13 Skin-Crawling Body Horror Books
Body horror books are a mainstay sub-genre of horror. We as humans seem to have a fascination with learning about the limitations of the human body and then exploiting it. Authors can take a serious approach or add some comedic relief with absurd or out-there transformations.
Body horror can come in the form of both physical and psychological violations of the body, such as disease and afflictions, self-harm and mutilation, and other aberrant forms of sex and abuse. This often results in grisly or downright disturbing visuals and descriptions.
Whether you’re looking for a way into the sub-genre or just wanting some new titles, this list has recent releases as well as some older titles.
Given that these are body horror books, graphic violence and unsettling descriptions are pretty much a given. However, I’ve also noted where there are additional triggers that fall beyond what we normally associate with the body horror sub-genre.
In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami
Kenji spends his evenings acting as a liaison between tourists and Tokyo’s sex trade, often including the sketchier and seedier parts of town. When he’s initially approached by Frank, an American, for a few night’s work, he gets a weird feeling but ignores it. As time goes on (and people start turning up dead), Kenji starts to think it has something to do with his companion. (Trigger warning: rape)
Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca
Agnes and Zoe meet online under seemingly innocent circumstances in an internet chatroom in the year 2000. But the two begin sharing their life stories and their secrets, their relationship escalates quickly to one of manipulation. Just like their relationship, the plot moves so fast that you’ll be sick to your stomach (hehe).
The Troop by Nick Cutter
It’s a yearly tradition for Tim Riggs and his group of scouts to embark on a multi-day camping trip in the wilderness. This year they get more than they bargained for when their campsite is visited by an emaciated stranger who is desperate for help. He leaves the troop visibly shaken and scared, but that’s nothing when one of their own begins to show signs of infection. (TW: graphic animal abuse)
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Can’t have a body horror list without the body horror novel! Robert Walton rescues Victor Frankenstein from the bitter cold when he discovers the doctor during his journey to the North Pole. As Walton nurses Victor back to health, he learns about the doctor’s efforts to discover the source of life and how he created a monster made of old body parts.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
This short story collection focuses on women, their bodies, and the various forms of violence that the body can experience. Machado’s signature beautiful prose paired with the often grisly and disturbing backdrops in these stories make for unique reading experience. (TW: sexual assault)
His Pain by Wrath James White
Jason was born with an ultra rare condition in which every sensation results in excruciating pain. As a result, Jason spends his days locked up in a sensory deprivation bag in order to feel nothing. Then a miraculous treatment gives him a shot at a normal life. But Jason isn’t the same. He no longer feels pain, so now he must make others feel it. Be prepared for horrifically graphic descriptions from the opening paragraph to the closing one.
The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste
During her childhood, Phoebe’s friends experienced a strange affliction that resulted in the rest of the town referring to them as the Rust Maidens. And now whatever was plaguing them appears to be back. When Phoebe returns to her childhood home to help her aging father, she is pulled back into the mystery and must take a good hard look at how she is connected to the grisly transformations.
Shiver: Junji Ito Selected Stories by Junji Ito
When it comes to body horror manga, Ito has definitely set the standard. Shiver is a bind-up of nine of Ito’s most notable stories. Think of any kind of gross, disturbing thing that can happen to the human body and you can bet that it’s in this collection. Because this is a manga, there are pictures involved, so know that going in. (TW: trypophobia, suicide)
The Cipher by Kathe Koja
Nicholas and his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Nakota, discover a portal to another dimension (you know, as one does). They call it the “funhole,” but they find it hard to stop thinking about it. In fact, it becomes something like an obsession. At night, Nakota begins experimenting and tosses things into the funhole. Then these things start reappearing, but they’re not the same. So what happens when Nicholas decides to stick his hand in the funhole?
The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson
Okay, so this premise takes a bit to wrap your head around, but I promise this novella is a wild ride. When Molly bleeds, (self-harm, nose bleeds, her period, etc.) her blood generates doppelgängers who are out to kill her and only her. Molly’s parents have long been the ones to get rid of the doppelgängers that they call the “mollies,” but once evidence appears that suggests this has been happening to Molly since birth, she begins to wonder what they’ve had to sacrifice to keep her safe. (TW: self-harm)
The Loosening Skin by Aliya Whiteley
We’re in a world where humans shed their skin every seven years and with it, all of our memories and feelings. Essentially, a reset. Our main character has a condition where she sheds her skin more often, but unlike others, she is eager to forget her past and looks forward to it. Others are desperate to keep their memories and will do anything to get back into their skins and prevent their inevitable molting.
Body by Asa Nonami
Another collection of short stories, each one concentrates on a different part of the body and the horrific things that can happen to said part of the body. If short story collections aren’t your thing, all of them in this bind-up are connected, so it very much reads like a singular narrative. This one definitely feels the most “real” of all of these titles, concentrating on horrors that many actually experience. (TW: eating disorders, self-mutilation)
The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone
Around the world, large groups of people are viciously attacked by a mysterious black mass of creatures. Welcome, killer man-eating spiders. And these aren’t your run-of-the-mill spiders. These suckers are coordinated and capable of massive, organized swarms. Told in short and snappy chapters from different POVs, this book moves fast and furious, as if it has eight legs. For all arachnophobes out there, you have been warned. Proceed with caution.
Want some more body horror books? Check out 5 Flinching Body Horror Comics and Horror Manga Artists to Fuel Your Nightmares.