Well, the dark days are upon us and it’s time to get in the jump scare spirit by acquiring books that are likely to cause some minor heart failure (hopefully in just the figurative sense). Now, for a great many years, I refused to even dip a toe into the horror pool. I was blessed with the ability to vibrate out of my skin if I heard a twig snap, so it seemed only right that I steer clear of books designed to scare me.
However, as an adult, I’ve now been exposed to the uniquely terrifying nature of rather mundane things like hospital bills, credit checks, and filing taxes. A stray beastie or three just don’t stand a chance against the soul-crushing misery of having to make a budget. Here are (in my opinion) eight fantastic Japanese horror reads that you should add to cart this season. And once you’re done with them, you should check out this list of new horror novels and this list of under the radar horror reads.
Adult Japanese Horror
The Summer of the Ubume by Natsuhiko Kyogoku, Translated by Alexander O. Smith
This is an incredibly weird read, which is my favorite thing about it. The Kuonji family seem to be plagued with misfortune after misfortune, from an unhealthily long pregnancy to an AWOL husband. Their difficulties attract the attention of many, including an exorcist unlike most — one who doesn’t believe in ghosts.
Ring by Kōji Suzuki, Translated by Robert B. Rohmer and Glynne Walley
You’ve most likely come across an adaptation of this story, which was turned into a Japanese movie — that was then turned into an American movie — and then kept going. Still, the original is definitely worth a read, as each adaptation takes things in a very different direction. For those unfamiliar with the story, four teenagers have died a week after watching a videotape, and a journalist is determined to figure out why.
In the Miso Soup by Ryū Murakami, Translated by Ralph McCarthy
Kenji makes his money escorting rich tourists through the seedier parts of town. Unlike other tour guides, his clients don’t want to learn about the country’s history or admire its nature. They’re interested in sex and gambling, and Kenji’s happy to deliver. But his latest client is oddly clingy, and is getting weirder by the minute — weird enough that Kenji can’t shake the feeling that something is violently wrong.
Young Adult Japanese Horror
The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
Being dead doesn’t mean you don’t have things to do. Okiku was murdered around 300 years ago, and she spends her time these days hunting people who murder children in order to teach them the lessons they sorely need. When an interesting teenager moves into the neighborhood, her attention is drawn to him…and then things get even more bloody.
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, Translated by Nathan Collins
You can never go wrong with a bloodbath horror read, right? When a class of young teenagers is shipped to a deserted island, they’re instructed to pick up weapons and kill each other. It’s a story that we’re probably all vaguely familiar with nowadays, but this book is one of the first that explored the idea and it didn’t hold back at all on the gore. Be aware that the remastered version is the one you want — the original translation is a bit…botched.
Japanese Horror Manga
Goth by Otsuichi, Translated by Andrew Cunningham
This is a compilation of short stories that are all interconnected. There’s not much goth about it to me, but your mileage may vary. This is a very gory read, made more so by the (gorgeous) grotesque illustrations. Morino and her one friend are rather odd high schoolers. They’re both obsessed with murder — and there are murders happening all around them. There are seven short stories in this — six if you get the version without the bonus story.
Another by Yukito Ayatsuji
Imagine starting a new school and finding out that you’ve been placed in the haunted class. Kouichi finds himself in this unenviable position and the bodies quickly pile up. Unlike most of the rest of the school, who’ve just resigned themselves to it all, he’s determined to get to the bottom of things and break whatever awful curse is causing the murders. Like most teenagers, he gets in way over his head.
Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror by Junji Ito
What could be creepy about spirals? Shuichi Saito quickly learns that the answer to that question is a lot, after his father becomes obsessed with spirals in all forms, and then dies without an explanation. Spirals crop up more and more as time goes by, and soon the entire town has been affected — and people keep dying.
I wouldn’t advise reading this if you’re a spiral doodler. You’ll definitely end up freaking yourself out — and possibly chucking your notebook in a fire.
If you’ve already got these on your shelves, check out this list of 50 great horror books released in the 2010s.
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