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What is Noir? A Genre or a Theme/Style in Anime?

An Underrated Anime Genre: Noir You Should Know About!

The Term “Noir” conjures up images of rain-slicked streets, Smokey jazz bars, and morally ambiguous detectives. But in the world of anime, noir transcends genre and infuses itself into stories as diverse as cyberpunk thrillers and psychological dramas.

So, what exactly is “noir” in anime? Is it a genre with its own set of rules, or is it more of a stylistic approach, a dark and gritty tone that can be applied to any story?

Noir’s Origin

American film Noir
~ Image From Wikipedia (Two silhouetted figures in The Big Combo (1955). The film’s cinematographerJohn Alton, was the creator of many of film noir’s stylized images.)

Film Noir wasn’t born in sunshine. It emerged in the 1940s, a time shadowed by World Wars, the Great Depression, and Cold War paranoia. People’s dreams were shattered, their lives upended. War had left scars, society shifted fast, and fear of nuclear annihilation hung heavy.

This darkness seeped into movies. Film Noir, with its gritty streets, cynical heroes, and femme fatales, became a mirror to the unease of the time. It wasn’t just about crime and detectives; it was about the shadows lurking in everyone’s hearts, a reflection of the world reeling from too much darkness.

Noir in Anime

Best Anime in Noir Genre

Anime embraced noir’s thematic elements and visual style early on. Classic anime like Lupin III, Ghost in the shell and Monster featured cynical detectives, femme fatales with hidden agendas, and shadowy urban settings. But anime’s unique storytelling capabilities allowed for a more diverse exploration of noir themes.

Key Characteristics of Noir

So, what are the key characteristics of noir in anime? Here are a few:

Cynical tone: Noir worlds are often morally grey, where good and evil are subjective. Characters, even the protagonists, are often flawed and motivated by self-interest.

Visual style: Shadowy lighting, rain-soaked streets, and cigarette smoke are common visual motifs in noir anime. The animation style can range from realistic to highly stylized, but the overall atmosphere is one of darkness and mystery.

Fatalistic themes: Fate and destiny play a significant role in noir narratives. Characters are often trapped in situations beyond their control, and their choices often lead to tragic consequences.

Femme fatales: Mysterious and alluring women who manipulate men for their own gain are a recurring trope in noir. Their motivations are often ambiguous, leaving the audience questioning their true intentions.

Morally ambiguous characters: Few characters in noir are purely good or evil. They are driven by complex motivations and often make morally questionable choices.

Also Read: 10 Best Horror Manhwa Of All Time ( Ranked )

Noir : Genre or Theme/Style?

The question of whether “noir” is a genre or a style in anime is a complex one. Some argue that it’s a distinct genre with specific narrative and thematic elements. Others see it as a stylistic approach that can be applied to any story, regardless of genre.

Ultimately, the answer is both. Noir is a recognizable set of thematic and stylistic elements that can be found in a wide variety of anime. However, it also transcends genre boundaries, adding depth and complexity to stories across numerous genres.

Beyond the Detective

While detectives remain a common thread, noir in anime isn’t confined to the detective genre. Sci-fi epics like “Cowboy Bebop” and cyberpunk thrillers like “Ghost in the Shell” utilize noir’s stylistic elements and thematic depth. Even slice-of-life stories can incorporate noir’s cynical humor and moral ambiguity, as seen in “Black Lagoon.”

Key Similarities and Differences Between Noir and Detective Genres in Anime

What is Noir? A Genre or a Theme/Style in Anime

Noir focuses on character flaws and cynicism, while detective stories emphasize problem-solving and deductive reasoning. Noir protagonists are often anti-heroes with conflicting motivations, while detective protagonists are driven by justice and truth-seeking. Both heavily feature crime and investigation and often have mysterious settings with hidden secrets.

Noir plots are non-linear and unpredictable, while detective plots are structured around investigations and reveals. Noir settings are dark and oppressive, while detective settings can be more diverse. Noir themes are bleaker and more fatalistic, while detective themes lean towards justice and good triumphing over evil.

They can involve plot twists and ambiguous endings and can explore themes of moral ambiguity and corruption. The Key Similarities and Differences Between Noir and Detective Genres in Anime in a table.

Core FocusMoral ambiguity,
cynicism, character
flaws, femme fatales
Solving mysteries,
following clues,
deductive reasoning
ProtagonistFlawed, often anti-hero,
motivated by self-interest
Sharp, analytical,
dedicated to
uncovering the truth
PlotNon-linear, twists
and turns, ambiguous
Suspenseful, focus
on investigation and
SettingDark, urban underworld,
rain-soaked streets,
smoky bars
Diverse, could be
urban, rural, futuristic
ThemesCorruption, betrayal,
fatalism, justice
Justice prevails,
good vs. evil struggle,
solving puzzles
AtmosphereBleak, cynical,
Intriguing, suspenseful,
driven by mystery
ExamplesCowboy Bebop,
Ghost in the Shell,
Black Lagoon
Detective Conan,

Noir elements can be present in non-detective anime, while detective stories are their own genre. Distinguishing between the two can be subjective and depend on the specific anime. Both genres offer unique storytelling approaches and have their own dedicated fanbases.


Whether you see it as a genre or a style, noir is an underrated genre/style in anime. Its dark and cynical take on the world resonates with audiences who appreciate complex characters, morally ambiguous situations, and stunning visuals. So, the next time you watch an anime, pay attention to the shadows, the smoke, and the morally grey characters. You might just find yourself drawn into the world of noir.

Do you have any favorite examples of noir in anime? Come and Share your thoughts on Our Anime and Gaming Discord Community.

Note: This blog post is just a starting point. Feel free to add your own thoughts and insights on the topic of noir in anime. You can also discuss specific examples of anime that utilize noir elements, or explore the historical and cultural influences that shaped noir’s development in anime. For more details on topic check out: What Is Film Noir? A Definition, History, and Impact Article By Kat Bello on The Collector.

Founder of ShonenDream.com, is a passionate anime enthusiast dedicated to curating the ultimate platform for anime, manga, manhwa, and manhua enthusiasts.
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