Humor and horror elicit pretty similar responses from the human body. Laughter and fear are both involuntary, and both the result of surprise. The question becomes which side of surprise would you want to fall on, dread or mirth?
While the horror-comedy genre is well established in other media, such as film, many fans of the subgenre may be completely unaware of its popularity in anime. Here’s a list of 5 supernatural anime shows which will leave you laughing more than recoiling in fear, and possibly even tug on your heartstrings in unexpected ways.
The Devil is a Part-timer (2013)
Sadao Maou has got it made. He’s got a kickin’ apartment close to work, a roommate who would literally do anything for him, and he’s up for Employee of the Month at MgRonalds. The only thing that would make Maou really happy, though? If he got his previous position back as the Demon Lord of Ente Isla. As Satan, Maou ruled his medieval kingdom with an iron fist, but resistance forces led by the Hero Emilia forced him to flee through a magical portal. Along with his loyal general Alciel, Maou ends up in modern-day Tokyo without magic, without money, without a job, and without a place to live. To make ends meet, Maou starts working at a fast food joint part-time. Can these two demons survive the stresses of the modern world? And will Maou ever be Employee of the Month at MgRonalds?
The show works as a clever commentary on the nature of good and evil, and how even the worst villain can be redeemed if they’re forced to work in the service industry. Maou even starts to take the MgRonalds managing style seriously enough to apply it to how he deals with his demonic peons and his enemies. After all, an enemy is just a dissatisfied customer. All you need to do is to give them something they want, and you’ll slowly pull them over to your side. Although free fries won’t work on someone as staid as the Hero Emilia, even she eventually begins to respect Maou’s work ethic and loyalty. Who knew working at the Golden Arches could be just as insightful as reading The Art of War?
Gugure! Kokkuri-san (2014)
What if, one stormy evening, you decide to play around with a ouija board, but the spirits you summon are so appalled at how crappy your life is that they decide to stick around to make sure you’re not stuffing your face with microwave meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? That’s the premise behind this anime, where a friendless and forsaken little girl named Kohina Ichimatsu (who insists she’s a doll come to life) summons a fox spirit through the Kokkuri-san game. Kokkuri grows concerned about Kohina’s life after he notices that she lives alone, with nothing but stacks of instant ramen bowls to keep her company. Kokkuri’s disturbed by Kohina’s insistence that she’s a living doll, which is more than enough cause for anyone to either stick around to see how this plays out or run for the hills screaming. Kokkuri decides to care for Kohina because that’s the kind of stand-up, noble fox spirit that he is.
Those looking for a deep, meaningful show will probably turn away from this one in disappointment, but the show wears its wonderful weirdness on its sleeve and is never apologetic for how bizarre it is. Accept the fact that Kokkuri is an old fox spirit searching for relevance in the modern world and the fact that Kohina is (kind of...sort of) a doll with a penchant for instant noodles and you’re going to have a good time. The culture clash between the spirit realm and Kohina’s, um, “unique” way of seeing the world has you rooting for these poor spirits and ghosts to get their point across to the unfeeling doll. As sad as it is to contemplate that the only people this girl can call friends are a bunch of demons, it’s rather comforting to think that even demons, the creatures that want to steal your soul, can still have empathy.
Hozuki no Reitetsu (Hozuki’s Coolheadedness) (2014)
In Japanese folklore, there are specific hells for specific types of sins. Humans being the free-wheeling species we are, these hells can number in the hundreds. There are so many hells that an entire bureaucracy has developed around keeping these areas running. Hozuki is an ogre and right-hand man to the King of Hell. The King of Hell’s the dude who judges souls and decides which hell would most fit which sin. and in this demonic version of The Office, it’s up to Hozuki to make sure Hell doesn’t … go to hell.
Hozuki’s days can vary, such as making sure a soul stays in its assigned hell, arguing about marsupials with his boss, and keeping tabs on visiting Western dignitaries who might want a piece of the Japanese hell for themselves. Yep, hostile takeovers still exist in the afterlife, and with demons like Beelzebub and Lilith joining in, “hostile” is pretty literal.
Assassination Classroom (2015)
Or ... How to Get Away With Murdering Your Alien Teacher.
The kids of class 3-E, made up of the miscreants and lowlifes of their prestigious college prep school, have an extra-special curriculum. Every day, in between English, chemistry, history, and home ec, they’re learning how to murder. Specifically, how to murder their homeroom teacher, a yellow, octopus-like creature who has already destroyed the moon and will destroy the Earth if the kids don’t kill him by the end of their senior year. The creature, dubbed Koro-sensei by his class, makes this unusual demand to the government, who for some reason is willing to go along with the alien’s plan instead of, you know, trying to nuke the alien from orbit.
The inherent immorality of trying to teach teens hand-to-hand combat, weapons skills, and poisoning techniques is offset by Koro-sensei himself. He’s actually a decent teacher. He pays attention to his students like any good teacher would. He worries if they’re not doing well in their regular subjects and insists that a strong mind makes for a strong body. Yep, the only way his class is even worthy of killing him is if they do well on midterms and finals, but the juxtaposition of academia and violence makes for one of the most heartfelt teacher/class relationships since Dead Poets Society. The finale of Assassination Classroom will leave you in tears, and probably not for the obvious reasons.
When she was a little girl, Sakura Mamiya accidentally wandered into the Spirit Path, the road that leads to the afterlife and reincarnation. Ever since that day, she’s been able to see ghosts and spirits all around her. Naturally, she’s kept this ability a secret from her high school friends, who are more interested in who’s dating who. One day a new student shows up in her class. Rinne Rokudo is a shinigami, a reaper of souls, and a guide to the afterlife, and he might be the solution to Sakura’s recurring ghost problem. Or he might drag her even deeper into the supernatural realm.
Rinne is trying to pay off an impossible debt, thanks to a deal his grandmother made long ago, so he’s resorted to destroying evil spirits with items he (and his black cat familiar Rokudo) purchase (on credit) from various Spirit Path retailers. Again, the bureaucracy inherent in this version of the afterlife is played for familiar laughs. Even in Heaven, the hours are 9 to 5, and woe betides anyone who is still standing in line once 5 o’clock rolls around. It’s still pretty comforting to think that the afterlife works exactly like the normal world does, red tape and all. Everything is subject to rules and regulations, even reincarnating.
Ghost Stories (2000)
Special attention has to be given to this gem of a series, particularly the 2005 English dub version. At the turn of the 21st century, Japanese anime was beginning its slow and steady rise in popularity. Stateside distributors clambered for new content from Japan, no matter how ridiculous or obscure the premise. Audiences were enamored with anime and were willing to pay top dollar for it. Ghost Stories (or Ghosts at School) was based on a popular book series but never caught on in Japan. For whatever reason, the series couldn’t capture an audience and was discontinued after 20 episodes. Desperate to make any amount of money they could from a failed franchise, the anime producers agreed to sell off the US dub rights to ADV Films, an American anime distribution company. ADV Films, with the original producers’ blessing, created a comedic dub for the supernatural show which went above and beyond its simple Scooby-Doo roots.
The dub director was given free reign to write whatever scenario he wished, as long as the basic premise (a group of ghost-hunting kids) stayed the same as the original show. The actors mostly improvised their lines, to great effect. There were even plans to redub the show every few years so that the jokes would stay current, but since ADV Films folded after the great anime bubble collapsed, those plans never came to fruition. Maybe enterprising Youtubers could pick up the mantle someday and the saga of Ghost Stories can continue.
It’s good to know that with the real world as terrifying as it is, you can expect the afterlife to be filled with the familiar and with demons who truly care about you. That’s something to look forward to.