Black hooded robe, skeletal hands, signature scythe, fleshless face (or lack thereof)—if someone who looks like this comes knocking at your door, it’s either Halloween or your funeral. Trick-or-treaters in even the most eerily convincing costumes would probably still drop all their candy and run if they saw this ominous figure. It’s the Grim Reaper, Hel, Thanatos, La Muerte, Psychopomp, Shinigami, aka the personification of death that has haunted folklore and literature since death was a thing.
The problem is that the Death who used to scare has decomposed into something tragically boring. Maybe it’s the party-store explosion of polyester robes and plastic scythes around this time of year, but the Angel of Death has become more monotonous than menacing, more stereotypical than sinister. He’s badly in need of an image makeover if he has any intention of not making disembodied souls expire all over again. Wouldn’t you rather be ushered off to the underworld by someone with a wicked sense of humor or candy-color hair? Someone with powers that create a spectacle and banish evil spirits that might be lurking on the way? Someone to make your journey to eternity a little more….entertaining?
If your soul has just left your body and needs an escort to the hereafter, you’ll want to take off with one of these 13 reapers who will do everything but bore you to death.
If you’re going to leave all your worldly possessions (including your killer wardrobe) behind when you depart this mortal coil, wouldn’t you prefer a reaper with fashion sense to die for? Death dresses like an extra member of Siouxsie and the Banshees in head-to-boots leather with eternal ’80s hair and that signature Egyptian eyeliner and ankh necklace. She’s a surprisingly upbeat Goth girl whose quick wit and sarcastic edge stay entertaining all the way to the afterlife.
Unlike many personifications of death, she also has compassion for souls she has to take too soon—such as a baby that died in its sleep—and feels nothing but remorse. She also really knows how to hand it to Morpheus when he’s more of a nightmare than a dream.
Some of the newly dead may prefer their grim reaper to be on the creepier side. As in, glowing-yellow-eyes-huge-talons-mouthful-of-dagger-teeth-and-leathery-bat-wings creepy (at least to those who can see him). Ryuk’s ghastly good looks and clothes that could have been borrowed from The Crow’s costume closet are an aesthetic cross of Edo-era Shinigami and industrial Goth.
Ryuk has a morbid sense of humor and thinks humans are dreadfully interesting, so he’s definitely one to have a conversation with long after your coffin has been lowered into the grave. You can also make shady deals with him if you want your enemies who are still roaming the earth taken care of. He only has to scrawl that person’s name in his homicidal notebook. Bonus points if you have an apple.
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
You and your best friend have just been murdered by evil robot doppelgängers of yourselves. You’re dead, dude. Now what? Anyone who’s used to excellent adventures should have a totally rad reaper—as in, one who travels through time, raps his philosophy on life and death and offers to bring you back to life and be your loyal servant if you can sink him in Battleship.
This parody of Ingmar Bergman’s iconic phantom in The Seventh Seal has a sonorous voice that sounds just too hilarious puzzling out board games or speaking 90’s slang. He can play a concert with a scythe and a microphone, and he’ll also be right there with your band if you make it and jam with you on an epic rock ballad.
The Book of Life
While the traditional Mexican goddess of death and queen of souls is usually said to be a skeleton rattling around in a tattered old dress on El Dia de Los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), La Muerte would rather break with tradition and leave that raggedy old thing to gather cobwebs in some corner of the underworld. This feisty chica prefers vampy crimson to the usual fifty shades of black, with an avant-garde sombrero that would make John Galliano proud.
Being led through the darkness as a ghost is admittedly much less intimidating when your guide to the afterlife is blooming with flowers, feathers and glowing candles to light the way. Not to mention she could probably give you the most amazing sugar skull makeup tutorial.
Jacquel & Ibis
Mr. Jacquel and Mr. Ibis might be the closest you can get to a Grim Reaper on earth: funeral directors. Don’t let the starched suits fool you, because these two are actually ancient Egyptian gods who practiced the art of embalming for thousands of years before taking it from the temples of Cairo to the streets of Cairo, IL.
If you’re freaked out too easily by Halloween-mask faces and magical swords, Jacquel and Ibis are the most normal-looking reapers out there (until they transfigure into their respective spirit animals from the Book of the Dead). They will treat your earthly remains with the utmost respect after you’ve gone to the afterlife, even if they’ve evolved with the times to preserve a body with formaldehyde instead of mummification.
Human until his paranormal powers surfaced, Soul Reaper Ichigo Kurosaki is a much less scary take on Japanese Shinigami than the ghoulish Ryuk. He only looks like a high school student until, after class, he vanquishes the most malicious of evil spirits, or hollows—which are always ravenous for souls. He’ll find your haunting place and send you to the Soul Society before you end up in something’s tentacles.
If Ichigo is too tied up throwing his Moon-Fang Piercer of the Heavens at a hollow, you might be spirited away by other Soul Reapers whose powers range from conjuring an enormous skeletal snake-monster to freezing everything into deadly ice castles. While Ichigo may win a popularity contest, Renji Abarai can take me to the netherworld any day.
The Black Rabbit of Inle
Would you rather be taken to the beyond by a reaper or a rabbit? How about a rabbit with glowing eyes and a seductive voice? If you’re already close to rattling your last breath, he somehow makes the whole business of passing on to some unknown realm much less scary. This non-anthropomorphic reaper will empower you as your soul bounds through the woods and into the sky. You won’t feel dead and forgotten, but more like you’ve been reborn into a new existence on the other side where “they” can’t catch you.
Unlike those faceless hooded figures who just say they’re going their job by collecting your eternal soul, he already knows your name and makes that great psychedelic somewhere in the sky actually seem enticing.
Even if you have purple skin and a sick fascination with innards, Mistress Death won’t judge you. She’ll be insanely interested in whatever you are and be your BFF forever (literally). This is one personification of death who, if you’re her friend, always watches over you of instead of just appearing at the moment your soul leaves your body.
Her true form might look like a skeleton straight out of an anatomy lab, but she can take human form or hide out in human bodies for a while. Attention serial killers: if you obliterate enough populations of enough alien planets, she might want to be in on conquering the universe with you.
An ex-Shinigami who dresses like a Victorian-era funeral director and loves black nail polish, Undertaker is an informant with some hardcore connections in the underworld. His contacts beyond the veil can be especially useful if you’re a murder victim with an unsolved case—when it comes to justice, trust someone who personally sent Robin Hood and Marie Antoinette to hell. Upsetting him is almost impossible (though making him laugh might be something of a more difficult proposition).
Hardly the indifferent spectre in black robes, Undertaker has a fascination with humans that is more scientific than Ryuk’s schadenfreude-fueled obsession. Too bad his efforts in Frankensteining eternal life only raised zombies. Questionable experiments aside, who else would invite you to tea in a parlor where the chairs are coffins?
He might look like the standard skeleton in black robes, but this reaper is far from grim—he has more personality than some of the living. Kind of like fairies and unicorns, he isn’t invisible to non-magical mortals so long as they acknowledge his existence. You’ll at least be able to see him without him having to creep up on you. Death is an equal-opportunity reaper, having delivered everyone from sorcerers to royalty to cats (if you’re a cat person, you’re in luck because you’ve found your ghostly other half) to the beyond.
He will also have you in hysterics from his awkward and not-always-intentional sense of humor. Try not to crack up when a skeleton impersonates Santa Claus by frightening the children with “Cower, brief mortals!”
Grim Reaper (Eric Williams)
The question is, why wouldn’t you want to be taken to the underworld by a supervillain? Even more amazingly, this one’s black magic cocktail of voodoo training and demonic powers can actually reanimate the dead if he’s in the mood. His otherworldly techno-scythe can send you into a deep coma or wake you from one before anyone pulls the plug.
He has even able (with some paranormal help) to zombify and keep himself out of a coffin by using his scythe to harvest human life-force. Would he do it for you? Maybe if you’re on #teamreaper. If you’re too far gone to be reanimated, his talents for clairvoyance, teleportation, necromancy and Vegas-worthy illusions will make for a show you won’t forget for the rest of your afterlife.
She might still be in Shinigami school, but Death Weapon Meister Academy student Maka is advanced for her age. With her around, you’ll never have to worry about getting snatched up before your time by a witch with ulterior motives. Wielding her scythe Soul Eater, Maka faces off against evil entities trying to reap souls they aren’t supposed to (including yours), especially when said offender is using those innocent souls to morph her son into a turbo-charged demon god.
She is also something of an empath who is able to sense good and evil in the souls of the living—so if she tells you you’re not headed into raging fires for all eternity, you can believe her. Devil on your back? She’ll obliterate it with Anti-Magic.
If all these agents of the underworld are too grave and gloomy for you, then you might be better off with Reaper in Training (R.I.P.—get it?) River, whose name is a play on classical mythology and whose fantastically kawaii wardrobe is all shades of cotton candy and bubblegum. She’s uncharacteristically cheerful and outgoing for someone with ghost and skeleton DNA, as in she’ll actually throw a party for your spirit as it descends to the Ghost World. She also has an insatiable sweet tooth. Is there any other reaper out there who you can just ask for a piece of candy on the way to the underworld as if you hadn’t come fresh off your funeral? I want to know where she gets that blue lipstick.
October 31st is whispered to be the parting of the gauzy veil between the realms of the living and the dead. If you can’t scare off the reaper with jack-o-lanterns and windsock ghosts, you might at least be lucky enough to be retrieved by one who you might actually have a half-alive conversation with as take off from your body on that inevitable journey towards that black horizon. Have any of these supernaturally brave, exceedingly clever, sugary sweet, utterly ridiculous or super-powered reapers made you less fearful of your own mortality? Who would you want to head off into the hereafter with?