We’ve always imagined what a different world could be like or how our lives would be if the world were about to end. How will we react and what will humanity do? Here are 15 anime set in a post-apocalyptic or dystopian world!
For decades, humanity has considered what to do in the event we cannot live on Earth anymore. So many of us take Earth’s perfect temperature, atmosphere, living conditions, and position in the Universe for granted and live our lives carefree. However, if there was something to put this security in danger, how would we react? How do humans avoid an event that could change the very planet it lives on? Well, it obviously can’t and that’s why humanity adapts and evolves to apocalypse and change. Anime has always had the ability to depict a world forever changed by a drastic event.
World endings and dystopias are topics that make us interested because of how unreal it is. Ordinary people love to indulge in the extraordinary because it is foreign to us. That’s why dystopian anime is such a revolutionary and blockbusting idea. Seeing a world morphed into a reality we couldn’t comprehend existing in is something that will always send chills down a fan’s bones.
*Some might say there are many other “post-apocalyptic” or “dystopian” shows better than the ones listed here but those shows (i.e. Gintama) don’t make use of the dystopian elements of the setting to create that dystopian feeling to it (i.e. Gintama mainly focuses on arcs concerning the individual characters. There are rarely any story arcs that focus on banishing Amanto from Japan or revolting against the government etc.)*
Table of Contents
15. High School of the Dead
Out of nowhere, the undead started emerging from the depths of Japan. Near a certain high school, the zombies start cornering the students inside the building, forcing the students to make critical decisions in dire situations. Young men like Takashi Kimuro are forced to kill their best friends as they turn into zombies. Tearfully vowing to protect his friend’s girlfriend as his dying wish, Takashi sticks with Rei Miyamoto to finally escape the school only to find that society has also fallen to the undead.
Soon, Takashi and Rei join with the other students to find their family, gain new comrades, and find the cause behind this zombie apocalypse so Takashi and the others can end this nightmare.
High School of the Dead was one of the first anime I watched because of how popular it was back in the early 2000s and I still think that it was a very decent portrayal of what a zombie apocalypse would look like albeit not exactly fully realistic due to anime being anime. The plot progression and unraveling of different characters’ backstories allowed the viewers to make deeper emotional connections to the show and it made me, personally, get hooked. I highly recommend High School of the Dead for a first-time anime watcher who is interested in zombies or post-apocalyptic worlds. I recommend this as the first because it’s not amazing but it’s a good beginner and won’t inflate your hopes for future anime.
14. Seraph of the End (Owari no Seraph)
A mysterious virus emerged out of nowhere, fatally endangering the lives of anyone above the age of 13. Now, humanity has become subservient to the power-hungry vampires who emerged among the chaos and took control of society, promising to protect the survivors if they offer their blood. Among these survivors are Yuuichirou and Mikaela Hyakuya, two orphaned boys who are imprisoned with many other children. Disgusted at how they’re treated, Mikaela devises a plan to escape that tragically fails, leaving Yuuichirou as the sole survivor who is miraculously found by the vampire-slaying military unity Moon Demon Company.
Many years later, Yuuichirou has honed his powers and become a full-fledged member of the Moon Demon Company, vowing to take revenge on the vampires who slaughtered his family.
This anime is a classic shounen anime that is honestly slept on way too much. Owari no Seraph is a watered-down version of Attack on Titan but that is not to say that it is boring or mundane at all. It is packed with high-speed action scenes, suspense, thrilling chases, and story twists that left me amazed at how complex and dark a shounen anime could be. It really is a great show that puts a fantasy spin towards the post-apocalyptic setting.
13. Dr. Stone
Senkuu Ishigami is a man born one in a billion. The word “genius” couldn’t even begin to describe how smart he is. However, he’s only a high school teenager living a normal life. After he encourages his best fried Taiju Ooki to confess to his crush of five years Yuzuriha Ogawa, he silently watches them from the window of the Chemistry Club room. Suddenly, a piercing green light illuminated the sky and petrified humanity across Earth. Every single person in the world has turned to stone.
Several millennia later, Taiju wakes up to find his crush frozen in stone and the world covered in lush grass and towering forests, devoid of any living things. However, he discovers a little hut, and inside is none other than his good friend Senkuu who had been active for a couple of months. He reveals that he knows the exact day because he counted every single second when he somehow regained consciousness. Together with Taiju’s brawn and Senkuu’s brains, they both plan to revive humanity and restart the wonders of science against formidable foes and a daunting journey.
This show is great if you’re a huge science nerd. Terminology regarding electricity and magnetism, chemistry, biology, physics, etc. are packed inside every second of this anime. Senkuu creates the most radical inventions out of nothing, making it look like Anime Minecraft. He really proves his genius through tough situations and leaves us with our jaws dropped at how he creates things. Some of his inventions take multiple episodes to make and it circles around an interesting plot of interacting with different factions that have also woken up and survived in this new world.
12. Black Bullet
It’s 2021 and a parasitic virus has infected Earth. The virus is known as “Gastrea” and it’s infected humanity and turns them into monsters. There is only a fraction of mankind leftover as they’ve constructed Monolith walls out of Varanium, the only known material to harm Gastrea. Humans really have no other way to combat these monsters created by Gastrea other than using this material and one other resource.
“Cursed Children” are female children born from mothers carrying trace amounts of the virus, granting them superhuman abilities. They’re called Initiators and are assigned to a Promoter who protects and guides the young Initiator. They are a pair that goes on missions to eradicate Gastrea monsters. This show focuses on one specific pair of them.
This is one of the greatest light novel adaptations I’ve read in terms of action and dark themes. Black Bullet does a great job in handling deeper topics like public opinion, genetics, and how the coexistence of antagonistic species can happen. Paranoia towards Gastrea influences political opinion and that, in turn, changes how humanity combats this virus. These ideas are only fleshed out in a post-apocalyptic setting and prove Black Bullet to be a great dystopian anime for beginners. It might not be amazing but it brings an interesting concept to how humanity is being “taken over” instead of wiped out by a virus.
11. Code Geass
In a separate history, the Holy Britannian Empire has established itself as the dominating nation of the world, starting its imperial conquest with Japan. Upon seizing control, it was named Area 11 and kept under tight Britannian control with uprisings and insurgencies sparking often to regain independence.
Code Geass follows a Britannian student Lelouch Lamperouge who is caught in the crossfire between Britannian forces and the Area 11 rebel armed forces. He’s able to barely escape with the opportune arrival of an enigmatic girl named C. C. who gives him the power of the Geass also known as the “Power of Kings”. This power allows him to control any person for one command upon eye contact. Discovering the potential of his new power, Lelouch decides to seek revenge against Britannia and stop the onslaught of their empire once and for all as the masked vigilante Zero.
Code Geass is a brilliantly-detailed historical depiction of a timeline that could have been. A history that we could have easily been studying if events transpired differently in the late 1700s. Britannia’s dominance over the globe shows the cruel reality of life under British rule if they expanded as they did a century ago. Lelouch is a ruthless and calculating war strategist who uses the sentiments and insecurities of other people to manipulate any situation, reading enemy movements and their thoughts. This is a great anime for “Death Note” fans who love deep strategic thinking.
10. From the New World (Shin Sekai Yori)
A cozy, peaceful town called Kamisu 66 is the residence of Saki Watanabe who has just awakened her psychic powers. Relieved to finally join the friends in class at Sage Academy – a school for psychic -, she starts hanging out with the mysterious boy she has a crush on Shun Aonuma, the shy Mamoru Itou, joyful Maria Akizuki, and the prankish Satoru Asahina. Gradually, unease settles in as Saki starts to wonder about the fate of those unable to awaken their psychic abilities. Soon, the children get involved in a dark conspiracy involving the rumored Tainted Cats said to abduct children. However, as they look deeper, they find things even darker, shaking the very foundation of their existence.
Shin Sekai Yori is a unique coming-of-age story that isn’t told like any other. In this dystopian setting filled with espers, we see the blatant facades put up around the characters, making the village look like a utopia. Looking into a new world and experiencing the traumas and experiences that come from the other perspective, Saki and her friends grow in different ways, exhibiting characteristics so polar that they fit in a dystopian anime perfectly. Ideas like the purpose of humans and how our species will evolve are brought up in this great anime.
Enter Japan, 1988. A nuclear explosion is set off by a young psychic boy, tearing through Tokyo and starting the fire that is World War III. To prevent any further destruction, the boy is captured and locked away in a high-security facility. 30 years later, the city has been rebuilt as Neo-Tokyo – a city ripe with gang violence, terrorism, and street racing – with a government bearing the brunt of its citizens’ uproars. Shoutarou Kaneda leads “the Capsules,” a biker-gang signified by their large, custom motorcycles and their eternal rivalry with “the Clowns.”
During one of these fights, Shoutarou’s best friend Tetsuo Shima runs into an esper who teleports him to an empty street somewhere in Neo-Tokyo and explains how he’s escaped confinement from a government facility. Inadvertently, Testuo starts awakening his own psychic abilities as a result of his interaction with the esper. With the government desperately trying to contain this latest psychic as a potential global threat, man must team up to fight the espers for a battle of attrition for Earth.
Akira gives an amazing atmosphere when it comes to transporting yourself to another world. The animation accentuates the city lights, skylines, and nightlife of Neo Tokyo. It’s something that hooks that reader as they seem to view this as a grander Initial D. However, Akira starts to become darker and incorporates heavier metaphysical tones and more detailed animation depicting an insane fight scene and crazy chain reactions. This is truly a masterpiece to enjoy.
8. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no Tani no Naushika)
Enduring the aftermath of the calamitous nuclear war “Seven Days of Fire” a millennium ago, humanity lives continually struggling for resources in the dangerous forest that adapted from the war. The first houses multiple deadly animals and poisonous plants, threatening to wipe out humanity’s last shavings off the face of the Earth.
Somewhere far away from the forest lies a peaceful farming kingdom known as the “Valley of the Wind.” It sits across the sea, facing away from the forests’ deadly toxins, and forever protects itself from har. The town’s lovely, amicable young princess placement by the sea frees it from the spread of the jungle’s deadly toxins. The Valley’s charismatic young princess Nausicaä is one admired and adored by the villagers. One day, she is shocked to see an airship from the kingdom of Tolmekia crash violently into her plains. She and the villagers discover a strange pulsating object when they are attacked by the kingdom of Tolmekia, demanding to revive a dangerous weapon to destroy the Earth. Nausicaä must work to stop the Tolmekian kingdom and the forest’s dangerous lure.
Kaze no Tani no Naushika is a story one might find straight out of a regal fantasy book. One that is read to one’s child about land long forgotten. This movie brings out feelings of bravery, courage, and passion that you won’t find yourself experiencing when watching any other show. The plot progression through the perils that Nausicaä and her comrades have to face. The post-apocalyptic world that is depicted in this movie is animated beautifully, expressing a slightly somber feeling.
7. Darker than Black (Kuro no Keiyakusha)
10 years ago, two extra-dimensional gates opened in the world: one in South America known as “Heaven’s Gate” and another one in Japan known as “Hell’s Gate.” This dystopian city in Japan is enveloped in an unfamiliar, fabricated sky caused by the Gates’ activity. From the opening of this gate came the appearances of certain individuals with abilities gifted from the Gate who are known as “contractors” due to their powers coming from them paying a price, whether it be breaking a finger, cutting yourself, smoking, etc.
Darker than Black follows Misaki Kirihara, a detective who is chasing the elusive and deadly contractor: “Black Reaper” who is freely able to manipulate molecules to his will. Little does she know that who the “Black Reaper” is and the events surrounding her will unveil in a way she would never imagine. The world that Darker than Black portrays is a world stained by the crimes that Contractors do because they love to abuse their power. Fighting those injustices in a cruel manner like Hei makes the show even darker and does a good job showing what our world affected by that could look like.
6. Blame! the Movie
Zuru, a capable teenage girl, is on a journey for resources through the post-apocalyptic maze that is her city. It’s a machine-controlled dystopia where otherworldly beings and humans compete for attrition on these blocks of land in the maze. Her plans go south when her team accidentally triggers the city’s AI-defense program Safeguard. Ambushed by cyborgs, her team is about to be wiped out when a mysterious man Killy disposes of the entire enemy wave.
Killy reveals to originate from thousands of levels below the city and has ascended this far to find a human with the Net Terminal Genes. This trait allows humans to regain control of the civilization and shut down the Safeguard and the machines for good. After hearing this story, Zuru brazenly agrees to join Killy along with her team to find the Net Terminal Genes and save humanity.
Blame! the Movie is based on the extremely popular post-apocalyptic cyberpunk manga Blame!. The Blame franchise is a small one but it is a perfect mixture of existentialism, metaphysical truths like the universe and God, along with the futuristic technology of sci-fi combined with biology. Tsutomu Nihei, the creator of Blame!, frequents works involving sci-fi horrors that depict the cold darkness that a dystopia can be.
5. The Promised Neverland (Yakusoku no Neverland)
The Grace Field House is a home filled with love, laughter, warmth, and joy. It’s a cozy orphanage planted on a tranquil, large field surrounded by a forest and a gated entrance. The children are looked after by their “Mama,” Isabella. The children roam the land and play freely with the exception of taking aptitude tests periodically. One absolute rule followed, however, is to not stray too far from the orphanage. All good things must come to an end with a child being adopted every few months and sent off to live with their new family. The children are always sad to see this happen because the adopted children never write back and update them on their lives.
However, the three oldest children started developing suspicions about what really happens at the orphanage and what fate truly awaits the children residing in it as well as who their beloved Mama really is.
The Promised Neverland utilizes the popular trope of people oblivious to the world beyond their boundaries. So many works of literature and film have produced this idea of people living in an area being completely ignorant of what’s outside. This anime cleverly uses the suspense of the unknown conspiracies behind the orphanage as well as character emotions and expressions to give off an everlastingly-creepy vibe. The kids in the orphanage are also decently smart so their strategies and covert operations to reveal secrets is also well-done.
4. Girls’ Last Tour (Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou)
Dead murmurs of a long-desolate city once booming with life. A motorbike’s rumbling cracks the winter silence as the calm, collected Chito and the clumsy, airheaded Yuuri zoom past, surviving as the last two people in this war-torn city. The girls scavenge ex-military bases for food, equipment, and resources to continue their exploration of the wastelands, reminiscing about the world that once was. From time to time, loneliness and the cold emptiness of the desolate city can become overwhelming on either of them but with the warmth of the other, these days become somewhat more and more bearable. Days past the end become slightly dynamic with different fun activities on this frozen plain.
Girls’ Last Tour is a show that leaves viewers with a feeling not completely empty but also harshly remembering the cruel reality of the world. A panging, bleak sensation of dread and dying wishes lingers as we progress through this depressing post-war show but the small activities Chito and Yuuri engage in shines a light on these days. No matter how small this light might change their day, this anime shows two girls fighting and surviving a bleak future by living for the present and enjoying what is in front of them.
3. Neon Genesis Evangelion
It is the year 2015 and humanity supports its last bastion against the godly beings called Angels that ravage Earth: NERV. NERV is a special agency under command of the United Nations geared towards combatting the extraterrestrial divine Angels taking on monstrous forms using Evangelions. Evangelions are titanic humanoid robots that can synchronize with a pilot and fight on equal ground with Angels. History has seen the horrors Angels have posed as they’ve caused two Moon-sized explosions as a result of their initial contact with Earth and their second impact with NERV. Gendou Ikari is the director of NERV and seeks to recruit compatible pilots and realize their true potential as humanity’s saviors. Assisting him are Head of Tactical Operations Misato Katsuragi and Chief Scientist Ritsuko Akagi.
Seeing his father after numerous years, teenage boy Shinji Ikari’s life is forever changed as he is recruited to be the second Evangelion pilot and is immediately given the dire choice to fight an Angel suddenly in an emergency. Shocked by how the events have turned out since he got picked up by Misato Katsuragi, Shinji spirals down a flood of regret, despair, tough choices, and the fate of humanity resting on his shoulders. It’s a heroic story of a young boy shouldering so much and destined to become a legend.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is a highly popular anime that has extremely-ripe potential to dissect. It includes various references to the Bible and various second-comings by the hand of God or “extra-terrestrial beings” that could be seen as Angels in the Bible and noted in the anime. Neon Genesis Evangelion shares its setting with Akira in many aspects like the futuristic remodeled cities post-explosion. One of the most important topics to analyze in NGE is Shinji’s emotional state as darker truths behind the Angels and NERV start unfolding. A boy carrying the lives of all humans through his actions as a warrior is no small burden and plays a defining role in the events of the story.
2. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
Simon and Kamina have always known the deep underground village where they were born, ignorant of the fated surface that lies beyond. Kamina is a free-spirited exuberant adventurer who thirsts to make a name for himself and see the surface like his father did, unlike Simon, a shy young boy who is content with living a mundane life. While excavating the earth at his day ob, Simon discovers a mysterious drill-shaped object lying in the rubble. He digs deeper to find an ancient war relic and discovers the previous object is that relic’s ignition key. With the courageous backing of Kamina, the duo dub the mech “Lagann” and keep it. However, trouble follows as a surprise attack destroys the ceiling of the village. With the help of a bikini-clad gunslinger vagabond Yoko Littner, Kamina and Simon use Lagann to destroy the monster, save the village, and finally reach the surface.
Upon seeing the surface, it’s barren. Large rock formations, isolated oases, and random organisms wander the surface with barely any trace of humanity left. Kamina, Sion, and Yoko decide to go on a journey to learn more about the surface and their world. Soon, they’re attacked by “Beastmen,” humanoid creatures who eradicate the remnants of humanity left on the surface using war-machine mecha robots, like in the underground village. Fighting against the Beastmen and their leader “The Spiral King,” Kamina, Simon, and Yoko band together to liberate humanity. Although they face some challenges and setbacks, the trio bravely fights these new enemies alongside other survivors to reclaim the surface, while slowly unraveling a galaxy-sized mystery.
In my personal opinion, Gurren Lagann is my favorite anime of all time and has gained wide critical acclaim throughout the decade for its fantastic drama, sci-fi action scenes, and ethical dilemmas posed towards the characters responsible for liberating and reestablishing humanity. Reviving a race and gaining control of what you once lost so long ago is much different when circumstances change. Time moves on and the experiences we face push us to face forward in such a despairing and desolate dystopia. Gurren Lagann expresses these feelings of heroism, emptiness, and fascination as the viewer is sucked into a post-apocalyptic world questioning the fabric and rules of our own universe including the morals that stand behind it.
1. Attack On Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin)
Centuries ago, humanity was forced to the brink of extinction by gigantic, mindless, horrifying beings that preyed on humanity like insects: Titans. Faced with potential total annihilation, the remnants of mankind erected enormous concentric walls to create a safe haven for people away from the horrifying Titans. These monsters kill and eat humans out of pure pleasure, not hunger or other necessity. Within these walls, mankind enjoyed 100 years of peace and stability, slowly growing ignorant of the world beyond their bastion. However, like the wings on a butterfly when touched, that peace was shattered when a colossal titan spontaneously emerges and destroys the outer wall. From that day onwards, humanity was harshly reminded of how their despairing fight for survival against the Titans that surround them.
After witnessing his mother killed and devoured by these creatures, 12-year old Eren Jaeger vows to wipe the Earth of every last Titan in a crazed rage. He trains and enlists to the Survey Corps, one of the three military divisions involved with the research and scouting of Titans beyond the walls. It’s the most elite division of soldiers that deal with these terrifying monsters everyday. Shingeki no Kyojin follows Eren, his adoptive-sister Mikasa Ackermann, and childhood friend Armin Arlert as they endure this brutal war against the titanic beings that threaten mankind’s survival.
Attack On Titan is one of the only shounen anime series that is making its way to becoming one of the greatest anime/manga series to every bless the Japanese entertainment industry. This story is one that is similar to Yakusoku no Neverland where it juggles the idea of humans trapped in a closed area. However, Isayama (the creator of Attack on Titan) intelligently plans every panel and every second of this series, producing amazing foreshadowing moments and references to different events in the story. This creates a perfectly-interwoven story that shows the truth beyond the walls and what the history of humanity has ACTUALLY been. Titans, humans, the walls, what’s outside; all these questions are explored and tied together to create an absolute dystopian masterpiece that is Shingeki no Kyojin