Lately, the quality of anime has dropped. Authors focus all their attention on drawing perfectly shaped boobs rather than making the story more interesting and appealing to bigger audience. Stories often lack originality as well. Sometimes I can even guess how the end will look like after watching just the first episode. Because of these reasons, I did a little research and tried to find anime shows that are often recommended by anime veterans as a “must watch” anime.
Luckily for me, this was one easy task because I’m not the only one who is looking for anime shows with some good quality art, awesome background stories and well developed characters. Everyone who asked on forums about this type of anime got similar answers. Most recommended anime shows were from psychological genre. This makes sense because I immediately remembered how fast I got addicted to watching Death Note or Code Geass. Soon I realized that my list would be far better if it had more anime with brilliant and interesting mind games. Am I right?
Most of the anime that I’m going to talk about are pretty much well known. However, there will be a few reviews of some great shows that simply slipped by us unnoticed due to the popularity of other shows.
The following list of top most popular psychological anime is not ranked in any way but in what order I have watched the series. If you don’t want to read each and every review, you can use this table of content and see which anime will be mentioned in the list. With that information, you can easily use “ctrl+F” and go directly to the review you want to read. Remember that this list will be updated from time to time with new reviews!
Best Psychological Anime
- No Game No Life (NGNL)
- Mirai Nikki (Future Diary)
- Death Note
- Psycho Pass
- Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (When They Cry)
- Ergo Proxy
- Death Parade
- One Outs (ONE OUTS Nobody wins, but I!)
- Monster (Naoki Urusawa’s Monster)
- Code Geass (Code Geass: Hangyaku no Lelouch)
1. No Game No Life (NGNL)
Genres: Adventure, Comedy, Ecchi, Fantasy, Game, Supernatural.
Main characters: Sora and Shiro.
Plot: The story of No Game No Life revolves around two characters, Sora and Shiro, who are also known as Blank. One day, Sora and Shiro get transported into another world after they win a chess game against Tet, the One True God. This world is called Disboard and everything in this world is decided by playing games. Sora and Shiro will join the weakest race and start conquering all other races to eventually challenge the God.
Review: I could say that this anime is more or less a gambling contest where you have to play a game to get what you want. It does not fall in the genre of psychological anime, however, it is based solely on games and how to trick your opponent and I thought adding it to the list wouldn’t be a mistake.
Sora and Shiro play a lot of games and come up with some extraordinary solutions which will slowly but surely allow them to accomplish their goal. However, Sora and Shiro will sometimes come up with solutions that have no great development behind them. The downside of this anime is that sometimes Sora and Shiro are portrayed as so powerful characters that you are basically 100% certain that they will win.
Still, No Game No Life is a very popular anime and many people will recommend it to you to watch it. The fact that Sora has been ranked in “the Top 5 of the most intelligent Anime-Characters” in a poll, made by Charapedia, tells you a lot. If you put aside that main characters are a little bit overpowered then you will definitely enjoy this show.
2. Mirai Nikki (Future Diary)
Genres: Action, Mystery, Psychological, Shounen, Supernatural, Thriller.
Main characters: Gasai Yuno and Amano Yukiteru.
Plot: Yukiteru Amano, a highschool student, spends most of his time writing a diary on his cellphone. Deus, who reveals himself to be an actual entity, grants Yukiteru a “Random Diary,” which shows highly descriptive entries based on the future and forces him into a bloody battle royale with 11 other holders of similarly powerful future diaries.
With the last person standing designated as the new god of time and space, Yukiteru must find and kill the other 11 in order to survive. Yukiteru teams up with Yuno Gasai, who is his obsessive stalker.
Review: Even though Mirai Nikki anime has kids not older than 14 as main characters, this show is still very mature. Amano Yukiteru, also known as Yuki, is the male protagonist and he is the first diary holder in the show. Whereas, Yuno Gasai is the main female protagonist and she is the second in the Survival Game and has a “Diary of Future Love”.
The basic premise for this story has already been seen a couple of times. Basically, a group of people is pitted against each other in a battle where only the last man standing is the winner. However, what makes Mirai Nikki such a popular psychological anime is that it is hard to predict what will happen next. Each character is equipped with a “Future Diary” which gives them a special power. The power and the characters’ strengths come from their own personalities.
Watching players use their own strengths and opponents’ weaknesses to survive will surely force you to watch all Mirai Nikki episodes in one day!
3. Death Note
Genres: Mystery, Police, Psychological, Supernatural, Thriller.
Main characters: Yagami Light, Lawliet L, Ryuk, River Nate.
Plot: Death Note story follows Light Yagami as he obtains a notebook which allows to its user to kill whoever he or she wants just by writing that person’s name. Light Yagami decides to get rid of all criminals in the world by writing their names in the notebook. Soon Light Yagami will become known as Kira which translated from Japanese means “Killer”. The police decides to catch Kira by enlisting one of their best detectives whose name is L. After that moment, everything becomes just one epic cat vs mouse game that has never been seen before. Light Yagami will use Death Note as a way to avoid police and continue his mission, whereas, L must use all sorts of deductions to find a way to prove who is Kira.
Review: A perfect way to kill someone without getting your hands dirty? Why don’t just use Death Note?
Death Note was the first anime to come to my mind once I decided to make a list of anime that involve mind games. Death Note is still a very popular psychological anime even though it was aired in 2006 for the first time. Ten years is a long period!
I believe that Death Note is definitely the best anime ever created because of its unique story rivaled by few. You can’t call yourself an anime fan until you have watched Death Note.
4. Psycho Pass
Genres: Action, Police, Psychological, Sci-Fi.
Main characters: Kougami Shinya, Makishima Shougo, Tsunemori Akane.
Plot: On Earth the system of justice is not the same anymore. It is the 22nd century and Japan is using the Sybil System to determine whether someone is threat to humanity or not by checking their mental state for signs of criminal intent, their Psycho Pass.
However, this carefully created world has its flaws. The system does not work perfectly and one of the main characters, Akane Tsunemori, will realize that soon. With everything she has known turning to be a lie, Akane wrestles with the question of what justice truly is, and whether it can be upheld through the use of a system that may also be corrupt.
Review: What if you could tell that a person is going to become a criminal just by analyzing their state of mind? What would you do with that kind of information?
Similar to Death Note, Psycho Pass leaves us with a question where is the line between good and bad. After watching this anime, your idea of what justice is might be changed.
Psycho Pass is full of realistic characters, who have interesting background stories which you cannot see these days in anime. Unpredictable shifts in the story will keep your attention all the time, not to mention the antagonists and their back stories, which won’t leave you indifferent. Every character has his or her role in this series and you will soon find yourself attached to those same characters, fearing for their lives and possible clouding of their Psycho Pass.
Psycho Pass is a great psychological anime which you should add to your watch list.
5. Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (When They Cry)
Genres: Horror, Mystery, Psychological, Supernatural, Thriller.
Main characters: Ryuuguu Rena, Furude Rika, Sonozaki Shion and Sonozaki Mion.
Plot: Keiichi Maebara moves to the village of Hinamizawa where he becomes best friends with schoolmates Rena Ryuuguu, Mion Sonozaki, Satoko Houjou, and Rika Furude.
Keiichi soon learns that there have been a series of unexplained murders that have plagued the village for the past three years during the annual Watanagashi Festival in June. Keiichi will try to find out more about these incidents but with no success. With the next Watanagashi approaching, things will start to take a turn for the worse.
Review: What is so special about this anime is that it forces viewers to want more and more violence just so they can learn new details about the story. At first, this anime will not be interesting to you, but be patient. Bit by bit, you will understand that behind all that ideal life full of joy lies something so terrible that will surely leave a great impact on you. The story will take you to the depths of every characters’ psychology and you will learn the sick motives behind their every action. Higurashi no Naku Koro ni will leave you to wonder just how little is enough for a normal person to become a criminal.
All in all, this is a great psychological anime with some unique storytelling and brilliant mind games.
6. Ergo Proxy
Genres: Mystery, Psychological, Sci-Fi.
Main characters: Mayer Re-l, Pino, Law Vincent and Ergo Proxy.
Plot: Due to the great ecological apocalypse that hit the Earth, humans are forced to live under the domes and never to leave them.
In order to survive this disaster and make living easier AutoReivs, humanoid-like robots, were created. Unfortunately, robots can get sick in this story. AutoReivs have begun contracting an enigmatic disease called the “Cogito Virus” which grants them self-awareness. During the investigation of this disease, Re-l Mayer will discover that there is more behind this problem then she previously expected. Along with Iggy, Vincent, and the child AutoReiv named Pino, Re-l Mayer will try to uncover the truth about the town where they live in and the robots’ true purpose that has been kept as a secret for far too long.
Review: This series is a real psychological mind boggling experience. The story is so complex that sometimes you will be simply pissed off because you have no idea what is really going on. Even though you will get your answers at the end of each episode, new questions will soon appear. This is the kind of anime which should be watched more than just one time in order for you to grasp the whole story. Enjoy the captivating story of this anime. Character development in Ergo Proxy is well planned which is worth mentioning.
I have had a great time watching this anime.
7. Death Parade
Genres: Drama, Game, Mystery, Psychological, Thriller.
Main characters: Decim, Nona and Kurokami no Onna.
Plot: This story is set in the after life where those who die are welcomed by bartenders, or better say arbiters. The dead ones get a chance to play a game and how successful they are in that game will determine whether they will be given another chance to live or they will be banished into the void forever. Whatever the game is, the results end up the same: each players’ true self is exposed through the game. Decim, one of the main characters, is a lone bartender of the Quindecim bar. His role in judging these passing souls will change when he meets a curious black-haired woman.
Review: Welcome to the afterlife! Take a seat and let’s have a game. A brilliant topic worth talking about since everyone is interested in what will happen to them once they die. Am I right?
Coincidentally, I found out on Reddit that research students in real life have written thesis by taking Death Parade as its basis. Amazing, isn’t it? The show will hook you up pretty soon. The story itself is thought provoking. Every passing character will leave his or her influence on the audience as they approach the grand finale, which will definitely leave you heart-broken. So, don’t let the cheerful opening fool you, because this is surely not a happy-go-lucky anime.
One of the greatest works of Madhouse. Death Parade has really lived up to it’s hype!
8. One Outs (Nobody wins, but I!)
Genres: Psychological, Seinen, Sports.
Main characters: Tokuchi Toua, Ideguchi Satoshi and Kojima Hiromichi.
Plot: Meet Toua Tokuchi, an excellent pitcher, who will sign a contract with the Lycaons stating that he will earn 5 million yen for each out but loose 50 million yen for every run he gives up. Hell of a contract, right? Don’t worry because Toua Tokuchi is the best pitcher in the world and he will do this for fun.
Adapted from the manga by Shinobu Kaitani of Liar Game fame, One Outs documents the intense psychological battles between Toua and those around him. With millions of yen at stake, can a pitcher who has done nothing but gamble in a head-to-head imitation of baseball finally lead a real baseball team to victory?
Review: One Outs is full of amazing mind games, intelligent characters, sports and a whole lot of money at the stake. A perfect combination if you ask me.
I believe some of you will think that sports anime can’t get so deep into psychology of people. However, One Outs will prove you wrong. The mind games that you will see in One Outs anime are ranked on the same level as the mind games from Death Note. This comparison is more than enough for you to realize how great this anime is. Some fans even compare Toau Tokuchi to Light Yagami.
To fully enjoy One Outs, I suggest you to learn basic rules in baseball first. Once you have done that, lay down and start watching this brilliant show!
9. Monster (Naoki Urasawa’s Monster)
Genres: Drama, Horror, Mystery, Police, Psychological, Seinen, Thriller.
Main characters: Liebert Johan, Tenma Kenzou, Lunge Heinrich and Liebert Anna.
Plot: If you had to choose who will live between two given people, how would you decide which one you will save? Kenzou Tenma, a Japanese brain surgeon who works in Europe, will face this question. Kenzou will have to decide whether he will save a young boy or the town’s old mayor. Once he makes the decision and saves the life of the boy, his nightmare will begin.
Series of murders will occur and all evidences will point to the boy who was saved by Kenzou Tenma. Along his journey to unravel the true identity of his little patient, Kenzou discovers that the fate of the world may be intertwined with this mysterious child.
Review: I can say that Monster is an anime part horror and part mystery. However, without a doubt it is a psychological anime. The show has 70 episode and the pacing is a little bit slow so you will have to be patient. Even though the show aired in 2004, Monster is still considered one of the best psychological series on par with Death Note. Once you get used to the art style, you will surely start to appreciate the story and its characters.
The characters are well developed throughout the series. The antagonist of Monster is brilliant. I really liked his design and we can say that he is one of the best manipulative villains I have ever seen. The show focuses heavily on the psychological aspects of the characters and deals with conspiracies, secret government programs and what not.
10. Code Geass (Code Geass: Hangyaku no Lelouch)
Genres: Action, Mecha, Military, School, Sci-Fi, Super Power.
Main characters: Lamperouge Lelouch, C.C., Stadtfeld Kallen and Kururugi Suzaku.
Plot: In the year 2010, the Holy Empire of Britannia is establishing itself as a dominant military nation, with a goal to conquer Japan which was soon accomplished. Renamed to Area 11 after its swift defeat, Japan has seen significant resistance against these tyrants in an attempt to regain independence.
Code Geass‘ story follows Lamperouge Lelouch, a boy from the royal britannian family, who was forced to take asylum in Japan after the murder of his mother. One day, Lelouch will meet a girl named C.C. who will give him a special ability called Geass, The Power of Kings. With Geass, Lelouch can order anyone to do anything he wants and soon he will realize the vast potential of this power. What follows is Lelouch’s battle of wits against other empires and organization to take control over the world.
Review: Code Geass tackles one interesting philosophical question and that is “Whether a means to an end is more important than the end itself?”. Even though Code Geass does not fall in psychological genre, I really had to mention this show as well. It is full of mind games and I strongly recommend it to everyone to watch it. What you will like the most is Lelouch’s brilliancy in using other people with his Geass to accomplish what he wants. Each episode is ended with a cliffhanger. What’s more, Code Geass is packed with some great mecha fights and amazing soundtracks.