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7 Horror Manga Authors to Keep You Up at Night

by Lynzee Loveridge,

Horror, like comedy, is a genre that's hard to recommend without knowing the audience personally. What a person finds scary is very personal, and tapping into that with a written medium is even more difficult. Manga can't rely on jump scares and music cues the same way a film can. It must instead visualize fears the reader already has and make them feel real. The best kind of horror is rooted in some kind of reality. Jack Torrance from The Shining still scares audiences because he's a manifestation of every abusive spouse or parent.

Horror isn't just personal but it can also be cultural. Japanese horror manga and films can be vastly different from their American counterparts. The stories are often less preoccupied with the "why" of its monsters and madmen. Many stories are prone to grotesque body horror and unafraid to cross horror over into the erotic. America introduced slashers to prey on the anxieties of sexuality, while Japanese manga turned to eroguro, which many English readers simply can't stomach.

This week's list will look at seven manga creators and some of their exemplary works, including prefaces to help you find the perfect scare for a rainy night indoors.

Junji Ito Ito's horror stories are some of the most accessible on this list, often veering into weird territory but rarely anything that will make readers queasy. Some of the tales, like "Magami Nanakuse," about an author obsessed with being quirky, or Gyo, about bloated bio-organic fish coming out of the sea and killing people, are more in line with dark humor than anything scary (unless you're already afraid of fish). Ito's best stories are the ones that focus on the obsessive psychosis of humans. Uzumaki chronicles one town's descent into madness as its inhabitants become progressively more fixated on spirals. "The Enigma of Amigara Fault" short actualizes Freud's "death drive," where humans feel compelled to throw themselves into the abyss despite knowing what lies at the bottom.

Usamaru Furuya Furuya is not strictly a horror mangaka, but his work has an overarching focus on the darkness in the human mind. Joshikōsei ni Korosaretai focuses on a man who becomes a teacher because he's obsessed with the idea of being murdered by a high school girl. No Longer Human, his adaptation of an Osamu Dazai story about a self-destructive author with a Holden Caulfield complex, is brutally honest. His best known work for blending psychological and horror is Lychee Light Club. The story takes sexual experimentation and the confusions of puberty and blends it with fascism and gruesome murder. The graphic underage sex is equally jarring in this Frankenstein-esque story, where the actual monster is looming adulthood.

Suehiro Maruo Maruo's work isn't for the faint of heart and regularly gives the most grotesque parts of humanity physical shape. Subjects like sexualized disfigurement, incest, feces, and graphic violence pervade his work. Much of it hasn't been brought stateside despite earning honors in Europe, not only because of the content but because many of characters involved are children. Imo-mushi (The Caterpillar) is one of the best examples of Maruo's shocking sexualized body horror without any children involved. A veteran returns to his wife from the battlefield of the Russo-Japanese War with no limbs or ability to care for himself. His wife grows resentful of the care required, including his still-intact sexual appetite. Maruo takes some liberties with Ranpo Edogawa's original story, including the particular addition of a banana.

Kazuo Umezu It would be remiss of me not to talk about The Drifting Classroom, Kazuo Umezu's influential horror manga from the 1970s. Originally running in Weekly Shonen Sunday, the story follows a middle school that ends up in a timeslip after an earthquake. Instead of ending up in the land of dinosaurs, the kids are transported into a post-apocalyptic future. The adults prove unreliable, even deadly, while monsters, disease, and a food shortage ravage the surviving population. His other work, Cat Eyed Boy, is more traditional horror fare. It follows a half-demon, half-human creature that brings misfortune to whoever it encounters.

Katsuhiro Ōtomo Before Otomo penned his famous cyberpunk manga, he wrote Domu, a story that tests some of the ideas he'd use in Akira. Domu's horror is built on underlying anxieties permeating Japan's tightly-packed landscape. A population living within close proximity to each other in a giant apartment complex struggle to remain calm when a rogue psychic starts killing them off. The economically vulnerable can do nothing but stay trapped in their homes, and other adults are too preoccupied with their personal problems to take down a sadistic old man with ESP. The responsibility instead falls on the complex's other resident psychic, a young girl. Otomo's choice to cast an innocent hero against a malevolent elder is no coincidence, an idea he'd revisit in depth two years later.

Jun Abe When Jun Abe's Portus was released, it was at the height of the U.S.'s short-lived fixation on Japanese horror. The Ring, The Grudge, and Dark Water adaptations were successful at the box office, and audiences couldn't get enough of ghosts with long, dark hair cursing unsuspecting victims. Portus blends many of Japanese horror's common hooks: a killer video game, an idyllic country town full of secrets, cursed dolls, a flesh-and-blood murderer, and more. Abe's art is effectively horrific, using both gore and leering ghouls to unsettle readers. The story didn't feel particularly fresh when it came out, but it's worth a revisit now that the hype has died down.

Masaaki Nakayama It's amazing how simply manipulating the human face can create something so unsettling. Nakayama exemplifies that in Fuan no Tane, a short story collection featuring human-like entities if not for a sideways mouth, misshapen eyes, or the absence of a face entirely. These things have the presence of humanity but wear their malevolent corruption on their face. His stories present the anxiety of strangers, of our own reflections, and of something else in the room when we turn our backs to go to sleep. The stories are short, sometimes as few as two pages, but quickly deliver their punch.

The new poll: Recently a poll asked what anime is guilty of having characters all with the same face? The Japanese poll picked K-ON! and Mr. Osomatsu as the top choices, but what do you think?

The old poll: What anime character do you want to give/receive valentine chocolates to/from? We did this Japanese-style and had female characters giving chocolates and male characters receiving chocolates.

Female Characters

  1. Holo (Spice and Wolf)
  2. Rem (Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-)
  3. Saber (Fate/stay night)
  4. Asuna (Sword Art Online)
  5. Sawako (Kimi ni Todoke - From Me to You)
  6. Kiyoko Shimizu (Haikyu!!)
  7. Mio (K-ON!)
  8. Fujiko (Lupin III)
  9. Megumin (KONOSUBA)
  10. Kurisu Makise (Steins;Gate)

Male Characters

  1. Victor Nikiforov (Yuri!!! on Ice)
  2. Yūri Katsuki (Yuri!!! on Ice)
  3. Shizuo Heiwajima (Durarara!!)
  4. Makoto Tachibana (Free! - Iwatobi Swim Club)
  5. Gintoki Sakata (Gintama)
  6. Levi (Attack on Titan)
  7. Sebastian Michaelis (Black Butler)
  8. Kirito (Sword Art Online)
  9. Sakamoto (Sakamoto desu ga?)
  10. Osamu Dazai (Bungo Stray Dogs)

When she isn't compiling lists of tropes, topics, and characters, Lynzee works as the Managing Interest Editor for Anime News Network and posts pictures of her sons on Twitter @ANN_Lynzee.

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