement and found the feral-looking demon who threatened to eat him, he turned around and left.
Which other shonen protagonists will leave to avoid danger? Think on it. I’ll wait.
Despite its 2015 release, Ushio to Tora feels old in that nostalgic way that you want to use as a blanket on sad days. Despite the high stakes of having released a bunch of demons (oops), the tone of the show is familiar, as if it’s telling you to sit back, relax, and trust it to show you a good time. (And you know it’ll be a good time because MAPPA [the studio behind Yuri on Ice and Punch Line] touches it with their genius hands.)
The Morose Mononokean/Fukigen na Mononokean (2016)
The Morose Mononokean exists in a similar space to Natsume’s Book of Friends. But where you might expect another atmospheric show which will gleefully rip your heart out in a long, drawn-out procedure, The Morose Mononokean’s shorter episode span (26 over two seasons), forces a quicker and more engaging pace from the first episode.
Perhaps the creators knew that some of their audience would be coming from Natsume, so they decided to just jump into the action.
Or, perhaps, the natures of Hanae and Abeno allowed them to make the most of their shorter space: when the two protagonists are working towards the same goal from page one (in this case, both of them want to help demons), it really puts a rush order on things.
Whatever the reason, it’s this speed that allows for the short-lived character-driven plot (centering on Abeno) to gain screen time midway through the first season, while also giving the show space to develop Hanae and Abeno’s friendship from boss and employee to trusted friends.
Oh, and although this isn’t a Boy’s Love anime—or, even a romance at all—the undertones are there, and they are impeccable (if that’s something that interests you)!
Honorable mentions: High School DxD, The Misfit of Demon King Academy, How Not to Summon a Demon Lord, and Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood.