Bring up the term ‘cult’, and some of the most notorious groups will come to mind. The Manson Family, Heaven’s Gate, the People’s Temple, the Branch Davidians, and many more that would send shivers up people’s spines. This would either be from their deeds, or from their lawyers if they suspect anyone of saying anything less than praise for them.
Japan has had its own share of worrying faux-religious groups, like the notorious Aum Shinrikyō, Happy Science, or the Unification Church (Moonies). They’ve had enough that they’ve influenced a number of infamous fictional cults that have one grim goal or another. Here are the most worrying cults to turn up in anime. These shows are fairly old but watch out for spoilers regardless.
7 SCRATCH – Cowboy Bebop
Few shows, anime or otherwise, are written as well as Cowboy Bebop. Particularly in its 23rd episode, ‘Brain Scratch’, where it introduced its own creepy cult. SCRATCH is a group dedicated to transferring the human mind out of their frail, degenerating bodies to live on forever in electronics. Their leader, Dr. Londes, claims he can do it with a machine called the Brain Drain. Faye Valentine is just interested in the 38 million woolong claim on his head and goes undercover into the group.
Ultimately, it turns out Dr. Londes isn’t real. He’s just a persona used to influence the desperate and gullible on TV. In reality, he’s a boy stuck in a vegetative state, with his mind being the only thing active via a mental uplink to the internet. Since he was trapped on the web, he wanted to make others feel the same by making them join him. Spike and the gang were able to shut him down, though it’s a credit to the show that it can make the audience feel sympathetic for a villain like that.
6 Church of the Walls – Attack on Titan
In Attack on Titan, the only things keeping humanity from being Titan-chow were the city defenses. Be it the different military branches, or the big walls encircling each settlement. Their solid design ended up producing a religious order that worships the walls and protects them from ‘impurities’ like mounted artillery and other humans. Which is why they’re called the ‘Church of the Walls’.
Why would they shoo people and extra defenses away from the walls? Because their Elders knew there were Titans hidden within the walls. They made them way back in the past and were used by the city’s king Karl Fritz as a deterrent. Anyone who reveals their secrets is doomed to death, but eventually, the truth gets out, and the cult wanes in significance. Yet they live on in one anonymous member within the remaining government.
5 The Great Goat Cult – Berserk 2016
Berserk isn’t a stranger to creepy pseudo-religious groups. In fact, fans would argue that the Holy See should probably be here instead of the Great Goat Cult. They’re much more intimidating and damaging in the long run. But that’s getting into the question of what separates a cult from a canon religious order, and in the world of Berserk, the only difference is their size. The all-encompassing Holy See may be messed up, but the smaller Great Goat Cult is just as depraved.
The group was run by a mysterious man who called himself the Great Goat, complete with a giant goat head mask. He’d encourage his members to dine on dishes made with human flesh. Things went wrong for him when he tried to marry Casca, which led her Brand of Sacrifice to invoke the cult’s deceased victims. During the chaos, the Great Goat would become a literal monster and slaughter many of his own followers. Then Guts came in, introduced him to his sword, and rescued Casca.
4 The Cult of Kira – Death Note
Isn’t it frustrating when the obviously guilty get away with their crimes? Either they get saved by the due process meant to protect the innocent, or they pay their way to a slap on the wrist at worst. So, if someone had the power to administer an unavoidable death sentence on deserving criminals, wouldn’t they be doing a good thing? Wouldn’t they be worth appreciating for bringing justice?
Even within Death Note, things are much more complicated than that. Yet some people in the show agreed when the mysterious Kira began doing just that. Over time, they rallied to his cause. They’d broadcast programs like ‘Kira’s Kingdom’ on TV, and praise Kira for avenging them against those who did them wrong. Light Yagami, the real ‘Kira’, would use members like Teru Mikami as temporary stand-ins for his alter-ego. Even after Kira’s killings stopped, the cult would continue worshipping their murderous messiah in the hopes he’d return.
3 Jashin Cult – Naruto Shippuden
The origins of Jashin (‘evil god’ or ‘wicked heart’) and its worship are clouded in mystery, even within the anime. It’s said they originated from a couple who, through Jashin’s ‘wisdom’, were driven to kill off anyone who opposed them, so they could stay together. All that’s known for sure is that they span the world and are devoted to death and destruction. Their most notorious follower was Hidan, who gained immortality and went on a killing spree during the Ninja Wars. The only way he could be stopped was to be dismembered and buried, still alive but unable to reform.
So, they’re a doomsday cult full of ninja edgelords. Yet there are some people who think they’re a real-life cult too. At least they think Hidan’s group was inspired by a similarly named cult. There are online sources that say Jashin worship originated in Shikoku, Japan from the Jōmon Period (14,000-300 BCE). They were more peaceful, looking into pain as a means to avoid it. But it’s not true. ‘Jashin’ is only as old as Naruto Shippuden is, and it was always meant to be a fictional, death-metal ninja cult.
2 The Cult of the Sacred Eye – Future Diary
This cult was set up by the parents of Tsubaki Kasugano, who believed their short-sighted daughter had the power of clairvoyance. But then things when south when a low-ranking member of the order, Funatsu, killed Tsubaki’s parents with a car bomb and assumed control of the cult. He orders the serial assault of Tsubaki as a way to ‘cleanse’ the followers’ sins. This leads Tsubaki to receive her future diary and use it to become a god and get revenge on the ‘unseen world’ that hurt her.
She would destroy the planet and reform it her way, manipulating those around her to carry out her bidding. The heroes eventually stop her, destroy her future diary, and change her past, giving her a better chance at life. Her parents survive, and Funatsu goes to prison before he can carry out his plans. The anime suggests the cult was disbanded soon afterward, while the manga is much more ambiguous. Maybe some events from the spin-off manga, Future Diary: Paradox takes place, or she’s still being used as a figurehead for her parents’ cult.
1 The Cult – Bakemonogatari
This unnamed cult from Bakemonogatari didn’t have any maniacal plans. They didn’t infiltrate the government or plan to destroy civilization for fun. In fact, they didn’t really play any significant goal in the anime. Originally part of the Monogatari series of light novels, Bakemonogatari is a mystery show about Koyomi Araragi, a girl with supernatural powers helping her classmates with spooky issues. But one issue involved Hitagi Senjōgahara as her mother got gradually more involved with a cult.
Even after one of the cult’s members tried to force themselves on Hitagi, her mother sided with the group and left her family behind. This left Hitagi with enough guilt to be cursed, leading Koyomi and her friends to help her out. It sounds mild compared to the rest of the cults on this list, yet Bakemonogatari’s unnamed cult is more believable in how simple yet horrible they are. Most cults aren’t apocalyptic death worshippers or terrorists. They’re creepy scam artists looking for people to take advantage of, and the Senjōgahara family is just one set of many victims.
More: The Creepiest Cults in the Fallout Series