When a Grim Reaper shows up in a TV show or movie, it’s almost guaranteed to be a great scene, and anime is no exception. As the personification of Death and the being charged with guiding souls to the next world, this character is often portrayed as intimidating but not always evil or even malicious. Death is the natural ending of life, and so the job of ensuring a peaceful passing is essential. In addition, there are as many ways to depict the existence of a Reaper as there are feelings about the concepts of life and death, meaning there are plenty of creative characters to choose from.

Depictions of anime Reapers have always varied. Some are based on the typical Western depiction of a skeletal being with a black cloak and scythe, but many take heavier inspiration from Japanese stories of death gods or shinigami. Though shinigami have no defined appearance in many of the best fantasy anime, they share the same role as spirits associated with death. Whatever type of spirit they may be, the coolest Reapers in anime come from the most creative interpretations of how a being in charge of death would act, and what powers and abilities they might use to do their job.

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Lord Death – Soul Eater (2008 – 2009)

Lord Death points enthusiastically at the camera with both hands in front of Death Weapon Meister Academy in Soul Eater.

In Soul Eater, Lord Death, naturally, heads the Death Weapon Meister Academy. To keep the world in order and protect humans from kishin and witches, he oversees the training of meisters and Demon Weapons to slay them and take their souls. The strongest of all become Death Scythes: Death’s personal weapons.

Lord Death used to have an appearance worthy of one of the scariest body horror anime. But once he realized that this was conducive to battle but not so much recruiting children for his school, he redesigned himself to be friendlier-looking and adopted a jovial, eccentric demeanor. In the present, he’s loved by his students and his son Death the Kid, who look to him as a cool leader and mentor figure. He leans into his playful side so well that both his students and the viewers are startled when his shadier side or his devastating power in battle comes out, reminding everyone that he is, in fact, Death.

D-Reaper – Digimon Tamers (2001 – 2002)

Rika Nonaka, Takato Matsuki, and Henry Wong wielding their Digivices in Digimon Tamers.

In Digimon Tamers, one of the many villains that the Digidestined and the best Digimon partners must face isn’t technically another Digimon. In keeping with Tamers’ darker tone compared to other Digimon series, the D-Reaper is a terrifying creature that threatens the fate of the real and digital worlds.

The Grim Reaper, in most depictions, is frightening, but not evil – he’s simply doing his job – and the D-Reaper fits this description to a T. It is a state-of-the-art antivirus program designed to cull the Digital World if it ever gets too overpopulated. After feeding off Juri’s depression and grief over her mother’s death for long enough, it reasons that humanity ought to be eradicated as well. It takes several horrifying forms, including primordial slime and a demonic winged creature.

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Rinne Rokudo – RIN-NE (2015 – 2017)

Sakura Mamiya, Rinne Rokudo, and Rokumon posing with shinigami scythes in RIN-NE.

In one of the best supernatural slice-of-life anime, RIN-NE, Rinne has it pretty rough. His grandparents have passed away and his deadbeat father is constantly stealing his money and weighing him down with debt. To keep afloat, he offers his services as a shinigami to his classmates, solving spiritual problems for money and food donations.

Rinne is unique in that he has one foot in the human world and the other in the world of shinigami, which isn’t often portrayed in anime featuring Grim Reapers. His bloodline means that he must live in the human world while still carrying out a shinigami’s duty of guiding souls to reincarnation. But unfortunately for Rinne, this leads to more problems than it solves, but he still maintains his kind and responsible nature.

Shinigami – Naruto (2002 – 2017)

Minato performs the reaper death seal in Naruto

Summoning Techniques are an important tool in any shinobi’s arsenal. Many of the best animal companions in Naruto are called by these techniques, but powerful monsters can also be called into battle. The hardest and most frightening to make a contract with is the shinigami. This silent horror appears with a tantō blade instead of a scythe, and when it shows up, someone’s inevitably losing their soul.

In many stories, humans can converse with the Grim Reaper, making requests or deals to alter the natural course of death, with varying degrees of success and often terrible costs. Any shinobi who summons the shinigami to use its Dead Demon Consuming Seal technique pays a hefty price, whether or not they get what they ask for. It eats Hiruzen’s soul as payment for sealing away Orochimaru’s arms, and Minato loses his soul sealing the Nine-Tailed Fox’s chakra inside himself and Naruto.

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Korosensei – Assassination Classroom (2015 – 2016)

Korosensei surrounded by his cheerfully posing students in Assassination Classroom.

One of the best characters in Assassination Classroom, Korosensei introduces himself to Class E and the rest of the world as a harbinger of death. He’s blown up the moon and claims that if he isn’t killed in a year, he’ll take the Earth out too. He’ll let Class E try and kill him if he gets to be their teacher in the art of assassination.

Just the name “The Grim Reaper” is often enough to strike fear into people’s hearts, and it’s revealed that Korosensei was once a ruthless human assassin who did just that, going by the name of the Reaper. However, his students don’t care about the countless lives he’s taken: he is the first one who’s ever believed in them, and they adore him and stay loyal to him as their best teacher. Put quite simply, he’s the coolest person they’ve ever met, octopus mutant or not.

Reapers – Black Butler (2008 – 2017)

William T. Spears exposing the

In one of the best historical fantasy anime, Sebastian may be an efficient killer, but as a demon, he’s not technically in control of the death process or soul collection. That’s the domain of the actual Grim Reapers, such as Grell Sutcliff, William T. Spears, and Ronald Knox. They are charged with handling the bureaucracy of death as payment for having taken their own lives as humans.

Despite the many rules and regulations that govern their afterlives, the Reapers are some of the most eccentric characters in the show. For instance, William copes with his fate by taking every rule and regulation deadly seriously, while laid-back Ronald often slacks off and prioritizes having fun. And then there’s Grell, whose favorite pastime is going bonkers with a chainsaw, which she prefers to the traditional scythe.

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Shinigami – Death Note (2006 – 2007)

Ryuk smiling in the Death Note anime.

In this flawed but still exciting anime, the Shinigami Realm is boring, with most of its denizens more interested in lazing around than doing their jobs. Ryuk throws his Death Note down to Earth, where it ends up in the hands of Light Yagami. When Light immediately uses it for serial killing, Ryuk watches gleefully what happens when humans have shinigami’s control over life and death.

With towering heights, frozen expressions, and garish appearances, shinigami are striking and intimidating. While Ryuk is content to sit back with apples and watch the show, others, like Rem, take things more seriously and try to take a more active role. Rem falls in love with Misa and grants her a shinigami’s ability to see a human’s name and lifespan, which shakes up the plot immensely.

Arbiters – Death Parade (2015)

The Arbiters from Death Parade posing enthusiastically together.

Most Grim Reapers simply take souls and leave. But it’s the Arbiters’ job to judge the recently dead with some of the best fantasy games in anime. Souls deemed worthy are passed into the cycle of reincarnation, but those deemed irredeemable are banished into nothingness forever.

Similar to Black Butler’s Reapers, each Arbiter approaches their job differently, keeping the otherwise repetitive episodic plots interesting. Decim, despite his trouble understanding human emotions and motivations, still does his best to be a fair judge. Then there are jaded Arbiters like Ginti, who hate humans and will actively try to trick them into extinguishing their own souls for his amusement. Their unorthodox approaches to handling the afterlife make them extremely unique takes on Reapers.

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Botan – Yu Yu Hakusho (1992 – 1994)

Botan wields a metal baseball bat while Yusuke Urameshi forms and points a gun with his hands in Yu Yu Hakusho.

Botan doesn’t fit the typical Western image of the Grim Reaper at all, to the point where a startled Yusuke doesn’t believe she is who she says she is at first in Yu Yu Hakusho, one of the best martial arts anime. She is more in line with Japanese Buddhist figures who ferry souls across the Sanzu River and Riverbed of Death, particularly those charged with escorting children passed before their time, like Yusuke, across.

Botan’s cheerful demeanor contrasts considerably with both Yusuke’s expectations and his own loud, angry personality. She may enjoy the occasional joke at Yusuke’s expense, but she is, on the whole, kind to the souls she escorts to the other side and even helps some come back to life in special circumstances. And while she isn’t a fighter like Team Urameshi, she has been known to take a baseball bat to hostile demons when she has to!

Soul Reapers – Bleach (2004 – )

Ichigo Kurosaki wielding his zangetsu in Bleach.

Returning as one of the best animated shows of 2022, Bleach is a series that centers around death and all beings’ relationship to it. And nowhere is this more evident than in their main heroes, the Soul Reapers. A Soul Reaper’s job is to guide the deceased to the afterlife, whether by helping wayward but peaceful souls in their transition or by defeating evil, destructive Hollows in battle.

Soul Reapers are near-immortal and intensely powerful by nature. Their coolest and strongest attribute, however, is their zanpakuto: spiritual weapons that take the shape of katana. Each zanpakuto is unique to the Soul Reaper, powered by and bonded to their own soul, and their ever-evolving powers are a reflection of who the Soul Reaper is. Like no life or death is the same as any other, no two zanpakuto are alike.

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