Like comics, manga isn’t a genre but a storytelling medium. Manga combines plot, themes, and narrative dialogue with sequential art read in the traditional Japanese format from right to left. Modern comic books have recently capitalised on the growing horror genre trend audiences have been taking an interest in reading and purchasing. The comic industry is seeing an increase in the number of titles released fitting into the genre as of late.
In manga, notable horror titles have never lost their popular status. Manga from the 1970s and ‘80s under the horror genre category are still frequently referenced today — a few of those series appear on this list. Several horror manga series have been ongoing for many years, much to fans’ delight.
Whether you’re an avid manga fan or new to horror (or manga) in general, this list can point you in the right reading direction. This list is not all Junji Ito; don’t worry. Use this as a guide to discover some of the best horror manga the medium has to offer before exploring the infinite amount of other spooktacular series published.
The Best Horror Manga
1. Berserk – Kentaro Miura
Technically falling in the dark fantasy genre, Berserk can easily find itself in a horror manga list due to its body horror, ultra-violence, and general grotesqueness. The grim manga shuffles engrossing storylines around with relative ease as it shocks with pummeling images of detailed, non-stop gore.
Berserk is dark fantasy manga at its core, with medieval European influence running through its veins. Leading man Guts, born from a hanged corpse, roams the world alone and kills for survival. After his adoptive father trained Guts as a mercenary, he earned a reputation as a fearless warrior. Guts later joins a brutal mercenary group called Band of the Hawk when their leader Griffith bests him in battle. The kingdom of Midland hires the mercenaries as an aid in their war against another powerful empire. It is here that an immortal monster warns Guts to be distrustful of the power-hungry Griffith, who could be the source of a horrific demise for Guts.
Kentaro Miura, unfortunately, passed away in 2021, which was devastating to the manga community. But through the news of his death, I discovered the epic and twisted world of Berserk. From Vol. 1, I was captivated; in awe of Miura’s incredible talent for storytelling and meticulously intricate linework. Reading Berserk actually impelled me to read manga again after years of taking a hiatus from the medium. So, despite the tragedy, we should be forever grateful to Miura for sharing his talents through the one of the best horror manga that is Berserk.
Blood on the Tracks is a slow-burn horror manga about an overprotective mother and her paranoid son.
Shy and timid, middle schooler Seiichi Osabe demonstrates a wariness toward his classmates, his emotions, and his cousin who questions Seiichi’s sheltered life. The child never questions his mother Seiko’s overbearing protectiveness until she sacrifices another child in an act of violence after saving Seiichi from the same danger. From then on, Seiko’s controlling behavior over her son intensifies as Seiichi fears his mother will put him in peril.
Veering on the side of quiet psychological terror, Blood on the Tracks plods along at an unhurried pace. The creepy uneasiness escalates as the manga slowly peels back the layers of truth about Seiko’s past while readers grow increasingly concerned for Seiichi’s welfare in the present.
Chainsaw Man is an ongoing dark comedy horror fantasy manga that has gained massive popularity in the manga sphere. Creator Tatsuki Fujimoto is not yet 30 years old, so revel in the sheer talent of this young visionary and try to contain your jealousy for the rest of this article.
Denji’s story begins in media res as an impoverished young man whose dead parents left him with crippling debt to the yakuza. He works as a devil slayer for the gang to help pay off the debt, murdering the beasts with his chainsaw alongside his loyal devil-dog Pochita. When the yakuza finally grow tired of Denji, they send a devil to violently murder him. However, Pochita resurrects Denji by merging their bodies. Denji utilizes his new power as a devil who can transform any part of his body into a chainsaw to work as a devil hunter for the Public Safety Bureau.
Though full of graphic depictions of demons, murder, and chainsaws, the poignant themes, Denji’s simple teenage fantasies of eating good food, and his true desire to fall in love with a girl eclipses a lot of the horror with delightful comedy. Chainsaw Man is a manga where the horrors of the world cannot combat the doe-eyed optimism of a young man with dreams of a better life.
The Drifting Classroom is a classic horror manga about a school transported through time into a post-apocalyptic future. Created by Kazuo Umezu in the 1970s, this disquieting series clearly influenced the horror manga genre that supervened its publication.
Another story entering the realm of psychological horror, The Drifting Classroom follows the students and teachers at sixth-grader Sho Takamtsu’s school. Sho gets into an argument with his mother Emiko before class the day a mysterious tremor transports everyone inside the school into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The adults quickly descend into insanity and murder, leaving the children desperate to survive against monsters in the environmentally ravaged future world.
Battling hopelessness, the dangers of climate disaster, and survival against formidable odds makes The Drifting Classroom a must-read daunting horror saga.
Katsuhiro Otomo penned and illustrated the watershed cyberpunk manga series Akira from 1982 to 1990. However, readers can identify similar themes and influences in Otomo’s predecessor manga, the science-fiction horror series Domu: A Child’s Dream.
In the twisted tale, a man imbued with extrasensory powers enslaves the tenants living inside a block of apartment complexes. Old Cho forces the occupants to murder one another – or themselves – as an act of psychic control. All hope seems lost until a young girl displaying psychic powers of her own may be the solution to eliminating Cho’s sadistic reign of power.
Domu: A Child’s Dream may clock in at only 300 pages, but the devastating thriller leaves a lasting impression with its disturbing central characters and blood-soaked illustrations.
6. Doubt – Yoshiki Tonogai
Japanese horror manga series Doubt will immediately bring to mind the intense terror from the Black Mirror anthology television series. Like Black Mirror, Doubt centres its horror and action around a technological framework.
When a virtual murder mystery game called Doubt captures Japan’s attention, everyone wants in on the trend. The game follows rules akin to Mafia, where the players (the rabbits) must uncover the wolf in rabbit’s clothing among them. If they fail, the rabbits will be killed off one at a time. It all seems like fun and games until a group of teenage friends awaken after a kidnapping and discover someone has thrust them into a real-life game of Rabbit Doubt. The stakes are high: Find who is the wolf among them or be murdered one by one.
Any fan of battle royale shows like Squid Game or Alice in Borderland should hop into reading another psychological horror spin on the genre with Doubt.
7. I Am a Hero – Kengo Hanazawa
In I Am a Hero, protagonist Hideo, a 35-year-old manga artist assistant, finds every aspect of his life unfulfilling and tedious. Hideo’s low self-worth causes discontentment over his menial existence. But when a disease transforms normal people into homicidal beasts, Hideo changes from the side character to the protagonist of his life as he fights for survival.
I Am a Hero, which was also adapted into a movie, follows a zombie apocalypse story blueprint where the protagonist must survive against flesh-eating humans. Yet, the manga elevates the disquieting level of horror found in normal zombie tales by imagining humanity infected by a disease that turns them into monstrous, human-hungry creatures.
The riveting, heart-racing manga series asks when fight or flight kicks in: will you step up and be the hero in your own story?
8. Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service – Eiji Ōtsuka & Housui Yamazaki
In the same vein as horror-themed stories with a lighthearted touch of humor, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service delivers irreverent laughs.
Five graduates of a Buddhist university in Japan use their unique gifts to help deliver the last wishes of the recently deceased. The friends travel throughout the city and use Kuro Karatsu’s special gift of hearing the dead speak to fulfill their wishes for compensation.
Surprising, gory, comedic, and boasting superior art capturing the true spirit of the dead, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is an underrated horror manga about capitalizing on an unusual service.
Science fiction and horror collide in Hitoshi Iwaaki’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers-esque manga series, Parasyte. Alien invasion stories like Parasyte maximise the gruesome horror aspect of humans serving as hosts to invaders.
High school student Shinichi Izumi awakens one morning in terror as he attempts to fend off a worm-like alien parasite trying to burrow into his nose. However, Shinichi doesn’t escape the attack unscathed. The parasite instead enters inside his arm and takes over, thus becoming part of Shinichi. Half-infested by the host creature, Shinichi and the parasite form a bond and strive to stop the other parasites from completely taking over humanity.
Parasyte is another classic series that ends up on horror manga lists often, due to its artistic composition and eccentric premise.
Pet Shop of Horrors incorporates a mystery element tied into its horror-based story. This is a manga where each chapter is delineated as an “Episode,” with its main protagonist Count D recurring with a revolving cast of characters comprising the mostly self-contained chapters.
Count D is our enigmatic Mr. Roarke and his Chinatown pet shop is our “Fantasy Island” in Pet Shop of Horrors. In the heart of Los Angeles Chinatown, “D” is the proprietor of a pet shop selling rare species of pets. Curiously, some pets take on a rather humanoid appearance rather than an animalistic one. Each pet sold includes a contract for D’s patrons. Breaking the contract could mean consequences – but the contract doesn’t hold the pet shop legally liable for any contract breach repercussions.
The stories in Pet Shop of Horrors are primarily one-shot chapters, hence the episodic nature of the “Episode” labeled chapters. Beware, haunting animal-humanoid hybrid designs might appear in your dreams at night. Adding animals into any horror manga means things are bound to get weird.
Several horror manga on this list rival one another for most disturbing warped imagery, but PTSD Radio hosts a horde of upsetting scenes that will cause your blood to run cold.
Provocative and sincerely degenerate, the manga jumps back and forth through a haphazard timeline —Ghost stories abound here. PTSD Radio offers cryptic hints about the legendary creature Ogushi and his curse occupying human hair. Ogushi is unforgiving, a haunt and a horror to humans wrapped up in whispers and crackles of information.
Tune in to the supernatural horror manga where the ominous Ogushi lurks among hissing radio wavelengths.
Most non-manga enthusiasts have probably heard of Tokyo Ghoul. A dark fantasy horror manga series, Tokyo Ghoul is a lengthy serialised manga where graphic gore spills onto the pages.
Ken Kaneki is our protagonist, a relatively shy college student. The young man’s life is upended when he goes on a date with an (unknowingly) hungry ghoul named Rize who tries to eat him. When Kaneki falls victim to an injury, a doctor saves him from the brink of death by transferring Rize’s organs into Kaneki. Flesh-eating ghouls who look like humans run amok in an alternate version of Tokyo. Where does Kaneki – now a half-human/half-ghoul – fit into society now?
Tokyo Ghoul whisks together action and horror with an intimate drama about identity, morality, and ethos. Any reader (who doesn’t mind severe carnage imagery) can submerge themselves into the gritty series for months.
For the uninitiated Junji Ito readers, Tomie is a horrific place to start that will plunge you straight into the chilling labyrinth that is Mr. Ito’s mind. Tomie is one of Ito’s most well-known mangas apart from Uzumaki and Gyo for a reason: The horror of human monstrosity rivals the supernatural monstrosity of Tomie’s supernatural cannibalistic protagonist.
The manga resembles a series of vignettes, interconnected by the recurring girl of gore, Tomie. Tomie’s immortal character compares to a succubus, which is a folkloric demonic entity that transforms into the female form and seduces men through their dreams. But Tomie preys on both the lustful waking and the sleeping men in the manga, drawing them to their gruesome deaths.
Tomie: The Complete Deluxe Edition contains the entire horror series about the hedonistic femme fatale. Drawn in Ito’s disturbingly detailed style with uncensored violent imagery, Tomie is among the best horror manga of all time. It is a masterclass in emphasizing the horrors found in manipulation and selfishness.
Uzumaki is considered Junji Ito’s crowning achievement; his piece-de-resistance or his magnum opus. The anthology manga title Uzumaki literally translates to the word “spiral.” And even after being introduced to the shocking power spirals hold in the opening chapter, nothing will prepare readers for how spirals can induce such visceral horror.
Framed around this central subject, Uzumaki is a psychological horror manga about the coastal Japanese town of Kurouzu-cho (Black Vortex Town). Main protagonist Kirie narrates the story about how spirals keep appearing in the cursed town she cannot escape. Kirie and her boyfriend Shuichi embark on a dangerous quest to stop everyone in Kurouzu-cho from falling victim to the paranoia and murder of the sinister spirals.
Uzumaki is the ultimate horror manga. Each chapter beats with kinetic energy and makes for an utterly compelling reading experience like none other. Regardless of the stomach-reeling disgust, Ito’s illustrations churn up, you’ll be hard-pressed not to binge the entire 3-in-1 Deluxe Edition of one of the all-time best horror manga series in one sitting.
This survival horror tale starring a cat might not keep you up at night. However, The Walking Cat manga series still earns its well-deserved entry on a horror manga list.
The Walking Cat takes place at the fall of civilization, as zombies freely roam the remains of a decimated Earth. Yuki the cat survived for a while off ingenuity and feline instincts, but those flesh-eating zombies were relentless. Jin, a man who believes his wife may still be alive, finds a traveling companion in Yuki the cat. The two team up and set off to fight zombies while journeying to find Jin’s long-lost wife.
Society may have collapsed in this lighter horror manga, but friendship remains a tenet of survival – especially during a zombie apocalypse.
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