The VHS era brought anime to the underground film market, which led to a lot of ultra-violent anime being shuffled around the '80s and '90s anime scene. While many credit family-friendly entertainment like Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh! with anime becoming mainstream, the underground nerd culture would hoard VHS tapes featuring material that no American media company would dare distribute.
The anime from this era ranged from nihilistic cyberpunk to post-apocalyptic horror to brutal action stories. These anime were often cheap to produce and easy to make. In fact, the adult-video model for anime almost proved to overshadow mainstream anime in Japan. For the sake of this list, understand that few of these anime are "mainstream" in any sense of the word. Anime like Berserk and Evangelion have ultra-violence in them, but they will not be on this list. We need to go beyond that.
In the '80s and '90s, a surge of ultra-violent anime hit the airwaves; some so twisted and horrific that you have to see it to believe they even exist. Crank up your darksynth playlist and cut straight into the carnage, folks. Oh, and trigger warning—if you have a trigger—you've been warned now.
10. Ninja Scroll
Ninja Scroll, the most mainstream ultra-violent anime on this list, tells the story of a legion of seven evil ninjas who are plotting to take over all of Japan. Each one has a horrific and disturbing special ability that defies all logic. It's up to a poison taster and one super reluctant ninja to put an end to the possible invasion before it can start.
But this anime isn't concerned with plot. It is style over substance, concerned with creating some of the most beautiful and grotesque fight scenes you will ever see. Also, there is a lot of sex in this series, which probably contributed to its early popularity.
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9. Devilman OVA
While many anime fans are familiar with the ultra-violent Netflix anime Devilman Crybaby, old school anime fans remember the earlier Devilman OVA. Devilman was a three-part direct-to-video series that told the same general tale as Devilman Crybaby, all based on the incredibly twisted Go Nagai manga (this will not be the last we hear of Go Nagai, by the way). By all accounts, however, Devilman Crybaby is a better version of the same story.
So why watch the OVA? Simple: the dub is so-bad-it's-hilarious and the violence is way, way more disturbing.
The Devilman OVA uses far more realistic character models, which are less fluid and animated than their Devilman Crybaby counterparts. This results in the gore feeling more visceral. Transformation feels far more like something out of a Cronenberg horror story. Violence is far more painful to look at.
8. Mad Bull 34
Mad Bull 34 isn't an anime that comes up much when people think about the ultra-violent anime from the '80s and '90s. Indeed, unless you watched a lot of VHS tapes that manga put out during that era, it's easy to forget this police procedural pastiche even exists. On every manga VHS tape, they'd play that same clip of one of the characters sporting all those grenades braided into his pubic hair, which resulted in a disgusting but unforgettable visual.
Mad Bull 34 is the only comedy on this list, but it fails so hard at comedy that it ends up becoming something horrific. It is a bewildering portrayal of life in the city as interpreted by someone who knows New York only through sleazy action films.
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7. Apocalypse Zero
Apocalypse Zero is one of the most raunchy, disgusting ultra-violent anime ever to exist. It features a post-apocalyptic wasteland where demons run around. The only one standing in their way are a duo of brothers who wear the cybernetic remains of dead warriors from decades past. And then things get really screwy.
Apocalypse Zero is repulsive. The demons are grotesque parodies of sexuality, often being dispelled of in horrifically violent ways. The violence is twisted in a darkly funny sort of way. It is pure, unbridled filth, plain and simple.
6. Angel Cop
Angel Cop is another mainstay of the '80s and '90s anime scene. On paper, it sounds like a wholely unremarkable action story. Terrorists try to take down Japan, and only Angel—one bad-enough lady—can put an end to it. The anime even removes most of the sci-fi elements from the manga.
But two things make Angel Cop memorable for anime fans growing up in the early VHS era. Its dub is horrendous and laughable and it's incredibly gruesome. The opening logo is literal blood splattering into the form of letters. Bullets expel gallons of blood. Skulls are beaten in yet none of the characters really react to their fatal injuries. So, while gory, the OVA is so ridiculous it ends up being the funniest anime on this list. It's way funnier than the actual comedy.
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Unlike most of the ultra-violent anime here, Kite is actually good. Not just good, but very good. This brief, short, little film is a favorite of director Quentin Tarantino, for example. As this anime is quite good, it feels wrong to spoil too much. It is a nihilistic, dark story about child assassins and perversion that ought to be seen to be believed.
Kite is banned in Norway, and, for many years, was released censored even in America. There is even a live-action adaptation with Samuel L. Jackson that ought to be avoided. Kite is the sort of ultra-violent anime that still packs a punch even years later. It's twisted and dark, but it's also incredibly watchable.
4. Wicked City
Wait, the director of Ninja Scroll and the writer of Vampire Hunter D collaborated? That should make this anime a must-watch, right? While Wicked City is an unforgettable nightmare of a series that demands to be seen, it often walks that thin line between explicit hentai and twisted horror, to the point where it feels like both and neither at the same time.
Wicked City presents a dark fantasy world where humanity and demon-kind walk a very thin line. A shriveled old man has to be escorted by one human and one demon, but people want this guy dead. Simple plot.
What makes Wicked City so memorable are the grotesque demons. Of note is the spider-demon at the beginning who, let's just say that if the movie Teeth made you uncomfortable, this is way, way worse.
Urotsukidōji, also known as Legend of the Overfiend, is hentai. How anyone can find this ultra-violent anime pleasurable, however, defies belief.
In Urotsukidōji, the three worlds of mankind, beast-kind, and demon-kind are intersecting, and, soon, a demon will emerge to punish mankind for their arrogance. What follows in this OVA are three-hours of tentacle rape, castration, demonic possession, cannibalism, bodily fluids flying everywhere, and nightmarish destruction
Urotsukidōji proved popular enough to spawn several sequels, each one worthy enough to make this list. The fact that this is only third on a list of ultra-violent '80s and '90s anime is just a testament to the pure brutality of the next two.
2. Violence Jack
Violence Jack is a three-episode OVA adaptation of Go Nagai's manga of the same name. If possible, this makes the ultra-violence in Devilman look tame. This '80s anime is a Fist of the North Star rip-off — which itself draws heavily from the Mad Max series. The world is in ruins, with bandits and savages roaming the Earth to rape and pillage the innocent. Jack is a bandit who helps out...sometimes.
What makes Violence Jack so profoundly unpleasant to watch isn't the gore — it's the intent. All of this anime's rape and gore is there to cause the viewer pain. Every cell of animation is dripping with misanthropy. To simply say there is a scene where a woman has her limb chainsawed off isn't enough. It is nihilism personified.
Genocyber is the most ultra-violent anime of the '80s and '90s. It tells the story of scientists who use the psychic power of children to create a superweapon known as "Genocyber." What follows is mankind using this power for ill, which results in the unstable power to go radically out of control.
Genocyber is one of the better examples of Japanese cyberpunk, demonstrating the dehumanization of human life in the face of technological progress, and how this progress can spiral horrifically out of control.
And, quite frankly, the violence here is dehumanizing and cruel, but it becomes truly numbing after awhile. There are scenes so sadistic and foul in this series that you almost feel happy watching the violence that is inflicted on humanity. The ultra-violent anime makes the viewer misanthropic.