Defining horror manga should be a simple task, right? Well…

Defining horror manga should be a simple task, right?

Oxford Dictionaries explain manga and horror as:

Manga – NOUN: A Style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels, typically aimed at adults as well as children
Origin: 1950s; Japanese; from man ‘rambling, aimless’ and ga ‘picture’
Horror – NOUN: An intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust; OR; A thing causing a feeling of horror; OR; A literary or film genre concerned with arousing feelings of horror; OR; Intense dismay.

Merriam-Webster, however, offers a slight but definitively different explanation.
Manga – Japanese comic books and graphic novels considered collectively as a genre. Also: an individual comic book or graphic novel of the manga genre.

While this may be a popular definition (I personally am not a fan of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but many of my US friends seem to prefer it), it is in one crucial way wrong. Manga isn’t a genre. It’s a format, a style. Saying manga is a genre is like saying film collectively is a genre. Films can often be categorised into genres (horror, romance, comedy) but you wouldn’t call films as a collective, a genre. You would talk about the medium of cinema. So, too, we should talk about manga.

While we are on the topic of mediums and misconceptions.,. Thought Co define manga as:

Manga is Japanese comic books. Manga is often made into Japanese cartoons or Anime. The art in Manga has a very definite look to it and is often referred to as “Manga Style.

Well, no. Manga isn’t ‘often made into Japanese cartoons’. While I would argue that there isn’t a single, ‘definitive look’ to manga – just look at these three internationally famous manga and tell me there is a single, common ‘definitive look’ between them – saying that manga are ‘often’ made into anime is like saying novels are often made into films or TV series.

While some are adapted, if you look at the sheer number of published works within the manga industry, compared to the relatively limited number of new animations made each year that are not re-adaptations of past successful series, or continuations from a previous season, suddenly ‘often’ becomes a much bigger stretch.

While the figures are now a little old, mangaka, manga critic, and professor Natsume Fusanosuke explained in his article Japanese Manga: Its Expression and Popularity that manga made up over 38% of all published materials sold in Japan in 2002 (including both book and magazine formats).

Seiichi Higuchi, from the Japan Book Publishers Association, put the total number of Japanese publishers at 3,815 in 2011. The Japan Foundation’s Practical Guide to Publishing in Japan 2012-13 reported over 468 million copies of manga sold in 2012 alone, with over 75,000 new titles (both manga and non-manga) published in the same year.

If we assume that the percentage of manga sales has remained around 38% of all published materials in Japan, even taking into account the high sales numbers for long-running series such as One Piece which, in 2015 alone, sold over 14 million copies across its numerous volumes, that is still a lot of new titles. Far more than there are new anime series released each year. Clearly, not all of these, nor even many, are turned into anime.

Tomie, one of Junji Ito’s best-known recurring characters.

Some big manga are, of course, adapted for the big and small screens. However, some best-selling manga, despite their huge success, still wait decades before they get a shot at becoming anime.

Junji Ito, widely celebrated as the master of modern horror manga, recently hinted at his hugely popular Tomie series finally getting an anime adaptation for 2018. Originally running between 1987-2000, his work has previously inspired live-action projects, Tomie has been long overdue an animated adaptation.

Identifying sub-genres of manga can be the quickest route to finding great series and one-shots outside of the mainstream titles. A few categories you’ve probably heard of include:

Shonen (少年) manga typically aimed at boys aged fifteen and under. One of the most popular genres, Shonen manga frequently features action, fighting, and adventure with a cast of predominantly young male heroes (though female protagonist have become more frequent). Think Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Dragon Ball, and My Hero Academia.

Shojo (少女) manga is the female counterpart of shonen. Aimed at young girls and teens, shojo manga almost always features a female lead (though some shounen-ai manga, or boys love manga written typically by female mangaka, for shojo or josei audiences, also falls into this category) and can range greatly in genre from romantic comedy to action. Think Ouran High School Host Club, Sailor Moon,


Less common in translation but growing in popularity, manga aimed at adult young men, Seinen (青年) tend to be more violent. Often featuring psychological or pornographic elements (or both), some of the bigger translated works include Berserk, Akira, and Gantz.

Seinen’s female counterpart, josei (女性) ranges from action-adventure to realistic, slice-of-life relationships. Edgier topics are more likely to be touched on in josei manga, such as infidelity, rape, serious accidents or medical issues. While fewer of these make it through to official english translation than their male counterparts, top josei series have included Paradise Kiss, Loveless, and Princess Jellyfish.

This finally brings us onto one of the most misunderstood manga categories; guro (エログロ). Often assumed to relate to blood and gore filled erotic manga, guro actually comes from  the Japanese literary and artistic movement ero-guro of the 1920s and 30s.

Ero-guro does have a focus on eroticism, sexual corruption, and decadence, however, as Guro Games explain, “That does not mean that pornographic and things stained in blood are automatically guro, nor does it mean that guro must necessarily be pornographic and bloody.”

An example of wasei-eigo, literally ‘Japanese-made English’, the term guro sounds as though it may have been derived from English gore, or the more modern gorno (torture-porn) film genre.

If you are looking to begin exploring the horror manga genre and aren’t sure where to start, there are some great mangaka to edge you into the fascinating world of horror manga. Check out our latest articles, top ten recs, or take a look at our reviews for great one-shots and series.

Ero-Guro, accessed: September 21, 2017
How to identify the basic types of anime and manga, Kotaku, accessed: September 22 2017
Japanese Manga: Its Expression and Popularity, Natsume Fusanosuke
Junji Ito’s Horror Manga Has an Anime Adaptation in the Works, Crunchyroll, accessed: September 22 2017
Merriam-Webster, accessed: September 21 2017
Oxford Dictionaries, accessed: September 21 2017
Oxford Dictionaries, accessed: September 22 2017
Practical Guide to Publishing in Japan, The Japan Foundation
The Book Market of Japan, Seiichi Higuchi
Thought Co, accessed: September 21 2017
Top-Selling Manga in Japan by Series: 2015, Anime News Network, accessed: September 22 2017
What is Guro, accessed: September 21, 2017
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