Junji Ito is often hailed as the best author to ever grace the world of horror manga. He has two upcoming series based on his works, one of which is a compilation of his short stories called Junji Ito Maniac: Tales From The Japanese Macabre, and one of which is an adaption of his infamous series Uzumaki. However, much of Junji Ito remains a mystery, despite his popular cult following. From dental technician to the esteemed author, to everything in between, Junji Ito has done it all.
Junji Ito is the mangaka behind Tomie, Uzumaki, Gyo, and many short story compilations, which are his main focus as a mangaka. He often writes about both cosmic horror and body horror, combining the two concepts in most of his works. He has also adapted Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, for which he won an Eisner Award for, and even had a cameo in Death Stranding. What is it about this small-town man from Japan that makes him stand out from the rest of horror mangaka? What works has he made outside of horror? What was it that led him down the path of terrifying manga panels that have kept international manga fans up at night? This article will explore the very depths of Junji Ito, and highlight some of his best works.
His Humble Beginnings, To The Start Of Tomie
Junji Ito grew up in a small town, and in a 2019 interview he revealed that his two older sisters read horror manga from authors such as Kazuo Umezu. As he grew up, he read the same manga his sisters read. He drew his own manga from childhood until he was consumed with his career as a dental technician. After a few years of dental work, he entered a short story to Monthly Halloween and won the Kazuo Umezu Prize, with the same Kazuo Umezu he grew up reading as a judge.
This short story became what is now known as Tomie. The series features a young woman named Tomie, whose presence and manipulation drive men to commit violent acts. The legendary first series from Junji Ito ended up serializing in the same magazine for thirteen years. The series was incredibly popular in Japan, where it has been adapted into nine films and an anthology series.
His Most Popular Works
Tomie is only a drop in the bucket of Junji Ito’s work. Another one of his most popular series is Uzumaki, a horror series about a town’s sudden supernatural obsession and paranoia with spirals. The franchise is currently being adapted into an anime miniseries by Studio Drive, and will premiere on Adult Swim. His other popular series Gyo is about undead fish with metal legs terrorize a young couple on a scuba vacation in Okinawa. Aside from original horror series, he’s also adapted Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and has written an original slice-of-life manga about his cats called Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu.
Junji Ito isn’t just known for series, however. Most of his work is actually short stories collected in anthology form featuring his unique blend of cosmic and body horror. Some of these anthologies include Flesh-Colored Horror, Lovesick Dead, and Dissolving Classroom. Some one-shots that aren’t part of short story anthologies include Junji Ito’s Snow White, Phantom Mansion, and Ghost Heights Management Association. He was also part of a canceled Silent Hills video game project with Guillermo Del Toro and Hideo Kojima, and later had a cameo in the game Death Stranding, showing he is still in contact with the two.
What About Junji Ito Makes Him So Popular?
Part of this is due to his drawing style. Junji Ito doesn’t draw his manga in the typical style we often associate with manga and anime. It’s drawn in a much more realistic art style, instead of a cartoonish one, and makes the terrifying events and imagery more terrifying. A lot of Ito’s fans often talk about how empty and hollow the artwork and dialogue is, which lends to the overwhelming eeriness of his works. Junji Ito also creates contrast, with terrifying visuals often having dark, crowded backgrounds, and keeping his artwork simple and neat in between the honorific images. This also helps said horrific images to pack a much larger punch.
Something else Junji Ito is exceptional at is pacing. A lot of his stories are slow-burns, rather than action-packed. Often, Junji Ito creates manga ‘jump scares’ that are full page, or even two-page, terrifying images during a dull scene. Junji Ito’s panel planning is often compared to The Conjuring, as he often saves the truly terrifying for later on and spends most of his work building suspense slowly, through background information and subtle hints. Often on a second or third read of his works, you can find hints and more throughout the series you may not have noticed before, giving what was once a dull scene a much deeper and terrifying significance.