Hollywood has truly aced in its zombie content ever since Night of the Living Dead first arrived in 1968. While the genre has seen modernized takes and blends with other tropes, the films remain as an allegory for societal collapse and our base instincts. Whatever it is that draws you toward zombie movies, know that you’re not alone – the walking dead have amassed a devoted global following across movies, TV shows, games, and more.
But have you tried exploring how anime acts in this post-apocalyptic setting? Well, Japanese animation already has a long history of treading the waters of every genre and putting its signature style and innovation, resulting in tales that are nothing short of mind-blowing. And when it comes to the zombie genre, there are series ranging from over-the-top gore feats to thoughtful exploration of human psyches. Whether they are fan-favorite titles like Toyko Ghoul, or sci-fi gems worth discovering, these anime series are a treat for fans.
So, if your love for the living dead isn’t satisfied by typical Hollywood flicks, feel free to turn to these anime series that offer fresh takes on the genre and expand the boundaries of what is possible. Who knows, you may just find a new favorite show to binge!
10 Sankarea: Undying Love (2012)
A zombie anime that is R-rated not for the gore and bloodshed it depicts but because the unlimited amount of fan service it provides while being outrageously funny, Sankarea: Undying Love follows a zombie-obsessed Chihiro Furuya who often indulges in dreams where he’s dating an undead girl, reads manga, and finds romance where he least expects – when he is trying to resurrect his cat using a potion.
Rea Sanka, a random girl who lends Chihiro a bunch of poisonous hydrangea flowers from her garden, willingly drinks the potion he makes hoping she’ll finally be free from her oppressive life. But instead, Rea ends up being reborn as a zombie. Despite being absurd in its premise, the anime has a deeper meaning to it. It uses zombies as a metaphor for the struggling youth and as a bonus, there’s also bits of butchery.
9 Sunday Without God (2013)
While most zombie anime revel in mayhem, Sunday Without God shines a light on humanity and the turmoil of an eternal life by blending genres like science fiction, mystery, and fantasy. Set in a world where people cannot live or die because “God” has left their world, the series introduces us to people roaming about as undead (zombies, essentially). In such a situation, God has created “gravekeepers,” magical beings who have the ability to put them to rest.
Ai is a young girl and the gravekeeper of her town, who accompanies Hampnie Hambart on a journey about finding the truth about their world. Shot in a poignant style with a gut-wrenching soundtrack, the series immerses you in its world and stands out in the genre as a modern classic.
8 Corpse Princess (2008)
In a dystopian Tokyo where zombies plague alleys and pose a threat to unwitting humans, Makina Hoshimura is but a schoolgirl who died a natural death. But when an orphan, Keisei Tagami, resurrects her and gives her a mission to find and kill at least 108 zombies if she wants to be with her family in heaven, Makina’s life takes a complete one-eighty. By day, she attends school as a shy girl, but at night, Makina turns into a deadened assassin slipping through shadows and luring zombies into her trap.
But when multiple encounters with a classmate, Ouri Kagami, drags him into her dangerous world, the two team up to uncover the secret about Shikabanes. Corpse Princess creates an incredible balance between horror and mystery, which is perfect for zombie movie fans.
7 Gungrave (2003)
While most undead stories offer gore, Gungrave serves the same with vengeance and a lot (like, a lot) of bullets. Former friends Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowell were happy with their lives. As lowly hitmen committing petty thefts, going to nightclubs, and wooing girls, they failed to fathom that the world could be brutal and intimidating until one fateful event showed them what reality looked like. After joining the largest crime syndicate, Millennion, their priorities shifted.
Harry achieved godlike power and rose up the ranks while Brandon became death incarnate (his grave literally gunned). While Brandon, now Beyond the Grave, brings his complex layers as a zombie to the table, the anime turns into a dark and trippy mafia epic.
6 Hellsing Ultimate (2006)
Despite showing vampires rather than zombies, Hellsing Ultimate is a must-watch for fans of zombie movies because of its pure, unadulterated badassery. The series is a 10-episode OVA that was released after the original series ended, and it takes on the same narrative as the manga, featuring the same titular organization dedicated to protect Britain from the undead and the threats they pose. To do so, Integra, the founder and commander of Hellsing, sends her most twisted agents like Alucard into gory battles to fight every monstrous creature from vampires to zombies.
More visceral than your typical zombie flicks, the series turns up the galore and uses jaw-dropping action to fuel its fast pace. Moreover, its complex characters and the philosophy buried within their actions really makes it ace in the action horror department.
5 School-Live! (2015)
You know how the West has a pattern for its zombie movies that it follows unwittingly, without fail? The origin story, the mayhem, the ultimate defeat? Well, anime seem to do things differently by making a series look nothing like a zombie flick at first. School Live!, or Gakkougurashi, is an incredible 12-episode anime set in the Megurigaoka Private High School. Our protagonist is Yuki Takeya, a high school senior who looks forward to school everyday, so she can attend the School Living Club, whose members include the athlete, the supervising teacher, the club president, and more. Their aim is to make school life better for all.
But here’s the catch. These girls are completely unaware of the fact that there’s a zombie apocalypse outside school grounds and they’re the only survivors. Told mostly through flashbacks, the series amplifies the threat factor by being clueless and carefree.
4 Ajin (2016)
Ajin is an anime that subverts every zombie horror trope by being downright creative and making piercing comments on social discrimination, politics, and a lack of acceptance that has sent the world into ruins. The series familiarizes us with a world where humans co-exist with another species known as “Ajin,” who aren’t just the undead, but the undead with supernatural powers. Deemed to be too powerful and thus a threat to society, these Ajin are ordered to be killed upon sighting.
Kei Nagai is an oblivious teen who wants to be a doctor but doesn’t pay much attention in class, so he doesn’t know about the Ajin. But when he himself turns into one, then begins a long and tormenting blunder of an existence. By being gruesome yet imaginative, the series makes great use of its zombie-main-character trope.
3 Zombie-Loan (2007)
Giving the beloved genre a clever spin. We have Zombie-Loan which follows Michiru Kita, a young girl who knows exactly when a person is going to die because of her ability to see a glowing ring around their neck. Apparently, the darker the ring, the closer the person is to death.
Now, we wouldn’t exactly call this odd power a boon, but when Michiru notices pitch-black rings around the necks of Chika Akatsuki and Shito Tachibana, two boys in her class, she rushes to warn them, only to discover that they are already dead and are alive because of a contract with a mysterious agency. Their task is to find and kill zombies and clear their debt. Trapped unwillingly between two worlds, Michiro anchors this rare gem about zombies and humans with perfection.
2 Highschool of the Dead (2010)
In the West, zombie flicks ruled the horror genre during the ‘80s. Taking the same sleazy survival fantasy trope into consideration, Highschool of the Dead is a modern spin inlined with equal parts craft and carnage. Apparently, Japan suddenly has legions of zombies crawling the streets and preying on flesh. Amidst it all, Takashi Kimuro is burdened with the responsibility of protecting Rei Miyamoto, the girlfriend of his best friend who turned into the undead, decided to attack them both, and ended up being brutally slaughtered.
Filled with pervy teenagers and an abundance of fan service, HotD is too good of a zombie anime to be left off of the list. Moreover, watching its fast-paced, over-the-top action unfold against the backdrop of a high school is purely ecstatic.
1 Tokyo Ghoul (2014)
Though only featuring zombies in bits and pieces, Tokyo Ghoul places “ghouls” – human-eating monsters that look identical to humans and hide among them – at the center of the stage. University student Ken Kaneki is shy and avoids meddling into the city’s growing crisis, but when gets into an accident and wakes up to discover that he has received an organ transplant from Rize Kamishiro (secretly a ghoul), his life changes forever.
Jumping between its psychological themes of identity and acceptance while still delivering delicious graphic violence for those who have the stomach for it, the series emerges as a rich and compassionate lore about those we brand as “monsters.”