Saturday, October 30, 2010

My Favorite Horror Mangas

Part of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror! You can see the rest here and here.

Some people only read horror-themed works in the month of October. I like to read them year-round. This is a roundup of some of my favorite horror mangas. I'm sure there's lots out there I've never come across, so please feel free to give me some recommendations in the comments!

Horror manga is interesting to me because there is a far lower level of censorship in Japan (if you can even say they have one at all). Even when you account for the fact that American manga companies are not going to pick the weirdest things and bring them over, the level of graphic horror can be shocking sometimes.

I find that horror is a tricky thing to get right and that personal taste varies widely. For example, I bet Cat-Eyed Boy would make the list for a lot of manga bloggers I know, but I found the protagonist annoying and the stories pedestrian. So these are obviously very personal favorites and your taste in terror might be quite different from mine.

I tend to like my horror with a touch of either black comedy or deep psychological underpinnings. In fact, some of the titles on my list might not even pass the horror test for other readers. I'm not a big fan of splatter-filled pages, but I'm not squeamish, either. Give me a reason for all the blood and I'll gladly buy in to what you're selling.

So with that in mind, let's take a look at some of my favorites...if you dare!

Rumiko Takahashi is probably best known for Ranma 1/2, but she's also quite good at telling a comical horror story, or even a darker tale or three. I doubt if you can find the anthology of her short stories anywhere (Rumic World/Rumic Theater), but when I read them in my early days of manga I remember being impressed by her ability to create horrific scenes as easily as she did the farcical world of Ranma 1/2. However, it's easy enough to see her blend the two ideas in Inuyasha, which is quite easy to find in any bookstore and most libraries. I haven't gotten around to finishing up this one, but I was quickly drawn to the usual cute relationship dynamics pairs with some really gruesome creatures. Definitely worth looking up.

I don't remember how or why I decided to start reading Mail, but I am very glad I did. Dark Horse is an underrated manga publisher in my opinion, and their horror manga selections are top notch. Mail is a series by Housui Yamazaki, who draws a series we'll talk about a little later. It has a Rod Serling-like protagonist who introduces almost every chapter and then proceeds to participate in the drama. Well drawn and with stories that are pretty good, my only reservation is that it peters out a bit towards the end. Not sure about the availability on this one.

Availability is a common theme on this list, I'm afraid, as The Drifting Classroom has evaded my grasp, though I admit it's partly because I don't want to just drop the money on Amazon. Big on psychological horror, this series by Kazuo Umezu features a classroom that separates from current reality and a boy who feels the pain of fighting with his mother just before tragedy strikes. Umezu's plotting and pacing is pitch-perfect. One of these days, I'm going to save up and finish off this one. It's well worth reading, if you can find it.

Lots of folks would agree that Parasyte is another nifty horror series. An alien race invades Japan, some of whom bond with humans in order to feed. The results are mixed as not all humans are taken over properly. The manga focuses on one such human, who has the alien host in his hand. Maturity, morality, and the desire to survive combine with some good use of horror tropes to make this an enjoyable (and still available) series.

People seem to be in less agreement about After School Nightmare. Written and illustrated by Setona Mizushiro, the series is about a boy who also has female characteristics. He's not ready to deal with this, but a special class forces him to whether he wants this or not, as he's thrown into a nightmare world where students compete violently with each other in order to graduate. The story on the surface seems to be a rejection of femininity, but I think we're supposed to see that the mental torture our protagonist faces is all because he won't accept that it's okay to be feminine. Your mileage may vary, but I dig the creepy vibes throughout this series that, because it's from Go Comi!, is probably not one you'll find anywhere.

Mushishi was another Manga Movable Feast choice, and its horror is definitely more muted than the others on the list. A John Constantine-like figure goes about the country dealing with beings called mushi, who tend to make a mess of the lives of the humans with which they interact. Not a lot happens in these stories--certainly nothing on an epic scale of violence--but it still fits the horror profile. I enjoyed the changing nature of the each story, as the mushi come in widely varying forms. This set of books is not for those who like fast-paced tales, however, so please be aware of that before you pick it up. This is more for those who can appreciate the pacing of 19th century literature.

Speaking of 19th century literature, Lament of the Lamb could easily be a manga written by Edgar Allan Poe. Kei Toume presents a family haunted by the curse of vampirism, but instead of making them stalkers of the night as we've seen everywhere, this family relies on blood transfusions and medicine to beat back a terrible fate. Brother and sister, long separated, cannot live without each other, it seems, as they slowly collapse into worse states. With parts of the story that remind me of the Fall of the House of Usher, this is another series that goes a bit slowly but is worth the waiting. Toume's art is striking for most of the series, almost sketch-like at times but capturing the feel of the characters perfectly. If you can find this one, go for it. I think almost anyone would like it.

If I had to pick a favorite amongst these favorites. it might be the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. Illustrated by Housui Yamazaki from Mail and written by Eiji Otsuka, this is the ongoing story of five college kids with no job prospects who come together to use their special talents to do delivery jobs for the dead. It's part black comedy, part social commentary, and good, with a cast of interesting and offbeat characters who frequently are more interested in getting money for food than doing the right thing (though they always manage to do the latter). This manga is notable for being a horror manga that works well for people who aren't fans of the genre.

I hope you find a manga or two in this list that tickles your terror bone, whether it's for creepy alien, dead bodies, or slow psychological horror. Don't be afraid to read them in months other than October, either. Their quality doesn't change just because the holiday does. Enjoy!

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