Seeing how Halloween is around the corner, I thought I would write about two of my favorite things: Japanese comics and scary stories. There is something timeless about the horror genre because of its ability to let the audience face their fears and get an emotional response without having to experience horror in real life. There are many aspects of horror (psychological, monsters, serial killers) that span across many mediums, but I will be focusing in on how manga portrays different kinds of horror.
The Japanese have their own brand of horror that they do really well: it’s shown in their films such as Ringu and video games like Fatal Frame and Silent Hill, where protagonists go up against supernatural entities. Traditional Japanese horror focus on those from the spirit world: angry ghosts who cannot find peace or demons who torment humans.
However, the genre has expanded with influences from Lovecraft and Romero, which has allowed manga artists to experiment with new stories. As manga is highly regarded in Japan and there is a wide target audience than the Western comic market, there are many subgenres in the horror genre itself.
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (“When the Cicadas Cry” in English) was created as a visual novel for the computer before it was adapted into a manga. The manga is very accurate to the original source and contains gory, disturbing images to fit the mood of paranoia and death. The story falls under psychological horror as many of the characters, who are innocent and cute, fall into a state of fear and their personal traumas fuel their insanity; it also delves into themes such as fighting fate and believing in one’s friends. Other examples of psychological horror manga include Elfen Lied, Homunculus and Drifting Classroom.
Uzumaki was written by Junji Ito, who is well-known for his Lovecraftian horror. This was the first manga along with the Higurashi comic to terrify me. This series is more of a cosmic horror that introduces a force form, mysterious spirals outside the human mind to destroy an entire town by turning people into snails. Most of Ito’s work relies on this kind of alien life-form, including Gyo, Tomie and The Enigma of Amigara Fault.
A popular trope seen in horror manga (and many manga in general) is the high amount of fanservice combined with gore; the pornographic variety is called guro. Franken Fran is a horror-comedy; it’s not so much as scary as it is grotesque on a black humor level, along with lots of fetish kinks such as dismemberment and cute monster girls. Highschool of the Dead is infamous for its combination of graphic murder by zombies and gratuitous amount of T&A everywhere you look. Other examples of “sexy horror” manga are Corpse Party: Musume, Bible Black and Urotsukidoji, which holds the “honor” of being the first manga to contain tentacle porn (don’t look it up if you can’t stomach graphic violence and sex).
These are only a few of the many horror out there besides what Western audiences know from movoies like The Ring and The Grudge. Many horror themes crossover with other genres: dark fantasy (Berserk), mystery (Shiki) and adventure/action (Deadman Wonderland). If you want a good scare or just want to be weirded out this Halloween, just hit the manga section at your local bookstore. Happy Halloween!