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Fantasy anime is one of the most popular genres in the medium – but just as there are shows about wonderful worlds full of magic and beauty, as there are shows that explore a darker side of fantasy.
The dark fantasy genre shines a light on human nature by reminding us the world would be no less cruel were magic real – in fact, it may well make things worse.
If you’re looking for a show with complex characters, absorbing worlds, and storylines where morality and the human condition take center stage – these dark fantasy anime recommendations are a great place to start.
Length: 26 Eps.
Studio: Polygon Pictures
The immortal beings known as the “Ajin” first appeared in Africa almost two decades ago – since then, they’ve been persecuted and kept in confinement for fear of their power.
After a close-to-death experience, high school student Kei Nagai is revealed to be an Ajin.
He’s immediately on the run, forced to become the demon society expects him to be in order to survive.
While the CGI animation can be a turn-off for some of you, the show’s narrative is top-notch. Definitely worth a mention.
Length: 24 Eps.
Studio: Liden Films
Berserk is renowned for being one of the darkest, most despair-inducing stories ever told through manga – and the anime adaptation doesn’t stay far behind.
Sure, the fights are epic. And MC Guts is a master of the sword.
But he’s psychologically realistic. After a lifetime of horrors including assault at a young age and almost being sacrificed to an Eldritch god, Guts is understandably traumatized.
This show’s poignant characterization is one of its best aspects, and while it features subpar animation that relies heavily on CGI, the story and world-building are good enough to keep you coming back.
13. Goblin Slayer
Length: 12 Eps.
Studio: White Fox
Goblin Slayer’s first episode starts out on a reasonably positive note, with the Priestess joining a party and setting out on an adventure – then everything goes to hell.
Not only is the Priestess’ newfound party wiped out, but she has to witness how Goblins torture and assault them mercilessly.
This is the world of Goblin Slayer, and it’s where the real show begins.
Despite some disturbing scenes, the show is an excellent watch if you like resourceful characters that beat their enemies with brains rather than brawn, like the titular Goblin Slayer.
Length: 50 Eps.
Studio: Production I.G.
Based on the classic anime film Blood: The Last Vampire, Blood+ presents a dark and suspenseful tale of vampires, horror, and those brave enough to fight them.
After an attack on her life, Okinawan high school student Saya realizes her blood is the only thing that can defeat the blood-sucking abominations known as Chiropterans.
Armed with this knowledge and her notched katana, she’ll travel Japan, Vietnam, Russia, and the US to find the truth about her origins and put an end to the Chiropteran threat.
11. Yuki Yuna is a Hero
Length: 12 Eps.
In the 300th year of the Era of the Gods, mysterious creatures known as the Vertex threaten to destroy humanity – and only a heroic sacrifice can stop them.
Yuki Yuna is a deconstruction of the traditional magical girl genre exploring the human cost of war. In our society, we value self-sacrifice for the greater good – but when is it too much?
The Hero Club members are all endearing – full of hopes, dreams, and the desire to help others. The emotional connection built during the first half of the show only makes their fall into despair all the more poignant.
Length: 12 Eps.
Studio: Toei Animation
Not to be confused with Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke, this spin-off of Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales reads like a murder mystery novel – one where the culprit is always an evil spirit.
Mononoke follows a medicine seller traveling late Edo-period Japan.
In his travels he’ll come across Mononoke – dangerous spirits from Japanese mythology that bind themselves to negative emotions and feed off them.
The only way to exorcise these creatures is to find out their Form, Truth, and Reason for existing. It’s through understanding that the main character can calm the storm.
Length: 25 Eps.
The original Fate/Stay Night and the alternative Fate/Unlimited Blade Works both feature a fair amount of darkness – but the prequel takes it to the next level.
The mages fighting in the Fourth Holy Grail War are simply a cut above in terms of skill, and in Fate’s universe, that generally means they’re even more morally gray.
They’ll sacrifice children, betray their closest friends, and even summon Eldritch abominations if it means getting their hands on the grail.
Along with these fascinating characters, you’re treated to some incredible battles and action scenes.
I mean, what other show features a dogfight between an ancient Sumerian flying throne and a possessed magic-enhanced fighter jet?
8. Made in Abyss
Length: 13 Eps.
Studio: Kinema Citrus
At first glance, Made in Abyss seems like a charming show with cutesy characters and an enchanting fantasy world.
It’s impossible to guess the kind of dark ride you’re in for.
It begins in the town of Orth, which was built around an awe-inspiring colossal hole going deep into the ground – and the deeper you go, the crazier things become.
This becomes evident once protagonist Riko starts descending into the abyss. While her robotic friend Reg has no issues due to his machine-like body, Riko quickly starts becoming sick and bleeding profusely – which makes them easy targets for the hole’s monstrous inhabitants.
And that’s only the beginning…
7. Haibane Renmei
Length: 13 Eps.
I love dark fantasy anime because it allows for an in-depth psychological exploration of its characters – and Haibane Renmei has that in spades.
The show follows Rakka, a girl born from a cocoon in a strange town with no memory of her past.
She’s taken care of by other “Haibane”, winged beings born from cocoons who must live through a sort of purgatory before they can “take flight”, though nobody knows what happens after that.
The world of Old Home and the city of Glie is dark and sometimes depressing, but the show carries a message of rebirth at its core.
6. Land of the Lustrous
Length: 12 Eps.
If you’ve ever watched Steven Universe and thought you’d like to see a more mature anime adaptation, you’re in luck.
Land of the Lustrous is set in a world populated by humanoid “Gems”, a new life form that emerged after the Earth was struck by several meteorites that wiped out most biological organisms.
Since she’s basically useless in the Lustrous’ eternal war against the moon-based Lunarians, fragile gem Phosphophyllite is given the job of creating a Gem encyclopedia – and her exploration of the nature of her reality begins.
The show is innovative and fresh, employing CG animation to enhance the show’s aesthetic rather than diminish the studio’s workload – this earned it several awards, and it’ll probably earn your praise.
5. Attack on Titan
Length: 60+ Eps.
Studio: Wit Studio + MAPPA
One of the most well-known dark fantasy anime ever made is Attack on Titan – a brutal show that’s not afraid to kill off the main cast if that’s what the story requires.
It’s set in a post-apocalyptic time when humanity has retreated behind massive walls to protect themselves from the Titans – mindless humanoid predators that wander outside the walls looking for prey.
The show is full of mysteries to uncover, and it tackles political and psychological themes wonderfully.
AoT has proven to be a hook for anime newcomers, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you haven’t watched it yet.
4. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
Length: 26 Eps.
Now if you’re looking for a dark fantasy anime that won’t leave you red-eyed and depressed, Demon Slayer is worth a watch.
After his entire family is murdered and his sister becomes a demon, Tanjiro Kamado embarks on a quest to turn his sister back. And to – hopefully – end the demon threat once and for all.
What makes this show so good is how it balances the horror of fighting demons with Tanjiro’s kindness and positive attitude.
There’s also plenty of lighthearted comedy whenever the show’s characters enjoy a moment of respite.
3. Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Length: 12 Eps.
When you hear the term “magical girl”, most people think of a bright and cheerful team of justice fighters like the girls in Sailor Moon.
But that’s beginning to change thanks to anime like Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
This dark take on the magical girl genre is deceptively ordinary at first.
Madoka makes a contract with the adorable Kyubey, gets a frilly pink magical dress, and can now fight the evil manifestations known as “Witches”.
The thing is, these witches are often the souls of previous magical girls who’ve become corrupted due to their horrific experiences – a horror Madoka is about to understand.
2. Bokurano: Ours
Length: 11 Eps.
The giant robot anime genre isn’t generally known for its dark themes – after all, those shows aim at selling merchandise for the most part, and making your audience depressed is a sure-fire way to lose sales.
Bokurano is an exception to the rule.
The show follows a group of middle-school students who’re forced to pilot a giant mecha called Zearth to protect their universe from destruction.
Every time it’s used, Zearth claims the life of the young pilot.
As if that wasn’t hopeless-enough, each episode follows the chosen pilot for the next fight closely, exploring their character and practically forcing you to feel an emotional connection with them.
1. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Length: 64 Eps.
Does FMA even need a full introduction?
Set in the military-ruled country of Amestris, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood explores the consequences of playing god and the tragedy it can bring.
After a failed attempt to bring their mother back to life robs the Elric brothers of their human bodies, they set out to find the Philosopher’s Stone – a powerful artifact said to grant alchemists unlimited power.
During their travels they’ll face the horrors of unethical hunger for power. But there’s a core fantasy setting embedded here, too.
The Elrics’ brotherly love and the bonds made along the way shine a light of hope on a dark, cruel world.