The world of body horror has been brought to us through the power of makeup and practical effects, terrifying the masses with what can happen to the body. From the horrifying alien-human hybrids of The Thing to the evolving body in Videodrome, body horror is the place to witness the power and talent of practical effects. But in the real world, there are limitations on the kinds of horrors that can be shown on screen.
Enter: Animation. Specifically anime. In this medium, the body is much more pliable and the possibilities of what the animator can do to the physical form are seemingly endless. The work of Japanese animators can nauseate but also fascinate, as they explore themes of corruption, agency, and power through body horror (or sometimes they just want to make something gory, which can also be fun). Anime can seem overwhelming to some, so here are 10 anime to check out that take body horror to the next level.
10. Attack on Titan (2013-present)
This show took the world and anime conventions by storm. It takes place in a city that is blocked off from the rest of the world due to the titans, or massive humanoid creatures, that roam the countryside. These titans seem to have only one goal: to destroy humanity. Attack on Titan is full of moments of people being eaten and torn apart in the worst ways imaginable. Plus, one of these titans has no skin; all of its muscle is exposed. It is a show full of gore, friendship, and nihilism, which seems like an awfully depressing combination for such a popular show.
9. Seoul Station (2016)
Did you love Train to Busan? Then you can’t miss the animated prequel, Seoul Station. Zombies are taken to a new level in the animated medium. It offers a new perspective on the world from Train to Busan, showing how this outbreak affected those in the city. It still involves an estranged father and daughter, but this time the father is trying to find his daughter despite the chaos that has broken out in Seoul. Yeon Sang-ho, who directed Train to Busan, was also at the helm of this project, so you know it’s going to be emotional and gory.
8. Princess Mononoke (1997)
Princess Mononoke may be Studio Ghibli’s most violent and gory piece of work. While the film is primarily about corrupting the environment and the effects that human have on the land, violence and body horror is used to emphasize this point. There is an infection caused by hate, hate from large animal gods who have been killed by humans. This infection covers its host in what looks like purple worms. But, much of the body horror comes from this purple infection spreading up Ashitaka’s (Billy Crudup) arm as it causes his flesh to bubble. If you’re looking for an intro to horror anime, this is the best way to dip your toes in the water.
7. King of Thorn (2009)
Sometimes, the only way to escape a virus that turns you to stone is to cryogenically freeze a bunch of people as a science experiment. The medusa virus is wreaking havoc on the world, so this science experiment is an attempt to defeat it. However, what was supposed to only be a 48-hour experiment may have lasted much longer as the subjects wake up to the lab in ruins, covered in thorns, and overrun by strange dinosaur-like creatures. Sound ridiculous? It is, in a way that only anime can deliver.
6. Lily C.A.T. (1987)
Have you ever wanted a combination of The Thing and Alien? Well, look no further because Lily C.A.T. is here to fulfill your every desire. Alien parasite that imitates its host? Check. Alien cat? Check. Gore? Check. In the 23rd century, a crew is searching distant planets to see if they can be mined. But when surveying soil samples, they accidentally take on alien matter, which turns their mining vessel into a ship of horrors.
5. Mushishi (2005-2006)
Not all body horror is gory and disgusting. Sometimes, body horror can be quiet, strange, and uncanny. Mushishi captures another side of body horror, brought about by spirits called mushi. Ginko, an expert in mushi, travels Japan to help people whose bodies and homes have been invaded by these spirits. Some cause children to grow horns, others cause their hosts’ eyes to fall out. The show’s quiet, introspective tone will lull you into a false sense of security as it shocks with moments of the body in decay.
4. Gyo (2012)
Junji Ito is a master of body horror manga, with classics such as Uzumaki and Tomie. He knows how to twist and mangle the body in such strange and repulsive ways. He takes it a step further with Gyo, a manga-turned-anime where zombie fish, armed with the “death stench,” invade a coastal town. These fish, including a great white shark, have metal legs and attack anyone in their path. But this strange mutation isn’t confined to marine life; it can spread to humans, too.
3. Parasyte (2014-2015)
In a strange twist on the body horror genre, Parasyte follows a boy, named Shinichi, who forms a bond with his parasite. The parasite, who is unable to drill into Shinichi’s brain, takes over his hand instead. So, both retain their personalities and work together to fight other parasites. While they are separate, the parasite still transforms Shinichi’s hand, growing eyes and taking various forms to suit their needs. Those who weren’t as lucky as Shinichi also experience a variety of grotesque bodily transformations, though it usually involves a complete bodily unraveling. This clever take on the body horror subgenre should pique the interests of both anime and horror fans.
2. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Sometimes body horror involves cyborg transformations that involve corporations buying your body and enhancing it as they see fit. This is the world of Ghost in the Shell, where cyborgs are part of the police force and the boundaries between human and machine are blurred. No matter how much the body is destroyed, it can be put together with mechanical parts. So what does it mean to be human? This is what Major tries to navigate while also trying to find out who the mysterious Puppet Master is. It is a film about the limits of the body, consciousness, and how to maintain humanity in a future where the physical body is being replaced. Do not watch the ScarJo live action adaptation.
1. Akira (1988)
Perhaps the prime example of body horror in anime, Akira is a cyberpunk vision of a dystopian future full of violence and mounds of mutated flesh. The story follows Kaneda and Tetsuo, two kids who live in Neo-Tokyo in 2019. This is a world full of biker gangs, drugs, and senseless violence. It’s also full of secret government experiments that involve young children that look like elderly and bodies that cannot be contained to their human form. Kaneda is sucked into these experiments and slowly loses control of himself, becoming a mass of psychic flesh that wants to consume the city. It is a gorgeous film that meditates on what it means to be an autonomous human through the grotesque.
How did we do? Find your favourite example of Body Horror in Anime on our list? Do you have another to recommend? Let us know on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!