I consider myself an anime and gaming enthusiast, from chess and checkers to Yu-Gi-Oh TCG, console gaming, and beyond.
When One Becomes a Monster
Anime heroes come in many different shapes, sizes, and ideologies. From the wimpy yet endearing harem leads who take the lady’s punches while taking your favorite waifus, to the blood soaked anti-heroes who will save or murder you depending on what side of the bed they fell off that morning, no other hero attracts your attention more than one dealing with the duality of man and monster.
An internal struggle traceable to the classic days of horror, a person’s battle to keep their inner demons under control not only adds psychological depth to a hero, but also makes them more relatable. Even if you or the writer don’t risk transforming into a hulking behemoth and feeding on the masses, we all fight within ourselves to bless or curse the world when we feel forced into a corner. However, what happens when it feels one isn’t given a choice in the transformation, that life’s circumstances are pushing us into becoming the monsters everyone claims we are?
The following shows, in the author’s opinion, are the top ten anime where the hero deals with the internal struggle in choosing between remaining themselves or becoming a literal monster. Unfortunately, any heroes that remain human, keep similar properties to their previous state, were monsters to begin with. Those who enter a berserk rage for a short period of time without risking a permanent, monstrous shift don’t qualify for this list.
1. Naruto Shippuden
A not so highly acclaimed sequel to a highly acclaimed series, Naruto Shippuden continues the chronicles of a self-righteous ninja where the only thing louder than his speeches of dreams and friendship is the orange outfit he proudly wears. Even though the sequel suffers from inconsistent villains and lengthy battles that would make a seasoned Dragon Ball Z fan wince, it still carries the struggle within between man and monster with Naruto’s inner battle for control against a powerful demon sealed inside him from birth: The Ninetailed Fox, or as the elitists love to dub it: The Kyuubi. The demon fox taking less of an antagonistic role in the second half than the first, Naruto eventually has to decide between a new power inherited from his former master or to trust the power of the demon within him. Which road does he take? You’ll have to suffer through the 4th Great Ninja War to find out ;). But seriously, Naruto isn’t as bad as your friend who binge watches Serial Experiments Lain and wrote that dissertation on a psychoanalytic analysis of Angel’s Egg thinks it is. Go watch an episode or ten and decide for yourself… Or a possessed 4-tailed Naruto will wreck your house.
2. Attack on Titan
Who doesn’t wish they could turn into a 20-foot behemoth when someone pisses them off? Such wishes are a reality for Eren Jaeger, the protagonist of Attack on Titan. Traumatized as a child for seeing his mom getting turned into a morning snack by the giants this anime is getting its attack on… on, Eren decides to strut on the tightrope of antihero by having only one goal in mind: to murder every single Titan moving. To completely genocide them. Well, there was also something about getting tired of humans being hunted to near extinction and desiring to see the world outside the walled hovel humanity now calls home... but mostly to genocide all the Titans. As luck would have it, Eren Jaeger suffers from Protagonist Syndrome, which guarantees him a past he can’t remember and the hidden power to turn into one of the badass monsters he hates so much. Combine this with the destitution and angst the characters experience making the emotional conflict in the show appear genuine, and Eren struggling to discover what he is while learning how to not turn his teammates into lunch when he transforms, and you have a halfway decent show on your hands (Actually, the writer believes this show is very good.) Speaking of giant monsters…
3. Dragon Ball
Unless you’ve been living under a rock in a box on top of a 50-foot shop, everyone’s heard of Dragon Ball Z, the show that saved anime in America in the mid 90s. Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Yu-Gi-Oh fans, please put your hands down; the awesome anime fans are talking. However, the writer has always had a grudge with his contemporaries concerning this all-time classic. Take away the Z and add a GT, and everyone gets pissed. Take away the Z for a Super, and everyone gets hype. Unfortunately, when you take away the Z and add… nothing, people stare more dumbfounded than an amnesia patient held prisoner in a clean room. Dragon Ball is anime that started it all, when Yamcha had a debilitating fear of women, Krillin was a threat as Goku’s rival, Piccolo was more evil than maternal, and Bulma would show you her cha-cha to get what she wants. Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? Despite all these facts which seem like a distant fanfic compared to the Dragon Ball Super of today, the most surprising was Goku’s ability to turn into a giant, rampaging monkey on the night of the full moon. A tantrum making a Titan onslaught look like toddlers arguing over toys, Goku’s Giant Ape transformation was so formidable he killed Grandpa Gohan, his adopted father, during one of his rampages, and the only way Master Roshi could deal with the problem was to obliterate the moon (All the deaths caused by the sudden tidal and climate changes were a small price to pay, right?). It was only later in DBZ when our heroes learned removing a Saiyan’s tail from the root prevented the transformation, and ended the threat of Goku getting the worse case of full-moon madness while going on moonlit strolls.
Man, how the mighty have fallen. You loved Bleach, the writer loved Bleach, everyone loved Bleach. It was the anime with the most boring protagonist ever but a party of interesting, eccentric side characters you wouldn’t want to miss for the world. Then the fillers, anime jargon for episodes steering away from the central conflict or the source material’s original path, came. We got more filler than a cheap Chinese restaurant using more flour than meat in their dishes, more filler than an Apple pie baked to perfection, filled with air. Bleach followed the journey of protag Ichigo Kurosaki to rescue his perpetually damsel in distress friends while killing evil spirits who refused to pass on, called Hollows, on the side. Watching Ichigo discover he has the abilities of everyone he meets, like he’s the most overpowered supermutt ever bred, may at times seem as fun as watching a puddle of Bleach dry, but one ability made Ichigo just as incredible as his more interesting, Soul Reaper colleges: his ability to turn into a Hollow. At first barely able to control himself, Ichigo’s hollowfication begins with him wearing a mask fit for a horror movie while a split personality mercilessly slashes through any perceived threats. During his further stages, he becomes a berserker completely unrecognizable from his human self where only the power of friendship can bring back his sanity. Bleach may have become one of the most despised, biggest anime you’ve ever heard of, with some hardcore believers still clinging to the Save Rukia and the Arrancar Arcs as its saving graces, but there is one thing any anime fan will agree on: You don’t want to get on the bad side of a Hollowed Ichigo.
It’s pretty common to find anti-heroes in any medium nowadays, but you’ll have to dig a little deep in an online forum if you desire some villain-protagonists who believe their actions are righteous. Rarer than a two-headed gecko is the anime protagonist who completely embraces the dark side. In the anime Overlord, the story’s lead finds himself trapped in his favorite RPG with all the NPCs in the game, including those tasked with protecting his team’s guild, now sentient. What sets Overlord apart from your run-of-the-mill-trapped-in-a-game storyline is one teeny detail: Every NPC and player in their guild had to be a monster. In the worst case of the old wives’ tale that if-you-keep-making-that-face-it’ll-get-stuck-like-that, the longer our Skeletor-obsessed lead finds himself trapped in his monstrous state, the more his personality transforms to fit the character he’s stuck as, from feelings of compassion becoming dry-boned apathy, to his libido dying quicker than a dead man’s… well you get the idea. Finding yourself trapped in the body of an undead in your favorite RPG may seem like a condemnation to virtual hell, but the writer gets a feeling Lord Ainz is making the most of his situation by being a high level wizard, commanding his own guild of powerful monsters, and having a hot 2nd in command who he accidentally programmed to fawn over his every move.
6. Is This a Zombie?
Not all monsters are created equal. Some are big, some are small, some are eldritch horrors befitting an H.P. Lovecraft story, some are boringly unrecognizable from us humans, some are ferocious and deadly, and then some just want to have an easy life while making us laugh our butts off. Ayumu Aikawa, the hero of Is This a Zombie?, fits the farthest latter of the group. An ordinary high school boy who just wants to live in peace, his life takes a turn for the crazy when he gets murdered by a serial killer. As luck would have it, Lady Hellscythe, an extremely broken necromancer who’s taken a vow of silence for reasons the writer can’t explain for fear of getting jumped by anti-spoiler advocates, happened to be walking by upon his demise, so she revived him as a zombie. It seems like a situation falling from bad to worse, but Ayumu gets a good deal with his special brand of zombification, considering he eats normal food, lacks the safety limiters normal humans have on their strength, can’t be killed, and can transform into a magical girl. Yes, that last part wasn’t a typo. Add in other dilemmas like horny monsters, magical girls wielding talking chainsaws, and busty vampire-ninjas, and you have a recipe for Ayumu's disaster but our hilarious enjoyment.
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7. Parasyte: The Maxim
Ever seen The Thing? Please follow the writer’s advice and do the following for maximum enjoyment: Watch The Thing in a room with no lights, the curtains down and secured, no one else in the room with you, and the volume turned to 100%. Go ahead; I’ll wait…. Now imagine that experience in anime form. Parasyte follows the hollowing tale of humie Shinichi Izumi living a world suddenly invaded by shape-shifting creatures who replace humans by consuming their heads and then replacing them like the sickest version of mini-Voltron you’ve ever seen. The bad news for our plot’s hero is he gets attacked by one of these Parasytes; the good news is he stops it from reaching his head by cutting the circulation to his arm. Having an actual face attached to one’s hand appears terrifying and downright weird for a plot, but wouldn’t be enough to earn it a slot on this list. After all, if that was the case, then Midori Days would be a qualifier… Shinichi later gets saved after suffering a mortal wound from another Parasyte, so his decides to preserve its existence by transferring some of its parts to its host. After such, Shinichi begins his journey of angst as he becomes more like the emotionless, logical, powerful creature supplanting his hand. Parasyte was an interesting watch raising many social questions concerning the dilemma of other species sharing this world with us, but there is only one true question the writer thinks we should be asking ourselves: Is having super strength, super speed, and a logical, emotionless method to quickly analyze situations with a genius, transformable hand as a sidekick worth all the trauma Shinichi endured? You can form your own opinion, but the writer is going with no. No it wasn’t.
Come on, people. We can’t have a Monster Mash without a vampire or two, now can we? Widely considered the best vampire in any medium and the most badass in animedom, Arucard comes to mind when anyone thinks of the horrible make-me-want-to-stab-my-eyes-out original series followed by the Oh-my-God-I-want-to-marry-this-series-from-its-awesomeness OVA. Not even the pain of enduring the original anime could stop otaku boys and girls from staring wide-eyed at his love of cruelty, cocky demeanor, and jubilation in destroying anything in opposition to his equally severe, domineering master, Sir Integra Hellsing. Now that the writer has your attention, he’s telling you to forget about Arucard and his OP, bullet-ridden, Integra-whipped self. What about Seras Victoria, the human he saved episode 1 after she’s attacked by the fastest-groping-vampire-in-the-West by turning her into a vampire? Sure, Arucard can take a bullet storm like he’s singing in the rain, but Seras takes on the role of wide-eyed novice through which the viewer learns about the world, making her fit the protagonist role better than tall, dark, anime Dracee. Seras initially takes her new life as a vampire stumbling, at first refusing to drink blood and unhappy about being confined during the day, but her transformation from scared and hesitant to a badass in her own right, accepting of her vampire self, adds a spice to Hellsing Arucard couldn’t bring to the series alone.
9. Tokyo Ghoul
Cases often exist where people love an anime’s source material better than the anime itself, and then there are cases when source material fans sacrifice goats to the original content so much they’ll crucify and drown anything deviating from it. Enter Tokyo Ghoul, such a series you’ll hear praises about that go downhill quicker than a greedy business mogul going bankrupt. The writer doesn’t want to spoil the brave and the bold, so he’ll just say, for the sake of this article, it begins with a boy who’s first date ends tragically when his girlfriend turns out to be a ghoul, and consequently tries turning him into dinner. A freak accident killing her but putting him in critical condition, the doctors “save” his life by implanting her organs into his, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a brilliant horror anime is born. Ken Kaneki’s entire world gets flipped drastically, for now he finds himself discarding his appetite of food for human flesh, has a Rukia-clone-Tsundere as a mentor, must deal with being hunted by other ghouls, a government organization hunting ghouls, the ghoul whose organs he borrowed trying to take over his body… And to think all this happened from one bad date. You’ll hear screams from the rooftops on how well season 1 blurs the line between good and evil by creating feels for the humans hunting ghouls as well as for the ghouls hunting them. Just don’t ever… EVER mention season 2, especially if you see a fellow Tokyo Ghoul enthusiast with moldy stacks of the manga on his or her bookshelf, and especially if you see black candles around those manga with the charred head of a goat on top of said bookshelf.
Out of all the anime featuring a human dealing with the trauma of becoming a monster, no series does the subject more justice than Shiki. Rather than adopting the modern, sexy, gunslinging vampires of today, Shiki places horror back in the subgenre by having its dark-eyed monsters infiltrate a small town while they transform or kill its residents one-by-one in an attempt to take it over. Shiki drains the competition by not only showing the struggle its characters face upon joining Team Loli-Vampire, but also how desperate circumstances can turn even regular humans into monsters lacking humanity. In Shiki, viewers will be asking themselves which is worse, dying and being reborn something nonhuman, or in the monster inside us all taking control, making us lose ourselves?
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2017 Zeron87
Shera on October 25, 2019:
Shakugan no shana III: Yuji Sakai (only in the 3rd season)
Zeron87 (author) on February 24, 2019:
Rin and Freya: I haven't seen Blue Exorcist or Akira 99% yet, but I'll definitely add them to my list.
Conan: I LOVED Inuyasha, but considering Inuyasha is a demon already, I'll didn't think he quite qualified for the list, despite his berserker mode.
jamesplays: I haven't seen Devilman Crybaby either, but I'll have to take a peek sometime.
Me: Do you mean Akira, the animated movie? Yeah, the protag of that movie definitely could have made this list, considering his transformation from a street punk to an out-of-control psychic overlord.
Thank you all for commenting!
Rin on February 19, 2019:
Freya on February 18, 2019:
Conan on January 30, 2019:
Me on November 06, 2018:
AKIRA NEEDS TO BE HERE. Even though Tetsuo is the bad guy.
The legend on August 26, 2018:
Hell no ive seen Devilman Crybaby and i have seen naruto and naruto would be a waaaaay better choice
jamesplays on August 24, 2018:
Why isn't Devilman Crybaby on this list ?
Akira is a better choice than naruto :/