Macabre manga: Our favorite horror series of all time



In anticipation of Halloween, we share our favorite horror manga series ever.

As we close in on October 31, AiPT! will be reviewing and recommending various pieces of underappreciated scary media-books, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

One of the great things about manga is its sheer variety. No matter what you’re into, you’re sure to find plenty of series that strike your fancy. This is especially the case for horror fans, as there are great scary manga of all sorts: thrillers, ghost stories, and more. We asked our staff to share their favorite horror series ever. Here are their recommendations:

Dave’s Picks:

I’ve read a bit of horror manga like the Fragments of Horror series AiPT! reviewed two years ago, but honestly I don’t have to read much more to pinpoint PTSD Radio as the scariest and weirdest manga I’ve ever read. It’s twisted, filled with many vignettes and ongoing stories, and gets at the heart of what makes us truly scared. There are all sorts of horror in this series like body horror, ghosts, angry gods, and many things that go bump in the night. There’s even a creative sense of horror like a focus on hair being truly awful and gross. The manga doesn’t get too graphic visually either (there are no puss-filled sores blowing up in people’s faces or arms being torn out). This manga doesn’t play around with how tortured you can feel when you see eyes in the darkness.

Another aspect that makes this manga truly haunting is how it effectively pulls off jump scares. You’ll feel at ease while a girl sits on a train, then turn the page and see what she sees and it’s horrifying. The author, Masaaki Nakayama, has a knack for capturing very odd faces. There’s something about the human face that is pleasing and when something is just a bit off (or in some cases in this manga, very off) it hits something carnal in your brain that screams, “Get away, it’s not safe!”

In the later volumes the manga also delves into nonfiction. Nakayama details a yearlong period where he was getting sick, and ultimately his studio, where he made this series, is most likely haunted. This is a different type of horror since it seems so real. I believe Nakayama too; he’s not playing around and this really was happening to him. Yet another type of horror in this fantastic series.

Eric’s Picks:

My favorite horror manga ever, and the series that got me interested in the genre to begin with, is Ryousuke Tomoe’s Museum. I love both frogs and flamboyant masks, and I’ve watched many hours of Criminal Minds in my day. As such, the concept of a serial killer garbed in a frog mask instantly grabbed my attention. Tomoe is a master of perhaps the most vital element of any horror story: suspense. The pacing throughout Museum is wicked, with page-turns and sudden reveals that leave the reader’s heart pounding every bit as fast as the protagonist’s. The manga stars police sergeant Hisashi Sawamura, who finds himself embroiled in a battle of wits with a killer who uses imaginative methods that are meant to reflect the supposed sins of his victims.

All in all, Museum is a masterclass thriller. The audience is left wondering not only who the killer’s next victim will be, but also what specific violent acts will be committed. Warning: this manga is not for the faint of heart. Many of Tomoe’s visuals and plot twists hit that combination of creativity and horror that leaves one unable to look away, no matter how gruesome the contents are. The mystery of the killer’s identity is also exhilarating to watch unfold, and at just three volumes long the series has enough time to hook and lead the reader along for a while without overstaying its welcome.

Of course, I can’t discuss horror manga without also mentioning the original iteration of Devilman by Go Nagai. Nowhere else have gore, sexuality, and violence ever been so extreme yet humorously over-the-top. Nagai’s artwork is delightful, from the explosive action to the extremely emotive character expressions. Everything in the series is just bursting with energy, and no part of it ever leaves one feeling like Nagai didn’t push things far enough. As with Museum, potential readers should be warned that Devilman is very explicit in a number of ways. The intensity is well worth it, though. The series may technically be horror, but it’s also one of the funniest manga I’ve ever read–quite the rare combination.

Jordan’s Picks:

When it comes to my favorite horror manga series, it’s something that has changed over time. For the longest time it used to be The Drifting Classroom by Kazou Umezu, due to its survival horror elements and its ability to keep up stakes and twisted surprises. It started out as a series about an elementary school teleporting to this alien desert dead-land and everyone just trying to survive, and soon added things like flash floods, intense paranoia, monsters born from the imagination of a kid, real monsters, and more. It was crazy and I loved it, even going so far as to being a big enough dork about the series to write most of The Drifting Classroom Wikipedia page in high school.

But over time, with changing tastes and reading more horror series, my favorite horror manga shifted to a different one altogether. My favorite horror series is currently, without a doubt, Higurashi: When They Cry. I reviewed the first arc of the series last year and will eventually return to it. In the meantime, what Higuarshi is for me is a series where you’re never truly confident about what’s going on. It’s a series that plays with your head in its own way, initially seeming straightforward enough about what is happening before later throwing it all into question.

The series is about a group of kids and teens in June 1983 living in a small old village called Hinamizawa, a place that feels cut off from most of the world. Every year the citizens celebrate the Cotton Drifting Festival, a local tradition that dates back to the foundation of the village, and in recent years someone dies and someone disappears. The series tends to focus on Keiichi, a newcomer who’s unfamiliar with things and slowly making friends with the locals. In each arc he finds himself dragged into the events in some way as terrible, bloody things take place from his perspective. Halfway through, however, the series flips all of the story arcs around and shows them from completely different characters’ perspectives that provide their own “answers.” Nothing is ever clear, allies and enemies change, and who lives or dies is constantly shifting.

It’s honestly hard to talk about this series briefly and do it justice, since there are so many moving parts and aspects to it. The horror of it lies in the unknown and the paranoia, making us doubt what is really happening or if things are exactly as they seem to be shown. Even if the events change, each story arc also reveals new aspects and angles to each character, making their behaviors in past arcs take on different meanings. Things aren’t fully clear and even after you fully experience both sides of each storyline you are still left wondering about what you have just read. Again, it’s hard to explain briefly while also avoiding massive spoilers.

Either way, when it comes down to it, nothing has gotten me more in terms of horror than Higurashi. Its sister series, Umineko, was close in the opening arcs, but nowadays it leans more towards meta and mystery than anything. It’s main hindrance lies in its super anime-ish art style and its leanings toward awkward fan service, but the creator knows how to twist even that stuff into utter nightmares. Overall, Higurashi is my favorite current horror manga series and it’s one that I recommend, though I’d suggest you give it time to reveal some of its hand to really see what makes it special.

Vicky’s Picks:

I’m not really the biggest fan of anything that has to do with horror. Literally anything scares me, but over time I have been warming up to horror manga thanks to detailed illustrations and how the stories unravel. At first one of the horror manga that I was into was Another by Hiro Kiyohara and Yukito Ayatsuji. With a murder-mystery as the focus of the story, this manga brings curiosity. The story revolves around class 3-3, where death came upon a classmate. Since he was a popular guy, everybody continued to act as if he was still around, creating a curse. It really is a cool story that evolves and intrigues the reader with new mysteries. The anime adaptation is pretty good as well.

Another horror manga that I love is Junji Ito’s Uzumaki. It has given me so many vivid nightmares that I have become somewhat obsessed with it. The detail that Junji Ito brings to his drawings and storylines is amazing. His work has recently been adapted into an anime and it’s awesome! I can truly say that he is this generation’s greatest horror manga illustrator and writer. He is a genius that brings all of our nightmares to life.