Nigel, AKA Bubblegum Senpai was voted most likely to die due to accident involving a cuddle pillow. Haruhi Suzumiya for Life.
Horror as Art
Everyone loves a good scare, right? Well, for anime fans, it's no different. Horror in anime and manga have been around almost as long as the art form has been, and while it has a lot in common with your traditional Western fare, there's also a lot of things about horror in anime and manga that are quite unique. We could also discuss other mediums on Japanese horror, such as films including Ju-on and Ringu, and if you've seen them or their Western adaptations, you may find some similarities.
Generally speaking though, horror in anime tends to be more philosophical and narrative driven. Even short stories, such as Pupa or The Enigma of Amigara Fault tell a full story. That's not to say there aren't traditional elements of horror. Junji Ito is a master of using jump-scares in comic books, through excellent use of body horror and timing certain images around page turns. Read Splat or Uzumaki as great examples of his craft bringing horror to one of the highest art forms.
The title doesn't kid around. In the world of anime and manga, there is much to fear even in the mundane, from twisted shapes, to holes in a fault line, to vampires, curses, mutants, even fellow students, the story doesn't need to scare you (though it often does). It just needs you to believe the characters are scared and make you believe that the characters are justified in being scared, even scared of things or people that are quite ordinary.
Of course, a lot of horror in anime and manga also centers around gore and violence, and many of the following series are no exception, but this rarely ever takes away from the narrative of the stories. Note, the following shows may contain graphic violence. View at your own discretion.
What's going to kill you: Mutant siblings and mad scientists.
Let's get the absolutely weird stuff out of the way. Pupa is a short horror series, with each episode being about four minutes in length. The premise surrounds two siblings, an older brother Utsutsu, and younger sister Yume, who had been infected with the pupa virus. The effects of the virus differ between the two. For Yume, she turns into a monster with cicada-like wings with a taste for human flesh and Utsusu as it turns out has an ability to heal rapidly from wounds, even wounds that cause him death. The obvious compromise is that in order to prevent her from turning into a monster, he lets her eat him.
The odd thing about this series is not the cannibalism, however. It's how it's portrayed. In places like a public restroom, a bed, and an hidden area of the school they attend, the scenes are portrayed in a rather erotic manner. Erotic cannibalism is disturbing enough, but remember, these are siblings.
Yeah, you ever seen Nisenmonogatari? The toothbrush scene? Pupa responds to that with "Hold my saké, I got this."
There's also a subplot surrounding a woman who studies them early in the series, and she's carrying the child of these siblings as a surrogate mother. That subplot seems to just go away after episode 6 with no resolution.
Pupa isn't bad, despite these things. But it's not good either. It's not particularly scary, though there are moments where the main characters are definitely frightened and should be. However, with little horror to disturb the audience, the writers chose a different method of disturbing the audience. Be warned, though the animation quality is intentionally poor - just as a stylistic option that suits the story, it is still very bloody and gory. This is not for kids.
What's going to kill you: Vampires. Or frightened villagers, depending on who you think are the good guys or bad guys.
Shiki is a personal favorite of mine. Part horror, part cautionary tale. It's a rather philosophical series that says a lot about humanity and a community faced with a crisis. It's kind of like Lord of the Flies but for adults.
In Sotoba, a small village isolated by three mountains and only one road connecting to the main highway, a family moves into the long abandoned mansion at the edge of the village. Shortly after, a young girl in the village gets diagnosed with anemia. Though it seems like nothing serious, it proves fatal. Soon after more villagers begin dying of this strange anemia, linked to what looks like an insect bite.
Some villagers even swear they saw the deceased. But what's initially brushed off as grief turns serious as the number of sightings increases. When the wife of the only doctor in the village succumbs to the anemia he discovers that the rumours of the shiki—a type of vampire—turn out to be true.
This anime is pretty deep, surprisingly. As a battle builds between the shiki and the remaining villagers, the audience is guided to change their sympathies. The shiki are monsters in a traditional sense, but the shiki maintain their personalities from when they were alive, their memories, they even create a community and maintain social bonds and feelings. They feel distraught, love, heartache, and pain—both emotional and physical. While one can't fault the surviving villagers for wanting to survive, the fact that they view the shiki as nothing more than monsters, as if they were never human, shows just how depraved humans really are, and that's the question Shiki leaves us with: are humans the real monsters?
Parasyte -the Maxim-
What's going to kill you: Aliens microorganisms.
Parasyte -The Maxim- is a series about an species of aliens that try to feed by taking over human brains and using them as hosts, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Shinichi, a high school student, is our unlucky protagonist though, in which a parasite alien has difficulty getting into his brain and instead burrows into his hand. This results in Shinichi still maintaining control of his brain while his hand now has a mind of its own, possessed by the alien he names Migi.
Now other aliens—known as Parasites—have come down and started taking human hosts so they can feed. Shinichi and Migi now need to help each other to survive as they are both hunted in this unusual invasion.
A good series, it is more of a "what you see is what you get" story. Violence and gore abound in this series and it doesn't get any deeper than the idea of two people who should be enemies work together to survive and possibly become friends. That isn't a bad thing. Not every anime has to be deep and layered. It tells a good story that won't be expanded upon here because of spoilers, and if violence is your thing, this series has tons of it. If you like your horror a bit more on the action/thriller side, then give this show a watch.
What's going to kill you: Everyone, but namely your waifu.
In anime there seems to be an obsession with making school-aged children kill each other. Future Diary is one of those series. 14 year old Yukiteru has an imaginary friend called Deus, who offers Yuki a chance to change his life. Yuki has been keeping his diary in his phone and Deus—who it turns out is the actual God of space and time—grants his phone the ability to tell the future via diary entries as if he had written them himself. However, the final entry predicts his death.
Deus, as it turns out, granted future predicting diaries to a number of people. Now they must use their diaries to prevent their predicted deaths and to ensure there is only one survivor. The catch? Yuki's new girlfriend Yuno is also a diary holder, and will let absolutely nothing keep her and Yuki apart. Not even Yuki himself.
Future Diary is the classic yandere anime. Yandere—a trope where a character is both adorably loving, and murderously obsessed—hit its peak in popularity around the time this anime adaptation came out, and while Yuno is by no means the first, she became synonymous with the term and popularized the character archetype in the west, kind of like the Nintendo of the genre. And it's no wonder why. She's sweet, loving, makes Yuki feel appreciated, and is absolutely unapologetically violent and manipulative.
While it leans closer to action/thriller than to horror, it is still a horror anime at it's roots. It routinely leads you one direction, making you comfortable you know what's coming and then by the time you realize you're in a trap it's too late. And I'm not talking about Yuno anymore. I'm talking about what the series does to you as a viewer, and that's before the major plot twist.
Ultimately, Future Diary does one thing well: It's not designed to scare you, the audience. It's designed to scare its characters. But it doesn't make it comfortable for the viewers as the characters do just enough to make you cheer for them before making you suddenly question your loyalties throughout the entire series.
What's going to kill you: A curse.
Koichi transfers to a new school away from the big city while his father is away on research. In his class is a young girl who everyone seems to act as though she isn't there. It turns out that their particular class is cursed, and to appease the spirit, every year one student is singled out for the class to pretend doesn't exist, out of fear that the spirit of a deceased student will feel replaced. Misaki Mei is the unlucky student this year. Koichi, feeling this is unfair, and having also met Mei at a hospital visit, ignores these warnings and suddenly students and faculty start dying.
At first Koichi is blamed for the curse by breaking the rules and befriending Mei. Then blame shifts to Mei for being responsible for the curse. Can Koichi and Mei find out who or what is really behind the curse before it destroys the whole class?
Another personal favorite (pardon the pun), Another is a horror series that follows more popular Japanese horror works, such as Ringu (The Ring) and similar works. While it certainly has no shortage of violence, it is also more subdued in many parts, with a storyline centered mainly on trying to end a paranormal event through detective work. A story built mainly on suspense and ensuring the suspense pays off, the writing was designed to not telegraph too much, leaving audiences guessing. This doesn't mean that some things won't be predictable, but that at most times throughout the show there's a sense of "it could go this way, or this way, or this way and I don't know which." Even some of the deaths sometimes feel like that. Some of the deaths just happen, and others have a fairly long Rube Golbderg build, like Final Destination where you see something coming, but aren't entirely sure what.
Of course, that doesn't mean it isn't formulaic. Like other Japanese horror-mysteries it hits all the usual beats. But that doesn't make it any less enjoyable, and in fact, is rather quite enjoyable, and frightening. If suspense is your thing, you can stream the series on many licensed sites such as Crunchyroll, but if you want all the violence that goes with it, spring for the DVD release.
Scratching the Surface
Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive list and may not even include the best ones! If you have another series you enjoy, please leave your recommendations in the comments. This is a list of "must see horror" after all, so if you know something others "must see" then do tell us about it, and why you recommend it!