We have all heard of iconic characters like Sherlock Holmes, Hannibal Lecter, Dr. Gregory House, Hans Landa, and the like. Their exploits always include intricate schemes, mind games, and careful study of human emotions and mannerisms.
But those kinds of plots and personalities are also to be found in the 2D world, and it’s long past due we give them their well-deserved credit. We present to you our list of the top 10 psychological anime of all time.
What follows after death? Humans have inquired about this for thousands of years, and dozens of theories exist. Death Parade offers a seemingly simple answer. They go to a bar and play a game with a fellow afterlife visitor, only to be judged not for their sins but for their personalities.
Decim, an arbiter, tends one such bar and, with the help of his mysterious female assistant, decides on the fates of his guests. The games they have their guests play are meant to draw out their deepest emotions, the ones they never show to anyone.
Despite its unusual setting, Death Parade actually offers a great stage for you to meditate on life, death, and how scary or not they ought to be. In any case, if you are a fan of human souls laid bare and pushed to their limits, this one is for you.
Serial Experiments Lain
The anime world will never run short of distressed teenage girls, but Iwakura Lain is special. She has a life-changing moment when she receives an email from her classmate Chisa, who recently committed suicide.
Lain is then thrown into a virtual world called Wired, where she learns of Chisa’s true fate and copes with bizarre new events disturbing her world. She struggles to find the meaning of reality while learning about her true purpose in life and how everything she does affects both the virtual and real plains.
Serial Experiments Lain was written by Chiaki J. Konaka, the one behind Texhnolyze and Hellsing. It’s an anime that will leave you with more questions than answers, which can be frustrating, but it’s still absolutely worth watching.
Welcome to N.H.K.
What would an evil organization stand to gain by turning Japan’s population into jobless shut-ins? Everything. At least, that’s the reality that Tatsuhiro Satou has started to believe in. Four years of his NEET lifestyle have left him in bad shape, but his world gets rocked when a young girl named Misaki appears at his door.
She claims to be a friend of Hikikomori and his savior, offering him a contract. Skeptical of her intentions, he refuses her help. Satou also rejects the NEET label, feeding her lie after lie in an attempt to prove he isn’t one, only digging himself deeper in the process. How will he recover from all the mess he’s caused?
Welcome to N.H.K. is the entry on this list that will have you laughing the hardest. It’s a psychological drama about friendship, love, and hikikomori culture. Revel in Satou’s misfortunes as he tries to fight off his demons and get his life back in order.
Set in the Orwellian futuristic Japan, Psycho-Pass follows a group of police investigators trying to resolve a seemingly unconnected streak of murders. Tsunemori Akane, the newest addition to the Criminal Investigation Department’s 1st Division, is tasked with discovering who is behind this killing spree.
Even though Akane initially comes off as naive and idealistic, she quickly shows her intelligence and insight. Shinya Kogami, her underling and polar opposite in a way, is there to break the illusions she has of innate human kindness and help her make sense of this strange new world she has gotten herself into.
Psycho-Pass might seem like a plain old detective drama at first glance, but it gets deeper and deeper with every minute you watch it. Just like Akane, once you make your way down the rabbit hole, there is no coming back.
Hiromichi Kojima is the cleanup hitter for Saitama Lycaons and one of the greatest batters ever to play in the league. He has set numerous records and earned many awards in his career, but the Lycaons have always been a third-rate team. Winning the Championship title always felt out of reach for him.
While preparing in Okinawa for his last season and his hope for Lycaons at an all-time low, he encounters Tokuchi Toua, a pitcher and a gambling prodigy. Toua has never played pro baseball, and his fastball is worse than a high schooler’s. Yet, he has an achievement that he is rather proud of — a perfect score of 499 wins and 0 losses in the game of One Outs.
The secret behind his gambling prowess is his exceptional cold reading ability. Combine that with his baseball knowledge, and you get a pitching genius that leaves his opponents thinking they are facing a mentalist.
Trust me, you don’t have to be a fan of baseball or any other sport to appreciate this gem. I didn’t know even a single rule, and a week later, I was playing OOTP Baseball. It’s mind game after mind game, and before you know it, you will be hooked.
In the far-distant future, after the Earth has endured an ecological catastrophe that wiped out 85% of the human population, domed cities remain the last bastions of humankind. They house humans and AutoReivs, humanoid robots meant to aid them in their everyday lives. Everything changes when the android population gets infected with the Cogito Virus, acquiring sentience.
Re-l Mayer, an investigator for the Intelligence Bureau, and Vincent Law, a worker for the AutoReiv disposal unit, get tied up with solving the mystery behind the robot pandemic. The plot thickens when superhuman monsters start emerging and massacring people. What are these creatures, why did they appear, and are they connected to the Cogito Virus?
Dai Satō wrote the script for Ergo Proxy. He also worked on cult anime series like Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, and Pokemon. It features a ton of gnostic and philosophical motifs. There are even characters named after famous philosophers like Deleuze, Derrida, and Lacan. Even though the plot can seem slow, Ergo Proxy is one of the best science fiction anime epics you will ever watch.
Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell’s story plays out in New Port City, a fictional metropolis in futuristic Japan. We explore this cyberpunk world through the eyes of Motoko Kusanagi. She is a squad leader within the Public Security Section 9 and a cyborg with an entirely synthetic body.
She and her team begin investigating a case of a person being hacked and turned into a puppet. It turns out it’s all connected to a covert government incentive dubbed Project 2501. Haunted by questions about her existence, she ventures to unravel the secrets behind this project and what it means to be human.
Ghost in the Shell paved the way and set a standard for all cyberpunk anime that came after it. Even though Masamune Shirow wrote the GitS manga more than 30 years ago, the manga and all of its adaptations still remain the best that the cyberpunk genre has to offer.
Dr. Kenzou Tenma, an accomplished neurosurgeon, gets a call from his hospital director while preparing to perform surgery. He tells him to drop his current patient and save a famous opera singer instead. Everyone praises his achievement, but his choices start tormenting him.
Weeks go by, and he faces the same dilemma again. This time, he chooses to save the patient who arrived first, a young boy with a gun wound in his head. Tenma understood he would face severe consequences for disobeying the director, yet he still did it. What he didn’t know was that saving the boy would turn out to be his life’s biggest regret.
Monster is one of Naoki Urasawa’s best works. He is widely considered one of the finest storytellers and mangakas of all time, which certainly translates to this anime. However, don’t be intimidated by Monster’s long runtime because every episode is a psychological masterpiece worth your time.
Death Note is a book that a shinigami uses to kill a person in the human realm. One day, Light Yagami, an honor student, finds such a book while at school. He is skeptical about the content of the book at first but soon realizes that it has the power to take people’s lives.
That’s when he meets Ryuk, a harbinger of death and the book’s original owner. He tells Ryuk of his reasons for using the book and how he plans to cleanse the world of evil people.
Light’s god complex captivates the shinigami. It changes his mind about humanity’s boring dispositions, and he decides to follow him on his quest. Before they proceed, Ryuk tells him one thing: a human that uses the Death Note is going neither to heaven nor hell once they die.
Death Note is by far the most popular anime on this list, and that’s not by accident. It has brilliant detectives, a justice-crazed protagonist, otherwordly monsters, you name it. If you haven’t seen it yet, know that you are missing out on one of this genre’s best.
Rintaro Okabe is a self-proclaimed mad scientist and the founder of the Future Gadget Lab. Together with his friends in their Akihabara office, he spends his days inventing gadgets that are supposed to bring chaos to the world and overthrow the secret organization controlling it.
He goes to attend a time travel seminar and witnesses the death of a red-haired neuroscience and physics genius, Makise Kurisu. His delusions of world-controlling groups being out to get him and time travel turn into reality once he meets her again a week later, alive and well.
With jumbled-up memories and no idea whether he is crazy or not, Rintaro has to make sense of what is happening to his world in an attempt to save his beloved friends.
Steins;Gate is an anime adaptation of a visual novel bearing the same name created by White Fox. It’s a scientific thriller adventure centered around time travel that will tie your brain in a knot. Seriously, this is the only anime on this whole list I implore you not to skip.
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