Horror visual novels are my favorite because, despite their often dark and gory nature, they feature complex stories and have a lot to say. From the haunting corridors of cursed mansions to stories inspired by folklore, these visual novels introduce us to new worlds where every choice carries weight, and every decision means the difference between life and death.
In this list, I’ve included a broad spectrum of horror visual novels, from the mind-bending realms of psychological thrillers to the high-stakes tension of death games. I wanted to highlight a variety of horror as well, including everything from the subtly unnerving to the explicitly gruesome and deeply macabre.
It’s important to note that not every title on this list will scare you in the traditional sense. The essence of great horror often lies not in its ability to make us scared, but in its ability to unsettle, provoke introspection, and challenge our perceptions of the world or ourselves. If you are into the darker, more gruesome aspects of horror, though, there are plenty of these titles featured as well.
Whatever you are into, I hope there’s something you are excited to check out on this list. I own and have read every visual novel mentioned. As I read more, I will continue to update this post as needed. That said, here are the best horror visual novels you don’t want to miss.
The Letter: A Horror Visual Novel is a refreshing blend of horror and drama, and it’s one I particularly enjoyed because it draws inspiration from classic Asian horror films. This influence can be felt without, and this is part of what makes it such an amazing story.
The Letter is set within the eerie walls of Ermengarde Mansion, where you’re not just an observer but a key player in the lives of seven characters, each bound by a curse that threatens more than just their physical well-being—it tests the very fabric of their relationships and morals.
It plunges you into a world where your decisions carry real weight, making you grapple with the gravity of each choice and delve into the intricacies of human emotions, relationships, and behaviors. Suddenly, you’re not just a player—you’re the custodian of the destinies of seven characters, a responsibility that feels as heavy as it is profound. This game excels in crafting rich, evolving characters, but it goes further by making us reflect on the ripple effects of our actions and just how far we will go to survive.
Doki Doki Literature Club!
Doki Doki Literature Club! cleverly disguises its early chapters as a typical visual novel with dating sim elements, where you, playing as a male character, join a literature club. The club, which consists of four female members—Sayori, Yuri, Monika, and Natsuki—is the center focus of this story, and it’s where you’ll focus on relationship building and creating poems that you share with the group, but it later develops in entirely unexpected ways. It’s how this game tricks you into thinking it’s one thing when it’s something else entirely that makes it such an unsettling and effective read.
If you are new to horror visual novels altogether, I highly recommend starting with Doki Doki Literature Club!, because it’s a relatively quick one at around 7 hours of gameplay. It will surprise you in ways you never imagined, and if you like stories that are meta, it is one you’ll want to pick up.
The standard release is free to play on Steam, but you can also purchase a physical copy of Doki Doki Literature Club Plus, which comes with a new DLC and extra content, for Nintendo Switch as well. The Plus version is worth it because you get more backstory about the girls via the six new side stories that are included in this edition. The Steam edition appears to be censored somewhat, so you may want to consider the physical copy for this reason as well.
The House in Fata Morgana
The House in Fata Morgana is more so eerie and haunting than it is horrifying, but I wanted to add it for those of you who enjoy visual novels that have subtle horror themes or complex stories that are character-driven but are also full of unexpected twists and turns.
Set against the otherworldy backdrop of a cursed mansion, The House in Fata Morgana is a gothic and thrilling tale. It features a complex narrative that spans nearly a millennium, and it dives deep into themes of tragedy, revenge, human nature, and more. Its intricate plot and richly developed characters allow us to explore the darker facets of the human psyche. Since it dives deeper into the minds of its characters, but more importantly, makes you feel something, it stands out in the horror visual novel genre.
If you are looking to experience The House in Fata Morgana, I recommend picking up the Dreams of the Revenants Edition, which was released physically but also digitally on Nintendo Switch. This edition includes the full prequel and sequel stories, in addition to the main storyline and other additional short stories.
Chaos;Head and Chaos;Child
Set in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, Chaos;Head Noah immerses you in the life of high school student Takumi Nishijou, who finds himself caught in the middle of the chilling saga that is the “New Generation Madness” murders. This visual novel is exciting to play not just because of the gripping mystery of the murders themselves, but in the way that it explores our main protagonist. As Takumi delves deeper to solve the mystery behind the “New Gen” murders, he begins to question his own sanity and reality itself.
The game also has a unique mechanic known as the “Delusion Trigger System”, which allows you to select whether Takumi will have a positive, neutral, or negative delusion during certain events in the game. This mechanic not only adds layers of complexity to the gameplay but also enhances the thematic exploration of perception versus reality, making each decision crucial to the unfolding story and its outcomes. If you enjoy dark, psychological thrillers or sci-fi with horror themes, Chaos;Head Noah is one of the best.
If you are looking to get into Chaos;Head, I highly recommend the Chaos;Head and Chaos;Child double-pack that was released for Nintedo Switch. Chaos;Child is the sequel to Chaos;Head, so its a great way to pick them both up at once.
Milk inside a bag of milk inside a bag of milk and Milk outside a bag of milk outside a bag of milk
If you are someone who likes visual novels with psychological horror themes, I highly recommend Milk inside a bag of milk inside a bag of milk and Milk outside a bag of milk outside a bag of milk, which you’ll often see shortened to Milk inside a bag of milk inside a bag of milk. As one of the more surreal and unconventional stories on this list, it is unlike any other visual novel I’ve experienced before. While I’d usually give you a synopsis, I think the best way to jump into Milk inside a bag of milk inside a bag of milk is to jump in without knowing all that much about it.
It’s a short visual novel that you can get through in one sitting, but what it lacks in playtime, it makes up for in its content. There’s a lot to sink into from its thought-provoking story to the way it challenges your perception of reality and more. Milk Inside A Bag Of Milk Inside A Bag Of Milk has minimalistic artwork and simple mechanics, which adds to its appeal, but the biggest strength of this indie visual novel is its immersive and interesting world. The ambient music adds to its dreamlike atmosphere, which makes the experience even more engrossing than it already is.
Right now, there isn’t a physical release of Milk inside a bag of milk inside a bag of milk, but you can pick it up digitally on the Nintendo eShop or Steam.
Death games captivate me in a way few genres can, drawing me into their high-stakes world whether through manga like Battle Royale or visual novels such as Zero Escape. This game masterfully plays on the tension of confinement and the desperate search for escape. As its name would suggest, it makes you feel like there’s truly no way out, and this makes it an unsettling read.
In Zero Escape, nine individuals are kidnapped and taken to an unknown location, finding themselves trapped in the deadly Nonary Game by a cryptic figure known as Zero. The pressing questions of why they were selected, the purpose behind their harrowing ordeal, and most critically, who among them can be trusted, are central to this story.
Zero Escape is somewhere in the vein of films, like Saw, especially in the way that it highlights its character’s desperate bid for survival and the lengths they will and will not go to to make it out alive. You’ll have to learn more about the people around you, but also solve puzzles and uncover mysteries to do so.
The Song of Saya
Brought to life by Nitroplus, the creators behind Steins;Gate, and written by Gen Urobuchi, known for his work on Fate/Zero, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and Psycho-Pass, Saya no Uta or The Song of Saya is a psychological story of twisted romance and existential dread that leaves a lasting impression. The story follows the life of Sakisaka Fuminori, a man who, following a horrific accident, finds himself in a living nightmare. The world as he knows it has morphed into a grotesque tableau of rot, decay, and malformed flesh.
Amidst this despair, his friends try to offer him solace, but their attempts are futile against the isolation that envelops his soul. It’s within this darkness that Fuminori meets Saya, a mysterious girl whose presence distorts reality further, weaving his madness throughout the fabric of the world. There’s much about this visual novel that will shock and surprise you, but it is an oddly beautiful experience despite this. It’s one you’ll want to check out, especially if you enjoy Lovecraftian horror.
The Spirit Hunter series is essential in the horror visual novel genre, with its first entry, Spirit Hunter: Death Mark setting a chilling precedent for the later games that are to come. Death Mark is set in the murky underbelly of Tokyo’s H City, where a sinister rumor circulates—a mark resembling a birthmark surface on individuals, heralding their impending death.
Stripped of your memories, you find yourself at the doorstep of a mansion, tasked with sheltering those cursed with the Mark. As you cross its threshold, the timer on your life ticks into motion, and this is where the game begins to mess with your emotions. There’s something so unnerving about an unseen clock, which you are trying so desperately to race against, that gets your heart pounding.
Spirit Hunter: Death Mark does a lot of things well. It’s suspenseful and mystifying, but it’s also one of the best supernatural stories out there. Two games have been released in the series with English translations that you’ll want to check out, Spirit Hunter: Death Mark and Spirit Hunter: NG, which is the sequel to Death Mark. Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II, which is the final installment of the Spirit Hunter series, will be released sometime in 2024, so if you enjoy both of these games, this is something to look forward to.
When a friendship ritual goes wrong, high school student Ayumi Shinozaki and her companions are transported into a nightmarish dimension—a mirror of a tragedy-stricken school that once occupied their own school’s site. Haunted by the malevolent spirits of former elementary students, their fight for survival and sanity hinges on unraveling the grim history of the prior occupants’ demise.
Corpse Party is unique because it combines elements of an RPG, like point-and-click adventure dynamics, and a visual novel. As you explore Heavenly Host Elementary, you’ll uncover more of the story on your journey through its cursed halls, while making decisions that have lasting impacts on the story’s direction and outcomes.
Out of all the visual novels listed, Corpse Party has one of the most intense and horrifying atmospheres. This is only amplified by its use of binaural 3D audio recording techniques, which brings every sound and whisper of the haunted corridors of Heavenly Host to life. I highly recommend wearing headphones while playing this one for the best and most immersive experience, and if you’d like to check it out, you can do so on the Nintendo eShop or Steam.
Raging Loop is a psychological horror visual novel that’s set within the isolated Japanese village of Yasumizu, which is blanketed in a dense, inescapable mist. This setting becomes a stage for a series of terrifying events as ancient deities appear, marking the villagers for death in a ritualistic hunt. As the player, we are thrust into this ominous, seemingly inescapable scenario, challenged to escape the village alive in this interesting tale of Japanese folklore.
The story follows Haruaki Fusaishi, a newcomer to the enigmatic settlement nestled in Japan’s mountainous terrain. He becomes entangled in the village’s dark custom, which is known as “the feast,” where among the inhabitants hides a werewolf bent on vengeance. Raging Loop is successful because it has a complex, branching storyline that encourages you to explore and learn everything you can to uncover the mysteries of this world and survive.
What I love most about Raging Loop, though, is its death loop mechanic. You truly feel like you are in this endless cycle of death and revelation, as you follow Haruaki in this fatal loop from which there seems no escape. But, with each demise, you gain important insights that help you later on. If you enjoy stories about Japanese folklore or thrilling psychological stories that involve death loops, you’ll want to check Raging Loop out.
Higurashi When They Cry
Higurashi When They Cry, which you may already know from the anime of the same name, is steeped in mystery and horror with unexpected twists and developments that keep you on the edge of your seat. If you are looking to play it, it is available on Steam. The series is split up into eight chapters and you play them in chronological order.
Set in the idyllic village Hinamizawa, Higurashi When They Cry starts like a warm, slice-of-life story as Keiichi Maebara moves to the village, and befriends a close-knit group of girls. But, beneath this veneer of camaraderie and rural tranquility lies a labyrinth of dark secrets, poised to disrupt their world in ways they can’t imagine. The dynamics among the group of friends, initially marked by laughter and innocent days, evolve dramatically as the hidden truths of Hinamizawa begin to surface.
Higurashi When They Cry has a complex storyline that’s full of unexpected horrors. Starting as a gentle stream of everyday lighthearted moments between friends, it quickly swells into a torrent of psychological and supernatural twists that make it one of the most unforgettable horror visual novels I’ve ever read.
As of now, these are the best horror visual novels you can check out. As new ones are released, I will continue to update this post, so stay tuned for more. Want more visual novel recommendations? Check out the best visual novels on the Nintendo Switch.