Many people think that anime is all fun and games and rainbows all the time. But, little do they know that some anime also deal with heavy subjects, like death, grief, depression, etc., as part of their storylines.
Note: This list was only edited, not originally written by Cody Perez. This list does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cody Perez.
One of the popular subjects it deals with is mental health, a critical topic that society needs more awareness about. So, if you struggle/have struggled with depression or are just intrigued by mental health-related matters, this list includes some of the best anime that explore the concepts with appropriate nuance.
15 Anime About Depression & Mental Health
Without much ado, here's a list of 15 of our favorite nuanced anime about depression and mental health-related issues:
1. Welcome to The N.H.K
If we are talking about anime about depression, Welcome to the N.H.K. should definitely be on the list.
Welcome to the N.H.K. was originally a novel written by Tatsuhiko Takimoto that got adapted into a manga series featuring Kendi Owa’s art in 2004. It was made into an anime series by Gonzo K.K. and was aired in 2006. This anime includes themes like depression, anxiety, isolation, and other hardships of life that, perhaps, many of us are dealing with too.
The story is centered around a 22-year-old college dropout, Tatsuro Satou, who has lived as a hikikomori – someone with acute social withdrawal – for four years. Satou is mostly trapped in his room, making him develop ridiculous conspiracy theories, like a secret organization controlling his life, causing him to fail everything.
On his journey, he meets this mysterious girl named Misaki Nakahara, who seems to know a lot about him even though they haven’t met before. However, little does he know Nakahara is also struggling with depression herself. But then again, the relationship between the two might help Satou to come out of isolation, even though it might be challenging.
2. A Silent Voice
Are you looking for a visually pleasing anime about depression? Then A Silent Voice might be the answer.
Produced by Kyoto Animation, directed by Naoko Yamada, and written by Reiko Yoshida, A Silent Voice is an anime movie adapted from the manga written and illustrated by Yoshitoki Oima. The movie premiered in 2016 in Japan and 2017 worldwide. While your usual anime focuses on the protagonists trying to be better people, A Silent Voice gives you a bittersweet situation that makes the audience understand that the future matters as much as the past.
Just like many other teenagers, elementary school student Shouya Ishida struggles to find a way to beat his boredom. A way suddenly pops into his head when a deaf girl, Shouko Nishimiya, transfers to his class. Thoughtlessly, Shouya and the rest of his class bully her just for fun. However, Shoko remains empathetic and is willing to befriend Shouya regardless.
Guilt builds up inside Shouya, and as a result, he becomes a target for the bullies. This leads Shouya to apologize to Shouko years later before he decides to end his life.
Colorful, directed by Keiichi Hara, is an anime based on the novel Eto Mori wrote in 1998. This anime gives us a very relatable story of how students are often under a lot of pressure as they get closer to graduation and entering college life. It also explores the daily struggles humans often face but are too afraid to confront.
Upon arriving at the train station of death, an impure soul is given a second chance in life against its will, reincarnating as Makoto Kobayashi, a 14-year-old boy who recently committed suicide. The soul is tasked with finding the greatest sin of Kobayashi within six months. On its journey, the soul notices the colors of people’s emotions and actions.
4. Serial Experiments Lain
The correlation between modern technology and mental illness is, of course, a hot topic for discussion. Free access to social media makes people act as they please on the platform without any thought on how their actions can affect someone’s mental health.
Serial Experiments Lain is an anime series directed by Ryutaro Nakamura, written by Chiaki J. Konaka, and produced by Yasuyuki Ueda that aired back in 1998. With only 13 episodes, the show successfully explored the topic mentioned above.
The story is focused around Lain Iwakura, an awkward, introverted 14-year-old girl who receives a disturbing email from her classmate, Chisa Yomoda, who recently committed suicide. The email takes her straight to a virtual world of a communication network similar to what we know as the internet.
Lain’s life turned upside down as she encounters one cryptic mystery after another. With time, Lain is dragged deeper into more surreal and bizarre situations where identity, consciousness, and perception are concepts that take on new meanings.
5. March Comes in Like Lion
Sadness is one of the key things that leads to depression. But another major factor behind it is apathy, a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. March Comes In Like a Lion was originally a manga series written and illustrated by Chica Umino and adapted to an anime series directed by Akiyuki Shinbo and Kenjirou Okada, which aired in 2016. It consists of 22 episodes.
This anime, based on a manga that won the Manga Taisho, tells the story of Rei Kiriyama, one of the few elites in the world of shogi, i.e., Japanese chess. Due to his rank, he faces enormous pressure from the community and his adoptive family. Seeking independence, Kiriyama moves to an apartment in Tokyo by age 17 and starts taking poor care of himself.
Not long after he arrives in Tokyo, he meets Akari, Hinata, and Momo Kawamoto, sisters that live with their grandfather, who owns a wagashi shop. They share a unique familial bond with Kiriyama, which he has lacked for most of his life. As Kiriyama struggles to maintain himself physically and mentally through his career as a shogi player, he must also learn how to interact with others and understand his emotions.
6. Your Lie in April
Many others think that this anime is only a romantic, tear-jerker anime. Did you know that Your Lie in April also tells the story of childhood trauma caused due to domestic abuse? Originally a manga series written and illustrated by Naoshi Arikawa, Your Lie in April was adapted into an anime series in 2011. This series also won the anime division of the 2016 Sugoi Japan Awards.
The original storyline is about a genius pianist, Kousei Arima, who is called a human metronome. He falls into a spiral that makes him unable to hear the sound of his piano after his mother’s death. Years later, he meets a beautiful violinist, Kaori Miyazono, who stirs up his world and sets him on a journey to face music again.
What most of the audience didn’t notice, though, is that the anime also explores Arima’s traumatizing childhood, which was characterized by physical and emotional abuse by his mother. The tragic history of his childhood, from when his mother suffered from a chronic illness, is often shown in the series, from when his mother suffered from a chronic disease.
And even when she is sometimes kind towards Arima, she also forces Arima to play perfectly at any cost. This series explores such sensitive topics with nuance.
7. Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei
Did you know that in 2019, Japan had the second-highest rate of suicide out of all G7 developed nations? Especially during the pandemic era of COVID-19, more Japanese citizens’ death was caused by suicide than by the deadly virus itself. Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei tells the story of a pessimistic homeroom teacher, Nozomu Itoshiki. His students also have their issues. One has a serotonin imbalance that makes her chronically over-optimistic. One has obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the other is agoraphobic.
Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is a satirical slice-of-life comedy anime set in the modern day, covering various aspects of Japanese life and culture. Adapted from the manga series written and illustrated by Koji Kumeta, the anime series with 12 episodes was released in 2007.
8. Neon Genesis Evangelion
If you are a shonen lover, you might love this series. Neon Genesis Evangelion uniquely presents mental illness. There is nothing noble about struggling with depression, as there is nothing noble about forcing young children to save the world. Directed by Hideaki Anno, who also lives with clinical depression, the series features instances where the director tried his best to slip psychological elements. This made the anime rank as the most popular of all time in the Japan Media Arts Festival in 2006. Neon Genesis Evangelion was the first shonen series that skilfully encapsulates depression.
Rainbow is originally a manga series written by George Abe and illustrated by Masasumi Kakizaki. It was then made into a 26-episode anime series directed by Hiroshi Kojima and was broadcast from April to September 2016. In 2006, the manga won the 51st Shogakukan Manga Award in the General category.
The story brings you back to Japan in the year 1955. Mario Minakami has just arrived at the Shounan Special Reform School along with five other teenagers arrested on serious criminal charges. They were all assigned to the same cell where they met Rokurouta Sakuragi, a former boxer with whom they later share a close bond.
The seven cellmates struggle to survive together the brutal suffering and humiliation inflicted on them by Ishihara, a sadistic guard with a grudge against Rokurouta, and Gisuke Sasaki, a doctor who takes pleasure in humiliating boys. This show also discusses the question of how one can return to normal life after such trauma has been inflicted on them.
10. The Tatami Galaxy
Even though this series is not as heavy as the others, it displays a very relatable forgotten principle of life, i.e., every little choice you make affects your life. Originally a novel by Tomihiko Morimi, it was adapted into an 11 episodes anime series directed by Masaaki Yuasa in 2010. The Tatami Galaxy anime won the 2010 Japan Media Arts Festival Grand Prize in the Animation Division and the 2011 Tokyo Anime Award in the Television Category.
The Tatami Galaxy successfully takes us to the misadventures of a young man on a journey to make friends, find his way through life and the rose-colored campus life he always dreamed of in such an artistic, surreal way.
11. Aku No Hana
This is one of the anime about depression that is rather underrated. These days, of course, we are familiar with a society full of two-faced people. Based on a 2009 manga series written and illustrated by Shuzo Oshimi, Aku no Hana was adapted into an anime series that aired in 2013.
The anime was animated using the rotoscoping technique, causing some controversy among fans. Afterward, the live-action adaptation was released in September 2019. It tells you the story of Kasuga Takao, a bookworm. A girl named Saeki Nanako is his muse, making him admire the girl from a distance.
12. Aoi Bungaku
With twelve episodes, Aoi Bungaku is adapted from six classical Japanese tales. It was directed by several directors, such as Morio Asaka, Tetsuro Araki, Shigeyuki Miya, Ryosuke Nakamura, and Atsuko Ishizuka.
The series tells the story of a secondary school student separated from his community. He falls into sorrow, harms himself, and takes recreative substances to get out of pain. In each episode, the narrative shows various phases of his life and how he has become who he is.
Narutaru or Shadow Star is a manga series written and illustrated by Mohiro Kitoh before finally being made into a 13 episodes anime series in 2003. Narutaru explores the topic of teen depression with expert ease. The female lead is a bullying victim, which drives her to self-harm to deal with the stress.
A young, cheerful schoolgirl named Tamai Shiina met a strange-looking creature during her summer holiday. And when Shiina returns home, she starts meeting other kids who have befriended similar odd creatures like Hoshimaru. She soon discovers that not all these creatures and their masters are as friendly as Hoshimaru.
14. Kara No Kyoukai
Kara no Kyoukai is an anime movie full of dark themes such as depression, loneliness, and suicide. The animation is so eye-catching that you could just watch it for the visuals. It was originally a light novel series written by Kinoko Nasu and illustrated by Takashi Takeuchi before finally being made into a movie from 2007 to 2013. So far, Kara no Kyoukai has eight parts.
The story is set in September 1998, when random suicide cases baffled and devastated Japan. But a detective agency specializing in paranormal occurrences noticed some disturbing similarities in the cases. The victims were all schoolgirls who jumped to their deaths from the top of an ancient Fujou Building.
Many of us have wondered if we could redo our lives, specifically if we could go back to our glorious youth. If that is the case, ReLIFE is the anime just for you. The high school drama, romance, and slice-of-life anime was originally a manga series illustrated by Yayoiso. In 2016, the anime television series adaptation directed by Satoru Kosaka premiered on television. ReLIFE’s manga also has won the 2017 France’s Mangawa Award.
The story focuses on Arata Kaizaki, who wants to relive his high school days as he feels like a failure and hates his adult life. He works as a typical office worker while regretting his life decisions, making him join a program called ReLIFE, which let him go back to his youthful days of high school.