Death Note was an overwhelming success story in both its Manga and anime forms; its story, world, and characters were so fresh and unique that the whole concept seemed like lightning in a bottle. This doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t anime that can’t fill the void once viewers have come to the harrowing conclusion of the saga of L and Light. If Death Note has left you with an unbearable itch, here are 10 anime that should be able to scratch it, and scratch it well. Each one is something special in its own right and just might become a new favorite.
We’ll start this list off with the anime most similar to Death Note. It's one that is arguably a little more mature and grounded in realism. (This is doubly true if you read the Manga, which has a decidedly un-anime art style).
What makes these shows so similar? Both involve a cat-and-mouse detective story between two intense intellectuals, one of which is a psychopath. However, Monster switches out the gods of death for political intrigue, questions of morality and civic duty, and a detective who is not a detective at all. Instead, he's a Japanese doctor working in Germany. This radical and powerful story is absolutely not to be missed.
When is a fantasy not a fantasy? When it’s Death Note, an anime set in present-day Tokyo with a plot surrounding gods of death and magical notebooks. Similarly, when is sci-fi not sci-fi? When it’s Steins;Gate, a show about time travel with greater concerns over its characters, their ambitions, and their relationships.
Steins;Gate is a very wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey affair, but it shares much in its style with Death Note. Both have a unique take on modern anime aesthetics, with a kind of vintage grit and '90s character design aesthetic so beloved by fans the world over. Beyond this, the unique mind and obsessions of protagonist Okabe overlap more than a tad with those of best boy Light Yagami.
Despite it not being created in Japan, much like Avatar before it, Castlevania is, in fact, an anime. And it’s a bloody good one at that. Based on the beloved series of video games which helped spawn the popular genre ‘metroidvania’, Castlevania follows the story of Trevor Belmont. It shows a long line of vampire hunters as Trevor attempts to track down and slay Dracula (who has waged war on humanity after the burning of his wife at the stake).
What makes this show perfect for fans of Death Note is its grimdark aesthetic, its cat-and-mouse plot, and a villain who is, while unquestionably evil, admittedly quite morally attractive. Like Death Note’s Light before him, Dracula believes himself superior to mankind and vows to take their lives in his own hands.
7. Tokyo Ghoul
This one would be equally well-placed on a list of anime for fans of Marvel’s Blade, what with it focussing around a half-breed regular human/man-eating monster hybrid. Tokyo Ghoul’s Kaneki Ken barely survives an attack from a cannibalistic ghoul, and the surgery that saves him also gives him the powers of a ghoul, complete with all of the upsides and downsides that come with it.
Much like Death Note, Tokyo Ghoul has that fantastic urban gothic tone and style that the medium of Japanese animation pulls off so splendidly. And, until Tokyo Ghoul, nothing pulled it off as well as Death Note. Also, side note, the Manga is better. Read the Manga.
The other newish anime to equal Death Note in its gritty urban gothic aesthetic is Psycho-Pass. It's a dystopian cyberpunk anime which mixes Orwell, Minority Report, and what’s actually going on in the frightening world of Chinese surveillance right now. If that description alone hasn’t already got you switching over to "Crunchyroll," nothing will.
Equal to Death Note in its big philosophical questions (as anything connected to Orwell always does), Psycho-Pass asks us to consider the power we relent to the governments we are supposed to trust and the roads that this misplaced trust can take us down.
On face value, this is probably the anime that appears most dissimilar to Death Note. With its almost chibi aesthetics and bright color pallet, Anohana shares a surprising number of themes and ideas with Death Note; namely, the struggles that surround death.
Anohana is, in short, a tear-jerking and heartstring-pulling thing of beauty. After the untimely death of Menma, a group of young friends quickly drift apart, start high school, and move on. That is until the ghost of Menma visits Jintan, the member of the group closest to her in life. From here we have a story of these friends slowly reuniting as they attempt to put the ghost of Menma to rest.
Anohana isn’t just for fans of Death Note, it’s for fans of anime, period.
While Death Note deals with supernatural murder drama from the perspective of the killer, Erased (or The Town Without Me in Japanese) considers the opposite: dealing with, and stopping, murder and death from the perspective of an innocent boy with supernatural abilities. Satoru experiences the assassination of his mother which sends him back in time 18 years. From here, he is able to affect/alter/prevent a series of incidents which start with a kidnapping. This drama (originally a Manga and also recently a live-action adaptation) is a tale every bit as enthralling and powerful as that of Death Note and is well worth your time.
3. Case Closed
Arguably the most popular detective since Sherlock—or, perhaps Poirot—Conan has been on Japanese TV since 1996, and in print since two years prior to that. Case Closed is a series beloved all over the world by children of all ages and cultures. So what could be better to dig into after watching the hunter vs. hunter excitement of L and Light in Death Note? A massive detective series that has as many episodes as biggest-anime-ever: One Piece. After being forced by a crime syndicate to ingest a poison which transforms him into a child, Conan continues his ongoing work as a detective. But now he's in a cuter form, which is more fun for everyone involved.
2. One-Punch Man
While certainly different to Death Note in tone and aesthetics, One-Punch Man has the kind of eclectic characters and a compelling protagonist that Death Note fans find irresistible.
In Death Note, Light has ultimate power over the life and death of anyone in his path; in OPM, Saitama has the strength to defeat any foe that he comes up against (with a single punch, no less). This unique ‘Superman circumstance’ is fertile ground for some great storytelling. Things are never as easy as they seem for people of their power levels, after all.
A quick caveat: Yes, the Manga is better. Much better. In fact, it’s one of the best Mangas ever created. If you are able to, pick the Manga over the anime.
Anime with the kind of dark tone that Death Note offers can be hard to find. Not just dark in aesthetic, or overflowing with blood and gore, but a tone with an obsession with death and what it really means to kill and be killed. Berserk has this same obsession. With a protagonist (Guts) who has a one-track mind, he will never allow a single person to stand between him and his goals. As Light becomes consumed by the notebook, so too does Guts become devoured by his own bloodlust.