Best anime based on urban legends

Sometimes the best horror stories are the ones that arise naturally. The ones that may have started as a mundane occurrence but got creepier with every mouth that passed it on. It used to be called folklore. Now they are urban legends.

Related: The most disturbing video game urban legends

People have scared themselves with one legend or another, like the story of Bloody Mary, Mattoon’s Mad Gasser, or the Chupacabra. Some of these tales have also appeared on TV shows, including anime. These have made a name for themselves by putting them in the foreground.


8/8 paranoia agent

Satoshi Kon’s psycho-thriller isn’t about any particular urban legend. Like his other movies, it’s more meta than that. The show begins with stressed character designer Tsukiko Sagi getting attacked by a teenager with a baseball bat. She becomes Li’l Slugger’s first victim, as he continues to assault more people in and around Musashino in Tokyo. All people know about him is that he hides his face with a cap, rides inline skates, and hits people in the head with a bat.

It would be pretty simple if the show was all about catching it. Instead, it’s more about how her story spreads through the community and affects people. Or in short, how urban legends are created. After all, it worked for similar mystery attackers like Spring-Heeled Jack in real life. Only that Li’l Slugger has more weird origin story behind him for Funimation viewers to find out.

7/8 Picnic elsewhere

Beginning as a series of yuri science fiction novels, Iori Miyazawa Picnic elsewhere is about a student named Sorawo who likes to explore “the other side”. They are parallel worlds where urban legends and online stories are real. For example, she bonds with another woman called Toriko when they go in search of “Kunekune”, paper-like creatures stirring Japanese creepypastas.

They encounter others on their adventures, such as Kisaragi Station. The latter grew out of a 2chan post in 2004 about a girl trapped in a mysterious train station. In Picnic elsewhere, it’s part of a rescue mission as Sorawo and Toriko rescue fallen US Marines in the Other Side during maneuvers. So if this seems like the key element that some viewers have missed in other yuri series, check out Picnic elsewhere on Funimation or Crunchyroll.

6/8 Boogiepop Ghost

Before he produced his catches on Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure in Violet Haze Distortion and Crazy Diamond’s Demonic SorrowKōhei Kadono made a name for himself with the boogie pop series of light novels. They are perhaps more what people might imagine when they think of an anime taking on an urban legend. In this, it’s a whimsical, if convoluted, take on the Boogieman.

Related: The supernatural light novels that inspired the Monogatari series

The series is about a spirit called Boogiepop who takes control of a high school student called Tōka Miyashita in order to protect the world. Is it supernatural? Or does Tōka have a split personality? No one is certain. Curiously, its sequel Boogiepop Ghost was animated 19 years before its ancestor in 2000. Both are available on Funimation, Crunchyroll, and VRV for anyone looking for the full story.

5/8 Daughter of Hell

Speaking of animated versions of urban legends. The original story was about a website where, if users provided the correct details, they could send demons to torment their target before dragging them into the underworld. Everything is free too… except for the soul of the user, as they too will be bound to hell. Studio DEEN’s series turned the site’s main demon into Ai Enma, the titular Hell Girl in a kimono.

She was once a normal girl, until she was betrayed and offered as a sacrifice by her village. She climbed out of her grave and set it on fire in revenge, killing everyone. Now she serves the underworld through her “business”, punishing sinners to atone for her crime, with the website being the latest version of her services. Amazon Prime offers every season. While Crunchyroll only has Hell Girl: Fourth Twilight.

4/8 Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories

Before television took over Japan, children and families were entertained by kamishibai. It was a form of street theater where a man told a story with a movable wooden frame in which he dragged images. Studio ILCA Yamishibai is basically a play on it, as a scary masked figure appears with his stand for present scary short stories. The show is now 10 seasons and counting, with each season consisting of episodes of about 5 minutes or so.

Most of his stories use urban legends as the basis of their plot or use real people from folklore as inspiration. For example, the first season episode “Umbrella Goddess” was based on Hachishakusama, the eight-foot-tall woman who preys on young children. HIDIVE has two seasons of the show, but the entire enchilada can be found on Crunchyroll and VRV.

3/8 ghost stories

Surprisingly, the 2000 anime series infamous for his gag dub began life as a series of scary novels by Tōru Tsunemitsu. They even got a movie tetralogy and a TV series long before ADV Films had their way with the characters. Their dub would turn paranormal enthusiast Leo into a stereotypical Jew, and antagonistic entity Amanojaku into a 4th-wall-breaking wisecracker.

Related: Ghost Stories: Things You Didn’t Know About The Anime’s English Dub

Nonetheless, the series sees main character Hajime and his friends encounter characters from Japanese urban legends. Like Akagami Aogami, a masked figure who lurks in bathrooms and offers to either choke his prey to death or bleed it. More infamously, its 3rd episode was originally slated to feature Kuchisake Onna, the ‘split-mouthed woman’, before complaints led to its removal. Otherwise, each episode can be found on Amazon Prime, Crunchyroll, VRV, and Retro Crush.

2/8 Hanako-kun in the toilet

One of Japan’s most enduring urban legends is that of Hanako-san, the ghost of a girl who died in a public restroom. Like ‘Bloody Mary’, she can be summoned by knocking on the 3rd stall of the public restroom and asking if Hanako is there. If they get a response, the summoner will see a bloody hand dragging them inside the stall to a fate worse than death.

Other stories cast Hanako as a human, or even a benevolent, wish-granting figure. by Aidalro Hanako-kun in the toilet did both. In it, student Nene summons Hanako and wishes for a boyfriend. Instead, she spiritually bonds with Hanako-kun, the ghost of a boy who maintains the balance between the human and spiritual worlds by taking care of paranormal threats and rumors. The first season can be found on Hulu, Funimation, and Crunchyroll.

1/8 GeGeGe No Kitaro

Finally, the biggest entry on the list. GeGeGe No Kitaro actually started as a kamishibai story called Graveyard Kitaro, which was about a deformed boy who lived in the local cemetery. It was also inspired by “The Candy Buying Ghost”, a story about a man who finds a baby in a graveyard after his mother’s ghost visits him asking for candy. The modern series is based on the 1960 manga by Shigeru Mizuki, which has been adapted into an anime 6 times between 1968 and 2020.

It is usually about Kitarō and his friends meeting different figures from Japanese and Western folk tales. Episode 10 of the final season (available on Tubi and Crunchyroll) features all of Japan’s infamous Seven School Mysteries, from Toilet-Bound Hanako and her male counterpart Yosuke, to human-faced dogs called Jinmenken and the moving statue by Kinjirō Ninomiya. When it comes to urban legends, it’s hard to find a more packed anime than this one.

After: Anime that focuses on Japanese folk tales

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