A set of nickel(II) and copper(II) complexes incorporated anthracenyl hydrazone ligands were synthesized and characterized with the help of various spectroscopic techniques. Single-crystal XRD studies revealed that all four complexes have square planar geometry in which the hydrazones are coordinated through NO atoms with 1:2 metal to ligand stoichiometry. Bio-molecular interactions of these complexes were analyzed using UV and emission spectroscopic studies, which revealed that compounds interact with calf thymus DNA (CT-DNA) through intercalation and also bind strongly with BSA. This further has been confirmed by theoretical studies. Anticancer nature of the compounds was evaluated with the help of MTT assay against colon cancer cells (HCT-15) and normal skin cells (L929). It is verified that the complexes showed excellent cytotoxicity to cancer cells whereas negligible toxicity towards normal cells. Antioxidant activity was checked by DPPH radical scavenging assay and found that the complexes are capable of reducing available radicals. The complexes initiated cell death via reactive oxygen species generation was determined by ROS assay. The morphological transformations observed in cell lines treated with different concentrations of complexes have been observed with the help of scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Flow cytometric analysis expressed that the synthesized complexes can induce apoptotic cell death, hence eligible for further studies. © 2021 Elsevier B.V.