Japan has a kind of penchant and passion for survival stories, and they do them well. Battle Royale, for example, predated the Western craze that came after series like The Hunger Games and at least the first Divergent movie, and it was a masterpiece of blood and drama. Today, anime carries on that obsession we have with survival by making a game of it. Certainly there are anime series that are about those struggling in a natural disaster or another situation that has been thrust upon them, but that is for another time and another list. Today, in the spirit of Battle Royale, we’re going to focus on the shows that feature groups put in a desperate situation in which they have to kill each other to get out of.
The survival game sub-genre doesn’t always mean the game needs to have a prize at the end. Sometimes it is not even a proper game at all, it is just a bunch of people shoved into an enclosed space and forced to either kill each other or solve a mystery that threatens their lives. No matter what the circumstances, the participant, or at least survivors of these brilliant survival game anime series realize that, in the end, their lives are the best prize.
While there are a few series that can technically be classified as survival “games” like Sword Art Online or Log Horizon, Btooom will be the only of such series making the list because it takes place in the real world. In Btooom, some of the best players of the Btooom video game are transported to an island and forced to play the game for real. Only through killing the other participants will they be able to have proof of their victory. The problem is that main character and top player Ryouta meets his in-game wife and develops real life feels.
Deadman Wonderland follows Ganta, a student who was preparing to go to a prison amusement park with his class where prisoners perform dangerous acts for their amusement. That is, until his entire class gets murdered and someone sets him up to look like the murder. Now he is sent to the very same prison amusement park, but this time as a prisoner where he must not only perform for the crowd in brutal games, but try not to get killed by his fellow inmates.
When you mention anime survival games, most people will go right to Future Dairy, and for good reason. If follows the story of Yukiteru, a loner type who spends his time writing down what others are doing in his cell phone diary. However, when his imaginary god friends turn out to be not so imaginary and allow Yuki to see the future on his cell phone, he is thrust into a survival game where the winner gets to be a god of time and space.
The Gantz anime is a sham compared to the manga, since it effectively decided to stop right before one of the best arcs and do a filler ending instead. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the survival game in Gantz is easily one of the most brutal around. Essentially when you die or almost die, a man that only exists inside a big black ball makes a copy of you. You are given a second chance at life, but you must periodically fight aliens who have no problem murdering puny humans in horrific ways.
General piece of trash human being Kaiji likes to spend his days drinking and stealing, as we all do. However, one day he suddenly gets sacked with a huge debt by his co-worker. In order to pay it off, he accepts a shady underground deal where he goes to gamble on a cruise ship. However, with his life at stake, Kaiji must learn to cheat and deceive even bigger scumbags than himself.
Fate / Zero
Spawning three wars previously, the Fourth War over the Holy Grail is about to begin. This mythical object is said to grant any wish and thus tremendous acts of cruelty have be wielded for it. This time, the Einzbern family is confident they will win the next war, especially with the employment of the disdained Magus Killer, Kiritsugu Emiya, at their side. However, this fourth war will be no less cutthroat than any that has come before.
Danganronpa: The Animation
Hope’s Peak is an elite academy that only accepts the most talented students. However, Makoto Naegi was only accepted for his one remarkable trait – his luck. Unfortunately, when he steps on campus, he loses consciousness and wakes up in the school building, the doors and windows all sealed. As he soon discovers, he is locked in with his fellow classmates and a teddy bear principal telling them that they can only leave if someone murders one of their peers without getting caught. However, if they are caught, their life is forfeit.
Magical Girl Raising Project
Ever since she was a young child, Koyuki has always wanted to be a magical girl. Years later, there is a rumor going around that placing a special mobile game will occasional transform players into real life magical girls. Knowing it is silly, but trying it anyway, it turns out to be true! However, it turns out there are too many magical girls in her city and magical energy is in short supply. What starts off as a race for magical energy soon turns into a devastating bloodbath.
While on an educational retreat for the summer, a group of kids meet a strange man at the beach. He invites them into a cave filled with technology and asks if they want to beta test a game. After they have all signed up, they are transported into a giant robot where one child must pilot it and fight aliens trying to destroy Earth. The twist is that after each battle, the pilot dies. Now they are in a race for time to try and stop this game before it is too late.
Akame ga Kill
Although not strictly a survival game, it does demonstrate how sometimes the world is one large survival game. In Akame ga Kill, a group of assassins fight back against a government that allows their common people to live in constant squalor and strife. However, the life of an assassin is not easy or safe. No one is safe and anyone could die at any moment.
Akuma no Riddle
In this one class, there is a girl of a very powerful clan in Japan. For the 12 other students in the class, they must assassinate her before the end of the year. However, they only get one chance, and if they fail, they lose. If they succeed, their greatest desire will be granted. The twist is that one of the assassins has decided to side with the girl and help protect her from the attempts on her life.
Umineko: When They Cry
You think your family is pretty bad? Well, would they start murdering each other if they were trapped on a small island and the patriarch of the family just died without firmly establishing an heir to the family wealth? Although it has some more supernatural elements, that is Umineko in a nutshell.
This series tells the story of a new transfer student who finds out that his class is essentially ignoring one girl in particular. While they suggest that this new student does the same, of course he doesn’t, and suddenly people start to die in brutal accidents. It seems the class forgot to tell him of the long-running tradition of their class in particular in which they ignore one student because their class always has “one extra,” a dead person that is still around. Not ignoring them causes the class to start dying in horrible ways. It seems like something you mention, but now they need to find a way to fix it.
Did we miss any more wonderlands of blood, guts, and betrayal? Let us know your favorite recommendations for survival game anime series in the comments section below.