Manga 101: Horror

By Meg B. RSS Mon, October 16, 2023

In our last Manga 101 installments, we touched on romance and LGBTQIA+ themes in manga. This time, we’ll take a look at a new genre: horror.

Though the roots of manga can be traced back through centuries of Japanese art, one of the most pivotal moments in contemporary manga arose in the wake of World War II, when works by innovative artists like Osamu Tezuka and Machiko Hasegawa reached new heights of popularity. In the 1950s, these popular works were mainly aimed at younger audiences. As time went on (and manga readers grew up), manga with darker themes and works intended for more mature audiences rose in popularity. Thus, horror as a genre grew more widespread throughout the 1960s and 1970s (for example, 1965’s Reptilia), with the 1980s seeing the first dedicated horror manga magazines. Throughout the ensuing decades, elements of horror have become popular in mainstream manga, and it’s now easy to find manga series that feature everything from traditional Japanese yokai (supernatural beings) to zombies and vampires. 

If you’re a newcomer to horror manga, one of the best places to start is probably the most obvious: with horror master Junji Ito. When it comes to horror manga, Junji Ito is undoubtedly one of the most famous names around; originally a dental technician who drew manga as a hobby, in 1987 he submitted the story Tomie to the shojo horror magazine Monthly Halloween, launching his career as one of the world’s most celebrated horror manga artists. To sample some of his work, you can find a list of Junji Ito manga available at the Free Library here. For other masters of horror, check out works like Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro, Kanako Inuki’s Be Very Afraid of Kanako Inuki, and Kazuo Umezu’s Orochi or The Drifting Classroom; for more recently published horror stories, try Shuzo Oshimi’s Blood on the Tracks or Mokumokuren’s The Summer Hikaru Died

If you’d prefer to dip your toe into the horror pool with something a little more action-oriented, horror elements can be found in many of today’s most popular manga series - titles like Tokyo Ghoul, Attack on Titan, Demon Slayer, Jujutsu Kaisen, and Chainsaw Man all incorporate themes of horror in their stories and art. There are many manga series that mix horror elements with other genres - for example, one of the most famous examples of horror-inflected action is Berserk, a fantasy manga known for its violence and dark themes. If you’re looking for science fiction and body horror, check out Parasyte. Or, if you’re interested in some surreal weirdness and humor alongside your horror, try Dorohedoro

If all that sounds a bit too scary for you, there are plenty of manga that use horror elements in a less terrifying way. Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun features ghosts and supernatural beings with a dose of friendship and humor in addition to beautifully detailed art. Phantom Tales of the Night and xxxHolic are both series with lush, atmospheric art that explores supernatural themes. The Girl From the Other Side is a gently creepy fairy tale for fans of the darker side of cottagecore. Or, if you’re more interested in the romantic vampire type of horror, check out Vampire Dormitory or Vampire Knight

Need even more horror manga recommendations? Check out a list of horror manga at the Free Library or browse the horror category on Comics Plus!

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