Be it in films, TV shows, or books; human beings have an obsession with folklore and myths. There’s something about the unknown that makes people want to spread these stories around until they become urban legends. Japanese anime is full of terrifying and appalling tales capable of turning the world’s biggest skeptics into believers. Here are five anime about urban legends that will make you question everything you know.
Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories
Japan has a rich history of traditions and stories. Many of today’s urban legends originated from those tales, especially the ones about death, superstitions, and ghosts.
The anime Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories fully immerses the viewer into these types of stories by using kamishibai-style animation. Kamishibai is a storytelling method that uses illustrated boards placed inside a miniature stage-like device. Using paper figures for its animation, Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories tells terrifying tales that stretch across several seasons.
Each episode starts with a man in a creepy yellow mask at a children’s playground with a Kamishibai slider. He uses the storytelling device to tell the kids stories based on Japanese myths and urban legends. For example, Episode 8, “The Umbrella Goddess” is based on the urban legend of Hachishakusama (aka Eight Feet Tall), a demon who takes the form of a tall woman who attacks children. Each story is only five minutes long, but these eerie tales will stick with you for days.
Requiem From the Darkness
Taking place during the final years of the Edo period (between 1603 and 1868), Requiem From the Darkness follows Momosuke Yamaoka, a young writer who’s tired of publishing riddles for children. Instead, he wants to reach an older audience with a ghost-story anthology, Hyakumonogatari (translated as One Hundred Tales). To do this, he travels throughout Japan searching for stories and urban legends of the strange and supernatural.
During one of his trips, he meets a mysterious trio — Mataichi, a spiritualist; Ogin, an attractive puppeteer; and Nagamimi, the bird caller — calling themselves the “Ongyou.” They’re a group of detectives who investigate myths and legends to reveal their truths and bring wrongdoers to justice.
Every time Momsuke comes across the Ongyou, he faces horrible truths and battles with his morals. On top of that, he’s seeing things that he shouldn’t. Who (or what) are these mysterious beings, and is there more to them than meets the eye?
Not every mermaid story is like Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The anime Mermaid Forest is Japan’s take on the mythological creatures, known as Ningyo. fish-like monsters whose flesh can grant immortality.
Legends say that the flesh of these fish-like monsters can grant immortality. However, there’s also a chance the flesh will kill you or turn you into a demon. Almost 500 years ago, Yuta unknowingly ate a piece of mermaid’s flesh and survived. Now immortal, he travels across Japan, hoping to find a mermaid to make him normal again (or, at the very least, to end his never-ending loneliness).
He eventually meets a group of mermaids. But he’s forced to kill them before he can get the cure to save a young girl named Mana. Unfortunately, she also eats some of the mermaid’s flesh. Now, with a companionship borne from tragedy, Yuta and Mana search for a mermaid who can free them from immortality.
The late Satoshi Kon has developed many critically acclaimed films, including Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress. While working on one of his films, he came up with the idea for an anime about a social phenomenon taking over Tokyo — known today as Paranoia Agent.
A rumor spreads about a kid in rollerblades beating people down with a golden baseball bat. Despite many believing this to be an urban legend, the police encounter their first victim, Tsukiko Sagi. But the detectives on the case suspect the young woman is actually the one behind the attacks.
Luckily, her anthropomorphic pink stuffed dog, Maromi, believes in her innocence. More people fall victim to the young assailant, now dubbed Lil’ Slugger, and the police can’t seem to catch him, much less understand his motives.
The series focuses on the victims of Lil’ Slugger, with each episode revealing more details of their secret lives and the truth behind this juvenile serial assailant.
Junji Ito Collection
From the works of Japanese horror manga artist Junji Ito (GYO and Fragments of Horror) comes the anime anthology series, Junji Ito Collection. The mangaka collected and edited several traditional Japanese folklore tales to create the 12-episodes series, including two OVA episodes. Each installment focuses on a different character in the collection, like the beautiful Tomie, the mischievous Souichi, or the fashionable Fuchi.
The horror anime uses several themes that are prevalent in Junji Ito’s imagery and Japanese urban legends, such as creepy dolls, different realms, and disgusting critters. One story comes from the “Crossroads” urban legend, where an intersection represents the location between the human world and the dark realm, causing supernatural spirits to appear.
The series adds dark tones to its animation and soundtrack, effectively creating a terrifying atmosphere for the urban legends. But don’t worry. Souichi brings the comic relief when things get too creepy.