The mystery/police/detective genre has seen continued success in manga and anime, with many classic series based around it. But finding a good show out of all the offerings is no easy task. I’ll take you through 20 of the best detective anime series, and there are some unexpected items on this list that are amazing works of art. So join me as we explore these shows and learn a little bit more about what makes a great detective anime.
Set in a dystopian future filled with criminals, Akane Tsunemori is tasked with solving crimes via Division One of the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division.
Criminal justice is mainly achieved via the Sibyl System, which uses a range of biomechatronic techniques to measure the biometrics of Japanese citizens’ brains and mentalities at all times.
This assessment, known as a Psycho-Pass, then opens the citizen up to targeting by the police due to their propensity to commit a crime or suspected of committing a crime.
The exploration of these societal and psychological aspects particularly around dissent and thoughtcrime, much in the vein of the film Minority Report, is strong throughout the series.
A stylization of gothic, Gosick is set in a fictional European country in the early 1900s, revolving around a genius girl and her brother who is a detective. He relies on her penetrating logic to solve seemingly unsolvable mysteries.
Kazuya Kujo is a Japanese exchange student who becomes involved with the brilliant Victorique de Blois, although doesn’t quite measure up to her abilities.
Thematically, there is a mysterious and elegant atmosphere that pervades the dreary European scenery, with dark and foreboding colors featuring heavily. Most viewers of a detective based anime are going to want an involved plotline, and Gosick does not disappoint.
A detective show focusing around the investigation of occult and other unexplainable phenomena across Japan, the series focuses on a specialist team of spiritualists and other experts tasked with looking into the strange occurrences.
Mai Taniyama is in the lead role and is a first-year high school student who joins the Shibuya Psychic Research due to destroying one of their cameras during an investigation, although it turns out that Mai has ESP abilities, as well as premonition dreams and clairvoyance.
The show has been praised for its uniquely Japanese take on the ghost hunting and paranormal adventure genre, introducing many aspects of Japanese mythology and folk tales.
An interesting take on the detective genre, Daisuke Kambe comes from a very wealthy family and is a detective who is not above giving out the occasional bribe if it helps him get the job done.
He is partnered with Haru Kato, who strongly disapproves of Kambe’s methods. The series also has a strong sci-fi element with the introduction of many gadgets and crime fighting computers. It is also not shy on action sequences that can really get the heart pumping.
However this is not some campy, paint by numbers show. There are many surprising twists and turns as well as mystery cloaking every episode. Definitely one to watch if you’re looking for a refreshing take on the genre.
The future has seen the rise of advanced criminals, including Killer B, a vigilante serial killer.
Keith Kazama Flick is tasked with investigating this seemingly uncatchable criminal, and is joined by Koku, who has the ability to form wings or blades out of his body at will.
Flick’s savant-like abilities allow him to solve the toughest crimes, but he is up against not only the criminals, but shadowy organizations who seem to be monitoring the police station and thwarting them from the inside.
Due to a lack of members, Hotaro Oreki is asked to join the Kamiyama High School’s Classic Literature Club and reveals his abilities for logical deduction and clear thinking.
He eventually gets tasked with solving the mysteries that pop up around the school, making this a slice of life style series with heavy detective elements.
Other members of the literature club chime in with their insights and talents, making for extremely complex mysteries being solved via teamwork, while also giving lots of opportunities for exposition.
Set in an alternate reality very similar to our own, this series follows two youth naming themselves Nine and Twelve who steal a prototype atomic bomb.
While ostensibly using it for terroristic purposes, instead it is revealed that they are using it to expose Rising Peace Academy, an organization that transforms orphaned children into weapons.
Calling themselves Sphinx, they threaten to destroy Tokyo unless their demands are met. After bumping into a classmate, they get her involved in their plans.
The protagonist Yakumo Saitou has special powers, allowing him to communicate with ghosts and see otherworldly beings.
While usually avoided for this eye, Haruka Ozawa is instead delighted to find out he can help spirits, as she feels guilt for possibly contributing to her twin’s death. As Ozawa requests Saitou’s help, they begin to solve mysteries in the hope to help lost souls.
Similar to the above previewed Ghost Hunt, the show focuses heavily on the human relationships and trouble they face, particularly as the backstory of Saitou is revealed.
Set in the underworld of Victorian-era London, Ciel Phantomhive solves crimes with the help of a demon, Sebastian Michaelis.
This help has come at a price, as the demon will be allowed to consume Phantomhive’s soul upon him carrying out his revenge on his parent’s killers. Phantomhive returns after this deal, tasked with investigating crimes deemed important to the Queen or threatening England.
While quite dark in its themes, the series has been a wild success in Japan and worldwide due to its unique story and mysterious but alluring character of Michaelis.
Satoru Fujinuma is living in Chiba near Tokyo, who has the unique ability called revival. This is triggered when a life is in danger sending him back in time to before he died.
When his mother is murdered, the ability sends him back a full 18 years into the past, giving him the opportunity to solve other crimes.
The series has been praised for dealing with the themes of grief and confusion combined with self-condemnation and thoughts of impotence that can arise after a death.
The time travel element at the effects of actions on timelines is very nonlinear, contributing to a buildup in suspense, as one never knows where the narrative is going.
Having a detective anime list without Death Note is like trying to race without an engine: it’s just not happening.
Light Yagami, a name that is unusual by Japanese standards and plays into the plot heavily, is a brilliant high school student who stumbles upon a mysterious book which turns out to be an item that grants the power to kill someone by writing their name in it.
Ostensibly killing people for moral reasons, Yagami’s actions draw the attention of the police, particularly L, a genius detective with a penchant for sugar. As the two try to reveal each other’s identity, they end up working together, which only makes Yagami’s problems worse.
One of the best selling series of all time, Detective Conan, also known as Case Closed, follows Shinichi Kudo as he assists police with their cases.
The criminal gang the Black Organization try to get him out of the way by murdering him, but they use a dangerous experimental drug which has the effect of turning him into a child.
Taking on a pseudonym Conan Edogawa, he continues to assist the police via living with a friend who has a detective for a father. Edogawa then uses a voice changer and sedates the detective when he needs to reveal the culprit and methods by which they did the crime.
There have been many spinoffs, and Detective Conan remains one of the most popular series of all time in Japan, even becoming part of the zeitgeist with a series of crime prevention ads run by the Japanese government.
A series of attacks and terrorism sees Japan build an army to defend itself by amending article 9 of the constitution.
Further laws are passed giving tech company executive Rinroku Kaishou access to almost all data in Japan to help with preventing further attacks. He works with Shinjujo Yuki and his supernatural partner Inga to solve these crimes.
Inga requires souls to live, and a deal struck with Yuki sees her promise not to kill any humans as long as Yuki provides her with the souls she needs. Inga has the extremely useful ability of being able to ask a single person and always get the truth.
Morihiko Dan is a world-famous detective based in Japan, who starts a school to train other detectives, and who helps him with his cases.
Going up against the formidable organization Pluto, Kyu Renjo and his classmates work on these almost unsolvable, perfect crimes to get to the bottom of the nefarious deeds.
All of the students are vying to be Dan’s successor, trying to solve the hardest cases in order to be anointed as the next Morihiko Dan. While the series follows the manga faithfully, it is a bit lackluster in direction but still a great watch.
Centered around Yokohama, the Armed Detective Agency is tasked with keeping the city safe, with weretiger Atsushi Nakajima being the protagonist.
All the other members of the team possess supernatural powers, allowing varied unique ways to solve the crimes. Nakajima is targeted due to the existence of a book which, when combined with his powers, can alter reality.
A multi-layered enemy causes many issues for the team, with the detective elements heavily fused with an action and adventure theme.
Ryoko Yakushiji is a top police officer, working in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. Tasked with investigating bizarre cases or seemingly unexplainable phenomena that can’t be solved with traditional police techniques, sometimes working with private security firms.
Her family’s involvement in these private firms means she has dirt on top ranking officials, meaning she can get away with her unconventional methods.
A combination of mystery and science fiction, Ryoko’s Case File also touches on Japanese mythology and features a tough and determined protagonist who takes no prisoners.
A loner high school student, Narumi Fujishima, gets involved with NEET, a detective agency headed by the mysterious genius Alice.
Alice coordinates the team, and through her amazing ability with computers, provides much of the information needed to solve cases. Her actual identity is unknown but she is likely a young girl who has run away from her family and doesn’t attend school.
A highlight is the understated yet eclectic score for the series, and it is also unique for tackling social issues found in Japan such as hikkikomori and bullying.
Having been banished to Earth by Odin, Loki’s only choice is to take the form of a human child and must help remove evil to get back to the realm of the gods.
Helped by Yamino Ryusuke and Mayura Daidouji, they investigate mysteries with strong occult links which is helped by Loki’s foresight ability.
Loki guesses rightly that this is the best way to encounter evil, meaning he can vanquish it for the auras he needs to be readmitted by Odin.
Many appearances by other Norse gods abound, however the series is often lauded for its emotional scenes and high octane battle scenes.
Another futuristic mystery series, this series follows the investigators of the National Research Institute of Police Science’s 9th Forensics Laboratory as they use a brain scanning technology that can search the memories of people.
Although an invasion of privacy, the technology offers an amazing ability to solve crimes as even dead people’s memories can be read.
Tsuyoshi Maki is the director of the NRI and boss of the main protagonist, Ikkou Aoki. Like most members of NRI, both of these characters possess certain abilities, such as lip reading and even hints at supernatural powers.
Although quite violent, the emotional, ethical and moral issues raised by this show are extremely interesting and engaging.
Lil’ Slugger is terrorizing Tokyo and it is the police’s top priority to get him, although the show features a large ensemble of people who are directly or indirectly affected by Lil’ Slugger’s actions.
The mystery surrounding Lil’ Slugger points to something nefarious occuring, and reviews of the series often point out how the narrative is both disturbing and original but not for those who want a straightforward show.