The medium of manga (and comic books in general) is in a unique position to deliver horror to its readers like no other medium can, blurring the lines between prose that fuels the imagination and films that fling the terror at you in full force.
You only need to flick through some of the best horror manga to see what I mean, as the writer’s words get under your skin and their art serves to compliment those words deliciously.
The best horror manga can be more effective at driving terror into your mind than the best horror novels or films could ever dream of.
But finding the real essential horror manga, while leaving the sub-par stuff behind, can be a challenge.
Must-Read Horror Manga
For that reason, we have this list. Now, no list of horror manga has done its job unless it includes the king of horror himself: Junji Ito.
So we’ll start with two of his best works, before then moving into a mix of popular horror manga and some gems you may have missed.
Readers will undoubtedly take issue with this list in one way or another — that’s unavoidable.
But the goal here is to mix popular horror manga with hidden gems, while also making sure that every horror manga mentioned here is actually available for purchase.
I also wanted to try and cover the horror spectrum, including body horror, psychological horror, and even some horror-comedy.
The stories in this Junji Ito manga collection are all unique and separate from one another; they show off the depth and breadth of Ito’s artistic and narrative talents to an astonishing degree.
A personal favourite from these horror manga short stories is, perhaps, Hanging Balloons. This story imagines a world invaded by enormous balloons, each one with the face of a real person.
Your balloon stalks you, a noose hanging from its bottom, and if it catches you, it hangs you.
Another story, The Long Dream, shows us a man in a hospital bed who lives entire lives every time he dreams.
When he wakes, his body has aged as well, eventually turning him into an impossibly ancient, horrifyingly morphed thing.
These really are the best of Junji Ito, and Shiver is one of the best horror manga collections ever published. It’s a great introduction into Ito’s oeuvre and the world of horror manga in general.
I’ve decided to include two Junji Ito manga here, simply because his short stories and his longer novel-like works are different, yet equally worthy of attention.
The Uzumaki manga is arguably Junji Ito’s most famous work, and that is justifiable. Uzumaki is a staggering work of fiction in the horror manga space.
The name Uzumaki literally translates to ‘spiral’ and that is exactly what the story is about. Junji Ito manga is often defined by one specific idea that a story hinges on and expands out from.
The story of Uzumaki takes place in a fog-covered fictional Japanese town called Kurozu-cho (literally Black Vortex Town). This town is affected by a curse involving the symbol of a spiral.
Uzumaki follows a young couple — Kirie and Shuichi — as they witness other townspeople fall victim to the curse of the spiral.
This curse builds up a mind-shattering state of paranoia and obsession that, eventually, leads to death.
Read More: The Best Fantasy Manga
Tokyo Ghoul is a blend of action, horror, and character drama.
It explores some decent themes that concern morality and ethics, and it is all led by a sympathetic, dynamic central character named Ken Kaneki.
Ken Kaneki is an introverted, bookish college student who falls into the sights of a hungry ghoul known as Rize.
On what Kaneki thinks is a date, Rize attempts to kill and eat him. When he is gravely injured and a moment from death, Rize is crushed to death and her organs are used by a doctor to save Kaneki’s life.
Now, with the strength, powers, and curse of a ghoul, Kaneki lives on the edge of both worlds.
Kentaro Miura was one of the great gifts to manga; this is no secret. The world, stories, and characters he created through Berserk will live on for generations.
If you have yet to read it, Berserk is a dark and twisted fantasy manga series with some grotesque horror elements.
It’s a bleak world; deadly and unforgiving. It is twisted and frightening, but hope is the thing that keeps us reading on.
Guts is our protagonist: a man born from a hanged body and raised by a band of mercenaries; their leader, Gambino, is the closest thing Guts had to a parent.
Guts is recruited by the Band of the Hawk and their calm, fierce, power-hungry leader, Griffith.
Beyond its characters, it is the world of Berserk that leaves a lasting impression. It’s also here that the real horror of this manga can be found.
Berserk was a heavy inspiration for the monstrous world of Dark Souls, and it shows.
Take the bleakest grimdark fantasy novels and stories you can think of, and dial the blood, gore, and inhuman events up to eleven.
That’s Berserk: a perfect, chilling blend of action, fantasy, and horror manga, delivered through horrific monster design and plotting.
An utter classic of the horror manga genre, Kazuo Umezu’s The Drifting Classroom was originally published back in the 1970s and had a massive impact on the worlds of horror and manga (separately and together) for decades after.
The titular drifting classroom is a school that suffers an earthquake which mysteriously transports it and its students to a post-apocalyptic future.
In this sudden and impossible situation, devoid of hope and understanding, insanity soon sets into the school’s adults — those that should be its caretakers.
After murder and immolation removes the adults, the children are left to survive alone in this world.
The horrors the children face in The Drifting Classroom manga include monstrous creatures and plague, all born from the climate disasters that led to this apocalyptic future place.
One of the most popular manga of today, The Promised Neverland is everywhere, and for very good reason. Just do yourself a favour and avoid the anime at all costs. Stick to the manga; it’s a masterpiece.
The Promised Neverland is a genre-bending manga that blends fantasy, horror, sci-fi, and more.
But the horror elements are its most prominent and outstanding features, especially where Demizu’s art is concerned.
The story of The Promised Neverland follows a group of children at an orphanage known as Grace Field House.
The children are all presided over and looked after by an enigmatic but kind figure, Isabella, whom the kids refer to as Mom. Every day, the kids complete tests, eat together, and play outside.
Our three protagonists are Emma, Norman, and Ray. They’re the oldest and smartest kids in the orphanage and, when our story begins, they soon learn the truth of what Grace Field House is and what their future has in store for them.
This leads to a desperate plan to escape the house and their fate.
The horror elements of The Promised Neverland hit spectacularly in the art department. There are gruesome close-ups, jump scares, reveals, and sudden shifts in perspective that Demizu handles with the deft hand of an experienced horror director.
The demons of The Promised Neverland are some of the most imaginatively realised monster designs in recent memory.
A lot of the horror manga on this list thrive thanks to the imaginative design and visual execution of their creators. Gantz, a very long horror manga, is no exception.
Beginning with two young men — Kurono and Kato — dying in a train accident and waking up in an apartment where a black orb tells them, and others, to go hunt aliens that are hiding amongst us, the story quickly descends into beautiful madness.
Gantz thrives thanks to the imagination of Hiroya Oku. In terms of story beats, impactful moments, character design, and action scenes, there is nothing quite like Gantz.
While it seems light on character growth and impactful themes, it’s the dynamic, delicious art, the blood and gore, the monstrous and imaginative designs, and the bonkers plot developments that make Gantz such an exciting and unique action horror manga.
Not to be confused with the Bob Dylan album, Blood on the Tracks is a creepshow of a horror manga, and its grounded and quiet nature is what keeps the creep factor so intact.
This horror manga begins with a family outing. Osabe and his mother Seiko head into the woods with their extended family.
When Osabe and his cousin play near a cliff edge, however, Seiko emerges to warn them to watch their footing.
When Osabe’s cousin loses his footing, Seiko reaches out to catch him, before suddenly shifting, changing her mind, and pushing him to his death.
From here, Osabe must live quietly with his mother, knowing what she has done and wondering if/when she will do something equally terrifying, or worse.
Blood on the Tracks is creeping psychological horror; it is quiet and twisted and eerily real. Therein lies the best kind of horror.
Read More: Must-Read Romance Manga
I said in the intro that I would include some horror comedy manga, and Mieruko-chan is exactly what I was talking about.
I’ve also mentioned how many manga live and die on their visual design — especially in the monster department — and once again, that’s true here.
Tomoki Izumi’s Mieruko-chan has a simple but endlessly fun and charming premise: its protagonist, Miko, can see ghosts (really horrifying ones, too).
The twist is that she is (nearly) the only one, and so her tactic for dealing with them is to ignore them.
The ghosts of Mieruko-chan are easily provoked into becoming hostile if they notice that a human can see them. For this reason, Miko must behave like she cannot see them at all, in order to survive amongst them.
This leads to a darkly humorous story, populated by really gruesome and twisted monsters. The juxtaposition of slice-of-life story and spine-tingling monster design is wonderfully effective, making Mieruko-chan a very fun and memorable horror manga.
Read More: Why Mieruko-chan is a must-read manga
Chainsaw Man by Tatsuki Fujimoto
Chainsaw Man is one of the biggest breakout shounen manga of recent years. The way it has captivated readers cannot be overstated.
However, categorising Chainsaw Man can be surprisingly difficult. It’s a shounen manga, but one graphic and monstrous enough to be classified as seinen (depending on your sensibilities). And, of course, it’s also horror.
Tatsuki Fujimoto has made it abundantly clear that he loves the horror genre, and that he also wishes to push boundaries and create something wholly original out of the pieces that inspire him. And that’s just what Chainsaw Man is.
It’s a shounen tale of a down-and-out teenager gathering his power, learning to be good, and doing brave things. But Chainsaw Man is also a horror manga, infused with grotesque imagery, plenty of body horror, gallons of blood, and themes of death, loss, fear, and trauma.
While Chainsaw Man may not frighten readers in the way that Junji Ito’s manga does, it’s a manga with horror in its DNA. It celebrates blood and gore, and it isn’t afraid to make the reader feel lost and lonely and scared from time to time.
A twist on the zombie apocalypse genre in more ways than one, I Am a Hero is a horror manga that places your average first-to-die side character into the spotlight.
I Am a Hero also rewrites the zombie formula by presenting us a world transformed by a disease which turns people into monstrous, flesh-eating beasts.
While they aren’t technically zombies, they match the zombie apocalypse formula, while also twisting it nicely.
Our protagonist, Hideo, is a loser. He is not equipped to handle much of real life, let alone a zombie apocalypse.
And yet, he is who we, as the reader, are stuck with, making for a unique end-of-the-world horror manga, similar in some ways to the Sweet Home manhwa.
Thrust into the spotlight by its Netflix adaptation (which is also really fantastic and beautifully realised), Dorohedoro is a gritty, grimy, nasty smash hit of a horror manga.
Set in a twisted, dangerous, post-apocalyptic world, Dorohedoro follows the reptilian Caiman, a man who has lost his memory. Caiman lives in a shanty city known as the Hole.
Believing himself transformed from his human state by a sorcerer, Caiman — along with his friend Nikaido — hunts down one sorcerer after another in the hopes of tracking down the one that transformed him and took his memories.
Dorohedoro is an oppressive, violent world full of death, gore, and crime. It is oppressive, grimy, and thrilling.
This atmosphere is captured splendidly by Q Hayashida’s detailed and elaborate artwork, creating a wholly original and gross horror manga.
Everyone and their dog knows what Attack on Titan is, but if you have yet to actually check it out, I promise it’s worth your time. Attack on Titan is a seinen manga that blends action and horror spectacularly.
Arguably more of an action manga with big political themes, Attack on Titan remains enough of a horror manga at its heart to include it on this list. It has certainly chilled my blood more than a few times.
The world of Attack on Titan is small, in the beginning: a city surrounded by high, thick walls, with districts also divided by more tall walls.
These walls are the city of Shiganshina’s only defence against strange, uncannily humanlike giant monsters known as titans. These house-sized titans seem to exist only to chase and devour humans.
It’s in the design of these titans where the horror is first evident. Not only are they enormous, hungry, imposing, intimidating things that devour human’s in a single bite. They are also drawn with a wonderfully creepy edge.
Uneven, naked frames with long limbs and grinning faces; sorrowful eyes and bared teeth; loose, clumsy movements.
These are uncanny, ambiguous, hungry, mindless, sad, confused, dangerous things. Their design is horror, through and through.
Parasyte is another popular and pretty beloved horror manga. While originally beginning around the turn of the 1990s, it has remained popular to this day.
Our protagonist is Shinichi, a young man half-infested by one of the titular parasites.
While regular people are taken over completely, turning into helpless hosts, only Shinichi’s hand is infested, and so now he and his parasite share a body with two minds.
It’s a similar setup to Tokyo Ghoul and Marvel’s Blade, with a protagonist who has one foot in the monstrous world of its monsters, and decides to use his unique situation to take the fight to them.
It’s also common knowledge that science fiction produces some of the most terrifying scenarios, worlds, aesthetics, and monsters of any genre.
The worlds of Akira and The Matrix are bleak, oppressive, and dangerous. So, too, is the sci-fi world of Blame!
The coolest sci-fi worlds are ones that seem impossible, that defy logic and imagination.
The City is one such place: a metallic megastructure, devoid of life and colour, which spans a space larger than the diameter of Jupiter. This, in itself, is chilling to imagine.
The inhabitants of The City are tribes of human, transhuman, and cyborg inhabitants.
The sci-fi/horror manga’s protagonist is a young man named Killy, who is on a lone search for the Net Terminal Genes: genetic markers that might halt the growth of The City and its human-hunting robot army, known as the Safeguard.
Ajin is another fairly popular horror manga, in part because of its 3D anime adaptation (the manga is better, though).
An Ajin is an immortal demi-human, and our protagonist Kei discovers that he is one of these when he survives being hit by a truck. From here, Kei’s world changes forever.
Another power of Ajin is the ability to summon black ghosts to fight for them (think Stands in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure).
Ajin, being unkillable and dangerous, are hunted mercilessly by government entities that wish to experiment on them.
One escapee from these government facilities is Sato, an Ajin who has vowed to help other Ajin, but who is also far more (and far worse) than he first appears.