Posted Oct 02, 2023 by Morgana Santilli
As the years pass, the Halloween season becomes more and more celebrated, with décor and costumes gracing the aisles of stores right after the start of school – sometimes even before! I am one of many who is checking back to Target’s website every day to see if the newest Halloween merch has dropped. Halloween has become a phenomenon – and rightly so, for who doesn’t love a good bit of spooky mischief and mayhem? For many, this is a cute, fun holiday meant for playing dress-up and eating too much candy.
That is all well and good, but it is important to remember that this time of year marks death; the dying season presages winter, a time when life lies dormant, waiting for rebirth. It is important to remember that we must not take life for granted – and what better way to be reminded of the looming specter of mortality than diving into a truly horrifying read?
I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill campfire ghost stories here. At Yen Press, we’ve got books that will make you feel like you need to look over your shoulder when walking alone, or like you need to keep a light on when you go to sleep. Just because you’re a grown adult doesn’t mean you can’t be a little bit wary of the things that might go bump in the night....
To start, our newest horrifying release, The Summer Hikaru Died, is a spine-tingling glimpse of the pervasive fear and superstition that can haunt a small, isolated town. When Yoshiki’s best friend, Hikaru, returns after a week lost in the mountains, Yoshiki can tell that something is off. On the outside, Hikaru seems the same in almost every way, but Yoshiki can’t shake the feeling that he’s not really Hikaru. His suspicions are confirmed almost immediately at the start of the first volume, but the mystery of what Hikaru is still remains.
The suspense in The Summer Hikaru Died is drawn out, punctuated by tight, claustrophobic paneling and intense examples of gorgeously-rendered body horror. Black is used to great effect, and the dark, thickly forested mountainside is depicted with incredible texture. Creator Mokumokuren is a genius at turning the tension all the way up and drawing readers into the story of this strange, too-possessive new Hikaru and his influence on Yoshiki’s life – and sanity. The precarious balance of anxiety and heartache is so effective; I’m not exaggerating when I say that this manga took my breath away within only the first few pages.
Before there was The Summer Hikaru Died, however, there was Another. Likewise set in a small town (albeit in 1998 instead of the modern day), Another revolves around the “curse of Class 3,” a befuddling mystery that middle schooler Koichi Sakakibara stumbles upon when he goes to live with his grandparents in Yomiyama. At Yomiyama North Middle School, he finds himself drawn to the lovely but strange Mei Misaki, a girl with an ever-present eye patch, whose existence the other students never acknowledge. Koichi starts to question Mei’s place in the class as rumors of a curse swirl around him and people close to the class begin to die.
Artist Hiro Kiyohara does a wonderful job of building tension with extreme close-ups, especially on eyes, a feature that plays heavily in this story. Moments of levity and the presence of many attractive female characters make this manga deceptive in a way, allowing for readers to relax despite the looming suspense. But the horror is there when it counts, on full, bloody display. The gore is minimal, which makes it effective. Word of warning to those who have a fear of dolls: This manga is nightmare fuel!
Following the theme of mysterious and deadly girls is Ibitsu, very much an exploration of the urban legends that run through modern Japanese pop culture. However, where Another is subtle and strategic in its use of disturbing imagery, Ibitsu delights in it. In this tale, Kazuki encounters a strange girl dressed in the lolita style sitting by his apartment complex’s garbage drop-off. When she asks him “Would you have a little sister?”, he naturally responds with a yes, since he does have a younger sister – one who is always nagging him about keeping his apartment cleaner.
This strange lolita is not a normal girl, however, as soon becomes obvious. She interprets Kazuki’s response to mean that he would like to have a little sister, and that’s when things start to get weird. Amidst rumors of a Demon Lolita, Kazuki starts to experience strange happenings at the hands of this mysterious and terrifying girl claiming to be his little sister, and his real sister is also dragged into the sick and twisted charade. If the dolls from Another creeped you out, fair warning that our lolita antagonist is about ten times scarier!
Ibitsu is a lesson in being wary of strangers, and our final title in this roundup enforces the lesson, reminding you to think twice before trusting strangers with details about your life. In Phantom Tales of the Night, the enigmatic innkeeper at the Murakumo Inn will give all comers whatever they seek, be it safe haven, information, or aid, and for what seems like a cheap price: Their deepest secrets. But what seems cheap is actually steep, as guests learn more than they bargain for about themselves and those around them and end up paying the ultimate price.
I admittedly have a soft spot for these Twlight Zone-esque manga that involve characters stumbling into a spooky shop (or inn, in this case) and having their world overturned as some amoral entity allows the customer’s sins to mete out the appropriate justice upon them. It helps that Phantom Tales of the Night creator Matsuri has a gorgeous, distinctive art style that brings creatures of Japanese folklore to terrifying life in the pages of this manga. The beauty is punctuated by scenes of gruesome body horror, catching the reader unawares and providing a shiver that is equal parts excitement and fear. And the best part? While the other series on this list are short (Another and Ibitsu are standalone omnibuses), Phantom Tales of the Night is currently eleven volumes and counting – so the frightening fun doesn’t have to end too soon!
If you’re looking for a haunting horror read with a little more bite, picking up any of these series should keep you occupied...and terrified! From compelling, distinctive art styles to a flair for creating dread, the authors and artists here are simply unmatched.
Happy reading – and happy haunting!