Who says kids and teenage entertainment has to be colorful, fluffy, and filled with schoolroom drama? These series challenge that notion and use mature themes that can be enjoyed by everyone. Because who doesn’t love death?
Best Dark Anime and Manga
1. Neon Genesis Evangelion
A show with nightmarish images, a planet sized naked girl, literal mind rape, and enough cynicism to make an emo proud. And it’s a kid’s show? Agree or not, the creator, Hideaki Anno, believes that the message of the series is more important for youths and kids instead of adults.
2. Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan has become the poster child for modern anime and is routinely compared to The Walking Dead by fans and critics. The dark tone and the violence of giants chewing on people would fit nicely as a seinen series, but it runs in Kodansha’s Bessatsu Shonen Magazine.
3. Barefoot Gen
Published in Weekly Shonen Jump, Keiji Nakazawa’s shares his experiences as a Hiroshima survivor. The manga and movie spares no detail about the devastation of the bombing and the horrific aftermath it brought
4. Black Butler
Violence, gore, child abuse, pedophilia, and yaoi teasing are the perfect elements for a shonen series! Published in Square Enix’s Monthly GFantasy, the series does balance out the dark tones with dance competitions and cross-dressing.
5. Deadman Wonderland
Filled with gore, fanservice, and using your blood as a weapon, Deadman Wonderland was the center piece to the revived Toonami. Just don’t tell anyone that the manga was published in Shonen Ace with the very cute Angelic Layer.
6. The Future Diary (Mirai Nikki)
Everyone’s favorite blood-thirsty yandere hails from the same shonen magazine that publishes Nichijou.
7. Detective Conan
Kudo Shinichi is a 17-year-old detective, and he solves crimes involving murder, suicide, drugs, and corruption. While Cartoon Network struggled to decide when to air the series in the U.S., Japan had no problem with Detective Conan airing during the day for families to enjoy.
8. Digimon Tamers
A darker and edgier take on Digimon, the third series is controversial for its brutal fights (Digimon are killed and eaten), residents being permanently deleted, and a 10-year-old being mind raped. Tamers is often referred to as Serial Experiments Lain for kids
9. Eureka Seven
In Japan, the 7 A.M. Sunday morning time slot is reserved for kid’s shows, which is exactly what Eureka Seven was marketed as. Which seems to be at odds with its intensely violent scenes, especially in the last half of the show.
10. Fist of the North Star
Filled with blood, guts, and enough manliness that’ll make your mom grow a beard, Fist of the North Star is the father of modern shonen fighting shows. Granted, it was created during the ’80s when censorship laws were more relaxed.
11. Death Note
Published in Weekly Shonen Jump, many Western fans mistakenly think that Death Note is an adult series. And with themes of death, justice, and gray morality – who could blame them?
12. Fullmetal Alchemist
Exploring social problems, death, the stigma of being an orphan, and the inseparable bond between a girl and her dog, Fullmetal Alchemist can be incredibly dark. However, Square Enix decided to run the series in Monthly Shonen Gangan.
13. Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics
Much of the Western world know of Grimm’s fairy tales through Disney movies. While popular, Disney is not faithful to the source material, unlike Nippon Animation. The series was aired for kids on TV Asahi, but it keeps the dark tones, death, and mutilation present in the Grimm’s original tales.
14. Mobile Suit Gundam AGE
It’s fairly obvious that Gundam AGE is marketed towards kids, you just have to look at Level-5’s art style and focus on kid protagonists. While not the strongest entry in the series, Gundam AGE embraces death and destruction on a very large scale.
15. DEAD Tube
DEAD Tube is a manga series that launched in 2014 and is currently making waves for its raunchy content. The first chapter alone has a girl being filmed taking a piss, having sex, and killing someone…all on her own orders. DEAD Tube screams seinen but is currently ran in Champion RED, a shonen magazine known for pushing boundaries.
16. Hunter x Hunter
Filled with death, beheadings, ripped out hearts, and agonizing hiatuses, the story of Gon Freecss can be dark and graphic. Hunter x Hunter is also one of Weekly Shonen Jump‘s premier series.
The long-running series started out in Weekly Shonen Jump as a parody of Ultraman, but has shifted into a wrestling series. Kinnikuman still has its original humor, but has included dark themes, death matches, and graphic violence, while still maintaining the shonen status.
Self-mutilation, rape, suicide, manipulation, sex, graphic nudity, gore. Life has it all. The themes would fit at home as a mature josei series, but it’s published in the shojo magazine Bessatsu Friend.
19. Pandora Hearts
Similar to Black Butler and Death Note, many confuse Pandora Hearts for a seinen series. The series is filled with violence, characters with dark pasts, and deaths.
20. Princess Tutu
A fairy tale themed series aimed at kids, Princess Tutu contains a surprising amount of philosophical themes and a touch of violence.
21. Zekkyou Gakkyuu
A collection of horror stories written for elementary and middle-school girls, how bad can things be? Well, aside from the fact that most of the stories have a sad ending, they also feature murder, torture, blood, stalking, and brief mentions of rape.
Yeah, your little sister is braver than you.
22. Ghost Stories
No, I’m not talking about the infamous English dub. The original version of Ghost Stories was created as a horror series for kids, which is why the heroes are grade schoolers. Unlike the English dub, the ghosts are very similar to how they are in Japanese folk lore, with disturbing backstories and vicious goals.
23. Grave of the Fireflies
One of the saddest movies ever created, Grave of the Fireflies was originally released in theaters as a double feature and was the first part. Luckily for movie goers, they got to watch My Neighbor Totoro after having their hearts ripped to shreds.
What are your favorite series that are meant for a younger audience?