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There is just an emotion that could be probably said to be stronger than love and that emotion is called “fear”. Where love is warm and has to do with the purest part of the human’s soul, fear is an obscure archetype rooted in the human’s mind which has to do with the darkness hiding in our surroundings; an unknown something approaching you, losing control in some way, a monstrous figure or animal threatening your life, any of these elements could trigger an irrational reaction and awake your deepest fears, and there is no limit to what someone could find scary because it change from person to person. Fear, as love, is an illogical expression of emotion that depends on instinct, and can’t be neither controlled nor predicted.
For this reason, it isn’t simple to be able to create a fictional environment that can actually be scary. Real horror can be triggered only by a sly mix of elements which, combined together, are capable to cast doubt on what you think is safe; as, for example, a pale child looking at you from behind a corner while you’re talking on the phone in the safety of your house. Many Japanese horror mangaka attempted to destroy readers’ rationality with their works, but only few of them were able to accomplish that mission and remain as the best horror mangaka of all time. Let’s find what horror mangaka are out there with this frightening countdown.
10. Hajime Isayama
- Genre: Horror, Action, Mystery, Drama, Fantasy, Super Power, Supernatural
- Date of Birth: Aug. 29, 1986
There is no one fond of action horror manga who hasn’t at least heard about the famous Shingeki no Kyojin. Maybe not everyone knows that it was written by the very young horror mangaka, Hajime Isayama, and that Shingeki no Kyojin is his first and only work. Hajime Isayama started his career in 2008 when he took part at the 80th Weekly Shōnen Magazine Freshman Manga Award where he was given the Special Encouragement Award for his work "Heart Break One", and was chosen as a selected work in the same contest the following year. These two contests gave him the possibility of being noticed by Kodansha, which showed interest in the prototype of Shingeki no Kyojin and offered Hajime Isayama the possibility to redo it into a full-length mangal.
Shingeki no Kyojin was first published on September 9, 2009 in Bessatsu Shonen Magazine and had an instant hit with the audience, more than Isayama himself could imagine. The fact is that Isayama’s idea was memorable and unique, both for its content and for its style. Isayama’s art was, in fact, considered “bad” if compared to other shounen manga as famous as Shingeki no Kyojin is, but it is also considered “suited” to the plot of this manga. After all, Shingeki no Kyojin is a disturbing story about humanity being on the verge of extinction due to mindless titans eating them alive, so nothing better that a disturbing artistic style could represent it. Isayama’s titans are scary, with their human shaped bodies and human expressions affixed to their faces while eating screaming human who are incapable of defending themselves due to their weakness. And humans’ powerlessness in front of death is probably what Isayama wanted his fans to experience with this manga.
9. Ryou Haruto
- Genre: Horror, Seinen, Supernatural, Police
- Birth Date: Unknown
Does “horror” mean only scary-faced freaks and ghosts appearing out of nowhere? Probably horror mangaka like Ryou Haruto don’t think so as they believe real monsters hide inside human obsessions, which lies in the depths of a human’s heart. This is the case of Ryou Haruto, a very talented horror mangaka widely known to horror manga lovers. Indeed, Haruto is the creator of the popular manga Ibitsu, his first and most acclaimed work which finished publishing seven years ago but is still considered one of the best horror manga in circulation. Not much is known about Ryou Haruto’s life except that he started his career in 2009 when Ibitsu was first published in the shounen magazine Young Gangan, but we can easily understand from his Ibitsu what true horror is.
Indeed, Ibitsu’s story revolves around a boy, Kazuki Ito, and his encounter with a sinister girl dressed like a Lolita that is going to make him live his worst nightmare. Inspired by an old Japanese ghost tale, Ibitsu has to do with supernatural events; characters are physically existing in this world, and their actions, the fruit of an obsessive behavior which can lead to violence and even murder. The Lolita is, in fact, a stalker and a serial killer who chooses her prey,s by asking them a question to which they aren’t supposed to answer if they want to be spared. In Haruto’s vision, horror is not represented by a monster under your bed, but by humans’ insanity.
8. Gamon Sakurai
- Genre: Action, Mystery, Horror, Supernatural, Seinen
- Date of Birth: Unknown
Being able to live forever is one of human race’s dreams since ancient times, but are we sure immortality is the best thing that could happen to someone? Gamon Sakurai wants to demonstrate the exact opposite and show how eternal life can become a punishment, especially when it has to deal with humans’ cruel and destructive behavior. Also in Gamon Sakurai’s manga, in fact, the scariest element is not in the presence of monster-like creatures threatening human life itself, but in people’s way to judge what is different from standard criteria and the consequences of their judgment.
Gamon Sakurai’s Ajin shows how people can easily label someone as “evil” due to his birth without even taking into account their past, reasons, or feelings. This is what happens to high school student, Kei Nagai when he finds out to be born an Ajin – a mysterious, immortal being that is disliked by its fellow men and destined to a life of persecution and suffering. People who thought high of Kei start to fear him, while special police forces want Kei captured and isolated. His only ally is someone Kei used to think low of just because of his casual style. Prized in the winter of 2008 for his work “A Soramimi”, Gamon Sakurai reminds us that tendency people have to ostracize who is different due to its incapability to fit society’s standards are the real horror we are all forced to live in every day.
7. Masaaki Nakayama
- Genre: Horror, Supernatural, Seinen
- Date of Birth: Dec. 12, 1966
What is one the first words which comes to mind when we talk about horror? A good answer could be “tension” or “anxiety” and Masaaki Nakayama is a genius when it comes to awake this kind of emotions with his stories. There isn’t many information on Masaaki Nakayama’s life although he is a very prolific author with a wide catalog of stories, but we can safely say that he is one of the most appreciated horror mangaka since one of his manga – Fuan no Tane – was also adapted into a movie, in 2013. Nakayama’s horror manga don’t usually have a linear plot but have been published as collections of unrelated stories whose only element in common was fear.
Fear and anxiety are, in fact, what typifies Nakayama’s one-shots, in which characters have to face surreal and nightmarish situations that they may be not make it out of. In Nakayama’s manga all kind of classic horror elements can be found: creepy lonely children, faceless ghosts, malevolent masked men with freakish appearance that haunt people who were so unlucky to come across their path, and imaginary friends that mysteriously came to life. Maybe, Nakayama’s purpose, as a prolific horror mangaka, is to provoke a reaction by recalling the archetype of human fear… and he can do it pretty well, too! The fact that his creatures are drawn, in fact, doesn’t make them less scary at all!
6. Yoshiki Tonogai
- Genre: Mystery, Shounen, Psychological
- Date of Birth: Unknown
You know when you are surrounded by people you meet for the first time and you have that feeling you shouldn’t trust them so easily? One of the horror mangaka who best represents the fear of being surrounded by strangers is Yoshiki Tonogai who, despite being the assistant of Atsushi Ōkubo, the mangaka of Soul Eater, is talented enough to be known for his best sellers Doubt, Judge, and Secret.
The three stories are part of a trilogy that tells about a psychological game characters have to play in order to stay alive; indeed, among them – who are wearing a rabbit mask – is hiding a wolf they must find before the wolf murders them all. In a story like that, there can’t be just a horror element and, in fact, the manga has a disturbing mix of splatter, deception, tension exacerbated by point of view of the main character who is living the nightmare in first person, and makes you feel the same anxiety and self-doubt. If Saw has Jigsaw, Japan has Tonogai and his gruesome style.
5. Katsuhiro Otomo
- Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi, Supernatural, Military
- Date of Birth: Apr. 14, 1954
If we didn’t know anything about Yoshigi Tonogai’s life, we can’t say the same about Katsuhiro Otomo who is one of the best-known mangaka in Japan’s contemporary literature. Why? Well, because, first of all, Otomo is the author of the unforgettable masterpiece Akira which made the history of cyberpunk genre in manga, changing traditional manga forever. Katsuhiro Otomo started his career in 1979 with the manga Fireball which blessed him with great success. Fireball and the later Akira made of Otomo a sci-fi illustrator, but Otomo has been also a brilliant author of disturbing stories.
Katsuhiro Otomo’s way of creating a disturbing story is unique because it is related to human behavior when men are forced to share a narrow space due to poverty in a society. The Japan Otomo depicts in his manga is both claustrophobic and frightened by the future, but too lazy or too economically disadvantaged to do something to change the things. Even when a great danger as a rogue psychic is threatening the peaceful lives of a whole building complex by slaughtering residents. That is exactly the spirit in Otomo’s manga Domu – which was prized with the Japan's Science Fiction Grand Prix Award in 1980 – where an innocent child with the same powers will have to face the evil on the bloody ground while adults are too busy to think of themselves even when it is their own life in danger.
4. Jun Abe
- Genre: Mystery, Horror, Supernatural, Seinen
- Date of Birth: Feb. 6, 1972
Psychological and drama horror are genres which have a tremendous success in this contemporary era where darkness is mainstream and blood has become a cool “accessory” in certain fashion tendencies, but there are some horror mangaka that were able to build their fame on classic horror hooks, and one of them is Jun Abe. Abe started his career in 1990, when his manga Nedan wa Ii yo was published in Kodansha’s Young Magazine.
Portus is, in fact, that manga by Jun Abe you wouldn’t like to read at night when you are alone. Published in a period when ghost stories such as The Ring got very popular and retracing Japanese horror style from the Nineties and the early 2000s, Portus is about a high school student Asami Kawakami, whose friend Chiharu has mysteriously committed suicide. Before dying, Chiharu had started to play a strange video game called “Portus.”. According to an urban legend, Portus features a secret level in which you are asked if you want to get to the other side. You should never answer “yes” if you wish to live. A perfect vintage horror in Japanese style that Jun Abe was able to create by mixing all kind of freaks and bloody landscapes made even more disturbing by his eccentric art style.
3. Suehiro Maruo
- Genre: Horror, Psychological, Seinen, Historical
- Date of Birth: Jan 28, 1956
Unlike Jun Abe, the horror mangaka Suehiro Maruo has spent all his life drawing horror in all its kind of forms and shapes. Suehiro Maruo’s works can be described as the most absurd, gory, and violent in Japanese horror graphic literature as the themes he deals with go from incest to sexualized disfigurement, and so on. Born in the Fifties, Maruo debuted as an official mangaka in 1980 in Ribon no Kishi, at the age of 24. Before that, all his works had been rejected due to the content and his style being too grotesque.
Indeed, in Maruo’s manga the main elements are surrealism, absurd, and macabre eros which make of it a frightening horror stage on which characters out of their mind play their roles. Maruo’s manga are mainly based on historical events which the mangaka mines from his history probably in an attempt to condemn all forms of militarism due to the social scars nationalistm left. Known worldwide for his particular and very detailed drawing technique, Suehiro Maruo deserved at least the third position of our countdown.
2. Usamaru Furuya
- Genre: Psychological, Drama, School, Shounen, Horror
- Date of Birth: Jan 25, 1968
If a horror mangaka like Suehiro Maruo could shock his audience with his violent graphic and ero-grotesque contents, Usamaru Furuya’s horror is less visible and far more psychological. Usamaru Furuya started his career in a very unconventional way if compared to his colleagues; he graduated from an art school where he studied sculpture and abstract three-dimensional figures that Furuya considered the best way to link with the world of darkness. Indeed, Furuya’s work mainly focuses on insanity and on the most disturbing mystery lying in the human mind.
Furuya’s characters suffer different types of mental disorderss: in Ningen Shikkaku, for example, the protagonist – Ooba Youzou – has been traumatized due to abuse administered by a relative when he was a child and is incapable of expressing his emotions to the others. He becomes a nihilist sociopath. In Litchi☆Hikari Club, a group of high schoolers attempt to create the ultimate Artificial Intelligence, whose members slowly go mad with paranoia and change into perverted aesthetic murderers. Furuya’s work is the depiction of horror in his incorporeal form.
1. Junji Ito
- Genre: Drama, Horror, Supernatural, Psychological, Seinen
- Date of Birth: Jul 31, 1963
Of all the horror mangaka we have encountered in our path, Junji Ito is probably the most famous and appreciated of all. So much so that Junji Itoe worked together with Guillermo del Toro and Hideo Kojima for the realization of the horror videogame Silent Hill. Junji Ito was a dental technician before starting his career as a horror mangaka. According to the author himself, he was inspired to become a horror illustrator by his sister’s drawing and Kazuo Umezu’s works. If all the previous authors we met before focused on a limited range of specific horror hooks, Ito’s range is quite wide and include both human irrationality, body horror, and hostility.
Ito’s horror universe deals with the cruelty of human beings, but also with the one of the reality in which men live; there are some characters in Ito’s manga who are victim of themselves and their own self-harmful madness. There are others who can’t escape malevolent unnatural circumstances which happens in their surroundings, involving them in a devious brutal game they never asked to be part of. Ito explores horror universe with a comprehensive approach, so he definitely deserves the crown of Asian king of horror.
What can trigger real madness and make you live your worst nightmare? A freak, a deformed face, a ghost, a serial killer hiding in your house? What we consider dark or creepy is subjective, but the greatness of authors such as Ito and Otomo is a part of horror graphic literature’s history.
And you? What scares you the most? Let us know with a comment on the section below!