One thing manga is known for doing particularly well is horror, from creepy creatures to ghost stories to psychological horror that will make the kid next door seem scarier than any werewolf. Here’s a Halloween sampler of horror-themed manga that ranges from the goofy to the ghoulish.
Fragments of Horror, by Junji Ito
Everything starts out fairly normal in most of Junji Ito’s stories, but it all comes apart pretty quickly. Ito’s talent is inserting the uncanny into the everyday and then ramping the weirdness up to 11. Fragments of Horror is a collection of short stories, with Ito working his uncanny magic to bring us a man who has to hold his head on his neck—because a witch has cut it off; a woman who is obsessed with her own dissection; and a house that comes strangely to life, complete with bad breath and eyeballs in the rafters. If you like what you see here, check out Ito’s longer works: Gyo, in which sea creatures grow legs and go on a rampage, and Uzumaki, in which spirals take over the world.
Cat-Eyed Boy, by Kazuo Umezu
Umezu delivers straight-up horror stories in the vein of Tales from the Crypt or late-night movies like Creature Feature, with grotesque monsters seeking revenge or just going on rampages. The cat-eyed boy of the title is the narrator, who sometimes tells the story from the shadows and sometimes gets involved. Drawn in an old-fashioned style, with pages that are packed with panels, these stories start out intense and get weirder from there, with monsters drawn deep from the well of nightmares.
Another, by Yukito Ayatsugji
This high school ghost story has a cool twist: someone in Class 3 of Yomiyama North Middle School is a ghost, but no one knows who—including the ghost itself. Many years ago, a student in the class died, but everyone pretended the dead classmate was still there—and indeed, the classmate showed up in the graduation photo at the end of the year. Since then, the class sometimes gets an extra member, a ghost who seems to trigger a series of deaths. New student Koichi Sakakibara doesn’t know any of this when he transfers into the school; he just can’t figure out why everyone is shunning the girl he finds so intriguing. That’s just the start of the mystery. This page-turner of a story is complete in one single, hefty volume.
Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Vol. 14, by Eiji Otsuka
This is a fascinating series, but most emphatically not for the squeamish. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is a team of five Buddhists who solve mysteries and carry out people’s last wishes. The twist is that the clients are already dead. Each character has a special ability: Makoto is a dowser who finds fresh corpses, Kuro is able to communicate with them, Ao facilitates everything with her superb hacker skills, Keiko is a skilled embalmer, and Yuji is kind of a nerd(plus he wears a puppet on his left hand that channels an alien being). The series is episodic, with the team working one case at a time. Otsuka’s clear-lined, almost clinical style is well suited to these stories, but be warned that they are very graphic, with lots of rotting corpses and hideous deaths, and some have possibly disturbing sexual content. It’s all in sharp contrast to the goofy team-of-losers humor and the big challenge in each story, which is how to bill a dead client. Because the stories are self-contained, you can skip around in the series, and volume 14 is a good starting point, with three stories: a mystery involving a corrupt politician and a fake version of the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service; a story drawn in American comic book style about an alternate version of the team going after a tattoo thief in Los Angeles; and a creepy finale about dire doings at a museum of execution devices.
Nijigahara Holograph, by Inio Asano
Asano starts with a children’s legend that a monster lurks in the tunnel behind the local school, but there are scarier things than monsters: the book draws its horror not from supernatural beings, but from the evil in human hearts. The plot moves back and forth between two different timelines, with a strange cast of characters that includes the school bully and a teacher with a mysteriously bandaged face. The art is deceptively beautiful at times, belying the horror of crimes that lie just beneath the thin skin of everyday life. Complete in a single volume, this book is a demanding read, but a rewarding one.
Cowa! by Akira Toriyama
Let’s finish with something light: Cowa!, a charming adventure story by the creator of Dragon Ball, features a ghastly trio of Paifu, a half-vampire, half were-koala; Jose, a shape-shifting ghost; and Arpon, who’s just plain scary. Together, they play some pranks and go on a trek to get the medicine Paifu’s mother needs to cure her monster flu. Complete in one volume, this is a cheeky, goofy kids’ story about the fun side of the characters we associate with Halloween.