The 10 Best Junji Ito Books, Ranked
Japanese manga artist Junji Ito is one of the preeminent horror icons of our time, with multiple books and stories that evoke a visceral fear of everything from ghosts to dark holes. In 2022, he released The Liminal Zone, a four-story collection based on some of Japan’s most famous myths. It made The Mary Sue‘s list of the best comics and graphic novels of 2022, and its popularity has inspired new fans to seek out Ito’s older works.
If you’re looking for the best works from the Japanese artist, look no further. These are the 10 best Junji Ito books, ranked.
Although Deserter hit shelves in 2021, it collects a dozen of Ito’s earliest horror stories, including a Sandman-esque tale about a boy whose nightmares are threatening to enter the real world and another about an army deserter whose host family convinces him World War II never ended. This collection hints at Ito’s later, more expansive works, while standing out for its psychological terrors.
Tomie is one of Ito’s earlier works, and it ostensibly tells the story of the eponymous character, a high school girl with a supernatural hold over men of all kinds. When she’s accidentally killed during a school trip, her classmates panic and try to hide the crime by dismembering her body and hiding the pieces. The next day, Tomie is back in class as if nothing has happened—as it turns out, she’s an immortal succubus. And no matter how many times the men she seduces turn their passionate rage on her, Tomie will never be gone for good.
Although this classic series is named after Tomie, it isn’t technically about her: It’s about the people in her radius who can’t help but fall under her spell. She’s a catalyst more than a character.
Smashed contains 13 of Ito’s original stories, which is more than any of his other available collections. From the earthbound people who cannot leave their current residence for the rest of their short lives to the haunted house that leads its visitors into actual Hell, this collection plays on some of our worst and most mundane-seeming fears and says, “Yes, you should be afraid.”
7. The Liminal Zone
Ito’s newest release, The Liminal Zone, is a collection of four new stories based on Japanese myths. In one, a couple disembarks a train and encounters a life-changing “weeping woman.” In another, a different couple visits the infamous suicide forest Aokigahara to die together by suicide, only to have their plan interrupted by something otherworldly.
As his newest work, The Liminal Zone illustrates how much Ito’s art and storytelling have evolved, and it’s yet another masterclass in horror.
6. Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu
Junji Ito is not a cat person. And in his graphic memoir Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu, he applies his iconic horror style to a much more mundane story: that of becoming a cat parent. In this book, Ito (as J-kun) builds a new house and invites his fiancée, A-ko, to live with him. She brings along Yon, a family cat, and Mu, a fluffy Norwegian forest cat.
J-kun is a dog person, and being silently stalked by his pets distresses him deeply. However, he eventually comes to find both Yon and Mu very cute, and attempts to gain their affections. As any cat parent can attest, this involves a fair amount of trial and error, and the comedic horror is delightful to read.
The titular story in Lovesickness follows Ryusuke, a secretive young man who returns to his old town where he hears rumors about girls dying by suicide after encountering a bewitchingly handsome young man. Ryusuke wants to capture the man in question and stop another tragedy from occurring, but it isn’t as simple as he hopes.
In addition to the eponymous tale, Lovesickness contains nine more stories, including two about the disturbing Hikizuri Siblings and another focusing on the Rib Woman, whose name is as distressing as her story.
Ito’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is perhaps the best version to date, thanks to the beautiful marriage of Shelley’s characters with Ito’s storytelling. Ito remains true to the source material but filters it through the lens of his singular artistic style, putting Dr. Frankenstein and his monster in a whole new light.
Also included in this volume are 10 original stories by Ito. Six of them focus on one of his recurring characters, the high school student Oshikiri, who lives in a dilapidated old mansion connected to a haunted parallel world. In these stories, Oshikiri encounters doppelgängers, murdered friends, and more. Ito’s Frankenstein also includes a story about his family dog, Non-non the Maltese, which gives readers a nice break from the horror.
Sensor is one of Ito’s most beautiful books, both in imagery and in story. Kyoko Byakuya walks alone at the foot of Mount Sengoku, where she meets a mysterious man who claims to have been waiting for her. He invites her to a nearby village where everything is covered in super-thin volcanic glass fibers that shine like gold. It makes the village look like it’s covered in hair.
At night, the villagers gaze up at the stars and see hundreds of unidentified flying objects—all of which are aiming directly for their small, golden village. Sensor is a cosmic horror story that examines the meaning of the universe and explores the ongoing battle between light and dark.
Shiver is perhaps Ito’s scariest story collection to date. In “Hanging Blimps,” murderous balloons appear in the sky, bearing the faces of their intended victims; in “Fashion Model,” an amateur film crew hires the terrifying model Fuji, leading to a bloodbath.
These are just two of the collected works in this nine-story epic, which relies heavily on gore and tryophobic imagery (playing on the fear of small holes). But Ito also puts a unique spin on the horror genre as a whole and the ways in which we understand greed, illness, sacrifice, and even dreams.
What could be harmful about a spiral? The three-volume epic Uzumaki has a surprising answer to this question in what is widely considered to be Ito’s magnum opus. It’s also a seminal horror story worthy of multiple reads, as long as you can stomach it. There are no monsters here; just a curse, an inescapable obsession, and death.
Uzumaki takes place in the fictional coastal Japanese town Kurouzu-cho, which is haunted by the titular spiral—a hypnotic shape that the residents of the town can’t stop obsessing over. Soon, obsession turns to tragedy, and teenager Kirie Goshima is determined to figure out what’s happening. Her boyfriend, Shuichi Saito, would rather get the hell out of dodge.
(featured image: VIZ Media)
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