Cold seeps are widespread chemosynthetic ecosystems in the deep-sea environment, and cold seep microbial communities of the South China Sea are poorly constrained. Here we report on the archaeal communities, particularly those involved in methane metabolization, in sediments of a newly discovered cold seep (named ‘Haima’) on the northwest slope of the South China Sea. Archaeal diversity, abundance and distribution were investigated in two piston cores collected from a seep area (QDN-14B) and a non-seep control site (QDN-31B). Geochemical investigation of the QDN-14B core identified an estimated sulfate–methane transition zone (Estimated SMTZ) at 300–400 cm below sea floor (cmbsf), where a high abundance of anaerobic methane-oxidizing archaea (ANME) occurred, as revealed by analysis of the 16S rRNA gene and the gene (mcrA) encoding the α-subunit of the key enzyme methyl-coenzyme M reductase. ANME-2a/b was predominant in the upper and middle layers of the estimated SMTZ, whereas ANME-1b outcompeted ANME-2 in the sulfate-depleted bottom layers of the estimated SMTZ and the methanogenic zone. Fine-scale phylogenetic analysis further divided the ANME-1b group into three subgroups with different distribution patterns: ANME-1bI, ANME-1bII and ANME-1bIII. Multivariate analyses indicated that dissolved inorganic carbon and sulfate may be important factors controlling the composition of the methane-metabolizing community. Our study on ANME niche separation and interactions with other archaeal groups improves our understanding of the metabolic diversity and flexibility of ANME, and the findings further suggest that ANME subgroups may have evolved diversified/specified metabolic capabilities other than syntrophic anaerobic oxidation of methane coupled with sulfate reduction in marine sediments.