Horror manga is enjoying something of a flourishing in American fandom at the moment: Tokyo Ghoul has been one of the largest successes publisher Viz has enjoyed in years, with its popularity to the point that its live-action adaptation is coming to American theaters later this month. And that's not the only big success for what at first glance are niche publications. Mega-hit Attack on Titan poses as a grungy action blockbuster, but the bulk of its appeal derives from its nihilistic and unsettling atmosphere and the ever-present threat of the titular monsters. Even a recent shounen breakout like The Promised Neverland makes heavy use of just the kind of artistic techniques and imagery you might expect to see in a slasher movie.
But despite all of this, many of Japan’s most venerable horror manga artists remain unknown and unappreciated in America. In the interest of correcting that mistake, and the spirit of Halloween, we at SYFY WIRE have corralled a list of luminaries who defined and continue to define this burgeoning field.
Ito isn’t my favorite name on this list, but his popularity is undeniable, even in America, where he stands as the only instantly recognizable horror manga creator. And for good reason. His ornate art is fetching and disturbing at the same time, a perfect vehicle for delivering the unique brand of absurdism on display in titles like Uzumaki and Gyo.
Another of the old guard, Hino departs from both Ito and Umezu in that he prefers to revel in the grotesque with a childish, goofy style somewhere between classic EC Comics and the griminess of American cartoonists like Jhonen Vasquez. Not that he’s incapable of more psychologically upsetting work, as tales like The Red Snake well demonstrate.
No horror manga artist seems as cruelly overlooked as Maruo; few of his works have been translated into English, and then in extremely limited quantities. Perhaps that’s because stories like Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freakshow are unapologetically depraved; perhaps that’s because he has no qualms about exploring the psychosexual nightmares of the most pathological personalities. But it’s exactly this fearlessness that makes his work so horrifying.
It’s unfair to pigeonhole Mizuki as a horror artist, given he devoted much of his oeuvre to historical reportage, but one can’t deny GeGeGe Kitaro’s influence on the genre. A series that portrays the various kinds of Japanese yokai with an almost encyclopedic obsession, it’s also a timeless example of how closely related the genres of comedy and ghost story are.
Taijima’s frank and unflinching and deeply investigative look at those elements of the human psyche we might better wish uncovered is what lends this him his appeal, though his stories contain their fair share of unnerving sights, too.
Purists might object, as he’s normally not associated with the horror genre, but whether penning cyberpunk thrillers or mecha series, Nihei’s depictions of gargantuan industrial-urban hellscapes and warped mutants convey a sense of scale so oppressive that it shades into outright nihilism.
Immediately recognizable as the origin of a thousand memes, the works of Shintaro Kago are mean-spirited, dirty vignettes that betray a debt to Junji Ito both in their obsession with body-horror and their squirm-inducing surrealism.
Franken Fran may be the only horror series to Kigitsu’s name, but this anthology of Tales from the Crypt-style moral fables is a singularly funny parade of some of the strangest, most disturbing imagery in comics.
Tanabe is a relative newcomer, but his baroque style and masterful use of shadow and lighting adapt the works of Lovecraft with care and love and, most importantly, power.