Junji Ito is a manga author who has changed how we view horror. His macabre imagination has been terrifying readers for over three decades. With the works of Kazuo Umezu, Hideshi Hino, and H.P. Lovecraft among his inspirations, Ito has cultivated a unique style that is hard to mistake for anyone else's. It's incredibly unsettling because it's unlike anything else.
Ito is known for his intricate linework that gives way to visceral gore and body horror. His unlimited creativity spawns ghoulish, unthinkable scenarios that will forever haunt our dreams. So, in light of Junji Ito's morbid brilliance, let's look at ten of his most terrifying stories you shouldn't read in the dark.
There is an unexplained foul odor in the air that is being called the "death stench." Soon, the smell's source becomes apparent when fish with metallic, scuttling legs appear, though it is not just small fish that are rigged with these contraptions. Sharks and even whales have been inexplicably retrofitted with these structures.
Who designed these abominations? And how long is it before these mobile sea creatures overcome humanity? The Gyo manga consists of two volumes, and a self-contained anime adaptation was released in 2012.
9 "Fashion Model"
A man named Iwasaki is horrified by a scary model he sees in a fashion magazine. He even starts to have nightmares about her. When Iwasaki and his friends host auditions for a movie they are making, the very same model — Miss Fuchi — is invited and offered a role. When everyone goes into the forest to film, they realize the statuesque, unconventional-looking Fuchi is more monster than model.
"Fashion Model" is darkly comedic and features one of Ito's more memorable characters. The story may be too straightforward at times, but it's also just as inscrutable and gruesome as the author's other works in places.
8 "The Enigma of Amigara Fault"
In this story about one's compulsion to understand the unexplained, an earthquake reveals a foreboding fault on Amigara Mountain. What makes this so strange are the countless holes in the rock that are shaped like humans. This bizarre sight understandably attracts the attention of the media.
People travel to Amigara Mountain to look at the holes and many claim they felt drawn to the area. Eventually, people start to look for "their" holes in the rock. With only a guttural desire to do so, onlookers enter the holes, unaware of what could be on the other side.
7 "My Dear Ancestors"
Risa is stricken with temporary amnesia in the midst of her engagement to Shuichi. The condition stems from meeting Shuichi's father, whose head bears a long appendage made up of his ancestors' skulls.
Through the lens of the supernatural, "My Dear Ancestors" plays with the idea of needing to uphold family traditions and expectations. "My Dear Ancestors" is not an outright horrifying story, but as with many Ito works, the imagery will make your skin crawl.
6 "Long Dream"
While she awaits an operation in the hospital, a patient named Mami claims she has seen the personification of Death and it has paid her a visit. Her doctor, Kuroda, thinks Mami is simply scared of dying, but the figure she mistook for Death was really another patient, Tetsuro Mukoda. Mukoda, however, has suffered a mysterious ailment where he loses a year or more of his life every time he has a "long dream."
This takes a toll on Mukoda physically, as his body is now aging at an accelerated speed. "Long Dream" is scary because it ties into fears and deep-rooted thoughts we can all relate to. It highlights our fear of mortality.
5 "The Thing That Drifted Ashore"
A massive, serpentine corpse washes ashore. Experts think it could be a momentous discovery, and they want to preserve it. Unfortunately, the corpse has already begun to rot. Spectators gather around on the beach in hopes of getting a glimpse of the unknown creature before it's gone forever. Much to everyone's horror, though, something is moving inside of the corpse...
People are led by their curiosity to a once-in-a-lifetime event in "The Thing That Drifted Ashore". Some dream of answers to their loved ones' whereabouts while others confront their fears. In the end, they all realize some things should simply remain lost to mystery and time.
In the coastal town of Kurozu-cho, a boy named Shuichi claims everyone is under an inescapable curse. The curse is not because of a thing or a person, but of a pattern: the spiral shape. From snails to the ear's cochlea, the citizens of Kurozu-cho succumb to this consuming malady.
Uzumaki (or Spiral) is a longer series that bides its time before unleashing the true extent of its story. So far, the manga has been adapted in 2000 as a live-action film of the same name. In 2020, though, an animated series is set to air on Cartoon Network. If you're a fan of animated horror, you'll want to keep it on your radar!
3 "Army of One"
A reclusive young man named Michio is finally convinced to attend his class reunion. As everyone is preparing for the "coming of age" ceremony, dead bodies sewn together with fishing wire are discovered all over the city. The weirdest thing about this is there appeared to be no struggle or even signs of trauma. More sewn-together corpses are found, and everyone suspects this has to do with an enigmatic group called Army of One.
The story's protagonist, Michio, has an acute case of social withdrawal known as hikikomori. So, it is no coincidence that "Army of One" concerns people literally being tied together. The exact reason why, however, is unclear, which makes this story so unsettling.
Tomie Kawakami appears to be a beautiful teenager, but she is far older than she looks. Behind her beautiful facade lies a dark and sinister secret. Tomie is, in fact, a supernatural entity — much like a succubus — who has an uncanny ability to make men fall in love with her. She can also regenerate and replicate herself, too. Wherever Tomie goes, she leaves destruction in her path.
Tomie is Ito's most prolific character, as she has the most work devoted to her twisted legacy. She's as intriguing to readers as she is to her very peers. As of today, Tomie has been adapted to the big screen in multiple live-action films as well as in the Junji Ito Collection anime. It was also announced earlier this year that Alexandre Aja (Crawl) would be producing a Tomie series for Quibi.
1 "The Human Chair"
When a writer happens upon a furniture store one day, the owner tells her about another author named Yoshiko Togawa. Togawa regularly received letters from other authors looking for advice on their work. In one manuscript, a character hides inside the armchairs he crafts. The story unnerves Yoshiko because she fears it's actually a confession, and she starts to think someone is inside the chair her husband just bought.
"The Human Chair" is a disturbing reimagining of Edogawa Ranpo's story of the same name ("Ningen-isu" in Japanese). Even if you're familiar with Ranpo's work, the conclusion in Ito's version is still startling.