Works of Junji Ito, Japan’s top horror mangaka


Araya Saetier

Junji Ito’s iconic spiral girl (Azami Kurotani) from Ito’s popular book series, Uzumaki.

“Spirals…. this town is contaminated with spirals.” Uzumaki, written and illustrated by Junji Ito, is one of the most popular  worldwide. The term uzumaki means spiral, and the reputation it has taken on of being one of the scariest mangas worldwide for good reason. It showcases his strengths in art and storytelling. What makes Ito´s artwork so scary is the horror of the unknown and the unthinkable. Something that is so beyond bizarre that suicide is the only way to escape. Furthermore, Uzumaki exhibits grotesque scenes of body horror that warp the human form into something barely recognizable, where a man can turn into a snail or spiralled into the trunk of a tree. These facets of the book appeal to the very human fear of losing humanity. It is unthinkable how those you love can turn against you during times when disaster is striking and food is scarce. It creates tension between the characters, family, and reality. All of Ito’s work is fiction, but he makes it feel so real that readers feel like they are in the scene and deciding who to side with for certain situations where to run and what to do. Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu is the perfect book for readers who prefer something less terrifying. It is a cute, wholesome book about Ito’s daily struggles with his cats, and it is based on a true story and shows Ito´s love for cats. Despite being a horror manga artist, he also lives an ordinary life with his cats and fiancé.  

Sophomore Eva Aroyan recalls reading Tomie by Ito during the summer of 2021. Reading Tomie made me keep wanting to read even more.. and I read all of it until I went to sleep,” said Aroyan. “[Tomie] practically did carry the show and she was so unpredictable of how fast the storyline can change.” She recommends reading works of Ito for the horror and gore, with warnings for mature themes. 

First published by Ito in 1987, Tomie: No Use Escaping is still one of Ito´s top horrifying mangas today. It is about a mysterious entity who causes mischief on everyone who crosses her path. Although she is seen as beautifully pretty, she emits a feeling of jealousy and murder to those around her, causing her to be bullied and killed. Readers could relate to her being bullied at school and work. They would also relate to her toxic and abusive relationships with those who seem like friends and partners. Unsuspected by the readers, Tomie could actually kill and cause mass homicide if she chooses to. Do not try her, for she could always revive herself back to life when she is seen as dead. Although it is a work of fiction, Tomie´s actions can leave you shaken. 

Hanging Balloons (also known as Hanging Blimp), found in Ito´s manga series Shiver, portrays death drives influence on the community. Readers can connect this with our real life society when someone commitis suicide. This book not only shows how one suicide can lead to another, but how death itself could lure you into doing something you might not want to or had no intentions in doing. Dying is a feeling that is inevitable, which is how Ito wants readers to feel when reading his stories. Death is not caused by the person itself, but the guilt it brings to others to feel when seeing someone they love commit to it. 

If manga and anime books are not for you, then this is good news. Starting in 2018 and ongoing, a company called  “Studio Deen”  has been animating some of Ito´s top works. In my opinion, since it is not drawn by the original artist, it lacks a lot of details and the work does not feel as scary but it still gives the viewer the same suspense of never ending fear and curiosity to watch more. When it is in manga, readers get to fill in the colors in their mind as they read. They also get to imagine themselves in the storyline and make choices of their own. Overall, the anime adaptation is good for people who prefer watching rather than reading. It does not change anything about the story´s ability to be told. 

Gyo, meaning fish  in Japanese, is a good book to start with if you are interested in romance and tragedy mixed in with disturbing plot twists. The author tries to provoke new fears in readers by turning animals or things that might seem ordinary, like fishes, into something more fearful, like a big gigantic mechanism that eats humans. Readers get hooked to Gyo knowing it is not about the fish but about the pain the main characters go through as a fish invasion takes over a city in Japan. It is a work of fiction, but it seems so real that it could happen anytime. This is also another significant fear in Ito´s stories. It may seem ordinary, but it happens to ordinary characters like us that it seems likely it could happen to us. Friends can turn over with supernatural powers. Doors can creak with entities behind it. This is how Ito hooks his audiences in and leaves his audiences with new fears.