There’s something about Asian horror – the Japanese kind in particular – that makes them superior over their Western counterpart. It goes beyond slash and gore. Japanese horror is more cerebral and disturbs one’s primal instincts. Movies such as Ringu and Dark Water have become cult classics with huge followings. So much so that Hollywood decided to do remakes (which, I suspect, is due to their own lack of creativity).
These movies are often adaptations from manga; and reading the manga version is often a deeper journey into the author’s mind. Don’t take them as only supplementary to the movies, though. Horror manga as a genre can stand on its own. And while these may not be as popular as other manga genres, horror manga otakus are devoted to them. If you want to step into the fevered dream that is Japanese horror manga, the following are the best I’ve encountered.
The Drifting Classroom (漂流教室 Hyōryū Kyōshitsu)
Written from 1972 to 1974 by Kazuo Umezu, Japan’s most respected and influential manga artist, this manga won the Shogakukan Manga Award in 1975.
The Drifting Classroom is about a grade school which suddenly disappeared from modern Tokyo to an unknown desolate place. The sudden displacement frightens the children as well as the adults in the school. Some rose up to their situation and some succumbed to madness. The ones left behind in modern Tokyo are in anguish because not even the authorities know what happened to the school. The Drifting Classroom was adapted into a live action movie in 1987.
I don’t know how and why the Japanese started associating long hair with horror – but it works. How can something we all have, or wish we have, become an object of horror? If you know the answer to this, let me know. Even my Sadako doll is all hair.
If this is your type of hair-raiser, look for Kouishou Rajio by Masaaki Nakayama. It’s a collection of stories about creepy hair.
Fuan no Tane
Also by Masaaki Nakayama, Fuan no Tane is a collection of very short disturbing stories. They’re so short, you can read at least 4 stories between breaks, and it will feel like your brain is being pounded on with a quick one-two punch of horror. Certainly not for the faint of heart.
Battle Royale manga is an adaptation of a novel of the same name. Both were written by Koushun Takami and is about a fascist Japan, known as the Republic of Greater East Asia, forcing students to fight each other to death. It is violent and blissfully gorey. If you’ve seen the movie adaptation, the manga is more detailed and sexual. Definitely NSFW.
Written by my favorite horror mangaka Junji Ito, Uzumaki is a bizarre tale of a town cursed by the spiral.
Yes, spiral as in the shape.
Supernatural events keep on occurring in this town like people becoming obsessed with everything spiral, some citizens turning into snails, smoke from crematoriums wafting out into spiral shapes, etc. Uzumaki has been adapted into a live action movie as well as a video game. Both I am still in search of.
My last recommendation is Gyo by Junji Ito.
This macabre manga is about fish and other sea creatures surfacing to land to attack land-based animals aided by metal legs. The fish are dead but their stench powers the legs. They gradually takeover the world and start using human and land-animal corpses when the fish have deteriorated so much to produce the stench.
This story is not the reason why I recommend Gyo though. I want you to read the bonus story The Enigma of Amigara Fault. I won’t spoil the fun, but that story creeped me out for days.
I hope the titles I gave here causes you several sleepless nights this Halloween. And I’d love to know if you have recommendations of your own, so do comment if you have any. Happy Halloween!