Dark Psychological Horror Anime Inspired By The Most Twisted Hollywood Director

By Jacob VanGundy | Published

Under the direction of series creator Satoshi Kon Paranoia Agent is a dark, psychological, masterpiece. Its surrealist style and magical realism constantly remind me of Twin Peaks. It’s a show that has stuck with me, many of its stranger images and plotlines burned into my brain for years. 

Paranoia Agent Starts With A Murder

paranoia agent

The plot of Paranoia Agent is set up in its first episode when character designer Tsukiko Sagi is attacked by an elementary school boy riding skates and carrying a baseball bat, the first of many such attacks. The rest of the show follows the victims of the baseball bat-carrying assailant dubbed Lil’ Slugger, as well as the detectives investigating the attacks. The cases become increasingly supernatural as the show progresses, and it becomes clear that Lil’ Slugger isn’t human but a manifestation of self-delusion. 

Influenced By David Lynch And Twin Peaks

Like Twin Peaks before it, Paranoia Agent has a dreamlike surreal quality to its delivery that butts up against the mundane police work going on to unravel its mystery. Both begin as fairly straightforward murder mysteries that slowly unravel to expose the supernatural truth within that mystery. They both also feature a large cast of quirky, interconnected characters I don’t mind spending time with at the expense of plot development. 

Unsettling Animation Shifts

Another Lynchian aspect of Paranoia Agent is how it uses camera angles and style changes to create a feeling of unease. Twin Peaks does this through its use of Dutch angles and unnatural color coordination. Paranoia Agent uses extreme close-ups and complete shifts in animation styles that unnerve me in the same particular way. 

Equally Unsettling And Darkly Comic

Tonally, Paranoia Agent has a large disparity between episodes, with some being bleak and dower while others are comedic. While the show has an overall dark, horror-tinged tone, it’s not afraid to embrace the silly side of things. Its best moments are when these two sides converge, such as when a student’s anxieties over a test cause him to vomit up equations in a sequence that is equal parts unsettling and darkly comical. 

Briefly Banned In The United States

Paranoia Agent also has a reputation for causing controversy, being temporarily banned in both Japan and the United States. The show’s eighth episode is the result of its banning in both cases, featuring an on-screen suicide that violated TV codes in both countries when it was released in 2004. The version that aired on TV in the United States was also heavily censored for nudity, language, and religious depictions. 

A Nearly Perfect Anime

Despite the controversy, Paranoia Agent has garnered near-unanimous praise from critics. It has a perfect 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s widely hailed as one of the most artistically relevant anime ever made. It has helped to establish its creator, Satoshi Kon, as one of the medium’s greatest minds. 

Dark Anime Streaming On Crunchyroll


Paranoia Agent has a haunting quality that has resonated with me for over a decade. I don’t revisit it as often as other shows I love because of how grim it is, but it feels singular in a way that anime rarely does, with even Kon’s other work feeling distinct from it. If you’ve never seen this truly unique series, I implore you to give Paranoia Agent a shot.