There’s something about Japanese horror that you simply won’t find elsewhere. It’s not just creepy atmospheres, and jump scares, no mere ghost stories nor serial killers going on murder sprees – Japanese fucked up artists are craftmen of anxiety-inducing, spine-chilling combinations of psychological and body horror that will get to your head and hunt you at night when you try to sleep. Our list of top horror manga contains some of the scariest and creepiest titles from different artists and masters of horror such as Junji Ito. Let’s dive in!
Best Horror Manga 2021 | Top 5
There’s a reason you will find Kiseijuu at the top of many horror manga lists: first released in 1990, it sold more than 11 million copies in Japan, won the Kodansha Manga Award for best general manga in 1993 and the Seiun Award for best manga of the year in 1996, while also ranking 14th as best manga of all time in Japan in the same year. The story tells about the sudden invasion of the world by parasitic aliens (the titular parasytes) who infiltrate inside of human bodies. One of them fails to take over that of a boy called Shinichi Izumi and ends up living in his hand, having to cohabit with his new host.
2. Homunculus by Hideo Yamamoto (2003) [MyAnimeList]
From the same author as the Ichi the Killer manga (which inspired the much more famous movie), Homunculus deals with the practice of trepanation – a type of surgery that was anciently used to treat mental illnesses and consisted in, well, drilling a hole into a person’s skull. Yup. In Homunculus, a homeless man named Susumu Nakoshi agrees to have his skull trapanated by a medical student in exchange for money, and develops a form of sixth sense that allows him to see “distorted human figures” or homunculi. Filled with disturbing images and unpredictable, at times macabre twists, Homunculus is one of the finest example of psychological horror in modern Japanese manga.
Uzumaki is proof that you don’t need gore and splatter to create a story that is unsettling and terrifying. Junji Ito is one of the few artists who manages to generate terror out of the ordinary, in this case, something that you would never think of as scary: a spiral. A psychedelic shape that you will find pretty much everywhere in nature – from the shells of a snail to the tips of your fingers, to the blowing of wind… everything can take the shape of a spiral. And when a mysterious curse hits the town of Kurouzu-cho, then everything does take the shape of a spiral. Published in English as Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror back in 2007, Ito’s most famous work is filled with darkness and a sense of hopelessness that makes it unique in its genre. One more reason to watch: a newly adapted anime is going to be released on Adult Swim in 2020!
4. Left Hand of God, Right Hand of the Devil by Kazuo Umezu (1986) [MyAnimeList]
Kazuo Umezu is considered by many the pioneer of horror manga, and his Kami no Hidarite Akuma no Migite is an ultra-violent, extremely bloody collection of horror stories tied together by a horizontal plot. The glue holding them together is a primary school kid called Sou who has the ability to foresee supernatural events in the form of disturbing premonitory dreams. Through his nightmares we are exposed to the five stories of “Eroded Scissors“, “Disappeared Rubber“, “Tongue of the Spider Queen“, “Black Picture-book” and “Shadow Dead“. Expect a lot of very twisted, graphic imagery in what is a must read for all horror manga fanatics.
5. Jisatsu Circle (Suicide Circle) by Usumaru Furuya (2002) [MyAnimeList]
A rare example of a manga inspired by a film, rather than the other way around, Jisatsu Circle follows a slightly different story than its movie counterpart. The premise is that of a mass suicide that sees 54 young schoolgirls jumping in front of a moving train – only one of them, Saya Kota, miraculously survives. Still intending to end her life, she then proceeds to open another Suicide Club, while one of her friends, Kyoko, starts to investigate secrets that lead these suicides to happen in the first place. While the psychological aspect you would expect to find in a story driven by the theme of suicide is a bit lacking, Jisatsu Circle is still a very solid horror story. Each page is filled with violence, gore, and other visually disturbing elements – which contribute to create an atmosphere that is, if not scary per se, surely unsettling from start to end.