11 Cute Anime Shows That Are Actually Horrifying
Don't let the bubbly characters and flowery names fool you, these shows are straight-up devastating.
Anime, as a medium, contains multitudes. It can deliver anything from slice-of-life to romance to straight-up horror and everything in between. But one of its biggest strengths is its ability to take those genres and ideas and mash them together into new and unexpected combinations. We see this all the time, even in the mainstream--sports-focused shows will blend in elements of big Shonen-style fights and power battles, romance stories will pull in supernatural or sci-fi elements, just about everything under the sun can be turned into an Isekai story where a protagonist gets sent into a different world or universe.
But one of the most under-appreciated genre-blends in anime has to be the "cute-but-horrific" combo. Broadly speaking, anime is understood to be home to some of the cutest and most cuddly characters around, and with its penchant for stylization and colorful costumes, it's not difficult to see where that reputation came from--and these are stories that use those assumptions to their advantage to deliver maximum shock and awe. We've collected 11 shows that lure you in with adorable characters, bubbly protagonists, and happy-sounding titles and then bring the pain.
Some of these shows may be perfect for Halloween viewing, while others may be best suited for when you're in the right mind to shoulder some major existential dread. They range from serial killers and tragic magical girls to full-on blood-soaked explorations of loneliness and suicide, so consider this your warning moving forward!
And in the meantime, head over to Hulu for all the latest streaming anime, like Chainsaw Man and Bleach: Thousand Year Blood War. Or, if you'd rather spend you time on an anime-specific streaming platform, check out Funimation!
1. Madoka Magica
The Magical Girl genre had plenty of dark stories prior to the release of Madoka Magica, but Madoka Magica was arguably the first to spin off into its very own subgenre of Magical Girl horror. What looks like a very cute, very standard story about a young girl who gets the power to fight crime in a cute costume with a frilly transformation sequence abruptly pivots into a shocking, brutal, and bleak look at the reality of entropy, and the futility of trying to do good. This one is as nihilistic as they come.
2. Wonder Egg Priority
With its modern, sleak art style and brightly colored sets, Wonder Egg Priority really lures you in with the idea that it might be a (lowkey surreal) slice-of-life story. Instead, it turns into a deeply sad look at suicide and depression. You might want to tread with caution on this one.
3. Made in Abyss
It would be difficult to make characters cuter than the protagonists of Made in Abyss. With their circular babyfaces and big bright eyes, everything about this show looks like a kid-friendly adventure series–until, uh. It abruptly stops being so kid-friendly and becomes something else entirely. Let's just say that those big, bright eyes stop looking so cute when there's blood pouring out of them.
4. The Promised Neverland
Who doesn't love a feel-good orphan story? Unfortunately, that's not really what The Promised Neverland is. On the surface, it looks like a nostalgic story of kids finding themselves and new families. In reality, it's about monsters and cannibalism. You know, the classics.
5. Higurashi: When They Cry
This one is a couple decades old by now, but still worth mentioning. Higurashi: When They Cry looks like a very typical early '00s anime, complete with the angular hair and features and slightly exaggerated proportions. It's actually a murder mystery, however, that spirals into a story of paranoia and death, dismantling the idea of a quiet, cute, fun life in the countryside.
School-Live knows exactly what it's doing with its intensely cute, pink-haired protagonist and her friend posing with big smiles in their happy, definitely normal high school. That's how it gets you. In reality, the story is about a group of teenagers surviving a zombie apocalypse holed up in their school, which they fantasize about being a cute and safe place to maintain their own sanity. Like you do.
7. Happy Sugar Life
With a name like Happy Sugar Life, you know you're in for a treat. Focusing on obsessive love and friendship between two young girls, Happy Sugar Life kind of feels like NBC's Hannibal by way of cute little anime characters. There's plenty of murder and deciet and psychological horror all in one convient package.
8. Shadow Star: Narutaru
Do you ever think about how messed up the concept of Pokemon would be in any other context? Taking wild animals and forcing them to fight one another (and sometimes forcing them to attack other people?) It's all pretty bleak when you think about it. And that's exactly what Shadow Star, AKA Narutaru wants you to do.
9. Magical Girl Raising Project
In the same vein as Madoka Magica, Magical Girl Raising Project takes the concept of the magical girl and spins it on its head--this time, with a slightly more modern twist. The story focuses on a popular mobile game which gives its players a 1-in-10000 chance of becoming a real-life magical girl. Unfortunately, none of them seem to really think that wish through until it's too late.
10. Elfen Lied
Another oldie-but-goodie, Elfen Lied actually became pretty famous in the early '00s for the way it used its cutesy-looking characters to dive into some pretty heavy-hitting themes--most of which frequently ended in blood baths, nudity, or a combination of both. This one definitely isn't for kids.
11. Mirai Nikki
This one doesn't necessarily masquerade as cute for too long, but we're still going to include it because it doesn't broadcast how dark it is right off the bat, either. Based around the idea of literal gods granting the power to see the future to teenagers, and the subsequent drama (and violence) that eventually begets, Mirai Nikki starts bleak and only gets bleaker.