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With anime and manga being as extensive as they are, a vast variety of different genres and subgenres have emerged within the media. Today, we’re focusing on titles that are not quite as peppy and positive as most others. These are some of the most sobering, some of the most shocking and downright dark manga titles out there, covering a variety of themes that just aren’t found in other genres. Some are gory, some are graphic, and others are nihilistic. Prepare yourself and… hope you’re not scared of the dark…
Warning: This article touches upon some dark subjects that may be triggering to some. Please proceed with caution.
10. Ibara no Ou
- Mangaka: Iwahara Yuji
- Genres: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi, Seinen
- Volumes: 6
- Published: September 2002 – September 2005
A pair of twins are separated after they fall victim to a fatal virus. Ishiki Kasumi and Shizuku were infected with the Medusa virus, which slowly turns the infected to stone. With no cure, medical professionals decide to cryogenically freeze some of the infected until a cure can be found; however, of the twins, only Kasumi is selected. Upon awakening, Kasumi and the 159 others who were in suspending animation are greeted by a post-apocalyptic world filled with savage monsters. With no answers to her current predicament or the fate of her twin sister, Kasumi decides to soldier on in a world that has long since gone to hell.
From the jump, we’re given a situation where two twins fall ill and it is decided that one will have to endure her symptoms while the other is placed in cryostasis in hopes that the future will yield a cure. Medical professionals were in essence, forced to make Sophie’s Choice, deciding which one of the two would live and who would die. If that isn’t dark enough for you, a young girl is forced to suffer the suffocating symptoms of a virus that slowly eats away at her all while trying to make sense of a world that no longer looks like the one she left. With violent monsters threatening to tear everyone apart, and this mysterious virus threatening to destroy her from the inside, can Kasumi possibly find any sort of peace? Probably not, but we can hope, right?
9. Apocalypse no Toride (Fort of Apocalypse)
- Mangaka: Kuraishi Yuu (Story), Inabe Kazu (Art)
- Genres: Action, Mystery, Horror, Sci-Fi, Shounen, Psychological
- Volumes: 10
- Published: September 2011 – August 2015
After being falsely accused of murder, high school student Maeda Yoshiaki is sentenced to Shouran Academy Juvenile Detention Centre. Placed in Cell 4, Maeda shares his current situation with his cellmates Iwakura Gou, Yoshioka Masafumi and Yamanoi Mitsuru, who bear charges for various crimes. To make Maeda’s already terrible situation worse, the prison is in the middle of a violent power struggle but things take a crazier turn when a sudden zombie apocalypse that ravaged the outside world comes to visit Shouran. With everything they ever knew gone and the once-safe Shouran in tatters after a prison van brings in infected inmates, how can Maeda and the others from Cell 4 even hope to survive?
Zombie apocalypses have been a fairly prominent trope in the horror genre, but somehow, there are always some iterations which leave a lasting impression. Usher in Apocalypse no Toride. With the world outside deteriorating, inmates at Shouran live their lives in anticipation of a future in a world that literally no longer exists. In an ironic turn of events, going to prison just happened to be the best thing that ever happened to Maeda. However, when the Cell 4 inmates are forced to leave the prison to attempt survival outside, it is horror after horror and the zombies aren’t your average brainless eaters. Apocalypse no Toride is dark because from the very beginning, you know that there is no hope.
8. I Am a Hero
- Mangaka: Hanazawa Kengo
- Genres: Drama, Horror, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 22
- Published: April 2009 – February 2017
Eccentric 35-year-old Suzuki Hideo is forced to work as a mangaka’s assistant after the failure of his own serialisation. He lives a tired life plagued by hallucinations. He has a pretty rocky relationship with his girlfriend, as he believes that she is cheating on him. After confronting her about it, Hideo feels bad and heads over to her house to apologize, but the world is not quite what it used to be. Slowly, reality’s horrific nightmare begins to set in, and it’s worse than any figment of Hideo’s imagination.
Ushering in yet another zombie apocalypse is the manga I Am a Hero. The story takes quite a while to get rolling as it focuses much of its initial chapters to developing the reader’s anticipation – it almost takes TOO long. However, when things begin to fall apart, they fall apart quickly and it is surreal having a series show in much detail how a zombie apocalypse begins and how it eats away at society. Having been insecure his whole life, Hideo has to muster up his wits, strength and courage to overcome a threat that is literally everywhere. The darkness isn’t because of what happened, it comes after the realisation that it may never end.
7. Hyouryuu Net Café (Drifting Net Café)
- Mangaka: Oshimi Shuuzou
- Genres: Action, Mystery, Romance, Sci-Fi, Seinen
- Volumes: 7
- Published: February 2009 – June 2011
29-year-old Toki Kouichi is a hardworking husband with a major change looming: his wife is pregnant. With all the stress and excitement that befalls pregnant couples, he and his wife have had quite a rough few weeks. One day after work, Kouichi heads to a net café to pass some time before going back home, just to detach for a little while. He runs into his middle school crush, the beautiful Touno Kaho. The two rekindle their friendship and get to talking; however, the happy reunion is short-lived as they realise that the city has disappeared. Stuck in a net café in the middle of nowhere with some of the sketchiest characters imaginable, Kaho and Kouichi descend into despair as return to the city they once knew seems less and less likely.
Oshimi Shuuzou is very good at writing really dark stories. Having written Aku no Hana and Happiness, Oshimi delivers again with Hyouryuu Net Café. At times, reading it is uncomfortable. Characters trapped alongside Kaho and Kouichi all slowly fall into depravity as the reality of being cut off from reality sets in. With gangsters stuck in the net café with them, there is much violence and hatred fuelled by the hopelessness they feel. Being away from society brings the worst out of many of the characters – we’re talking murder and rape. Believe us, this title is not for the fainthearted.
- Mangaka: Itou Junji
- Genres: Dementia, Drama, Horror, Romance, Supernatural, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 3
- Published: January 1998 – August 1999
Kurozuchou is a small town on the coast of Japan, known for being cursed. Apparently, what haunts the town is not a person or being – it is a pattern: uzumaki, the spiral. The shape manifests itself in various different ways, in different magnitudes and at different times. However, when it manifests as spiral marks on people’s bodies, madness and pandemonium spread as the residents of Kurozuchou are pulled deeper into the whirlpool of the abyss.
Itou Junji is known far and wide for his disturbing work. Yes, disturbing. In a long line of horrors and psychological manga written by Itou Junji, Uzumaki seems to stand out as one of the creepiest dark manga he has ever written. In the town of Kurozuchou, spirals are the dominant shape and they take form anywhere and everywhere. One character’s father developed a disturbing obsession for spirals, going as far as to miss work in order to study them all day. When a shape can continually take over people’s lives, a curse is the last of your worries.
5. Jisatsu Circle
- Mangaka: Furuya Usamaru
- Genres: Horror, Psychological
- Volumes: 1
- Published: March 2002
On a day much like any other, 54 girls cheerfully headed to the nearby train station in order to begin their journey. Minutes later, the train arrived, but they weren’t headed to any of the regular stops. Their journey to the afterlife was hallmarked by the collision of the oncoming train with 53 of the 54 bodies. Kota Saya was the only survivor and after the incident, she went on to open yet another suicide circle. Her best friend, Kyoko, fears greatly for Saya and tries to investigate the enigma of the suicide club, in order to save Saya and the others from repeating the same mistakes as the ones who died in the first club.
This is a dark manga with the word “Suicide” in its title – it’s dark from the jump (no pun intended, believe us). Honestly, this dark manga is disturbing and graphic. There are quite a few suicides throughout this short series but to be honest, one can only just stomach the six chapters that were released. It maintains an incredibly ominous tone from beginning to end and when reading it, there is this weight of intense discomfort with seeing little girls gleefully end themselves in ways that no one ever has to see.
4. Saiteihen no Otoko (Scumbag Loser)
- Mangaka: Yamaguchi Mikoto
- Genres: Mystery, Horror, Shounen, Supernatural, Psychological
- Volumes: 3
- Published: November 2011 – December 2012
16-year-old Murai Masahiko is a perverted teenager who has a fetish for the smell lingering around people he calls “scumbags”. These people are the lowest on the social pecking order, people who are the biggest of losers in every sense of the word. One day, a beautiful girl named Mizusawa Haruka transfers into his class and after a short series of events, Murai starts dating her. However, he does so while shoving the uncomfortable truth to the back of his mind: “Mizusawa Haruka died five years ago”.
This is one of those fairly unknown titles that you pick up and well, it changes you. Scumbag Loser is possibly one of the most horrific and disturbing dark manga that has ever been printed on paper. As it turns out, Mizusawa Haruka was a young girl who died 5 years prior to the events of the manga. The current Mizusawa is a man-eating demon who replaces her victims with demonic clones who seem to be improvements on the originals in every way. This dark manga is disturbing not only because of the manner in which Mizusawa toys with her victims, but it is in the human component of the series. Nearly each character is a royal mess and Murai is just like them: a terrible human being. The mere emergence of the Mizusawa apparition is honestly just the oil that lubricates the cogs of a perpetual horror show. You will think about this dark manga every single day until you die. Or at least until you’re killed by a man-eating copy machine with nice, silky hair.
3. A Lollypop or a Bullet
- Mangaka: Sakuraba Kazuki (Story), Sugimoto Iqura (Art)
- Genres: Drama, School, Shounen, Psychological
- Volumes: 2
- Published: January 2007 – January 2008
Yamada Nagisa is a cynical junior high school student living in the remote town of Tottori. After the death of her father, her mother works several part-time jobs to support the family. Nagisa dreams of quickly graduating and living her own life, but her life changes when she meets the enigmatic and melancholic Umino Mokuzu, a transfer student. Mokuzu claims to be a mermaid on a mission to find a true friend before some storm comes. The two form an unlikely friendship, but various questions remain unanswered.
Abuse, neglect, murder, infanticide and animal cruelty are just some of the themes covered in this short manga. Dark would honestly be an understatement at this point. Umino Mokuzu lives alone with her rich actor father, but this man is a complete danger to his daughter’s life. He beats her, neglects her, and she loses her mind trying to survive the unending onslaught. Nagisa realises where her friend’s limp and random bruises come from and tries to make sense of the hints Umino drops in her somewhat nonsensical manner of speaking but… this all ends with someone dying a horrible death. It’s rough.
2. Aku no Hana (Flowers of Evil)
- Mangaka: Oshimi Shuuzou
- Genres: Drama, Romance, School, Shounen, Psychological
- Volumes: 11
- Published: September 2009 – May 2014
Kasuga Takao is a middle schooler who enjoys reading books, particularly Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. He has a crush on a girl at school named Saeki Nanako, the most popular girl. One day, after forgetting his copy of Les Fleurs du Mal in the classroom, Takao heads back inside to retrieve it. Takao finds his book, as well as Saeki Nanako’s set of gym clothes. On a mad impulse, Takao steals the gym clothes. Soon enough, everyone in class is aware that Saeki’s uniform is gone, which only serves to compound Takao’s guilt. However, Takao’s life is about to take a very bad turn when he comes to the realisation that Nakamura, the creepy girl in class, knows very well who stole Saeki’s uniform. Recognising Takao as a kindred spirit, Nakamura decides to blackmail Takao, but what does she intend to do with him?
Aku no Hana is weird. Yes, weird. Readers are drawn in by the somewhat humorous middle school situation that plays out and expect Nakamura’s blackmailing to be fairly reserved, right? Wrong. Their “friendship” very quickly plays out into something incredibly dangerous and on one occasion, it very nearly costs the two their lives. Nakamura’s deviance is not that of your average middle school girl and despite how things start out, Takao becomes addicted to the rush of the things that she makes him do. Eventually, he finds himself becoming addicted to her too. Relationships in this dark manga mostly seem to be based on something akin to obsession, and that breeds some of the wackiest events. Seriously, Oshimi Shuuzou’s writing here is beautiful because he managed to take your average “boy meets girl” scenario and turn it into the birth of malice; into a somewhat accurate representation of adolescence.
- Mangaka: Yamamoto Hideo
- Genres: Mystery, Drama, Horror, Supernatural, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 15
- Published: March 2003 – February 2011
Trepanation is a process whereby people have a small hole drilled into their skull. The change in the pressure of the cranium is said to produce some strange effects, some of the supernatural variety. Trepanation is said to bring out one’s sixth sense and when Nakoshi Susumu undergoes the procedure due to his financial situation, it becomes very apparent that it works.
Another one of those titles that you pick up and put down as two different individuals. A few days after undergoing a trepanation, Nakoshi begins to see strange monsters when he covers one eye. These aren’t just any random beasts – they are Homunculi, the culmination of each person’s human experience given form. With just a glance, he is able to have an intimate understanding of other people and this is an incredible power. Homunculus is brilliant because all while being grounded in reality, it manages to take the pseudoscience and use it to present some incredibly well-written characters and stories. The extent of each individual’s human experience is laid bare with each chapter. Now, what makes it dark? The crushing reality of all. The idea that each interaction we have with the people around us shapes our image of ourselves and the effects can be lifelong. The various characters’ stories which include all manner of human suffering. Homunculus is dark because it doesn’t leave you inspired – it leaves you wondering just what kind of monster you might be.
With all the happy endings we are exposed to from when we are born, sometimes it takes a different perspective to really tell a story well. Dark stories exist because people’s lives aren’t always rosy and beautiful. People endure some of the most terrible experiences and such should also be reflected in the media we consume. Super peppy manga and anime just do not have what it takes to tackle heavier subjects and themes and due to the rich depth of dark manga, the lack of sugarcoating somehow makes each experience a little sweeter. Are there any dark manga you enjoyed that didn’t show up on our dark manga list? Drop a comment below and let us into that darkness…