Best Anime Like Death Note – Top 5 Shows To Watch in 2021
Finishing an amazing anime is hard. You may feel the craving for a similar genre or theme but are scared to be disappointed. I certainly know this was my feeling after finishing the fantastic crime psychological thriller that is Death Note.
To many, Death Note is one of the staples of the anime community as it stands out for its intelligent writing and suspenseful mind-games. And with so much anime constantly being produced at such a high rate, it is hard to sort through the noise to find another binge-worthy series. Especially when searching for an anime that is similar to such a classic like Death Note.
The Death Note Series
Before we jump into comparable series, let us briefly go over some of the highlights that make Death Note such a compelling anime.
The supernature elements of the Death Note notebook and the Shinigami combined with the contemporary setting and genius characters create an enthralling, dynamic story that keeps the viewer on their toes.
Never is there a dull moment as L and Light duel it out, trying to outwit and expose each other. It is addictive, and in all honestly, can be hard to move on from. Below I have compiled my go-to list for series that fill the gap that Death Note leaves wanting. To further streamline this list, I have divided it into a few genre sub-categories that are within Death Note for optimal selection.
Join me as I take an honest stab at providing some anime titles that deliver on similar aspects Death Note presents.
To start, I want to narrow down a couple of anime that hit one of the main highlights of the Death Note series, and that is the psychological mind games that take place between the characters.
This aspect is what makes Death Note such a standout anime compared to shows that share other characteristics with it. The focus of these first anime recommendations is that of the psychological mind games and how these mental faceoffs are central to the narrative.
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
This first anime that compares the closest to Death Note regarding the psychological chess aspect is Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion. This anime takes place in Britannia conquered Japan, where the world is divided into three superpowers: The Holy Britannia Empire, The Chinese Federation, and the European Union.
It follows the story of an exiled Britannian prince turned schoolboy, Lelouch, who receives a mystery power to command people called Geass after getting accidentally involved in a terrorist attack. With this power, Lelouch gets involved in the Japanese rebellion as a masked vigilante called Zero, as he is tired of being a pawn for the empire.
Under this persona, he battles against the militaristic Britannian Empire, some of his family members, and even schoolyard friends. It is a high stakes chess game full of mechs and betrayal.
Will anyone discover he is Zero? What are his true motivations? You can watch this series in its entirety on US Netflix.
- Excellent psychological chess between a variety of characters.
- Continual tension as Lelouch lives a double life of schoolboy and rebellion leader.
- Lelouch is always performing in a gray area of morality, much like Light.
- Lots of action that propels the more narrative-heavy parts forward.
- The main character has more stakes and is more humanized than Light.
- Characters are much more developed than those in Death Note.
- Lelouch is fighting towards a goal as hard, if not harder than Light is.
- Great animation.
- The setting is not as contemporary as Death Note, and borders on sci-fi.
- There are a few filler episodes that disorient the viewer.
- More episodes than Death Note, as it has two seasons.
- Some spin-offs complicate the original also under the Code Geass name.
- It does not have the same dark atmosphere as Death Note.
The Great Pretender
I recently discovered the Great Pretender anime on US Netflix, and it is a fun ride! It is about two scam artists who are constantly trying to one-up each other, as well as their targets. The story follows Makoto Edamura, a Japanese scam artist who gets involved with a French con-man named Laurent.
The first part of the series, which takes place in Los Angeles, explores how each of the men is trying to constantly one-up each other in a high stakes battle of the wits. Each move compels the other to try something even riskier, and it stacks until the situation reaches a heated finale.
Each new scam breaks up the series into a digestible, mini-series-esk format. The first season contains three such scam arcs, sure to keep you on the edge of your seat! These individual arcs take place n different cities, so the scenery and stakes are in constant flux with each new situation.
- Compelling battle of wits.
- Engaging characters that are constantly developed throughout.
- Modern setting, like Death Note.
- Fast-paced, dynamic situations that are constantly changing.
- The characters have backgrounds and complicated reasoning for their actions.
- Due to the unreliable protagonist, the viewer is always unsure of who is dominating the situation at any given point.
- Each arc keeps the viewer hooked so that the show rarely has lulls.
- The animation is beautiful and has lovely watercolor backgrounds.
- Each arc is unraveling a new character’s backstory, so you get to know them as the series progresses.
- The is more lighthearted and funnier than Death Note, so if you are looking for a serious anime, this may not be the one for you.
- Some of the situations need a bit of suspended disbelief due to the circumstances of the setup.
- There is not necessarily an overarching plot like in Death Note.
- The whole series is not out yet, because it is new.
- There are no supernatural elements in play.
One of the key features of Death Note is the morality of the whole show. Is it right what Light is doing? Does killing criminals solve societal problems like Light thinks it does? Keeping morality at the forefront of my list, I included some anime that also play with the idea of ethics as a central theme.
These anime question what is right or wrong in their societies, and what the implication of these distinctions mean for each fictional world.
Ajin: Demi Human
This anime follows a schoolboy named Kei Nagai who, after a fatal car accident, discovers he is something called an Ajin. An Ajin is a being that allows for full regeneration and can form combat-ready entities to protect the host (and are invisible, except to other Ajin).
In this society, Ajin are feared and hated and are usually captured for experimentation. Due to the cruelty of the experimentation, there is a rebellion lead by Satou, an escaped Ajin. Kei finds himself in the middle of this conflict but wanting no involvement.
Unfortunately, given his circumstances and people knowing he is an Ajin, he is roped into working for the Japanese government against the rebellion. He works through this circumstance and his true colors show. He is rational and cold, utilizing people how best they can serve him.
Jam-packed with action, and brutal face-paced fight scenes, this anime keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat. It raises moral quandaries for the viewer. Does being something other than human forfeit humanity? What does it mean to be human?
- Kei is extremely similar to Light in his logic and genius, as well as his cold calculating nature.
- Kei operates on a solely self-serving basis, which again echoes Light.
- The supernatural element of the Ajin is reminiscent of the Shinigami in Death Note.
- Takes place in contemporary society.
- Kei is voiced in the English dub by the same voice actor for Lelouch in Code Geass.
- The anime is 3D rendered, and some scenes look a bit off.
- Kei is a difficult character to relate to, and his motivations are shallow.
- Kei’s indifference towards the cruelty of the government seems unrealistic given his own unique situation.
- The series was not finished in anime form, so you would have to continue with the manga.
- Most of the characters are just okay, not one is extremely likable.
Psycho-Pass is an anime I discovered after a friend recommended it. After watching it on Hulu, I immediately knew that it would be a great choice for people looking to fill the void Death Note leaves. Taking place in a futuristic cyberpunk Japan, it follows a new inspector Akane Tsunemori. She is exceptionally smart and empathetic, which ironically, does not suit her new position as an inspector too well.
In this world, criminals are determined by their mental stability (or Psycho-Pass), which is measured by the Sibyl System. This system effectively determines if people are criminals or not. This means that even young people, like below the age of 10, can be diagnosed as having criminal minds.
Inspectors like Akane are police who are put in charge of Enforcers. Enforcers are latent criminals according to the system and are forced into serving the police department as slaves. They must always listen to Inspectors or risk death.
Akane gets thrown into this strict hierarchy and begins to deal with the principles of the system itself. All while living in this pseudo-utopian world. Is it right to execute someone before they commit a crime? Does the loss of one life to keep the peace, benefit society? Should criminals be punished before they commit a crime?
- Akane is a sympathetic character, and through her perspective, the other characters are humanized.
- Excellent scenes of tension and moral decisions.
- The gore is on par with horror type anime.
- Only 22 episodes for the first season.
- Creates interesting considerations for the viewer.
- Dark atmosphere.
- Includes police procedural goodies.
- Cool technology.
- Sometimes it is a bit one-tone with morality, which comes across as stale and preachy.
- The characters make questionable decisions, which can be frustrating.
- It is one of the edgier anime on the list and can be gratuitous with the violence at times that seems unnecessary.
- It takes more than a few episodes for some of the nuances of the moral dilemma to shine.
- Not a modern setting like Death Note.
Dark and Gritty
The next prominent piece of Death Note’s theme is its dark and gritty atmosphere. I wanted to include some anime that relate to these feelings of dread and suspense. The anime below hit the same sort of dark feelings that Death Note touches on and explores some of these darker settings more thoroughly.
Shiki is a horror anime on Hulu that takes place in small, quiet, and isolated Japanese village called Sotoba. In this village, some interesting new people build and then move into a huge European castle styled house. Soon after, a mysterious illness plagues the village.
Gradually, people start dying of this strange illness. The local doctor and hospital director, Toshio Ozaki, tries to discover why the people of Sotoba are being plagued by such an unusual disease.
As more and more people die, the mystery starts to unfold! As the illness is portrayed it is very dark and eerie. Due to the unnatural nature of the illness, the supernatural elements shine through. Will the doctor discover the cause of the disease? Can they stop it before the whole village is wiped out?
- Mysterious and dark.
- Lots of odd, supernatural elements.
- Takes place in modern times.
- Because of how the anime unfolds, the village feels like a helpless victim to these elements. It is how I imagine those trying to stop Light felt like, it is a good role reversal in that regard.
- The suspense and horror keep the viewer engaged.
- A short series, only 22 episodes.
- The animation is a bit jarring; it is reminiscent of 90’s style anime.
- Lots of the characters are just okay, you do not necessarily get too invested in them.
- Some parts feel a bit stiff and odd, which can drag down the story.
- Not as fast-paced as Death Note.
- It is a slow burn anime and can be boring at times.
Ergo Proxy is another anime you can find on Hulu. This anime takes place in futuristic cyberpunk Japan and follows an Inspector named Re-L. This is a future where robots, called AutoReivs, and humans coexist peacefully. These AutoReivs can serve many functions, from companions like children or partners to simple service models.
Re-L is investigating a series of murders committed by some robots after they get infected by a virus that makes them self-aware. While she is investigating, she is confronted by odd, disfigured monsters who are somehow mysteriously involved in the situation.
At every turn, there is suspense as she is met with systemic and structural efforts to discredit what she is discovering. This show is a great mix of all the key themes present in Death Note; morality, dark/gritty setting, and mind games. Can she solve these crimes without losing herself? What will she uncover about her society?
- Police procedural-esk.
- Great animation.
- Dark setting and color palette.
- Intense action scenes.
- Does not shy away from gore, but also does not include it unnecessarily.
- Each episode unfolds the bigger mystery.
- Only 22 episodes long.
- Contains many of the same themes that align with Death Note.
- At some points, it is a bit unclear as to why things are happening.
- There are not a lot of main, human characters so the ones who are present must do a lot of heavy lifting.
- Some of the connections are a bit hard to make for the viewer at times.
- The world-building is aesthetically present but does lack a bit of depth and clarity for the viewer.
- Futuristic, not modern.
Honorable Mention: The Promised Neverland
This list would not be complete without mentioning The Promised Neverland. I discovered this series through the manga first, and it has recently been adapted into an anime. To my delight, the anime holds up to the manga and the animation is fabulous. It captures the artist’s style in a clean, fluid way. It is available on both Netflix and Hulu.
The reason that I classify this as an honorable mention is because it contains multiple elements present in Death Note like the mind games, the dark atmosphere, and the morality issue. In addition to these elements, it also contains a touch of a contemporary setting and supernatural elements.
In this series, you meet Emma, Ray, and Norman who are orphans at a place called Grace Field. They live with their family which consists of a collection of a smattering of other children and their caretake Mom, aka. Isabella. The ages of the children at Grace Field range from babies to 12 years old. Emma, Ray, and Norman are all currently 11 years old.
The show starts with a peek into their peaceful lives as they play, live, and eat with their family. Soon, one of their siblings, Conny is going to be adopted. Adoption is a highlight for the kids and they excitedly celebrate Conny’s big day. As the night falls Conny is taken to her adoption location.
Unfortunately, she left her toy rabbit behind; Emma and Norman take it upon themselves to bring it to her before she leaves. They make their way to the entrance gate and soon discover the truth of Grace Field.
What did they discover? Can they save their family before it is too late? Will they be able to escape before it is too late?
- True to the artist’s style in its animation.
- Engaging, compelling characters.
- Beautifully written arcs.
- Intense psychological qualities.
- Rapid shifts in tone.
- Survivalist, dark setting.
- Supernatural qualities.
- The children are portrayed as children, not with any superpowers or abilities.
- Juggles many themes effectively without losing pace.
- Only 12 episodes so far.
- The gore present is used for cinematic effect and is not gratuitous.
- The setting does lean more towards fantasy.
- Only the first season is out, so you will have to wait for more, or read the manga.
Answer: No, there is no season 2. But there are a few live-action movies.
Answer: Yes, the anime was completed in 2007.
Answer: There is just one anime series for Death Note.
Answer: Death Note is so popular due to its high quality of writing, psychological elements, and questions regarding morality. Plus, the animation is very distinct.
Answer: Yes! Code Geass is one of the best anime like Death Note.\
Answer: From my list, I feel that both The Promised Neverland and Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion are better than Death Note.
Answer: Death Note holds as one of the best anime due to its clever writing, dynamic characters, and engaging moral quandaries. Also, the animation style is distinct and well done.
Whew, what a list! Those are my seven anime series recommendations for those of you seeking shows like Death Note. Of course, there are a ton of other shows that compare in certain qualities, but it would take ages to list them all.
Out of this list, my standout recommendations would be Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion and The Promised Neverland. These two deliver in many of the same ways that Death Note does and dare I say, dive even deeper into the attributes that make Death Note such a classic.
Plus, both series do not fall into the trap that Death Note does. The second half of Death Note, after L’s arc, is lackluster and a bit disappointing. Both shows keep the momentum and do not take any turns that detract from the action and suspense.
Have you seen any of these series? Which one do you think is the closest to Death Note? What other anime are like Death Note? Let us know in the comments down below!