Welcome to the most wonderful time of the year! That’s right, it’s spooky season. Time to celebrate ghosts, monsters, and other things that go bump in the night. I don’t know about you, but I love curling up with scary books on chilly autumn days. Or, in this case, a manga. I’ve covered some of the best horror manga in the past, so I’m focusing on psychological horror manga this time around.
To be clear, psychological horror plays a big role in many horror manga. Sure, some titles rely more on graphic violence and gore, but the best series delve into the dark emotions behind those acts. It’s too bad this sub-genre is dominated by male creators, especially when we look at what’s available in English. There are some interesting looking manga in this sub-genre that are created by women but unfortunately, they remain unlicensed. Alas, maybe one day they’ll make it to our shores!
Gyo by Junji Ito
Considered by many to be the horror manga creator, Junji Ito’s works make you uneasy and unsettled. There’s nothing creepy about spirals? That’s what you think. Who cares about a crack in the side of a mountain? Oh, you sweet summer child. In Gyo, weird-looking fish with legs begin appearing everywhere. But you know what’s worse than creepy-looking fish with legs showing up? Creepy-looking fish that have legs and literally smell like death. And as a bonus, VIZ’s edition of Gyo includes the previously mentioned short story about the crack in the side of a mountain. You’re welcome.
Dragon Head by Minetaro Mochizuki
Imagine riding a train when it derails and crashes. Now imagine that happening inside a tunnel. That’s the predicament Teru Aoki finds himself in. To make matters worse, most of the other passengers are dead. He does find two survivors, though. The downside is that one of them is unconscious and the other is unhinged.
Kasane by Daruma Matsuura
Do you love manga about girls with ferocious acting talent? Think series like Glass Mask or Skip Beat. Have you ever found yourself wanting a horror version of this premise? The titular heroine of this series is one such girl. Unfortunately, she’s also bullied due to her ugly appearance. Enter a tube of lipstick left behind by her mother, who was both astonishingly beautiful and a gifted actress. Kasane soon discovers the lipstick grants her the ability to steal other people’s faces when she kisses them. I think we all know what happens next.
Monster by Naoki Urasawa
The line between psychological horror and psychological thriller can be very thin. Monster poses the question: what if you save the life of a future serial killer? Does that make you responsible for the atrocities that follow? And is it possible to remedy that mistake?
The Promised Neverland by Kaiu Shirai & Posuka Demizu
The child characters in The Promised Neverland enjoy an idyllic life at an orphanage. They have access to clean clothes, delicious food, and the adoring attention of their caretaker. They must follow only one rule: never try to leave the orphanage grounds or exit the gate leading to the outside world. Two children, Emma and Norman, break that cardinal rule and discover the orphanage’s awful secret: the children are cultivated to be food for demons.
Parasyte by Hitoshi Iwaaki
You know that horror trope where you go to sleep and then something else takes over your body while you’re in dreamland? And you find out you no longer have access to your own body? Parasyte takes a science fictional approach to this idea when aliens invade Earth and take over humans by burrowing into their brains.
The Flowers of Evil by Shuzo Oshimi
If you’ve never experienced a Shuzo Oshimi manga, be prepared. If Junji Ito’s artwork instills feelings of unease, Oshimi’s art will make you anxious. In The Flowers of Evil, a teenaged boy steals the gym clothes of his crush. But when a female classmate catches him in the act, she begins to blackmail him. What follows is a twisted tangle of relationships as the boy begins dating his crush but grows addicted to his blackmailer’s escalating demands.
Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida
The premise of Tokyo Ghoul sounds like an action horror manga—a young man wakes up to find himself transformed after an accident—but don’t be fooled. Ishida’s story of a college student who struggles between his human and monstrous sides, has more in common with Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Don’t get me wrong. There’s lot of action to be enjoyed here. But an undercurrent of “human versus monstrous” runs throughout the entire series, and the divide doesn’t necessarily fall where you think it will.
Helter Skelter by Kyoko Okazaki
Top supermodel Liliko has a dark secret. Her unnatural beauty is the result of full body plastic surgery. But the human body isn’t meant to withstand constant extreme medical procedures, and Liliko’s is no different. As her fear of losing fame begins to consume her, she begins to lash out against her agency, her rivals, and her once-adoring public.
Can You Just Die, My Darling? by Majuro Kaname & Sousou Sakakibara
Taku Kamishiro has always had a crush on his childhood friend, Mika. But the night before he plans to finally confess his feelings to her, he is randomly attacked by a strange man. The next day, he finds himself fantasizing about killing Mika. Could the two events possibly be connected? Hmm, I wonder.
Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano
Arie Kimura loves retelling a creepy fairy tale about a girl who tries to warn a village about a monster but is killed by the villagers for her trouble. Tragically, life mirrors fiction and Arie’s classmates push her down a well. When Arie ends up in a coma, her classmates claim it was an accident. But again, life mirrors fiction and this single act of violence affects the children throughout their entire lives.
Utsubora by Asumiko Nakamura
A young author’s dreams of achieving publishing stardom are cut short when she’s found dead before her debut novel could even be published. Was it suicide or was it murder?
MPD Psycho by Eiji Otsuka & Shou Tajima
When a serial killer known for dismembering his victims gets his hands on the investigating detective’s girlfriend, things go as badly as you’d expect. Although the killer will no longer dismember anyone ever again, the detective is sent to jail for the murder. In addition, the trauma causes him to develop two distinct personalities. And while this may sound like the plot of a famous film, it’s only the beginning. That detective is eventually released from prison, and things snowball from there. [Note: The MPD in the title does refer to multiple personality disorder, which is now known as dissociative identity disorder.]
The Drifting Classroom by Kazuo Omezu
No horror manga list, psychological or not, would be complete without Kazuo Omezu. In this classic manga, a school full of students is sent into the future after Earth has become a wasteland. The stressful circumstances cause some people to have mental breakdowns and commit terrible atrocities. Despite this, some of the children work together to survive.
Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi
While not actually a manga, I had to include the original novel that inspired Satoshi Kon’s famous film adaptation. A fan favorite among anime fans, Perfect Blue follows Mima Kirigoe, a Japanese idol who leaves a popular J-POP group to pursue a career as an actress. Let’s just say some people aren’t happy with this decision.
What are some of your favorite psychological horror manga? Let us know on social media! Don’t like horror but still want something seasonal? Check out these mystery manga. And if you’re not feeling up to being freaked out or scared (I get it, believe me), here’s a list of manga you must read.