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Junji Ito

A master of disturbing and body horror, Junji Ito’s twisted tales are unforgettable, and these five standouts will shake you to your core.

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For me, Junji Ito is one of the greatest horror manga writers out there. As a longtime fan, I’ve read almost all of his releases. So I sat down and composed a list of what I think to be five of the most disturbing short tales he has ever conjured up in his twisted mind. I’ve also included books or shows where you can explore these tales for yourself if you wish to delve into the twisted beauty.

1. The Long Dream 

Mami is terrified of dying, and Tetsuro has dreams that last for years.

Eventually admitting himself into the hospital, each night, Tetsuro’s dreams add years on. Even in real life, if it’s just a moment in his mind, it’s been hundreds of years. Unfortunately, not all of his dreams are peaceful escapes. Some are so nightmarish and horrible that, once he eventually wakes, it traumatizes him. This leads to him feeling trapped in his own mind while his body on Earth slowly decays, eventually turning to crystals.

The doctor looking after both Mami and Tetsuro eventually feeds these crystals to Mami, thinking this will cure her fear of dying by allowing her to enter a state of eternal dreaming.

One of Ito’s most famous stories, The Long Dream is absolutely chilling  — but without the need for grotesque panels or overt horror. Sometimes, our fears or painfully banal. Sometimes, it just takes one small persistent thought to keep us awake at night and induce nightmares when we finally sleep.

The thought of being stuck in your own dreams, living alone for hundreds of years, not knowing if you’re dead or alive, and not knowing what’s real or imagined is all so deeply haunting.

Tapping into a nearly universal fear of death, The Long Dream disturbed me in many ways with just how frighteningly relatable it was. 

Read it in the Shiver Collection and watch it as part of the Junji Ito Collection on Crunchyroll.

2. The Human Chair

Originally a short story by Japanese author and critic Edogawa Ranpo, Ito adapted this unique and bizarre tale, re-imagining the ending.

The tale begins with a beautiful young woman walking into a furniture store wanting to buy a new armchair when our salesman tells her the disturbing story of a chair that changed a person’s destiny — a human chair.

Long ago, there was a very famous Japanese author and the wife of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. She received many letters of admiration each day. One day, among the fan mail was a letter that read as a confession of crimes from a carpenter who claimed to have been living in an armchair. Full of vivid details and wonderfully written, elements of the story sent chills down her spine due to how closely they resembled her own life and a chair that resided in her own home. The author began to fear the outrageous story was not a work of fiction, and paranoia began to set in.

Soon, she receives a second letter confession that the original story was just a made-up tale written for a manuscript. This causes her great relief. But horrific events convince her that the story was no work of fiction.

A tale of twisted love, perversion, and the invasion of personal space, Ito’s more macabre ending makes this twisted tale far more horrifying and impossible to forget. 

Read it in the Venus in the Blindspot collection.

3. Greased Oil/ Glyceride

Fans of body horror will delight in this disgusting story, but those with weaker stomachs may need to sit this one out.

A family-owned barbecue business is so full of oil that it seeps through the walls, and the atmosphere hangs heavy with the stench of a poorly ventilated store that is never properly cleaned.

A young girl, Yuti, is plagued with a hatred for the vile oil and grease that consumes her world. Meanwhile, her older brother, Goro, is a violent and abusive bully. He has a nasty habit of drinking oil straight from the can. As a result, he developed horrible acne and is relentlessly tormented at school because of it. This makes his temper even worse.

He commits to a life locked inside, drinking oil after his sister ridicules him for being gross. Goro’s anger escalates, and he terrorizes the girl in the most loathsome, vile, and nauseating way imaginable.

One of Ito’s most famous stories purely for its unbelievable shock value and ability to turn the stomachs of its readers, this is Ito at his most unflinchingly disturbing.

Read it in the Shiver Collection.

4. The Mystery Of The Haunted Mansion

This was one of the first Ito stories I read, and I’m still talking about it years later. It features some of the most freakish panels of art I’ve ever seen.

The story is simple: a haunted house comes to town. People who have entered the house begin reporting to the police stories of horrific sites within the house and things that drove them to the brink of insanity.

In the dead of night, two young boys decide to sneak in to see if it’s really as scary as everyone says. However, they are caught by the proprietor, who allows them to explore the house as a reward for their bravery.

Eventually, the proprietor tells the boys the dark and tragic tale of exactly why the home is so haunted. What happens next is truly ghastly.

This story features some notoriously disturbing images, as well as some compelling links to Ito’s previous stories that will be richly rewarding for fans of his work. 

Read it in the Smashed collection.

5. The Enigma of Amigara Fault

The Enigma of Amigara Fault is one of those tales that stays with you forever, with images scorched into the mind you can’t ever unsee.

An earthquake tragically strikes Japan, taking out villages and interrupting a mountainside, revealing human-shaped holes. Our lone traveler sets out to see this rare sight, as it’s all over the world on TV and in the media. Meanwhile, a disturbing trend begins to emerge where people become desperate to find and enter the hole that appears to have been made for them, despite knowing entering this hole leads to certain death.

Without any concrete explanation for what the holes are, why they are there, and why these holes created by an ancient civilization precisely match the bodies of people from the present, the reader is left to create their own horror.

A dream reveals a terrible secret, but it’s unclear if it was merely a dream or a vision from the past. A myriad of dark possibilities exist to explain the mystery, each more unsettling than the last.

Claustrophobia is very common, with more than twelve percent of the population today having it. For those of us who share in this affliction, the idea of a compact hole perfectly cut to fit each human makes the skin crawl.

It’s a terrifying psychological horror tale in which Ito asks us to consider the nature of fear and the horrors of humanity. 

Find it in Gyo.

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