Junji Ito: 10 Best Stories from Japan’s Master of Horror (2022)

byWill Heath | ART

The term master of horror is often attributed to American author Stephen King without any argument. Turn your eyes to Japan, however, and you’ll discover a writer and artist capable of injecting a far more potent amount of fear into his readers’ veins. Junji Ito is a mangaka who understands phobias, existential anxieties, and the terror of the unknown better than any other horror writer on Earth. Combining a deft artist’s eye with a boundless and terrifying imagination, Junji Ito stands head and shoulders above every other horror writer around.

Born in 1963 in Gifu prefecture, Junji Ito is Japan’s most successful and lauded horror writer. What makes Ito unique in the horror world is that he isn’t a novelist or a short story writer in the traditional sense; he’s a mangaka. His horror stories, both short and long, are all written and drawn with a surreal, off-kilter, otherworldly eeriness.

Ito’s debut story, written when he was only 24 years old, was Tomie, a series of stories about a young woman who defies death and ageing. Over and again, Tomie drives the men who fall for her into madness. Despite its success, Tomie did not project him into the world of famous writers and artists immediately, as Ito worked for several years as a dental technician. Eventually, though, Ito left his almost comically bland career (especially considering how he is known today) behind and Tomie proved to be the beginning of a phenomenal career as Junji Ito steadily made a greater and greater name for himself as the king of terror, not only in Japan but across the world.

Junji Ito’s Themes, Skills, and Influences

Ito has cited his largest influences as Kazuo Umezu and Hideshi Hino, as well as legendary American writer and creator of the cosmic horror genre, H.P. Lovecraft. Kazuo Umezu is one of the great horror mangaka, responsible for the creation of celebrated manga Orochi: Blood. Hideshi Hino is another mangaka as well as a film director. His most celebrated manga is Hell Baby and his horror movies, known as the Guinea Pig films, are a series of six controversial horror films.

As for the legacy that Ito has carved out for himself, it’s a rather colossal one. In interviews, Ito comes across as a mild-mannered, calm, charming, and sweet man who exists in remarkable contrast to the themes and content of his art and stories.

What sets Ito apart from other horror writers is a one-two punch: his ideas and his execution. It’s in his short stories where we best see both of these unique Ito qualities. Junji Ito is a master of body horror, of suspense, and of otherworldly supernatural wrongness. Ito very much understands that the quickest way to spoil tension and mystery is to give the mystery away, and so he never does. His stories often begin in normality, descend into madness of a supernatural, monstrous kind, and are never resolved, leaving the shivers running up and down your spine long after the story ends.

Ito’s ideas often come from ordinary fears, both physical and existential: the unknown depths of the ocean, claustrophobia, the fear of being watched. Or they come from small discomforts like a sweaty mattress. From there, he expands on these little sparks and turns them into wildfires of deadly and terrifying proportions. And it’s in Ito’s art that we really feel this terror. Ito has an uncanny ability to draw human eyes. In the moments where nothing supernatural has yet happened, a shiver of discomfort can be felt when looking at the eyes of Ito’s protagonists. And when the supernatural really hits, it does so in grotesque and uncomfortable detail. Ito understands the human body and is able to disfigure it greatly or twist it ever so slightly as to deliver enormous shocks or to drop the reader into the uncanny valley, there leaving them with an itchy tingle of discomfort at the sight of his monsters and nasty creations.

Sometimes there is no great cosmic horror in Ito’s stories. Sometimes they are simply impossible mysteries that are explored but never solved. The mind of Junji Ito is an incredible thing, matched by his ability to perfectly convey through his art the concepts he dreams up. This is what makes him the best horror writer in the business.

The 10 Best Junji Ito Short Stories

There are a lot of Junji Ito books. His longer horror stories – Tomie, Uzumaki, and Gyo – are each available as solo books. Then there’s his phenomenal adaptation of Frankenstein, which is perhaps the best adaptation of Shelley’s original novel that’s ever been made. Finally, there’s a wide selection of short stories. Junji Ito’s short stories do the best job of showcasing the diversity of horror in his ideas, his writing, and his art skills, and they can be found in collections: Shiver, Fragments of Horror, and Smashed, as well as featuring as bonus stories in the previously mentioned full-length books.

Here are the 10 Junji Ito short stories that most exemplify the breadth of his talent and the real horror that lies at the heart of his words and his artwork.

1. Hanging Blimp

(Video) Top 10 Scariest Junji Ito Stories

Hanging Blimp (found in Shiver) is Ito’s eerie and chilling storytelling skills at their absolute peak. While his art is praised most often for its body horror quality, Hanging Blimp is what most expertly shows off his plotting and the strength of his mental forge.

In this short story, ominous and enormous balloons – in the shape and façade of real people’s faces – appear floating across the sky over the entire country. Their gaunt and fearful but unchanging expressions, coupled with the mystery of what they are and where they came from, makes for a petrifying premise that’s only worsened when it becomes clear that the balloons are hunting down the people they resemble, and hanging from each balloon is a noose.

2. The Enigma of Amigara Fault

This is another short story (found as a bonus chapter in Gyo) that lacks the quintessential body horror stamp of Junji Ito. Instead, it’s a terror masterpiece that relies on mystery, intrigue, and a slow-burning plot to lure the reader in.

A recent earthquake has shifted the earth and raised a long strip of rock at the base of a mountain. Along this newly unearthed rock is a series of holes that disappear into the mountain. But these holes are human-shaped, carved by people unknown and hidden in the earth for what surely must be thousands of years. And yet, people are being drawn to this phenomenon once they find what they believe to be their hole – a hole that fits them and only them.

3. The Long Dream

Now here is some imaginative and original body horror by our master of terror. The Long Dream (found in Shiver) tells the story of a man in a hospital bed who lives years – sometimes entire lives – every time he sleeps. When he wakes up, the time he spent in the dream is worn on his skin and his body slowly degrades and morphs into something alien and frightening. There’s nothing threatening in this story – no monster or otherworldly creature – only a man who slowly succumbs to eternal dreams and wakes up to find his body sunken and immobile. This is what makes The Long Dream one of the most harrowing and haunting Ito stories, while also being so cleverly static.

4. The Thing That Drifted Ashore

An ominous title like this can only lead to one of Ito’s best short stories. And it does. Ito is at his very best when he recognised a specific innate fear or phobia and runs with a horror idea based on that fear. What makes this story shine is that it’s bigger than a simple phobia: The Thing That Drifted Ashore (found in the Slug Girl collection) taps into our discomfort when considering the infinite size and depth of our dark oceans – how close they are and yet how unknown. It also uses Ito’s signature aesthetics to design a truly disturbing creature that never looks too far beyond the realm of possibility. That’s what’s truly frightening: this thing could exist, it could be out there, and it could do what it does in this terrifying story.

5. Greased

Greased (found in Shiver) is, perhaps, Junji Ito’s most disgusting story. It was inspired by the discomfort he himself went through when studying at a dental school. While there, he had to sleep on a futon that had been stained brown from the sweat of former students. From sweat came oil and from oil came zits. And so, this story was born! In it, a young girl and her brother live above their father’s yakiniku restaurant which has slowly and steadily covered the interior of the house with grease and filled it with oily fumes. It’s a story of sibling rivalry soaked in grease: truly, one of the most unpleasant and squeamish stories you can imagine reading. And with the attention to detail Ito brings to his art, some of the panels can leave you feeling incredibly nauseous.

6. Fashion Model

One of Ito’s most famous single panels is that of a tall, thin, middle-aged woman with a long head and a monstrous mouth. She is the titular fashion model of this story (found in Shiver), a woman hired by a film crew. The story’s protagonist is frightened of her looks and confused as to why the crew has hired her to be a model. All the while, as we read, we wonder whether or not there is anything to be scared of – if she is, in fact, simply a scary-looking woman. This doubt comes with the guilt of judging her too harshly. This is what makes Fashion Model such a stand-out Ito story: it’s not only an unexplained natural mystery, a piece of terrifying body horror, or a supernatural phenomenon. It’s a story that makes you doubt, feel guilty, let your guard down, before it really lays on the terror.

7. Slug Girl

This story (found in the Slug Girl collection), while not a particular revelation of psychological horror like Hanging Blimp or The Long Dream, is an excellent example of Ito’s unsettling body horror. It’s gone down as one of his most beloved stories for its absurd nature and the empathy it demands from the reader.

Slug Girl tells the story of a young girl whose family’s backyard has been overrun with slugs for most of her life. As the story begins, she finds that her tongue is swelling, and she is feeling sick. While at home from school, she is bedridden and, soon enough, finds that her tongue has transformed into the head and body of a slug. Her condition worsens but what really gets to the reader is that feeling of, “what would I do in her position?” and the sheer panic that comes with it.

8. Army of One

What really makes Army of One (found in Hellstar Remina) stand out from the crowd of claustrophobic, discomfiting, unnatural and inflated Ito comics is that it has an entirely other kind of atmosphere and tone. Army of One, right until its very ending, has the story and pacing of a very un-supernatural and grounded thriller. People are going missing, and turning up soon after, dead, and stitched together in macabre poses. The number of people going missing gradually increases, from couples to groups to entire mass gatherings. And when they’re found, they’re stitched together as a web made of people. It’s horrifying, but it seems to be the work of a serial killer or a group. It’s a very different kind of Ito story. That is, until the very end, of course.

(Video) 9 Deranged And Nerve-Wracking Junji Ito’s Twisted Stories Explained - Japan's Master Of Horror!

9. Dissection Girl

Dissection Girl (found in Fragments of Horror) is an Ito story that combines all the best aspects of Ito’s artistic and literary skills. It’s a personal and human tale with an ordinary protagonist and an extraordinary subject character. It considers a real-life issue – in this case a kind of body dysmorphia – and plays with it in a terrifying manner. It also explodes with a resolution moment of exaggerated and absurd body horror that’s as gross as it is thrilling. Dissection girl, in many ways, is an excellent entry point to reading Ito’s work. It’s unsettling but not ghastly. Its imagery is discomfiting, but not something that makes you writhe with chills and goose bumps. It’s a perfectly crafted and unsettling tale of Ito at his most approachable, yet still wholly wicked.

10. Honoured Ancestors

There’s a funny anecdote surrounding this tale (found in Shiver), which is that Ito created something here that he was very proud of: a person running whilst lying on their back in an uncanny spider-like fashion. That is, until he at last saw the director’s cut of The Exorcist and was disappointed to see it had already been done. Nevertheless, it’s still a terrifying scene that comes at the end of this, one of Ito’s most viscerally unsettling and monstrous tales.

When a high schooler brings a girl he likes home to meet his dad, she has already suffered memory loss and trauma in the form of a dream about an enormous caterpillar. When she meets the boy’s dad, he enters the room in a spider-like fashion and the top of his head is never shown. Eventually, the reason why is revealed and it’s one of the most shocking, eerie, and unnerving moments in an Ito comic. It’s a true moment of grotesque body horror that will stay with you for a long, long time.

Get to know some of Japan’s other greatest mangaka in the 10 Best Female Manga Artists You Need to Know!

January 17, 2020 |Art

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FAQs

What is the scariest Junji Ito story? ›

Junji Ito's Uzumaki is often regarded as Ito's magnum opus. It tells the tale of a girl in a small town called Kurouzu-cho which roughly translates into "Black Vortex Town".

What is Junji Ito most famous works? ›

Uzumaki. The Uzumaki manga is arguably Junji Ito's most famous book, apart from a select handful of his short stories (found below). Originally published in three volumes and now available in a single collection, Uzumaki is a staggering work of horror fiction.

Which Junji Ito book is the best? ›

Junji Ito

Where do I start Junji Ito? ›

What is a good place to start for someone who's never read his work? Dean: In order to get your enmeshed with Ito's work, I would suggest his (one of many) short story collection Shiver.

What is the moral of Tomie? ›

The theme of male violence is prominent in Tomie. A man killing the woman he loves disturbs traditional gender roles. Usually, society scorns women for being too emotional, hysterical, and delirious. In Tomie it is the men who are driven to insanity by Tomie's beauty, whilst she never returns their affections.

Does Netflix have Junji Ito? ›

A premiere date in January 2023 has been confirmed for Netflix's Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre.

Which Tomie movie is the best? ›

10 Best Live-Action Junji Ito Adaptations, Ranked By How Scary They Are
  1. 1 Long Dream.
  2. 2 Uzumaki. ...
  3. 3 Tomie. ...
  4. 4 Tomie: Forbidden Fruit. ...
  5. 5 Tomie: Replay. ...
  6. 6 Tomie: Another Face. ...
  7. 7 Tomie: Revenge. ...
  8. 8 Tomie: Re-Birth. ...
11 Mar 2020

Why is Junji Ito so popular? ›

One reason why Ito's works are so popular is because of their visual aesthetic and appeal that they offer. Every single manga, no matter how long or short, features terrifying visuals and downright gory panels. Each manga author has their own art style, and Ito's is very distinct.

Does Junji Ito have kids? ›

Personal life. In 2006, Junji married Ayako Ishiguro (石黒亜矢子), a picture book artist. As of 2013, they have two children.

How old is souichi Junji Ito? ›

An eccentric oddball of an 11 year old, Souichi specializes in Onmyōdō and enjoys causing havoc against people he doesn't like. Despite the dark nature of his actions, Souichi is shown to be childish, spelling things wrong or mistaking words, reminding us that he's still only 11.

How did Junji Ito learn to draw? ›

I took a pencil and paper, or sometimes the back of advertisements, and would draw frames, imitating the manga I had read. So, I started before I even entered elementary school. It was just for fun, of course. That was how I began.

How many books did Junji Ito write? ›

Junji Ito

Is it worth reading Junji Ito? ›

Junji Ito's art is always outstanding and, for that reason alone, his stories are worth reading. Their content, however, can be hit or miss and Smashed contained a few too many misses for me. While Smashed is not a bad Junji Ito book, it's far from the best released in English.

Does Junji Ito have an anime? ›

Junji Ito Collection (Japanese: 伊藤潤二『コレクション』, Hepburn: Itō Junji "Korekushon") is a horror anime anthology series adapted from the works of manga artist Junji Ito. Animated by Studio Deen, the anime adapts stories from several of Ito's collections.

How many chapters are in Uzumaki? ›

Junji Ito's Uzumaki comprises three volumes divided into twenty chapters.

When did Tomie come out? ›

Tomie Kawakami, better known mononymously as Tomie, is a character from the Japanese horror manga and film series of the same name created by Junji Ito. Tomie was introduced in Ito's 1987 manga Tomie, which was published in Monthly Halloween, a shōjo magazine.

What is Junji? ›

Junji can be written using different kanji characters and can mean: 純二, "chaste, two" 純次, "chaste, next" 純治, "chaste, govern" 淳司, "pure, conduct"

Is Tomie a demon? ›

After her mutilation, Tomie's cells somehow gained demonic powers of an unknown origin which transformed her into a regenerative monster in human skin.

Is Tomie a succubus? ›

Tomie acts like a succubus, possessing an undisclosed power to make any man fall in love with her. Through her mere presence, or through psychological and emotional manipulation, she drives these people into jealous rages that often lead to brutal acts of violence.

Why was Tomie murdered? ›

A flashback shows that when the class went on their field trip to a mountain, Yamamoto caught Tomie cheating on him with Mr. Takagi. They had an argument that caused Tomie to fall over the mountainside to her death.

Is Uzumaki getting an anime? ›

The series has now been scheduled for release in October 2022.

Where can I watch Junji Ito Collection Anime? ›

Junji Ito Collection | Watch on Funimation.

Where can I watch Tomie 1998? ›

Watch Tomie | Prime Video.

How many stories does Junji Ito have? ›

How Many Junji Ito Stories Are There? Japanese short story writer Junji Ito is known for having written a series on horror called Horror World of Junji Ito. The eight volumes collect more than 30 of his stories. Eight volumes are included in each volume.

How does Junji Ito come up with his stories? ›

As Ito explained about his process, "It really hasn't changed. I basically jot down ideas all the time and when I finally sit down to create a story, I look for ideas from my notebook that I can use and then try to see what kind of story I can write in order to bring out the full potential of that idea.

Is Uzumaki OK for kids? ›

This manga is very dark and most definitely for older teens and adults. There are no real language issues, but the illustrations and content are extremely graphic, especially for black and white illustrations. There aren't any sexual instances but a woman is drawn naked in one of the chapters.

How long does it take Junji Ito to draw? ›

Where do these terrifying images come from? JI: I've gotten inspiration from all sorts of different things that I've seen and heard, including photos of dead bodies. How long does it take you to draw a page? JI: It depends on the content of the drawing, but maybe two days for time-consuming ones.

How long has Junji Ito written? ›

He's been writing and drawing horror manga for nearly thirty years now, and in that time he's churned out some of the eeriest, creepiest manga known to man.

Is souichi a villain? ›

Souichi Tsujii is a recurring villain throughout the Junji Ito Collection anime anthology, and here's every episode he makes an appearance in.

What is Junji Ito inspired by? ›

Junji Ito is one of Japan's top horror manga artists. Inspired by the work of Kazuo Umezu, he took on drawing horror stories himself. He initially combined his work as a mangaka with his daytime job as a dental technician.

How do you pronounce souichi? ›

SOICHI - HOW TO PRONOUNCE IT!? - YouTube

What pen does Junji Ito use? ›

A G-pen. When you buy it, it's straight like this. But when it's straight like it's hard for me to use, so I modify it slightly using dental pliers like this.”

What style is Junji? ›

Junji Ito is a master at subverting the conventional themes of horror and twisting them to fit into his own unsettling point of view. He crafts stories that are deeply human, and yet, beyond recognition. His legacy is expansive, and homages to this master of horror can be found in media throughout the world.

Is there a Junji Ito movie? ›

Junji Ito

Does Junji Ito have an Instagram? ›

mandy (@junji. ito) • Instagram photos and videos.

What is the order of the Junji Ito collection? ›

Publication Order of Collections
Tomie: Complete Deluxe Edition(1987)Hardcover Paperback Kindle
Deserter(2011)Hardcover Paperback Kindle
Smashed(2013)Hardcover Paperback Kindle
Shiver(2015)Hardcover Paperback Kindle
The Art of Junji Ito(2019)Hardcover Paperback Kindle
4 more rows

How long does it take to read Uzumaki? ›

The average reader will spend 10 hours and 48 minutes reading this book at 250 WPM (words per minute).

What is the meaning of Uzumaki? ›

Uzumaki is Japanese for “spiral,” the crux of the entire piece.

Who is the main character in Junji Ito collection? ›

Junji Ito Collection

Is Uzumaki a horror anime? ›

Uzumaki (うずまき, lit. "Spiral") is a Japanese horror manga series written and illustrated by Junji Ito. Appearing as a serial in the weekly seinen manga magazine Big Comic Spirits from 1998 to 1999, the chapters were compiled into three bound volumes by Shogakukan and published from August 1998 to September 1999.

Why is Junji Ito so popular? ›

One reason why Ito's works are so popular is because of their visual aesthetic and appeal that they offer. Every single manga, no matter how long or short, features terrifying visuals and downright gory panels. Each manga author has their own art style, and Ito's is very distinct.

What is Junji Ito's Tomie about? ›

Tomie Kawakami is a femme fatale with long black hair and a beauty mark just under her left eye. She can seduce nearly any man, and drive them to murder as well, even though the victim is often Tomie herself. While one lover seeks to keep her for himself, another grows terrified of the immortal succubus.

What is Junji Ito known for? ›

There is no storyteller on Earth like Junji Ito. Since his professional manga debut in 1987, he's been terrifying readers with his macabre tales and chillingly iconic creations. The brilliantly talented mangaka has rightfully become one of the most well known horror storytellers of his generation, and for good reason.

How many stories does Junji Ito have? ›

How Many Junji Ito Stories Are There? Japanese short story writer Junji Ito is known for having written a series on horror called Horror World of Junji Ito. The eight volumes collect more than 30 of his stories. Eight volumes are included in each volume.

How many books did Junji Ito write? ›

Junji Ito

What is Junji Ito inspired by? ›

Ito was inspired by the occult horror films of the 1970's (such as Dracula and Frankenstein), as well as period dramas of ghosts. He has also found inspiration from Rakugo storytellers who tell Kaiden ghost stories, incorporating it into No Longer Human. Tomie was inspired by the death of one of his classmates.

Is it worth reading Junji Ito? ›

Junji Ito's art is always outstanding and, for that reason alone, his stories are worth reading. Their content, however, can be hit or miss and Smashed contained a few too many misses for me. While Smashed is not a bad Junji Ito book, it's far from the best released in English.

Is Tomie a demon? ›

After her mutilation, Tomie's cells somehow gained demonic powers of an unknown origin which transformed her into a regenerative monster in human skin.

Is Tomie a succubus? ›

Tomie acts like a succubus, possessing an undisclosed power to make any man fall in love with her. Through her mere presence, or through psychological and emotional manipulation, she drives these people into jealous rages that often lead to brutal acts of violence.

Is Tomie a good person? ›

Although she gets mutilated and then killed, she is never the victim. Her personality is shown to be evil – she manipulates people, she is the 'villain' of the story, so when men rage, abuse and eventually murders her, we are told that this is what she deserves. Tomie Manga Cover. Artwork by Junji Ito.

Does Netflix have Junji Ito? ›

A premiere date in January 2023 has been confirmed for Netflix's Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre.

How old is souichi Junji Ito? ›

An eccentric oddball of an 11 year old, Souichi specializes in Onmyōdō and enjoys causing havoc against people he doesn't like. Despite the dark nature of his actions, Souichi is shown to be childish, spelling things wrong or mistaking words, reminding us that he's still only 11.

How did Junji Ito start? ›

Junji Ito is a horror mangaka (manga artist) from Nakatsugawa, Japan. His career began in the mid-80s when he submitted a short story to a horror magazine that ended up getting serialized as Tomie. Tomie was immensely successful in Japan, running for 13 years and spawning nine feature-length movies.

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