This evil season may be just about ending for you boils and ghouls, but Halloween’s restless spirit can float on eternally for those with a taste for truly macabre manga delights. For a meaty primer, we’ve concocted a list of some of the most sinister tales ever woven in the East, and you’re sure to be wrapping yourself tightly in your sheets with any of these foul treats. We’ll start you off light and then darken the night, leaving you a quivering pile of scum forever hidden from the sun.
Story & art by Toru Yamazaki
Dark Horse Manga
Toru Yamazaki’s 1994 horror/gag comic is a great way to ease yourself into the genre if you’re not really ready for buckets of gore and incredibly bleak stories. Of course, don’t think this means that Octopus Girl is squeaky clean, because you’ll still find chapter after chapter of twisted writing topped off with some absolutely grotesque artwork. But there’s a much more light-hearted atmosphere to the proceedings that makes even the nastiest panel seem hilarious.
Takako is a goody two-shoes that is constantly picked on in school. Her nickname of “Octopus” becomes all too real, however, when she actually turns into one; now she kind of looks like Damon Wayans’ Head Detective character on In Living Color, but with tentacles in place of tiny shoes. Luckily, she can change back and forth as she pleases, but her new body is a much better way of assaulting her former tormentors. The opening chapters offer up some of the more brutal moments, and as the story progresses you can really see Yamazaki having more and more fun with the ridiculous characters and situations.
It doesn’t seem like a lot of people nabbed Octopus Girl while it was fresh last year, but there’s still time to get your mitts on this absurd horror title.
Hino Horror (assorted)
Story & Art by Hideshi Hino
Before reading any further, you should really go dig around in your local comic shop and see if they have any of these still lying around, alone and unpurchased. Hideshi Hino is a rarity in the manga world, and is a genius of his craft that has mastered balancing the completely disgusting with the oddly endearing. His tales range from downright nasty to hilarious, all the way to sentimental and sad.
Since these are all, for the most part, self-contained stories, you’re best off starting at whatever you can dig up. One of the most haunting stories is Living Corpse, or Hino Horror # 5 in Cocoro Book’s series. Gasp as Shinkai Yosuke slowly lives with his own decomposing body, searching for answers in life as he struggles with the crumbling reality of death. It’s a real downer of a story for the most part, but also manages to be oddly uplifting in the end.
Hino is a tough one to peg. Most people are quick to call his work disgusting at a glance, but there’s a lot more to it than simple gross-out galleries. Expect no less from a manga-ka that dresses up like a samurai. Your manga horror collection would be incomplete without at least a few of his books lining the shelves.
Story & Art by Junji Ito
Before it was a movie, it was a manga, and if you haven’t seen the former, hold off on it and get to reading! If heavy-hitters like Hino are the Killer Kings, then Ito is the Crown Prince of Putrid. If you don’t know why, then you need to go pick up all three volumes of Uzumaki STAT.
The tale woven here is one of a small Japanese town cursed, doomed under an omnipresent spiral that seems woven into its very fabric. Kirie and her boyfriend Shuichi first notice a strange obsession with this swirling shape in his father’s wild behavior, and everything, pardon the awful yet fully intentional pun, spirals further into insanity from there. It’s fruitless to explain it all here, and is best to enter with as little knowledge of story detail as possible for maximum effect.
Uzumaki is really a landmark horror series that is pure gold from beginning to end. The aforementioned movie, directed by Higuchinsky, is excellent as well, but both are sure to creep you out in a much different way.
Story & Art by Kazuo Umezu
Dark Horse Manga
Here’s a legend for you. Surely you’ve seen Kazuo Umezu (or simply Kazz) strutting around, in pictures at least, in his trademark red and white striped sweaters. He’s a borderline mythical creature in Japan, and one should be as lucky to see him roaming the streets as a leprechaun bearing promise of a jumbo pot of gold.
Now, Umezu is quite the prolific horror creator, so it’s a safe bet to pick up anything you see with his name emblazoned on the cover, but Dark Horse’s release of the Scary Book series is as good a place as any to start. The first volume, Reflections, contains the main story “The Mirror” as well as the shorter romp,”Demon of Vengeance.”
The former is the meat of the book, and showcases a narcissistic young lady that is appropriately plagued by her very own reflection, as it invades her life and begins to take control of every facet. There is, of course, a twist, but it would be a cardinal sin to spoil that! Umezu has a very traditional style to his work, and is especially masterful at expressive faces that really carry the weight of his horror. “The Mirror” isn’t even a gross-out story; it’s just incredibly eerie and oozing with atmosphere.
As a whole, this series of mini-anthologies is absolutely essential. Once you run out, you’ll almost be tempted to import some untranslated stories just to get your Kazz fix!
Story & Art by Junji Ito
Ito’s back with this two-volume tale from 2002, and it’s a real doozy. It may not be as career defining as Uzumaki or Tomie, but it has its own flavor: call it seafood, but it’s pure horror no matter how you cut it.
The setup is pretty simple. A death-stench looms over Okinawa, and this noxious foreboding is confirmed once fish begin to walk on land. That’s right, they crawl straight out of the ocean on these strange, tubed-spider-leg body… things, and begin immediately wreaking havoc. Tadashi and Kaori face this menace head-on, dodging vicious land-shark attacks and confronting the reality of a horrific transformation.
The only thing worse than putting yourself in this vivid situation as you read is imagining the disgusting smell of rotting fish that drenches the city and everyone within its borders. Looking back on the story as a whole, it’s hard to believe how crazy it gets, so shove this on top of your towering to-read pile as soon as you can.
The Drifting Classroom
Story & Art by Kazuo Umezu
Even if you haven’t had any intention of turning these recommendations into real purchases or borrows up to this point, shake that penny-pinching resolve and start picking up The Drifting Classroom the moment your browser closes.
Kazuo Umezu has really done it this time. This legendary beast of a tale from 1974 is like a post-apocalyptic Lord of the Flies, but with strange creatures, a lot more violence, and – see, it’s easy to get carried away. Without spoiling a single moment, the best way to describe the premise is short and sweet: on a seemingly normal day, an entire elementary school is transported to what appears to be a desolate, foreign world. The kids and teachers must deal with madness, outside dangers and diminishing supplies in this horror/sci-fi shocker.
The Drifting Classroom is one of those titles that you’ll want to have a large reserve of once you dive in, because a volume flies by like so many belfry bats. It is representative of an incredible body of work, and is one of the best survival yarns you’re likely to read in your lifetime.
Now that you have a menacing tower of terrifying tales, it’s time to lock your door and dig in. Be cautious, however, and pace yourself. If you rush into these nightmares of sequential art, you may never escape their icy grip.