Psychological manga isn’t about using graphic imagery or cutting up your victims, it’s about leaving such a harsh reminder in your memory that anything can happen at any moment. These ten manga are some of the best out there, and create a universe that challenges every inch of your mind to uncover the truth behind what’s really happening. Whether it’s trying to find out who the killer is, or come to realize that you were the killer all along in your psychopathic journey, these manga take you on a mind blowing trip that will have you questioning your existence.
- Mangaka: Iwashiro, Toshiaki
- Genres: Action, Adventure, Game, Romance, Sci-Fi, Shounen, Super Power, Supernatural, Psychological
- Volumes: 16
- Published: December 2007 – November 2010
Psyren is an action, sci-fi, and psychological manga created by Iwashiro Toshiaki. It released back in 2007 with positive reviews, as it follows the story of Ageha, who is given the opportunity to participate in the Psyren games. Nemesis Q thought that Ageha would make a great fit, so they immediately enlisted him and threw him into a world which takes place 10 years into the future. What Ageha is in for isn’t just any type of game, this game is one that could change the future entirely, and put his life at stake as he must save the world from succumbing to the threat that is taboo.
Psyren generated a lot of hype when it first released and the story is the whole reason behind it. Ageha is thrown into a world totally unknown to him, and so the game now becomes a gamble between life or death that Ageha needs to decide on very carefully. Every action taken has a consequence, so Ageha and his friends must come together to develop strategies to defeat the enemy while maintaining their position in the game. Many fans of the series love it so much that they’re hungry for an anime adaptation, and we can see why. It’s blend of psychological mind games, along with explosive action reminds us of No Game No Life but with more zest behind the story development.
9. Battle Royale
- Mangaka: Takami, Koushun
- Genres: Action, Drama, Horror, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 15
- Published: 2000 – 2005
What if you were thrown into a situation where your options in order to stay alive was to kill someone you knew? How much would you sacrifice to stay alive at the cost of another life? This is all that transpires in the battle royale as random junior high school students are drafted to take part in this dark and twisted game. After 3 days of staying on the island, only one student may survive. Specific weapons are handed out to each student and are thrown into the fray without any survival tactics whatsoever. In order to survive, students now must use their intuition to live another day, and kill whoever tries to stand in their way. Friendships are made and within mere seconds bonds are severed as corpses pile on top of one another in order to be the king of the hill.
Battle Royale has grown so large that it has its own cult following in many areas of the animation world. The following became so large that in Japan alone, the live action adaptation became one of the highest grossing films, and let the National Diet to reach out to have the film removed from all theatres. The story is powerful because it not only shows the dark reality of human behavior, but that love can overpower almost any evil as long as you work together to put an end to it all. This cult classic shows us that life is a game and it’s all about how you play it in this action packed psychological ride of blood, betrayal, and love as the only way out is to win otherwise you lose more than a few points, it’s game over in life.
8. Mirai Nikki / Future Diary
- Mangaka: Esuno, Sakae
- Genres: Action, Mystery, Shounen, Supernatural, Psychological, Thriller
- Volumes: 12
- Published: January 2006 – December 2010
Yukiteru discovers that his habit of conversing with imaginary friends through his diary, eventually becomes a reality that he cannot escape. Yukiteru is confronted by Yuno who he eventually works together with, and builds a strong relationship throughout the series. This close relationship however eventually becomes a psychological game, where the two must pursue and defeat their enemies, while using their diaries to assist one another in this fierce battle conducted by the powerful God himself. The winner is then bestowed with the power of becoming the ultimate leader of the universe.
Mirai Nikki is like a game of death, where every decision you make can either bring you closer to victory or closer to the grave. Both characters must use their tact and willpower to get them through extremely harsh situations, while somehow managing to keep their head atop their shoulders. The enemy is a manipulative psychopath who thrives off of the suffering of others, pitting people against each other to see who dies first. It’s up to Yukiteru to use his best judgment along with Yuno to ensure that they put a stop to all of the terror before it’s too late.
- Mangaka: Yamamoto, Hideo
- Genres: Mystery, Drama, Horror, Supernatural, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 15
- Published: March 2003 – February 2011
Homunculus is a psychological manga that revolves around the term trepanation. It refers to a procedure in which a hole is drilled into the brain of the patient, allowing blood to circulate more efficiently and remove pressure inside of the skull. Some also say that it opens up a new realm in the mind with relation to the sixth sense, where one is capable of seeing the supernatural. For Nakoshi, his life takes a major turn after receiving this operation, which now allows him to see more than he bargained for.
What Nakoshi witnesses throughout this ordeal is more disturbing than anything, as he’s confronted by beings with without a face, a man with a penis for a head, or even weirder seeing your face on the very same woman you’re sleeping with. This story looks at how our state of mind can sometimes drag us down paths that we never thought existed, and the deeper you dive the more darker the images become. It reminds us of just how complex our mental infrastructure is, and that what we absorb externally can become an eerie reminder once we shut our eyes.
6. One Outs
- Mangaka: Kaitani, Shinobu
- Genres: Sports, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 20
- Published: November 1998 – August 2006
One Outs is not your ordinary sports manga, as it dives deeper into the realm of mind games and follows pro pitcher Tokuchi, as he plays more than just baseball, he plays the game of undermining his opponents. He signs a contract with Lycaons which places him in a high stakes gamble between him and the owner. The owner will do anything it takes to win due to his greedy ways, and will seek out any course of action to destroy Tokuchi and win the bet. In this psychological sports manga, Tokuchi must put everything on the line to win knowing that if he doesn’t, there’s more at stake than just his career.
When you first pick up One Outs you immediately think it’s all about baseball, and the beauty of the game. Once you continue reading you start to see a mastermind at work, who only sees money as the reward, and will use anyone at any cost to ensure his victory. The game becomes more than just fastballs and strikeouts, but a game that requires you to play at high stakes, with every decision you make leading you closer to your demise. There’s so much back and forth that transpires throughout this manga that it’s a must read for anyone.
5. 20th Century Boys
- Mangaka: Urasawa, Naoki
- Genres: Mystery, Drama, Historical, Sci-Fi, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 22
- Published: September 1999 – April 2006
20th Century Boys is an award winning manga made by Urasawa Naoki, which looks at a world where humanity faces extinction and it’s up to a group of young ambitious men to save the world from total destruction. These individuals come from all different walks of life, and join together to embark on a wild ride that takes them in all directions, and creating a strong bond among all of them.
While there is a lot of exploration throughout the manga, this one deals with a much darker tone than expected which looks at cult murders, suicides, and kidnappings. One of the main protagonists friends ends up mysteriously committing suicide, leaving no legitimate reason as to why. These group of friends start to tie their connections to a bizarre cult that just flourished out of the blue, and are causing havoc among the city. As you dive deeper into the story and follow these guys around, the plot starts to thicken, and more questions start to pop up which only create more puzzlement in your mind. The ending of this manga is where it really hits you, so be sure to check it out!
4. Oyasumi Punpun
- Mangaka: Asano, Inio
- Genres: Drama, Slice of Life, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 13
- Published: March 2007 – November 2013
Growing up can be a difficult journey for many, and for Punpun it wasn’t a walk in the park. As a hopeless romantic and idealist, Punpun just wanted to live a life full of good vibes and great relationships. However, when he finally settles into a relationship of his own during his older years, he realizes just how challenging things can be. Things turn even more grim as he witnesses his father physically abusing his mother, which crushes him mentally, leaving a permanent scar in his mind. Through these events, Punpun becomes more reclusive, and rather than these problems helping him to become mentally stronger they intensify his emotions, sending him down a dark tunnel of despair.
We’ve all gone through at some point what Punpun has gone through, where we experience many ups and downs and try to make better of it all. These somber moments become our motivation to improve and mature to reach a higher state of happiness, but Punpun thinks in reverse as every relationship he has turns into a depressing nightmare. We really loved this manga because of how gripping the story is, while demonstrating just how much actions truly do speak more than words, and their impact on our psychological well being. It’s a coming of age story that is relative to alienated youth, both emotionally driven and scary at the same time, because you know that there’s someone out there who’s going through all of it right this moment.
3. Aku no Hana
- Mangaka: Oshimi, Shuuzou
- Genres: Drama, Romance, School, Shounen, Psychological
- Volumes: 11
- Published: September 2009 – May 2014
Kasuga finds himself in hot water after accidentally taking home someone else’s clothing, which ended up belonging to the girl he had a crush on. Unfortunately for Kasuga, someone had witnessed it all going down, but this witness has more up their sleeve than he imagines. Nakamura confronts him about it, and insists that the two become close friends otherwise she may let the cat out of the bag. Now Kasuga must choose between either confessing to his actions or cover up his mistake while trying to avoid the sinister and manipulative Nakamura from blackmailing him.
Sometimes it’s hard to admit when you’ve done something wrong, out of fears that you may pay a bigger price in the end. For Kasuga, that price was one he couldn’t pay back as Nakamura possessed him so well to the point where he couldn’t run anywhere. Each move he made, she would be there, stalking him like prey waiting to be devoured. Nakamura’s deceiving ways kept him from expressing his true feelings, and her twisted psychopath mentality brought fear into Kasuga’s mind. It was like dealing with a loan shark who would always be knocking at your door, keeping a tab on you at all times. Only this time there are no baseball bats and hired goons, just one sick and twisted girl with an obsession to control and get her way in whatever way she could.
2. Death Note
- Mangaka: Ohba, Tsugumi
- Genres: Mystery, Drama, Shounen, Supernatural, Psychological
- Volumes: 12
- Published: December 2003 – May 2006
Light is just your ordinary student who just doesn’t seem to see the world the way everybody else does. He feels as if the world needs more justice, since many crimes take place and so many get away with murder. With enough power, he could be the god of this corrupt world and restore balance, at least that’s what he thought. One fateful evening, Light discovers a notebook lying on the ground with the title Death Note written on the front. Anyone’s name that is written in the book will die, and so Light decides to take the risk. From that very moment he picked up the book, his entire life changed forever.
Death Note is one of the best psychological thrillers out there because the minute you watch Light in action, this man is menacing and manipulative. His keen sense of awareness is unparalleled, and he covers his tracks so well after each murder that investigators find it impossible to detain him. Each time Light kills, his taste for murder rises, justice in his mind is being served, which in fact is the opposite since he’s slowly becoming like the very same people he’s killing. You have to be honest though, his swift thinking and inability to show any fear in spite of all that’s happening around him is admirable. This show has so many twists and turns that it’s sometimes hard to even keep up with how Light pulls these things off.
1. Liar Game
- Mangaka: Kaitani, Shinobu
- Genres: Drama, Game, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 19
- Published: February 17, 2005 – January 22, 2015
In Liar Game manipulation is used to get people into thinking they’ve won big, but in the end they’re the ones who must pay a heavy price. A postcard is sent out that congratulates you on being one in a 100,000 people who’ve been entered into the Liar Game tournament. Along with this postcard is 100 million yen, and that’s when everything starts to happen in this game of greed, power, and deception. In 30 days you have to return this money, but if your opponent steals it from you, they can keep the money and you’re left with the debt.
Liar Game is such a chilling series because of how much it relates to real life scenarios. We all have had those moments where an opportunity so big came along, that we just felt it was too good to be true. Liar Game takes that image away and shows you the money up front, which changes your state of mind right away. Everything you’ve ever dreamed of can now be transformed into reality, your greed guiding you every step of the way. In the back of your conscience something tells you this is all just a scheme, but you’ve already invested everything and it’s too late to turn back. That’s exactly how Nao felt throughout the manga as she has to now has to team up with corrupt criminals in order to swindle her way through, using every deceptive strategy possible in order to stay in control. Liar Game is a roller coaster ride of manipulation, vanity, and strategy that will keep you hungry for more.
The mind is a terrible thing to waste, but even more terrifying if you use it to undermine those around you. The psychological genre is always a powerful one because it’s a grim reminder of the reality in which we live in. There will always be people out there that will use their manipulative ways for evil, to see others suffer, and to seek satisfaction in any way possible. This of course is the more darker side of the story, but it’s important to be careful of what you put into your mind because once it’s there it will be hard to take out. If you have any other psychological manga that you’d like to share, let us know in the comments below! As always, for your sweet manga fill, always be sure to stay updated at Anime Smile. See you again soon!