One of the things Asia is most known for is horror. In fact, Japan and South Korea have produced many horror films throughout the years. Who hasn’t been terrified by The Ring or Sadako? Or those films featuring scary Japanese dolls? How about the zombies in Train to Busan?
The Asian continent also has plenty of horror movies and TV series based on its culturally diverse urban legends. Unfortunately, there’s just far and few between when it comes to books. Luckily, I was able to dig up some gems that are written by Asians themselves.
In this list, you’ll find horror stories based on urban legends: a white lady who is said to be haunting a street, scary college tales in India, a girl killed and thrown into a well, babies tossed in coin lockers, and urban legend ghosts in Southeast Asia. But before we get to them, just a note: I was only able to include books in English, specifically, ones from majority English-speaking countries such as India, Singapore, and the Philippines. I’m sure that there are more of these out there but that they aren’t available in English.
Find below are eight urban-legend horror books by Asian authors. Get ready to be frightened by a different kind of horror this scare season!
Young Blood: Ten Terrifying College Tales by Chandrima Das
This is a collection of 10 horror short stories based on urban legends in Indian universities. “These stories were not all fun and games. They had a psychological purpose. Batch after batch of students had passed down the same myths that touched upon their peers’ deepest fears,” writes the author in the introduction. In here, there’s a story about someone who died but their body is unable to be found by their friends. Another is a story about students who want to reach out to a ghost that’s been haunting a university. A different tale features a haunted school in which the students want to call bluff.
This terrifying mix of urban legend stories is sure to please horror seekers.
Trese: Book of Murders by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo
Trese is a suburban horror fantasy graphic novel series about a heroine named Alexandra Trese as she investigates mysterious crimes committed by supernatural beings. The monsters here are inspired by Philippine mythology, which is largely unexplored in Western media.
This compilation is replete with urban legend creatures such nuno sa punso (dwarf), tikbalang (half-human, half-horse), and the white lady that haunts the Balete Drive. The story goes that this lady was murdered and her body was thrown near the premises, and so she haunts the place now.
You might be familiar with this one already, too, as a Netflix TV series adaptation of Trese came out last year.
Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap
Though it’s not really a horror book, it features horror stories and one based on an urban legend.
“Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez?” follows a girl with the same name who was a student at St. Brebeuf’s, somewhere in the Philippines. Anamaria was left alone at school when a gardener killed her and even hid her body. No one knows what happened to Anamaria until the gardener died and a storm felled a tree where her remains were hidden.
“If you look at the roots of the tree at night you might see Anamaria’s face…If you stand in the Black Garden and stay absolutely silent you will hear her crying and calling for help,” the author writes. And if someone goes near her, she kills them.
The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
This young adult novel is inspired by The Ring, a classic Japanese horror film based on the urban legend of Okiku, who died of punishment by a samurai. Okiku was then thrown into a well.
The Girl From the Well adds a little bit of twist. The book follows Okiku, also thrown down the well, as she kills criminals such as murderers and rapists. Everything changes when Okiku meets a boy who has attracted a powerful spirit.
Mimi’s Ghost Stories by Junji Ito
Junji Ito is one of the most popular Japanese manga artists. This book is a collection of short stories based on existing urban legends and is centered around a girl named Mimi. According to the book’s promotional copy, the author did not write the stories in their entirety. Rather, they were originally popular urban legends that he collected and edited.
The book is divided into six short stories, and each features a unique horror element. Just this year, a complete edition of the book was released.
Stillborn: The Legend of Pontianak and Other Supernatural Ghost Stories by Elmi Zulkarnain Osman
This is a collection of short stories from a Singaporean writer. And though most of the stories are not really based on urban legends, there are two in here that fit the criteria: “Stillborn — The Legend of Pontianak” and “Night of the Living Pocong.”
Pontianak is a known urban legend ghost in three Southeast Asian countries: Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It’s somewhat similar to a white lady, but it’s one who died while pregnant or giving birth. Meanwhile, pocong is another urban legend ghost that is common in Indonesia. It’s a creature covered in white cloth, its face puffed with powder.
Waking the Dead and Other Stories by Yvette Tan
First published in 2009, this collection contains 11 horror short stories that feature Philippine urban legend creatures such as tikbalang, kapre (a tall man that holds tobacco), and diwata (a fairy-like woman). As a child, these urban legend creatures never failed to keep me up at night; there are just simply too many tales about them that get passed around my neighborhood.
Coin Locker Babies by Ryū Murakami
Part horror and part thriller, this book is based on a Japanese urban legend. The story goes like this: A woman was too young to raise her baby, so she hid it in a coin locker in a train station. For years, she avoided going near the locker. One day, she needed to pass by it as she had some business near the area. When she saw a small boy crying in front of the locker, she realized that he was her child.
The book borrows from this popular urban legend: Two boys are left at a bus station coin locker. However, they grow up to be orphans, harboring resentment against the women who abandoned them. The book is full of gore — a different level of horror.
Want more horror books from Asia? Here are 7 Eerie Books By Asian Authors That You Must Read This Halloween, 6 of the Best Filipino Horror Books, and 8 of the Best Japanese Horror Reads.