Step into the shadowy world of anime, where dark alleys, morally ambiguous characters, and the ever-present allure of crime take center stage. Noir anime, a subgenre known for its moody atmosphere and intricate storytelling, offers a thrilling blend of mystery, suspense, and gritty realism. In this journey through the underbelly of animated entertainment, we unveil the 15 Best Noir Anime, where each title weaves a web of intrigue and suspense that’s bound to captivate fans of this captivating genre.”
Best Noir Anime Series
15. Perfect Blue (1997)
Starting off our list of best noir anime, Perfect Blue is a psychological thriller anime film directed by Satoshi Kon. The story revolves around Mima Kirigoe, a former pop idol who decides to leave her music career behind to pursue acting. As she transitions into the world of acting, her life takes a dark and disturbing turn. The film explores themes of identity, reality, and the consequences of fame. As Mima tries to establish herself as an actress, she is haunted by a mysterious stalker and begins experiencing a series of disturbing events and hallucinations. These events blur the lines between reality and illusion, causing her to question her own sanity and the reality of the world around her. Perfect Blue delves into the psychological and emotional turmoil of its protagonist, creating a tense and suspenseful atmosphere. The film is known for its complex narrative and its ability to keep the audience guessing about what is real and what is a product of Mima’s unraveling psyche. It’s a thought-provoking and often unsettling exploration of the human mind and the price of fame.
14. Durarara!! (2010)
One of the best noir anime, Durarara!! is an anime series that is set in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, Japan. The story revolves around a diverse cast of characters, each with their own secrets and hidden agendas. The series is known for its complex narrative and the interwoven relationships between its characters. At its core, “Durarara!!” explores themes of urban legends, supernatural occurrences, and the chaotic underbelly of city life. The plot kicks off when a young man named Mikado Ryuugamine moves to Ikebukuro to attend school. He quickly becomes entangled in the lives of various eccentric individuals, including the enigmatic Black Rider, a headless rider who roams the streets on a motorcycle. The series delves into gang conflicts, mysterious happenings, and the supernatural, all while unveiling the intricate connections between the characters. It’s a story of urban legends, crime, and the unpredictable nature of city living, making it a unique and captivating anime with a focus on character-driven storytelling.
13. Un-Go (2011)
Un-Go is a noir anime series that combines elements of mystery, supernatural, and political intrigue. Set in a futuristic, post-war Japan, the story follows the brilliant but enigmatic detective Shinjurou Yuuki and his mysterious, phantom-like assistant, Inga. The two work together to solve cases in a world where the truth is often obscured by political manipulation and deceit. The anime’s overarching narrative is centered on the idea of “truth” in a society where a government entity, the “Public Security Bureau,” often fabricates or suppresses information to maintain control. As Shinjurou and Inga investigate various cases, they uncover a web of conspiracies and hidden agendas, all while confronting supernatural elements and enigmatic beings. Un-Go explores themes of justice, morality, and the consequences of seeking the truth in a world where the line between fact and fiction is blurred. The series offers a dark and thought-provoking take on the detective genre, blending traditional noir elements with a futuristic, dystopian setting.
12. The Big O (1999)
The Big O is a quintessential noir anime that immerses viewers in a world where dark secrets, enigmatic pasts, and a pervasive sense of mystery shroud the city of Paradigm. This dystopian metropolis, trapped in perpetual amnesia, becomes the stage for a tale that draws heavily from the noir genre. The series follows Roger Smith, a suave and enigmatic negotiator who finds himself at the center of conspiracies and complex power struggles. His weapon of choice is the towering mecha known as the Big O, which he employs to uncover the city’s buried truths and hidden agendas. As he delves deeper into the shadows of Paradigm, he encounters a cast of intriguing characters, each with their own secrets. The Big O masterfully combines elements of classic film noir, including its moody atmosphere, morally ambiguous characters, and a pervasive air of uncertainty. It’s a genre-blending anime that weaves a narrative of suspense, intrigue, and enigma within the heart of a city where darkness and forgotten memories rule the day.
11. Monster (2004)
Monster is a psychological thriller anime series that explores the dark and intricate facets of human nature. The story is centered on Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a brilliant neurosurgeon working in Germany, who has it all: a successful career, a beautiful fiancée, and a promising future. However, his life takes a drastic turn when he makes a morally challenging decision. When Dr. Tenma chooses to save the life of a young boy named Johan Liebert over that of a town’s mayor, it sets off a chain of events that plunges him into a web of conspiracies, mysteries, and murder. Johan, the boy he saved, turns out to be a sociopathic and enigmatic figure who becomes a serial killer. The series follows Dr. Tenma’s relentless pursuit of Johan in a dark and suspenseful journey across Europe. Along the way, he encounters a range of complex characters, each tied to Johan in some way. “Monster” delves deep into themes of morality, redemption, the consequences of one’s choices, and the nature of evil, making it a gripping and morally complex anime that draws heavily from the noir genre.
10. Ergo Proxy (2006)
Ergo Proxy is a dystopian sci-fi anime with strong noir elements. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humans live in isolated, domed cities to protect themselves from the harsh and desolate outside environment. The series follows Re-l Mayer, an investigator in the city of Romdo, as she becomes entangled in a series of mysterious and disturbing events. A series of murders and the appearance of enigmatic beings known as “Proxies” lead her to uncover dark secrets about the city’s rulers, the truth about humanity’s condition, and the nature of the world outside the domes. As Re-l delves deeper into the mysteries of her world, she encounters Vincent Law, a fellow citizen with a shadowy past, and Pino, an AutoReiv (a type of android) who develops human emotions. The trio embarks on a journey to uncover the truth about the post-apocalyptic world, the Proxies, and the nature of human existence. Ergo Proxy combines elements of philosophy, existentialism, and complex storytelling. It features a dark and brooding atmosphere, making it a prime example of a noir-influenced anime that explores themes of identity, society, and the blurred lines between man and machine.
9. Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (2012)
Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine” is known for its noir-influenced style and focus on the character Fujiko Mine, one of the series’ iconic characters. The anime delves into Fujiko’s origins and her complex relationship with the gentleman thief Lupin III. The series is set in a stylish, 1960s-inspired world and explores the life of Fujiko Mine before she joins Lupin’s gang. It showcases her as a cunning and enigmatic femme fatale who is both Lupin’s rival and love interest. The narrative revolves around heists, cons, and a series of intricate plots, often featuring dark and morally ambiguous themes. As Fujiko embarks on her own adventures and schemes, the series delves into her past, her motivations, and her interactions with other key characters in the Lupin III universe, such as Jigen and Goemon. “Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine” is a stylish and mature take on the classic franchise, exploring Fujiko’s character in a noir-inspired context and providing a fresh perspective on the world of Lupin III.
8. 91 Days (2016)
91 Days is a revenge anime that unfolds a tale of crime, revenge, and betrayal in the Prohibition era of the United States. The story is set in the fictional town of Lawless, where organized crime families vie for power and control over the illicit alcohol trade during the Prohibition period. The series follows the protagonist, Angelo Lagusa, who adopts the alias Avilio Bruno. He returns to Lawless with a deep desire for vengeance after witnessing his family’s murder at the hands of the Vanetti mafia. Angelo infiltrates the mafia family, forming alliances and betraying those who have wronged him in a quest for retribution. As he navigates the dangerous world of organized crime, Angelo becomes entangled in a web of conspiracies and moral dilemmas. “91 Days” captures the classic elements of the noir genre, including complex characters, moral ambiguity, and a pervasive atmosphere of darkness and intrigue. The series delves into themes of power, loyalty, and the cost of seeking revenge, making it a compelling and atmospheric anime for fans of the noir genre.
7. Ghost in The Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2022)
Ghost in the Shell is a revered noir anime classic, holding a prominent position within the cyberpunk genre alongside legendary animations like Metropolis and Akira (which is also on this list of best noir anime). The Ghost in the Shell franchise comprises five full-length feature films and four original anime series. At the heart of the series is Makoto Kusanagi, the central protagonist whose journey serves as a profound exploration of the human condition. Ghost in the Shell unfolds within a dystopian future in Tokyo, where cybernetic enhancements and human-machine hybrids have become ordinary facets of everyday life.
6. Darker Than Black (2007)
Darker Than Black is a noir-influenced anime series set in a world where supernatural abilities known as “Contractor” powers have emerged. These powers come at a cost, forcing those who possess them to perform a specific and often morally ambiguous “contract” in exchange for their abilities. The story primarily follows Hei, also known as “BK-201,” a Contractor who works as an assassin for a shadowy organization. Hei’s abilities include electricity manipulation, making him a formidable and mysterious figure. As the series unfolds, Hei becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue and conspiracy, and his true identity and motivations are gradually revealed. The anime combines elements of espionage, crime, and supernatural abilities, creating a dark and complex narrative. It explores the consequences of wielding such powers and delves into the moral dilemmas faced by Contractors as they navigate the treacherous world of espionage and assassination. Darker Than Black is known for its atmospheric and noir-inspired storytelling, making it a compelling series for fans of the genre.
5. Gungrave (2003)
Taking the fifth spot in this list of best noir anime , “Gungrave” combines elements of crime, tragedy, and supernatural elements to tell a dark and emotionally charged story. The series primarily revolves around two close friends, Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowell, who becomes embroiled in the criminal underworld of the fictional city of Millennion. The story begins with Brandon and Harry working as low-level thugs for the Millennion crime syndicate. However, as they climb the ranks, their loyalty to each other is tested, and they ultimately find themselves on opposing sides of a violent power struggle within the organization. A significant portion of the series unfolds in a bleak and post-apocalyptic setting, where the reanimated corpse of Brandon Heat, now known as “Beyond the Grave,” seeks vengeance against those who wronged him. Gungrave delves into themes of friendship, betrayal, redemption, and the consequences of one’s choices. It offers a unique blend of crime drama and supernatural elements, making it a compelling addition to the noir anime genre.
4. Black Lagoon (2006)
Black Lagoon is an action-packed noir anime series that focuses on a group of mercenaries operating in Southeast Asia. The story primarily follows Rokuro Okajima, a mild-mannered Japanese businessman who is abducted by a group of pirates known as the Lagoon Company while on a business trip. After being taken hostage, he undergoes a transformation, adopting the codename “Rock” and joining the crew of the Black Lagoon, a PT boat used by the Lagoon Company. The series explores the world of organized crime, smuggling, and the gritty underbelly of society as the crew of the Black Lagoon navigates through dangerous missions, violent confrontations, and morally ambiguous situations. Revy Two Hands, Dutch, and Benny are some of the colorful characters who make up the crew, each with their own complex backgrounds and skills. Black Lagoon is famous for its intense action sequences, dark themes, and its portrayal of a world where lawlessness and violence rule the day. It’s a noir anime that combines elements of crime, suspense, and character-driven storytelling, making it a thrilling and often gritty series for fans of the genre.
3. Akira (1988)
Akira is a landmark cyberpunk anime and dystopian noir anime film released in 1988, based on the mAanga of the same name by Katsuhiro Otomo. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo, known as Neo-Tokyo, which has risen from the ashes of a devastating explosion. The narrative primarily follows Kaneda and Tetsuo, two friends who become embroiled in a government conspiracy and a series of events triggered by the mysterious psychic abilities of a young boy named Akira. Tetsuo gains psychic powers, setting off a chain reaction of chaos and destruction as he struggles to control his newfound abilities. Akira is known for its stunning animation, iconic visuals, and complex themes. It delves into issues such as power, corruption, the consequences of scientific experimentation, and the fragility of human society. The film’s dark and foreboding atmosphere, along with its exploration of moral ambiguity, makes it a quintessential entry in the noir and cyberpunk genres, leaving a lasting impact on both anime and science fiction as a whole.
2. Psycho-Pass (2012)
Psycho-Pass is a dystopian noir anime set in a future where technology is used to predict and control crime. The story is set in the authoritarian state of Japan in the year 2113, where the Sibyl System monitors and measures a person’s mental state and likelihood of committing a crime, known as their “Psycho-Pass.” The narrative primarily follows Akane Tsunemori, a young Inspector who joins the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division. Alongside her enigmatic colleague Shinya Kogami and their team, they are tasked with tracking down and apprehending latent criminals. As the series unfolds, it explores themes of free will, morality, and the consequences of a society that places so much faith in a computer system to judge and control human behavior. The characters grapple with their own moral dilemmas and confront the darker aspects of their society. Psycho-Pass is known for its dark and thought-provoking narrative, as well as its noir-influenced atmosphere and complex characters. It offers a gripping and often philosophical take on the dystopian and cyberpunk genres, making it a standout entry in the world of anime noir.
1. Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Was there any uncertainty about which anime would claim the top spot on our list of the best noir anime? Cowboy Bebop is a classic noir-influenced anime series known for its stylish blend of action, suspense, and character-driven storytelling. The series is set in a future where humanity has colonized the solar system, resulting in a lawless and chaotic universe. The story primarily follows a ragtag crew of bounty hunters aboard the spaceship Bebop. The crew is led by the enigmatic and laid-back Spike Spiegel, a former hitman, and also includes the ex-cop Jet Black, the femme fatale Faye Valentine, the quirky hacker Edward, and the intelligent dog Ein. As they travel from planet to planet, the Bebop crew takes on various bounty-hunting missions and confronts their own pasts, often with a noir-inspired atmosphere. The series masterfully combines elements of jazz music, film noir, and space opera, creating a unique and captivating world. Cowboy Bebop delves into themes of loneliness, redemption, and the consequences of one’s actions, all against the backdrop of a morally ambiguous and dangerous universe. The series is celebrated for its compelling characters, memorable music, and its enduring impact on anime and popular culture.