The Best of the Best Psychological Anime
Not all thrillers and horror tales need cheap tricks like jump scares to be effective. Some anime achieve that eerie unsettling feeling by affecting your mind instead of your heart rate. Other anime choose drama over the thrill, telling a deep story that you just can't take at face-value.
Psychological anime play with the human psyche, messing with your perception and beliefs, and leaving you thinking about the anime long after it's over.
The anime below are some of the best psychological anime, according to MAL ratings, tags, and the columnist's own biases - perfect anime for those times when you're craving a more cerebral viewing experience.
For more of our most highly rated Psychological Anime, as well as an overview of all the genre has to offer, check out our Psychological genre page on MAL.
Top 25 best psychological anime to give your brain a workout
MAL Rated 8.76, Ranked #29 | Aired Winter 2016 | Produced by A-1 Pictures
Erased hasn't been out even a year, and already it's shot up to become one of the highest ranked and rated anime on MAL. What makes it so great? A deep story that plays with time, combined with elements of mystery and suspense. Despite the high ratings, reactions to this one seem divided right down the middle. Watch it and decide for yourself if it truly deserves a spot among the top psychological anime.
MAL Rated 8.74, Ranked #34 | Aired Spring 2004 | Produced by Madhouse
If you had the power to save one life while losing another, what would you do? When Dr. Kenzou Tenma is faced with this decision, he chooses to save the life of a young boy, while letting an older man die. This sparks the beginning of the doctor's living nightmare. Monster is part horror, part mystery, and full psychological terror.
MAL Rated 8.19, Ranked #316 | Aired Fall 2012 | Produced by Bones
Most fantasy anime make it pretty clear who the villain of the story is. Blast of Tempest messes with your expectations by creating a battle where both sides believe they're right. Drawing heavy inspiration from Shakespeare's play "The Tempest," Blast of Tempest examines the human psyche and motivations. There's plenty of action, but the most important developments come from inside, through well-developed and complex characters. This anime definitely has the right to be named one of the best psychological anime.
MAL Rated 8.73, Ranked #36 | Aired Fall 2006 | Produced by Madhouse
What if you had the power to erase a life without getting your hands dirty? Death Note makes this imaginary scenario a reality through the little black book. Write a name inside, and you doom that person. This top psychological anime shows what happens when someone with a genius intellect comes into contact with this kind of power.
MAL Rated 8.66, Ranked #50 | Aired Spring 2010 | Produced by Madhouse
This trippy, surreal anime is one of the best psychological anime for its sheer bizarre nature. Eggplant-faced men, friends worse than enemies, and time hopping are just some of the things you'll encounter in Tatami Galaxy. Underneath all the weirdness, though, is a story rife with symbolism and life lessons. Pay attention.
MAL Rated 8.62, Ranked #59 | Aired Fall 2014 | Produced by Madhouse
Parasitic aliens have descended from space to feed on the brains of weak-willed humans. Somehow, Shinichi Izumi has avoided turning into an alien-zombie by keeping his parasitic hitchhiker from entering his brain, instead keeping it contained in his hand. Now the two have to work together to survive. This brutal horror series sounds like a typical thriller, but its focus on human nature over cheap thrills catapult it into position as one of the best psychological anime.
MAL Rated 8.53, Ranked #86 | Aired Winter 2011 | Produced by Shaft
If you're wondering what a cute magical girl anime is doing on a list of the best psychological anime, you clearly haven't seen the anime. Those of you who have are nodding in agreement. Madoka is a disturbing and deeply psychological anime about friendship, dreams, and the price you're willing to pay in order to save a life.
MAL Rated 8.52, Ranked #91 | Aired Fall 2012 | Produced by Production I.G.
What if you could tell that a person was going to commit a crime based on their psychological state of mind? What would you do with that information? In the dark world of Psycho-Pass, anyone who is deemed a potential criminal is dealt with, usually in a lethal manner. But what if the system made a mistake? This great psychological anime questions the line between good and bad, and challenges viewers to change their perception of "justice."
MAL Rated 8.21, Ranked #290 | Aired Spring 2006 | Produced by Studio Deen
Mystery and legends merge together in When They Cry, an anime that plunges you deeper down the rabbit hole the longer you keep watching. Told across a series of story arcs, When They Cry uses suspense to hook you, and morbid curiosity to keep you watching. The series is a great psychological anime not only for its mind games and unique storytelling, but for its ability to make the viewers crave more violence just so we can find out what happened. What's a mere life, in exchange for a satisfying answer to a mystery, right?
MAL Rated 8.32, Ranked #199 | Aired Fall 1995 | Produced by Gainax
Evangelion is a well-known and divisive anime that nevertheless finds itself squarely inside this list of the best psychological anime of all time. There may be mechs, action, and world saving, but the anime is more about character development and flaws. Whether you love it or hate it, Evangelion makes references and allusions to psychology and the human psyche, and tackles topics in a way that was unique for its time.
MAL Rated 8.41, Ranked #147 | Aired Summer 2006 | Produced by Gonzo
Shh! Don't make a sound. You're being watched by your fridge, and the TV is listening in to every word you say. Welcome to the world of Tatsuhiro Satou, a shut-in and a failure in life, at least according to him. Welcome to the NHK is a crazy ride full of conspiracy theories, h-game development, and psychological coping mechanisms, with a tendency to question everything. What is your place in society? And what happens when you leave that place and swim against the current? The NHK is all, the NHK is life. Give this a try if you haven't already.
MAL Rated 8.37, Ranked #170 | Aired Winter 2015 | Produced by Madhouse
Welcome to the afterlife. Have a seat at the bar, and let's play a game. That's the message that greets the newly deceased in Death Parade. How someone performs in a game determines whether they get a second chance in life, or a one-way ticket south of heaven. Whether the game is bowling or hockey, the results end up the same: each player's true self is exposed through the game. A great psychological anime that reveals the true face of human nature.
MAL Rated 8.35, Ranked #180 | Released Nov. 18, 1995 | Produced by Production I.G. and Production Reed
Another classic that has withstood the test of time, Ghost in the Shell is set in the year 2019 and hits close to home in today's technologically advanced world. Set in an era where machines and technology are commonplace, this great psychological anime takes a look at what makes us who we are. Where does your soul end and your body begin? At what point do we become more machine than man? Soon we might have to ask ourselves these questions in reality. Better watch the movie in preparation.
MAL Rated 8.34, Ranked #187 | Aired Fall 2007 | Produced by Madhouse
As human beings, we all have an innate drive to survive. Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor takes viewers through the greasy underbelly of the gambling world. Along the way, this psychological anime exposes what people are capable of when their survival instinct switches on, and when there's nothing left to lose.
MAL Rated 8.28, Ranked #229 | Aired Summer 2014 | Produced by MAPPA
In this top psychological thriller, Japan is sent into a state of high alert during a series of bombings. Meanwhile, two young boys are bent on "waking up the world." It's a world where secrets and change are highly valued by different kinds of people, and where law enforcement is rendered powerless. In other words, it's a world not unlike our own.
MAL Rated 8.14, Ranked #365 | Aired Fall 2011 | Produced by Asread
The basic premise of this great psychological anime is not unique: 12 people are pitted against each other in a battle for survival. The winner is the last one standing. In this battle royale-esque nightmare, each character is equipped with a "future diary" which gives them a special power. The power - and the characters' strengths - stem from their own personalities. Watching players use their own strengths and weaknesses to survive is part of the thrill.
MAL Rated 8.22, Ranked #282 | Aired Spring 1997 | Produced by J.C.Staff
This smart anime was revolutionary for its time, and remains one of the top psychological anime of all time. The series plays out as a coming of age story, and explores heavy themes including sexuality, identity, idealism, adulthood, and much more. Utena takes the typical fairy tale and turns it completely upside down, drawing inspiration from real world philosophers. If you're looking for a truly cerebral anime, this series is one huge metaphor.
MAL Rated 8.19, Ranked #312 | Aired Feb 28, 1998 | Produced by Madhouse
Perfect Blue is full of the surreal imagery that has become the signature look of anime director Satoshi Kon. The movie provides its own take on the human mind and what makes us tick. An unreliable narrator and an ever-blurring line between fantasy and reality are what makes this one of the best psychological anime.
MAL Rated 8.16, Ranked #343 | Aired Nov 25, 2006| Produced by Madhouse
Paprika is another work coming from the twisted mind of Satoshi Kon (what, did you think we'd have a list of the best psychological anime without including his work at least twice?). Paprika (literally) jumps into the mind and digs into what makes us, well, us. Dreams and reality merge into one psychedelic sequence of images and imagery that you'll have to watch at least twice to grasp.
MAL Rated 8.12, Ranked #388 | Aired Fall 2009 | Produced by Toei Animation
No matter what ails you, Dr. Ichirou Irabu has the cure. As do his two alter-egos and his incredibly gorgeous nurse. Is your everyday struggle to conform in society normal, or is it a mental disorder? Kuuchuu Buranko plays out the struggles of a number of individuals using an interlacing storytelling method. Each episode adds another layer of depth, and slowly, amidst the insanity, things begin to make sense. This top psychological anime might help you find peace of mind, or at the very least make you feel like you're not alone in your struggles. Irasshai!
ADDITIONS: 5 MORE excellent psychological anime
Due to popular demand, we're adding five more fantastic psychological anime to the list. These are five classic examples of psychological anime that didn't quite make the cut because of their ratings, but were mentioned quite a few times in the responses to this list. (Certain anime, like the fantastic Steins;Gate simply don't have the psychological tag, and so will forever be doomed to wander the realm of sci-fi and thrillers instead).
Here are five more psychological anime, in all their brain-melting glory:
MAL Rated 7.98, Ranked #539 | Aired Summer 1998 | Produced by Triangle Staff
Say "psychological anime," and Lain is the first anime people think of. The often creepy, always disturbing anime takes you on a mind trip. Every moment is calculated and up for interpretation. What's real and what exists in the internet-like Wired? Who are the Knights of the Eastern Calculus? Just what in the world is going on here? It's up to you to draw your own conclusions.
MAL Rated 8.04, Ranked #469 | Aired Winter 2006 | Produced by Manglobe
More philosophical than psychological, Ergo Proxy is an examination of the world through a realistic science fiction lens. A post-apocalyptic utopia begins to fall apart as a group of androids gain sentience and go on a killing spree. In addition to many other themes and philosophical points, the series explores the age-old question of "nature versus nurture:" what, exactly, makes us who we are?
MAL Rated 7.78, Ranked #881 | Aired Spring 2003 | Produced by Madhouse
Like Ergo Proxy, Texhnolyze is more of a philosophical ride than a psychological one. But as any watcher of either series can agree, philosophy and psychology are inextricably linked. The series uses stylistic storytelling to paint a dark image of humanity and human nature. This psychological anime is one that will leave you seeing the world from a much more pessimistic view.
MAL Rated 8.54, Ranked #85 | Aired Fall 2012 | Produced by A-1 Pictures
This anime clearly had a rating high enough to make it on the list the first time around. So what happened? An oversight by the columnist, unfortunately! The psychological tag is attached to some anime that don't quite fit the theme, and I thought this was one of them. Fans have proved me wrong and after a second look, Shinsekai Yori makes it squarely into the top psychological anime list. It presents us with a story and a philosophy that questions the things we know and the society we live in. Shinsekai Yori appears bright on the surface, but it takes viewers on a psychological ride they don't expect.
MAL Rated 7.89, Ranked #679 | Aired Summer 2004 | Produced by Arms
At first glance, Elfen Lied is a gruesome anime filled with gratuitous violence. But actually give the series a chance and you emerge feeling disturbed and altered, and not just from all the gore. The series pokes holes into how we see others. It questions how humans form relationships, both good and bad. What affects the way we see others? There are many parallels to be drawn to the real world in this psychological anime, and it's up to the viewer to see past the blood and darkness, and find the lessons to be learned.
Psychological anime is such a great genre, it's hard to choose just 20! Some other notable top psychological anime include Tokyo Ghoul, Serial Experiments Lain, Ergo Proxy, Death Billiards, and many more. Don't forget to check out our Psychological genre page on MAL to help you find your next Psychological anime fix!