Junji Ito is one of the most famous horror manga writers in history. If you haven't read his work, you've likely heard of him, or at least seen some of his haunting imagery.
Ito's best known for his imaginative yet casual use of body horror, futuristic allegories, and macabre endings. However, the genius of Ito is he doesn't rely on shock horror or anime gore to craft his stories; he uses weirdly daring plots and thoughtfully beautiful drawings to create psychological thrillers that stand out from their genre's peers.
Unfortunately, when some of his stories became anime in 2018, many Ito fans met the animation with widespread disappointment. It turns out Ito's work is even more unsettling and visceral in the original black-and-white, 2D manga.
Ito's work is not for those with sensitive stomachs, but if you enjoy gory imagery and disturbing yet nuanced concepts, it is well worth your time.
Junji Ito got the idea to draw manga by copying his older sister's drawings and reading the Umezu Kazuo horror comics she lent him. However, he didn't seriously consider pursuing drawing horror manga as a career until he published his first story in Nemuki’s Halloween Monthly in 1987.
The magazine story was well-received, and from there Ito steadily made a name for himself as an artist. By the early '90s, he had to decide whether he wanted to turn his horror manga side-hustle into a full-time career or pursue a more stable occupation as a dental technician. Luckily for his future fans, he chose manga.
When Crunchyroll asked Ito whether his dental background ever informed his manga work, the artist replied:
If there is something, it’s the image of a hollow. A dental technician makes a tooth wax pattern, buries it in a mold, heats the mold base to melt the wax, and then casts a metal in the cavity of the mold. I have often used the image of the mold cavity as a motif. A human form tunnel and a neck-hanging balloon are also a type of cavity. I heard that the human statues at the Pompeii Ruins were made by casting plaster into the cavities of the dead people buried in the volcanic ash. I am very intrigued by the mysterious connection between negatives and positives in an object.
Though the anime adaptation is generally written off as ridiculous, the original manga version of Gyo is genuinely terrifying. It combines themes from the movie Jaws with the history of Japan's unethical World War II experiments to create a tale of bloodthirsty sharks with mechanical legs who stalk and kill humans on land.
As one reviewer pointed out, the story can also be considered "an allegory for climate change... Gyo evokes the creeping feeling of cataclysmic global change by characterizing its monster as an invisible invader. The fish with legs are heralded by a terrible stench, described by characters as being reminiscent of hot human corpses."
Some claim Ito's descriptions of smells, in particular, are so visceral, they transport readers to an apocalypse just as horrible in its fantasy as its futurism.
Gyo is also one of the few Ito pieces available outside of Japan, so if the idea of murderous sharks creeping into people's homes - or the more metaphysical idea that the future is futile - appeals to you, hit up your local bookstore.
Yui and her brother Goro live with their family above the restaurant they own. Because the apartment is poorly ventilated, the air is saturated with grease, causing Goro's face to erupt with acne.
Frustrated by his situation and the bullying he endures as a result, he torments Yui as an outlet for his emotions. What follows is one of the most vivid and disgusting depictions of fluids dripping from pimples - among other unspeakable things - ever drawn.
"The Hanging Balloons" is one of Ito's more macabre pieces. A rash of suicides with seemingly no explanation turn out to have been caused by malevolent spirits, and balloons that resemble the faces of people who have been lured into suicide begin appearing all over Tokyo.
Kazuko tries to save herself from being captured, but her only option seems to be hiding away in her house, where she may starve to death.