The 13 Most Terrifying Junji Ito Manga Stories of All Time - IGN (2024)

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.

His beautifully illustrated comics hide deep, devastating secrets. Each tale Ito weaves haunts and horrifies in the most unique and awful way. To narrow down his massive oeuvre to just 13 of his most bone-chilling offerings was no easy feat. From ominous ghost stories, heart-twisting gothic horror, and grotesquely bizarre modern fables, here are the 13 most terrifying stories from one of the masters of horror manga, Junji Ito.

You can also take a look at our review of the Junji Ito Netflix series, or take a look at our picks best horror anime if you're looking for something similarly scary to watch in 2024.

Best Junji Ito Manga

13. The Beautiful Boy at the Crossroads

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Ito often writes of love and how it can curse us. The first--and throughline--story from his Lovesickness collection is a great example of just that. We meet Ryusuke on a train. The teen boy is moving back to his hometown after years away, but the simple notion of it haunts him.

The devastating reason for that will soon be revealed, but in the meantime, his arrival coincides with a trend of young women seeking out "crossroads fortunes." Soon the bodies of school girls who ask strangers for their fortunes begin to turn up brutally murdered; but who is to blame? How does it connect with Ryusuke's pass? This wonderfully chilly mystery is one of the most memorable of Ito's tales and introduces one of his scariest creations.

12. Village of the Siren

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Turning his hand to folk horror, Ito crafts another bleak homecoming in Village of the Siren. In the wake of a strange phone call from his parents and an ominous apparition at his window, Kyochi decides it's time for a family reunion. Alas, when he returns he finds that the once lively--though rural--village has turned into a ghost town.

Life now revolves around a strange factory of unknown origin, and even weirder are the all-consuming sirens that emanate from it each night. If you love a story about strange rituals, unusual cults, and the occult then this is the sort of story you'll gobble right up. If you enjoy horror that breaks taboos, then you'll certainly be satisfied as the death count here is huge and features a rarely seen demographic of victims.

11. I Don't Want to be a Ghost

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When Shigeru kindly picks up a beautiful wandering woman from the side of a road, his life is changed. Although Shigeru worries at first about her bloodied and disoriented state, she explains it away. Days later, the two begin a secretive affair despite the fact that Shigeru is married and expecting a baby. Blinded by his new acquaintance's beauty, he's willing to overlook how often his lover appears covered in blood and the fact that she claims to "love his ghosts." Her real desires are darker than anyone could have foreseen and Shigeru of course doesn't realize until too late.

10. The Strange Hikizuri Siblings

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One of the funniest of Ito's creations, this bleakly humorous slice of life story follows an unhinged set of siblings who take great pleasure in tormenting and terrorizing each other and unsuspecting victims. Over two tales collected in Lovesickness, we meet some of the unlucky people who come into their path including an old school friend of their most beautiful member and a photographer. While their schemes can have deadly consequences, the Hikizuri siblings are generally rather hapless, though you wouldn't want to be invited to their table for dinner.

9. The Mystery of the Haunted House

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The arrival of a haunted house turns a town upside down when derision turns to terror as each new visitor enters its doors. Two young boys become entangled in the proprietor's twisted games after they try to sneak in for free. Upon exploring the ghoulish halls they discover a true house of horrors, one filled with victims who claim to be the owner's family.

There's a dark comedy to this one, which comes from another of Ito's recurring characters, the scheming creeper Souichi Tsujii. But there's nothing funny about his heinous crimes. The Mystery of the Haunted House is a wild ride that will delight fans of haunt culture.

8. Honored Ancestors

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Family often comes up in Ito's tale, and Honored Ancestors might feature his most psychedelically deranged yet. On a seemingly normal evening Risa is brought home by her close friend Makata who claims that the young girl is suffering from amnesia and couldn't remember where she lived. According to doctors, her amnesia has been caused by immense emotional stress.

Risa becomes more and more distressed as she becomes haunted by visions of a giant caterpillar... but what does it all mean? The truth revolves around Makata and his family's strange traditions which are revealed in Ito's dementedly awful fashion as the tale comes to a close. It's one family reunion that you'll never forget, though you'll wish you could.

7. Uzumaki

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Likely the most famous of Ito's many works, Uzumaki has been deemed a classic for a reason. Weaving a supernatural curse into a ghost story that centers around a small town, Kurouzu-cho, which is haunted not by spirits but instead by spirals, this is a uniquely spooky tale. It also helps that Ito's distinctive linework does an epic job of making the usually unassuming shapes into something utterly terrifying.

Uzumaki features many of Ito's favorite themes like obsession, paranoia, and the mundane becoming utterly bizarre. The impact of Uzumaki cannot be overstated. Not only is it his most well known tale but there's been two video games, a live action movie, and an in-production anime all adapted from the spiral-horror of Ito's story.

6. Fashion Model

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While many of Ito's stories are slow burn haunters, this is a more in your face horror tale that reveals its monster from the earliest pages. Like our next entry, Tomie, Fashion Model has become one of Ito's most popular long-running tales. When a young man sees a bizarre model in a magazine whose mouth is filled with dagger-like teeth, he becomes consumed by her image. He can't stop thinking about her, about why she was hired, and why she fills him with an all-consuming existential terror.

Life moves on, and he and some friends begin casting for a student film. It's here that the model reemerges back to the forefront of his life in brutal and all too real fashion. This is a great entry into both the Ito and monster horror canon.

5. Tomie

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Probably Ito's most famous creation, the stunningly beautiful Tomie was murdered by her classmates only to reappear the next day. Since then she's been terrorizing readers and lovestruck men for years. There's a collected edition of Tomie tales where you can read her story from her earliest to most recent appearances, and each one is more delightfully dark than the last. Her ever shifting true face is the thing of nightmares, but Ito's striking illustration style has also made her a perennial pop culture figure.

Even if you've never read an Ito story, you've likely already seen Tomie as a sticker, tattoo, or t-shirt. Ironically, in her stories it's near impossible to catch her beauty in an image unless you want to see her true face too.

4. Marionette Mansion

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Puppets have always held a particularly creepy place in horror and Ito uses that to his advantage here in this ghastly story about a strange family obsessed with marionettes. It all begins when a young girl named Kinuko befriends the son of a family of puppeteers. Becoming close with one of the two sons, Haruhiko, she visits the home immediately becoming wary of a large marionette named Jean-Pierre.

Years later Haruhiko and Kinuko reconnect and get married. But when they're called back to the former's family home, they make an awful discovery. This is one of the most classical of Ito's stories, but it will still shock and surprise at every turn.

3. Used Record

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Eerie and atmospheric, Used Record tells the story of an odd record which hypnotizes and entices the listener. When Ogawa buys the vinyl, she quickly becomes obsessed as does her friend Nakayama when she hears it. Soon, all the pair can do is listen to the song again and again. But there's only one copy, which means that the girls are on a tragic path.

The thing that makes this story so terrifying is the relatable fact that we've all had that one song that we can't stop listening to. Ito just takes it to the next, supernaturally nightmarish level. And for that reason, this wonderfully drawn tale ends up being just as addictive as the song at its center.

2. Greased

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Growing up above her family's barbeque restaurant by Mount Fuji, Yui is sick of the grease that has slowly but surely accumulated, coating their home. While she worries abouts its effects, her violent and abusive brother Goro embraces the cooking oil that creates it, drinking it from the bottle until his face becomes covered in large, grotesque pustules.

Goro's obsession with the grease and his sister's hopes of surviving it are deeply entangled in this, one of Ito's most stomach-churning tales which will threaten both your lunch and your sleep cycle. Truly, this is the kind of story you have to mentally prepare to read, so don't take checking this one out lightly.

1. The Hanging Balloons

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What makes The Hanging Balloons Ito's scariest story? Well, it's one of his most bizarre--which is where the mangaka excels -- and it also manages to feel utterly claustrophobic and inescapable in the best way. After the unexpected suicide of a celebrity school girl inspires a spate of copycat deaths, people begin to report seeing imposing balloons in the sky.

But these are no ordinary balloons. In fact, reports claim it's the giant inflated head of the woman who died. Many more of the balloons soon appear, chasing those whose faces they wear. Instead of strings, metal nooses swing beneath them. What is their purpose? If they catch up with those who they resemble, they catch and hang them... This is a psychedlic night terror come to life.

Rosie Knight is an Eisner-winning journalist, author and comics writer. She co-hosts Crooked Media’s X-Ray Vision podcast, discussing pop culture from superhero movies to prestige television to the best fantasy novels and, of course, comics.

The 13 Most Terrifying Junji Ito Manga Stories of All Time - IGN (2024)

FAQs

Why is Junji Ito so terrifying? ›

It also helps that Ito's distinctive linework does an epic job of making the usually unassuming shapes into something utterly terrifying. Uzumaki features many of Ito's favorite themes like obsession, paranoia, and the mundane becoming utterly bizarre. The impact of Uzumaki cannot be overstated.

What is Junji Ito afraid of? ›

In interviews, Ito describes his younger self as “gloomy” and says he occasionally grappled with scopophobia; he'd walk around town, afraid of being watched or stalked at any moment. That became paired with a small dose of nyctophobia courtesy of a dark, ominous path to the bathroom in his childhood home.

Why are Japanese tales of the macabre so bad? ›

The stories with potential were never developed well, so it ends up being an entertaining anime with wasted potential. The animation lacks fluidity and looks static at times, visually it is decently attractive.

What is the goriest manga of all time? ›

There's no denying that Berserk is the darkest, most gruesome manga series of all time — and one of the most beloved, too.

What is the most disturbing manga? ›

Arashi's Amazing Freak Show, or Midori, as its more well-known anime adaptation is called, is rightfully infamous. Both manga and anime contain some of the most disturbing gore scenes found in media, and the series is banned in multiple countries for depicting taboo subjects.

Is Junji Ito safe for kids? ›

Due to their graphic content and intense themes, these books are generally recommended for readers aged 16 and older. Parents and guardians should exercise discretion when deciding whether these books are appropriate for younger readers. Top 5 Junji Ito Books for Beginners: Yami no Koe: Shiver.

Why is Tomie scary? ›

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. Men kill each other over her, and women are driven to insanity as well—though there are some who are strong enough to resist her.

Does Junji Ito like horror? ›

Ito's work does not fit neatly into any category and that is what makes his work so exciting, striking and memorable. He sought out horror at a young age and read Kazuo Umezu's manga "Mummy Teacher."

Why is Japanese horror scarier? ›

Japanese horror is horror fiction derived from popular culture in Japan, generally noted for its unique thematic and conventional treatment of the horror genre differing from the traditional Western representation of horror. Japanese horror tends to focus on psychological horror, tension building (suspense), and the ...

What is the most evil demon in Japanese mythology? ›

Shuten-dōji has been regarded as the most famous and strongest oni in Japan. The legend of Shuten-dōji has been described since the 14th century in various arts, traditional performing arts and literature such as emakimono, jōruri, noh, kabuki, bunraku, and ukiyo-e.

Who is Tomie in the anime? ›

Tomie Kawakami, (Japanese: 川上 富江, Hepburn: Kawakami Tomie) 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 made her first appearance in Ito's 1987 manga Tomie, which was published in Monthly Halloween, a shōjo magazine.

Is Junji Ito Maniac inappropriate? ›

Parents need to know that Junji Ito Maniac is an animated horror anthology. Ito is a manga artist known for horror stories that feature Lovecraftian monsters and body horror. The series adapts 20 of his works across 12 episodes, many of which feature lots of disturbing physical violence and body horror.

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