There are many shows with brain-bending plots and intense battles of the mind that are iconic within the world of anime. Anime is the home to incredibly fierce battles like those in Dragon Ball, but it also features amazing battles of the mind and stories that examine deeper psychological concepts. These shows can hit hard emotionally and keep viewers on the edge of their seats as they try to figure out what will happen next. Psychological anime has the potential to either be amazingly constructed or messy disasters that are not fun for anyone to watch. Fortunately, some brilliant minds have carefully crafted some must-watch shows over the years.
Here are some Psychology of Anime Show’s Name:
Classroom Of The Elite:
With its second season airing as part of the Summer 2022 anime line-up, Classroom of the Elite is currently in public discourse. Based on a light novel, this psychological anime takes place in a high school that divides its students into four tiers and then conducts tests to see which class reigns supreme. On the surface, Kiyotaka Ayanokoji seems like a reasonably smart but modest person who prefers to not get involved with the school’s challenges, but that could not be further from the truth.
As the story progresses, Classroom of the Elite slowly reveals its protagonist to be a master manipulator, all the while still giving him flaws and blind spots. The anime’s secondary characters are also well-written.
Ping Pong The Animation:
2014’s Ping Pong the Animation took the sports anime genre in an unprecedented direction. Despite its name, this show is not about ping pong; rather, it dives into the psychological constructs that people create to help them survive in the world. Peco and Smile are polar opposites personality-wise, but they have been close friends for years. Smile idolizes Peco to a certain extent, viewing him as something of a hero.
Ping Pong the Animation explores the psyches of these characters, along with quite a few other people. This anime is complex, visually creative, and endlessly rewatchable.
Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World:
A teenager with little direction in life suddenly finds himself teleported to a fantasy world. Before long, Subaru meets a wide assortment of women and gets involved in the political climate of this universe. Re:Zero has all the trappings of a stereotypical isekai anime, but it is anything but ordinary. Desperate to play the hero, Subaru pushes himself beyond his limits to unappreciated results and dire consequences, even if the protagonist has the ability to reset following a death.
Re:Zero shows the toll Subaru’s actions have on his psyche, and it slowly does the same for characters such as Rem and Emilia.
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Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor & Against All Rules:
Gambling anime such as Akagi and Kakegurui are very entertaining, but their stakes are so high that it rarely seems likely that their protagonists will suffer any significant losses. Kaiji is different. Saddled with somebody else’s debt and pushed to take part in a series of dangerous psychological games, Kaiji Itou is way out of his depth for the vast majority of the anime’s two seasons.
Kaiji is human; therefore, he is vulnerable. Every gamble can result in disaster for the protagonist, and there are no easy shortcuts to victory. The anime’s unpredictability makes the tension unbearable in most scenes.
Sticking a moment longer with gambling, One Outs provides a unique twist on the genre since it is also a sports anime. After striking out Saikyou Saitama Lycaons’ star hitter in a street game called One Outs, Toua Tokuchi is recruited as the team’s pitcher, even though he does not particularly care about going legit. However, Toua agrees to a peculiar contract with the Lycaons’ owner that sees the pitcher win or loss big depending on his performance.
Unlike Kaiji, One Outs keeps Toua’s thoughts and plans secret from the audience while things are still unfolding, opting instead to show events from the perspectives of the hitters. While sports anime typically emphasize skill and hard work, One Outs’ matches are psychological battles that involve Toua mentally tormenting and destroying his opponents.
2003’s Kino’s Journey Or 2017’s Kino’s Journey -The Beautiful World- The Animated Series:
Who doesn’t make friends with a talking motorcycle when they’re fifteen? Kino’s Journey starts with this odd premise but opens itself up into being an incredible show with how it shows off all the locations Kino travels to on this magical motorbike.
The show explores strange cultures and customs and gives the viewer a chance to compare them to their own. In this way, Kino’s Journey uses the outside world to explore its psychological content, making it unique compared to other anime in the genre.
Erased made a huge splash upon its release, and while the anime’s reputation has diminished slightly over the years, it is still a good mystery show that tackles weighty themes respectfully. When tragedy is about to strike, Satoru travels a few minutes back in time to try and change the course of history. After a particularly traumatic event involving the murder of a loved one, Satoru travels back more than a decade to when he is a child, giving him the opportunity to stop a chain of tragedies at their inception.
Erased’s whodunit is gripping and should keep people guessing for a while. However, the anime is at its best when focusing on the characters’ lives away from the murder mystery, specifically Kayo’s awful home life.
Welcome To The N.H.K:
Hikikomori is a word used in Japan to describe people who generally don’t go outside and avoid all social contact possible. This is the case for Tatsuhiro who believes in a conspiracy that the Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai (N.H.K) is what is causing him to live this style of life.
The show follows him slowly opening up to try and actually explore the world with lots of drama and a sprinkling of comedy along the way. It’s a fascinating experience watching someone break down a mental health condition and creates progress in their own life.
Moriarty The Patriot:
Sherlock Holmes is arguably the most famous fictional detective of all time, and the character has inspired his share of anime adaptations. Moriarty the Patriot shakes things up by switching the focus to William Moriarty, who is traditionally Sherlock’s arch-nemesis. This perspective change makes for an intriguing setup as it focuses on a complex figure who has a noble soul that has been exhausted by society’s failings.
Moriarty the Patriot does not offer an especially deep psychological case study of its protagonist or Holmes, but it does divide into Moriarty’s psyche a fair bit. While a bit uneven and messy, the anime is generally entertaining.
Revolutionary Girl Utena:
Revolutionary Girl Utena centers around Utena Tenjou, an Ootori Academy student who wins a duel and the right to marry Anthy Himemiya, the Rose Bride. This coveted position attracts many suitors, and consequently, Utena finds herself constantly fighting off threats. While this description covers the show’s premise, it is not truly what Revolutionary Girl Utena is about.
This yuri classic is drenched in metaphor and symbolism. The anime challenges gender norms, subverts magical girl tropes, and dives deep into its characters, particularly Utena. Revolutionary Girl Utena tells a psychological coming-of-age story that raises just as many questions as answers.
From The New World:
Most coming-of-age stories are rather wholesome but From The New World bucks that genre norm. The show follows Saki Watanabe as she unlocks her psychic powers and is welcomed into the Sage Academy with her friends.
Things aren’t quite as utopian as they seem and Saki begins to question what happens to children who can’t unlock their psychic abilities. With a secretive group called the Tainted Cats potentially kidnappings children and many other shocking truths about society to uncover, From The New World is gripping until the end.
What happens if the police could scan someone, know how likely they are to commit a crime, and then arrest or execute them based on this information? This is the premise for Psycho-Pass and it results in some incredibly emotional and philosophical moments throughout the show.
Akane is a new member of the force and truly wants to uphold justice in the world but keeps finding that time and time again her ideals are tested. Especially with police violence being a hot topic across the world, this show hits harder than ever before.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica:
For decades, manga and anime have placed the responsibility of protecting the world on the shoulders of children and teenagers, specifically young girls who are bestowed magical gifts and asked to fight all types of horrors. Puella Magi Madoka Magica is another one of those stories, at least that is what the series seems to be on the surface. However, before long, the anime takes a dark turn and begins to tear down its magical girls.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica explores obsession, depression, and guilt, among a plethora of other mature themes that dive into the psyches of the show’s protagonists.
Parasyte -The Maxim:
What happens when no one knows if their friend has been overtaken by the enemy or is still on their side? Similar to the movie The Thing, Parasyte -the maxim- has aliens invading Earth and burrowing into the minds of the humans that live there.
The catch? One such parasitic alien accidentally messes up when trying to implant inside a high school student named Shinichi and finds the other aliens want it dead as well. The two being forced to work together to survive creates some fantastic scenarios where the two have to examine life from different points of view.
The Promised Neverland:
The Promised Neverland is the definition of an anime with two halves. The first season is a slow-building psychological horror drama about children living in an idyllic orphanage, only for them to learn that things are not quite so lovely. Meanwhile, the second season rushes through multiple arcs, skipping over character development and world-building in its mad dash to the finish line. The former is one of the best psychological anime of all time, while the latter is among the genre’s most disappointing seasons.
Thankfully, season one tells a self-contained story with a beginning, middle, and end. Taken as a standalone cour, The Promised Neverland is thrilling, intense, and horrifying. Along with likable protagonists, the anime features an intimidating villain who manages to be terrifying despite being an average human.
Neon Genesis Evangelion:
NGE is a contender for the most famous mecha anime of all time, but the series is not that representative of the genre as a whole. While hardly the first “dark” mecha story, Evangelion took things in a more uncomfortable direction than most anime are willing to go.
Human children are enlisted to pilot robots to fight off alien threats known as angels; so far, so mecha. However, the robots are directly tied to their users’ mental states, and these vicious battles take a significant toll on the pilots. Shinji Ikari’s psyche breaks down as the story progresses, and he is not the only one.
The Tatami Galaxy:
Imagine an Isekai anime but the main character is simply transported back in time within their own world to try and live their life over again. This is the premise for The Tatami Galaxy where Watashi has a chance to make the most out of his college life instead of wasting it on breaking up happy couples and generally being miserable.
The show has a unique art style that makes it stand out. It’s the perfect anime to show how seemingly small choices in life can add up to major events further down the road.
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Serial Experiments Lain:
An avant-garde classic, Serial Experiments Lain is challengingly slow, confusing at times, and occasionally frustrating. Influenced by the rise of the internet, the anime follows the eponymous Lain, a girl who is largely disconnected from the world.
One day, she receives an email from a deceased classmate containing a link that takes Lain into a cyber world. As she exists in two realms, the girl starts to lose herself. While an acquired taste, Serial Experiments Lain is unquestionably one of the best psychological anime of all time.
Based on Akimi Yoshida’s classic shojo manga, Banana Fish tackles quite a few difficult themes, including child abuse. Ash has lived most of his life under the thumb of a mobster, and while he has risen in the group’s ranks, his life is nevertheless defined by tragedy. However, that begins to change when Ash strikes a friendship with Eiji, a Japanese photographer. Before long, the two are inseparable, and this bond does not always prove beneficial.
Banana Fish dives into Ash’s childhood trauma, exploring the way his past defines his current mentality. Although more naive in comparison, Eiji is still a relatively nuanced character, and the same can be said for most of the show’s supporting figures. Banana Fish is not an easy or comfortable watch, but it is an unforgettable one.
Terror In Resonance:
Twelve and Nine are teenage terrorists targeting locations in Tokyo, although they take measures to avoid casualties. Terror in Resonance splits its time between the attackers and the detectives trying to catch them, showing the motivations behind both figures. Although they are likable and have sympathetic backstories, Twelve and Nine are not treated as “heroes” by the anime; the show is willing to understand them without excusing them.
Terror in Resonance’s first few episodes are fantastic, arguably among the best of the 2010s. However, the show’s second half tends to be polarizing, particularly the introduction of a character named Five. Regardless of the latter, the show is still a must-watch for psychological anime fans.
Slow-moving and grim, Ergo Proxy can be a challenging watch at times, but the anime has earned its place as a cult classic. Set in a cyberpunk hellscape with advanced robotics, the story’s trigger point is a string of murders conducted by androids that have recently gained sentience. Re-L Mayer is put on the case, which leads her directly to a conspiracy that involves the most powerful people in her society.
Ergo Proxy is surreal, convoluted, and ambitious. The anime keeps its card close to its chest for most of its run, and even when all the pieces are revealed, a repeat viewing might be necessary to fully grasp the full picture.
Kaguya-Sama: Love Is War:
Most psychological anime are deeper, dark, and mind-bending affairs. Love Is War completely subverts this genre cliché and instead manages to be a comedic romance that pits student council members Kaguya and Miyuki against each other in a bid to get the other to confess their love first.
The show has some downright gut-busting moments alongside incredible character growth throughout the series. It’s hard to imagine a show that pulls on the heartstrings this hard in the genre but Love Is War delivers in spades.
Tomodachi Game is one of those stories that lives and dies on the strength of its cliffhangers. Nearly every episode of the first season ends with a “what the hell” moment that is absolutely made to encourage audiences to binge. Unlike some of the best psychological anime of all time, this anime favors over-the-top mayhem over subtle storytelling, to the point that the characters can feel like they are at the mercy of the plot’s whims; however, Tomodachi Game is the definition of a fun ride.
Anyone interested in watching this show needs to go in as blind as possible since the story is nothing without its twists. So, to keep the description as vague as possible, Tomodachi Game focuses on a high-stakes contest that tests the bonds between a group of friends.
This entry could have been taken up by a number of Satoshi Kon’s projects, particularly Paranoia Agent and Paprika, but Perfect Blue is the director’s definitive psychological thriller. Mima Kirigoe decides to leave behind her job as an idol to pursue acting, a decision that sends her life spiraling out of control.
Haunted by a stalker and tied to a string of murders, Mima’s grasp of reality begins to wane as she loses herself. Perfect Blue is purposefully difficult to sit through, both thematically and visually, and the film blurs the line between reality and fantasy.
Split into five arcs, Mononoke revolves around the Medicine Seller, a being who “hunts” the titular spirits. In order to accomplish this, the enigmatic figure needs to learn the spirit’s form, truth, and reason. This generally involves diving into the backgrounds of not just the Mononoke but also the people it is haunting.
There is no other anime quite like Mononoke. Through its trippy visuals and unsettling sound design, the anime fosters a constant sense of otherworldliness that amplifies the strong mysteries at the heart of each arc.
The epic battle of wits between Light Yagami and the mysterious L is inarguably the most iconic psychological anime of all time. The moral quandaries presented by the idea of a Death Note — a notebook that can kill anyone whose name is written in it — being used to kill criminals and bad people without a trial gives viewers a lot to think about outside of the show as well.
Death Note is a must-watch for fans of the psychological as trying to guess how the show will end is nearly impossible with how cleverly it is written.
Monster is an incredible show that really shows the inner turmoil people can face based on their decisions. It follows Dr. Kenzou Tenma as he struggles with the fact that he was pulled away from performing brain surgery on a poor immigrant worker and instead successfully saves a famous celebrity.
This causes a massive crisis of conscience as while the worker ends up dying, the world keeps applauding his actions. When faced with a similar choice again, he instead chooses to help a small child which results in his life being thrown into turmoil over rejecting to do surgery on the town’s mayor.
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Based on one of the most influential visual novels of the past decade, Steins;Gate explores the ideas of using time travel to change the course of history. Each time Okabe sends something back in time, he must deal with all of the ramifications of how he has changed the present. This becomes a serious weight on his shoulders as he must navigate what should be changed and what should stay the same.
Steins;Gate is by far one of the best shows to get time travel stories right and is a must-watch for any fan of anime.