Junji Ito “Layer Of Fear” And The Art Of Designing Nightmares

In the remote prefecture of Gifu, a man just wakes up from a long dream. To avoid disturbing his wife, he quietly sneaks out of bed and tiptoes into the kitchen. He prepares a simple breakfast for himself while watching the first glimpse of sunlight through the trees. Then, the man makes his way to his realm – an itty-bitty home office crammed with drawings of unspeakable fear.

That man is author Junji Ito, manga’s master of abstract horror. 

Ito started his journey as a dental hygienist, drawing and writing his own stories only in his spare time. Now, designing nightmares has become his full-time career. 

Spiral patterns, furniture, dating, and dreaming… this legend among legends has the magic to turn the ordinary into the supernatural and create macabre from the random. He crafts stories that are deeply human and yet, beyond our wildest fantasy. Turning the first page of Ito’s haunting tales, such as Junji Ito Layer Of Fear, readers will ultimately be lured into one thing: Obsession. 

Author Junji Ito: From A Humble Beginning To The King Of Terror

To many fans’ bewilderment (and delight), the “horror maniac,” as he proclaims, is actually a humble, sweet, and mild-mannered man. This is a remarkable contrast to the themes and content of his artwork. 

Author Junji Ito
Guess what? This is the guy who scares you to death – Source: Reddit

Junji Ito spent most of his childhood in a small town, and in a 2009 interview, he revealed that both of his siblings loved horror manga by Kazuo Umezu. “I grew up reading the same series as they did, which helps me find my footing now. Horror can arouse an interest in the extremes of existence, like fear, grotesque, and curiosity. I think that’s why I’ve been interested in it for so long”, said the author. 

Throughout his teenage years, drawing manga had always been Ito’s greatest passion. Even as a dental technician, he still wrote and drew at night. Fast forward a few years, in 1987, Ito submitted one of his short stories to Monthly Halloween. That story won him the Kazuo Umezu prize, with the same Kazuo Umezu he admired as the judge.

Commonly focusing on youth and friendship, the most popular Shounen manga of the 2000s may feel more impactful for young readers. Still, they sometimes gloss over the depth of storytelling this medium can produce. In such a context, it’s easy to see why author Junji Ito stands out: He’s a true storyteller whose work reflects human phobias, existential anxieties, and fears of the unknown. 

Deep and dark water, claustrophobia, or the feeling of being watched – his inspiration can be anything. Sometimes, they come from minor discomforts, like a sweaty mattress. One by one, the mangaka gathers these little sparks and fans them into a wildfire of deadly and frightening proportions. And it’s in Ito’s artwork that we really feel this terror. 

But how does this small-town man from Japan take advantage of the black and white medium to deliver poignancy and set the stage for sheer horror?

Intricate Detail & Body Horror 

A quick Google search will give you the answer. Wading through pages and pages of gruesome shots from Junji Ito’s manga, one thing becomes clear: He has a distinctive aesthetic. This stands in stark contrast to the smooth, clean panels of his contemporaries – Norihiro Yagi, author of “Claymore”, or the man behind “Naruto“, Masashi Kishimoto. 

Being a mangaka, author Junji Ito‘s artwork is mostly monochrome. Obviously, this doesn’t stop him from conveying the story’s overall mood. He uses the absence of color to create unsettling images with characters that appear devoid of life. It’s worth noting that, despite all the intricate features, none of Ito’s characters ever have blushing on their cheeks. This evokes a sense of “inhumanity”, which is a recurring concept throughout the author’s manga. 

Ito has an uncanny ability to draw human eyes, and they are given more attention than other features. When nothing eerie happens yet, you can feel a chill running down your spine as you stare into the eyes of his protagonists. And when the paranormal really hits? Dread and insanity are fully expressed through the eyes in a striking and hideous way.

junji ito eyes
How long can you look her in the eyes? – Source: Sabukaru

It’s not just the eyes, though: Everything in Ito’s world is depicted in great detail, which is another feature of his art. Various lines demonstrate disturbing elements to bring out the drippy and squishy texture. That contributes to his horror’s unsettling and disgusting nature, making us feel as if we can imagine, feel, and experience it. 

Ito’s drawing also takes advantage of heavy contrast, both in the characters and backgrounds. The vivid usage of black and white adds a layer of depth to the panel and takes the eerie ambiance to the next level.  

The unique aesthetic makes it perplexing to even classify Junji Ito’s work under the same “manga” umbrella. Nonetheless, his style suits the “horror” category perfectly. Seeing this in an adorable Shoujo romance will be off-putting, but it’s downright horrific when used to demonstrate insect-like monsters, deformed limbs, and twisted environments. Junji Ito’s tales feature a solid blend of humanoids and non-humanoid creatures, both of which are suitably creepy.

Insanity & Inevitable Demise 

The visual aesthetic of Ito’s work plays a significant role in its charm. Beyond aesthetics, though, the stories he creates also embrace profoundly unnerving narrative themes. 

Like any horror story, the fear in Ito’s manga often comes from monsters and the supernatural. Their designs have already been discussed, but their conceptual appeal shouldn’t be overlooked as well. For instance, the walking fish from “Gyo” are scary since they tap into a realistic fear: The author takes creatures that we usually don’t consider a threat (since they live in the ocean) and throws them into our daily environment that would normally be safe from them. 

This concept can be seen across all of Ito’s works, where no place is safe for humans, and the characters are forced to face the horror with no chance of escape. 

Another aspect that defines author Junji Ito‘s manga is the idea of “beyond human”, and he repetitively explores it in various ways. For example, the human protagonists tend to succumb to madness, whether at the hands of the supernatural or their own paranoia. While most of them start off as ordinary people, as the stories unfold, their rationality is twisted, turning them into something darker and no longer human. The idea of losing oneself and, as a result, losing agency is distressing, and it’s evident in series like “Uzumaki” or “The Enigma of Amigara Fault”. 

Insanity & Inevitable Demise
Junji Ito’s characters tend to lose themselves in madness – Source: Aminoapps

Often in Ito’s world, the driving forces behind the tragedy are non-human. This is, of course, common in the horror genre. However, instead of zombies and spirits, he makes use of godlike entities, and these deific beings are unstoppable. Since they go beyond human comprehension, there is no way to put an end to the terror. 

As a result, readers go over Ito’s work with a constant feeling of inescapable demise, which again reinforces the fear of losing agency. These malevolent forces are a major theme in works like “Blood-Bubble Bushes”. As readers, we can’t help but fear for the fate of the characters: They will meet a horrible end, no matter how hard they try to escape. 

Aside from the premise, it’s easy to describe Junji Ito’s work as bizarre. Most of his works are thematically profound, but at the same time, they are irrational, nonsensical, and go beyond imagination. The intrigue of a tale that you have never seen before is enough to lure you into Ito’s narrative, and this, together with the horror-esque elements of his manga, provides enough suspension of disbelief to make them haunting. 

Turning The Page

In an interview with Crunchyroll, Junji Ito once stated: 

“It’s challenging to make a manga as scary as a movie. There are no noises, amongst other things. In comparison to movies, the scary moments don’t have as much impact… You are not allowed to hold back.”

So, how do you instill a manga reader’s fear? In this silent medium, readers will determine the story’s pace by how quickly they turn the pages. Dealing with this dilemma, Ito’s exceptional sense of design really stands out. He found a way to use the “page turning” format to his advantage.

Before putting up a horrifying scene, the author will have a buildup page showing the characters’ reactions to the “thing” that they see. Whether to get up the nerve, flip the page, and face the horror by ourselves is all up to the readers. 

Below is my attempt to recreate his page-turning method, with examples from Junji Ito’s “Layer of Fear”:

Turning The Page
The frantic mother literally peels away layers of her own daughter… – Source: Imgur
On the next page, the readers face a large, textless panel depicting the terror
Only to be greeted by this – Source: Imgur

On the next page, the readers face a large, textless panel depicting the terror. This is author Junji Ito’s answer to a movie’s “jumpscare”. 

According to Carson Paul, an Animation major at DePaul University, the key to this approach is how Ito places the reader in the story. “You get to see from the protagonist’s point of view,” he explained. “The characters don’t even need to utter a word to describe how horrible it is – it happens right before your eyes. Just by using his art, Ito can convey the horror that would take other writers and artists lines and lines of characters’ remarks. The texture he creates and the extraordinarily detailed surroundings are more than enough to show readers what kind of dreadful world they are immersed in.” 

Spiraling Into Darkness: Junji Ito’s Most Terrifying Tales

To get you enmeshed with Ito’s works, JobandEdu would suggest picking one of his classics: “Tomie”, “Uzumaki”, or “Gyo.” This series showcases his sense of horror and offer plenty of WTF moments.


Between the 1950s and the 1990s, in America, movies like The Bad Seeds, Village of the Damned, or End Of Days were laying the groundwork for modern horror. Following Rhoda’s brilliant portrayal, there was an increase in the trend of creepy young girls, who assured the audience again and again that they were the ideal vehicle for paranormal storytelling. 

On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, Japan, in its post-imperial search for identity, adopted many American cultural artifacts, from jazz to bourbon and even this “creepy young girl” trope. Thus, in the following years, we saw “Matango”, “Kwaidan”, and “Kuroneko”. While these stories were deemed unradical and uninventive by critics, their proliferation did pave the way for Junji Ito’s first publication, “Tomie”

Tomie Junji Ito
“Tomie” – Source: Spine Cracker

“Tomie” made its debut in the October 1987 issue of Monthly Halloween magazine. Immediately, it bewitched audiences with a twisted sense of identity and a unique approach to the horror genre. The manga follows Tomie Kawakaki – a high-school girl who is brutally murdered on a class trip. Her dismembered body parts are found in different locations, but there is no trace of the killer. 

As the story begins, the author coerces his readers to feel sympathetic for her tragedy. However, the next day, Tomie returns to school, unaware of her own tragic fate. Her unexpected appearance contorts the entire narrative: We now know that Tomie is no ordinary girl, and a chain of demises begins for everyone in her class. 

Many of the techniques that define author Junji Ito‘s works were developed within Tomie. In this iconic debut, we can see his distinctive style of conceptual horror, twisting the natural world until it becomes unnatural. Horror fans can also see Lovecraft’s influence here when Ito brings up threats that exceed humans’ understanding: Why has Tomie come back? What exactly is she? And what does she want? 

Going through Ito’s work, there is always a sense of anticipation — whether for the next ghoulish depiction of a contorted body or the next wordless illustration that screams from its panel. An expert at his medium, the mangaka utilized the page-turning technique right in Tomie to create moments of heightened intensity and horror. 

Following its publication in Monthly Halloween, “Tomie” became an instant hit. It eventually won Ito the Kazuo Umezu award, which was named after another genre legend. The award cemented his reputation and launched Ito’s career as a promising ingénue. 

The fact that Tomie has been collected into volumes and sold millions of copies worldwide is a credit to both the author’s talent as a storyteller and the seismic impact of its release. The series came about when the “creepy young girl” trope had reached its saturation point, and yet, it was still phenomenal. 

“But Ito’s tale was never meant to be a portrayal of a young girl filled with vengeance,” Redditor “Legendary-Girl-A” wrote. “Rather, it was an examination of jealously, deathly attraction, lingering guilt, and consequences. If you look at it from that perspective, Ito’s debut can be seen as a commentary on the very narrative that subverted.” 


“Tomie” might be the most famous work by Junji Ito, and oftentimes, it would be recommended to those who are not familiar with Japan’s “Master of Horror.” To many of his fans, though, his true masterpiece is “Uzumaki“, a 19-chapter series released in 1998. 

While “Tomie” toys with the themes of temptation and guilt, Uzumaki explores the concept of teetering on the brink of obsession. The appeal of this series is how it starts humble and builds up, just like how the spirals have always been a common part of our lives. It’s everywhere around us, on a rain puddle, on our fingerprints, and even on our organs. Throughout the story, the harmless recurrence of this pattern becomes the source of fascination for the characters in Uzumaki. 

Keeping up with the female-driven perspective, “Uzumaki” centers around Kirie Goshima and the residents of her small town, Kurouzu-cho, who find themselves under a mysterious curse involving spirals. Ito plants a seed of hyper fixation over this enigmatic pattern and warps it to an extreme level. 

The first signal of demise is when Kirie sees her boyfriend’s father, Mr. Saito, bending over in an alley, mesmerized by the perfect spiral on a snail’s shell. The strange interest soon becomes more and more frantic, and Mr. Saito’s behavior gets more bizarre with each panel. Eventually, this leads to his brutal fate at the hand of that which he had committed his life to. 

But what I find most intriguing is how Junji Ito intensifies the plot. Just as Mr. Saito develops a sick obsession with spiral patterns, his wife is caught in paranoid tendencies and tries to get rid of every spiral around her. When you recognize the sheer volume of spirals that are present in daily life, even within our bodies, you might start to comprehend the disturbing possibilities that Junji Ito effortlessly seizes again and again. 

Uzumaki horror manga
The village is haunted, not by a ghost or demon, but by a pattern – Source: Multiversity Comics

As the story advances, the readers are drawn deeper and deeper into the twists and turns of the bizarre spirals. Thus, the irrational fear of the characters is almost justified. 

At the time of “Uzumaki”’s publishing, many artists used spirals to depict blushing on the cheeks of manga and anime characters. Author Junji Ito turns this cutesy representation on its head by transforming it into a symbol of pure dread. 

“In a way, the spiral represents one’s obsession with day-to-day life, and how this obsession can drive a person insane,” says Kyle Anderson, a famous blogger in the manga & anime community. “Characters who are captured by the spiral can’t help but submit to the enigmas of its origins. After two chapters, what seems to be innocuous turns into a whirlpool of horror, engulfing the entire village and completely ruining normal life. 

The story’s climactic moments are horrific and utterly frightening, boasting some of the most brilliant page-turns in the manga world. “Uzumaki” is an ode to abstract horror lovers – relentless, unpredictable, and deeply unsettling. Whether you are an Ito fan or not, this is a must-read for any horror enthusiast.


The series has received an anime adaptation


Despite being widely acknowledged as a piece of art in its own right, “Uzumaki” still faces some controversy. Firstly, it doesn’t give readers a proper explanation of the curse’s origin. Until the last page, we still have no idea about the purpose behind Kurouzu-cho’s phenomenon and where it came from. Secondly, the characters seem to lack common sense and don’t even take action before it’s too late.

While these two might be Ito’s intention, for some manga lovers, they just don’t click. In that sense, “Gyo” might be a step-up for author Junji Ito, as compared to his previous series. 

The story begins when a couple – Tadashi and Kaori – are taking a vacation at a beach house in Okinawa. While scuba diving, Tadashi manages to escape some sharks that almost catch him. Yet, when they are back in the house, Kaori can’t stop complaining about a rotten smell. Tadashi follows the scent, only to discover a strange creature – a fish with bug-like, metal legs. He puts it in a garbage bag, but even so, the fish keeps coming after them. 

From that point on, everything goes downhill. More and more sea life with strange legs comes ashore, but they don’t look like they belong in an evolution textbook. Instead, these creatures are nasty and cause disasters anywhere they go. Tadashi and Kaori try to escape inland, and Tadashi discusses the situation with his scientist uncle. But the fish have already found their way to Tokyo, and the couple must fight to survive this nightmare. 

Junji Ito Gyo
Nah, it won’t – Source: Muse With Me

Before reading the manga, all I knew about it was “sea life coming onto land with creepy, mechanical legs”. How amazingly weird it could be wasn’t something I expected. I think it’s worth seeing for yourself, so I won’t reveal much about the plot to preserve the twists and turns. What shocked me the most, however, was that it didn’t come from a supernatural origin. That’s Ito stepping out of his comfort zone, and while that information might spark some ideas, trust me when I say, it’s not what you think. 

Among the trio, “Gyo” might have the most exciting character development. Tadashi’s relationship and Kaori are much more nuanced than others featured in his works. The fact that Kaori has germophobia makes the invasion of fish extremely disturbing for her. Aside from this condition, she is quite a narcissist, as seen when she constantly pressures Tadashi to handle problems beyond his capabilities. He does lose his cool with her behavior sometimes, but I enjoy how dedicated he is to her safety. It’s evident that Kaori is struggling with some mental issues, and even amidst a crisis, Tadashi never thinks of abandoning her, not even once. 

Tadashi and Kaori Gyo
Tadashi and Kaori’s relationship is one of the most exciting factor in Gyo – Source: Mangareader

Thanks to “Gyo”‘s central concept, Ito’s art style can flex all of its potentials. The body horror of this series is exceptional. It starts with vividly detailed sea creatures that combine two common fears: The deep sea and insects. Then, the situation soon devolves into ghastly body horror as what alters the fish begins to affect humans. Ito has a very twisted idea about what happens to the corpses, making the story even more disturbing. 

“Gyo” might get a bit too far-fetched at times. Nonetheless, it’s ultimately a brilliant horror story with fantastic illustrations and a premise beyond anticipation. Like Goodreads user “Dave Schaafsma” concludes, and I quote, “It’s definitely worth giving a read, as long as you are not grossed out halfway.” 

Weave Haunts From The Little Things: Short Stories

Tomie, Uzumaki, and Gyo all give us complex and extensive glimpses into the mind of Japan’s “Master of Horror”. Nonetheless, his sparks of fantasy catch fire in shorter, lesser-known one-shots, too. This reminds me of Stephen King, whose imagination was never constrained by condensed narrative.

Below are some of Ito’s best short stories. Most can be found in “Shiver” and “Smashes”, two Junji Ito book collection that are close to perfect. The rest are bonus stories, or “hidden gems,” as I call them. 

Army Of One

junji ito army of one
Army Of One Junji Ito – Source: Junji Ito wiki

Being a bonus in “Hellstar Remina,” “Army of One” is easily overlooked. However, thanks to a completely different tone and atmosphere, it really stands out from any of Junji Ito’s manga. 

At first, “Army of One” embraces the plot and pacing of a very grounded, unsupernatural thriller. Missing people are found dead and stitched together in gruesome poses. 

The number of victims increases day by day, from individuals to groups to entire mass gatherings. Their dead bodies are woven together like a web of corpses. Though terrifying, it seems to be the work of some sick serial killers. It’s a unique take on Ito’s narrative. 

That is, of course, until the very last page. 

The Earthbound

Many of Junji Ito’s standalone short stories share a central idea: The protagonist finds themselves in a circumstance that threatens or strips away their dignity. Oftentimes, they are stuck, screwed, and have to suffer till death. They lose their mind, and that’s what leads them to the ultimate ending. 

A brilliant example is “The Earthbound”, found in the “Smashed” short story collection. It starts, in a signature Junji Ito way, with a titular disease. People all over the country get stuck in a standing position and stop speaking. 

The Earthbound
Initially, everything seems like a weird performance act, but the situation slowly shifts from unusual to terrifying – Source: Medium

When asked why, the “patients” beg the enquirers just to leave them be. A group of people establishes a charity to help the “earthbounds,” but they just choose to ignore it. 

As the phenomenon spreads, Asano – the protagonist – goes on to track down the cause. Slowly, the reason behind this disease unfolds, and it ties in with people’s dignity. 

“Earthbound” is full of astonishment. In fact, it twists and turns very quickly. Even the background of our protagonist plays a huge role in revealing the mystery, which is rare for a one-shot. 

There is no gore and abstract horror here. The story is slow-burnt, bizarre, and ends with a creeping dread. It demonstrates Junji Ito as the master of tension and deep-rooted fear. 

The Enigma Of Amigara Fault

“The Enigma of Amigara Fault,” a final bonus chapter in the book “Gyo,” takes place after an earthquake. Following this natural disaster, the residents of Amigara discover a series of human-shaped holes in the rock face of the nearby mountain. Each of these holes resembles the silhouette of a person in the village. 

All the characters start to abandon all logical reasoning and walk into the holes they believe were made for them, even though they have no idea what’s awaiting them inside. How Ito depicts humankind’s unconscious impulses toward self-destruction is just touching, and I have yet to see a story that deals with such topics as strikingly as this one.  

The Enigma of Amigara Fault series
The Enigma of Amigara Fault – Source: Vox

“The Enigma of Amigara Fault” doesn’t feature the patented Ito body horror, which is another interesting point. There is nothing overly gory or disturbing here. It’s all about the narrative and concept. In fact, this is one of the few standalone stories by author Junji Ito that could be adapted to prose. 

Fashion Model

“Shiver” is a collection full of gems that highlight Junji Ito’s strength as an artist and storyteller. When you search for the author’s name on Google, these images will take center stage: Tomie’s face, the spirals in Uzumaki, and the fashion model – an atrocious-looking woman with sharp fangs,  long fingers, and a hungry stare. 

Fashion Model oneshot
This panel has become iconic – Source: IGN

This is the story she comes from, and she’s exactly what one would expect her to be. An anxious, twisty member of an amateur film crew narrates the story. When the fashion arrives at the set for filming, his heart immediately misses a beat.

Since he’s the only one who gets so frightened and her appearance is way too scary, readers may have second thoughts about whether or not she’s the actual threat. After all, it would be unpredictable for a Junji Ito manga. Well, you have to read the story to discover the truth! 

Ghosts Of Prime Time 

Previously, I mentioned how Junji Ito’s characters would struggle to retain their dignity. They might have to fight against their trauma or confront their biggest fears. In most cases, they succumb, but some manage to rise above their predicament and escape. 

Featured in “Smashed”, “Ghosts of Prime Time” demonstrates this fight for dignity with a trapped hero. Keisuke never laughs or smiles, and he has no idea why his buddy Tsuguo keeps dragging him to comedy clubs. Then, one night, he notices a strange comedy duo that makes him warn his best friend to stay away from the club. The duo, called “Tasogare Kintoki”, performs cringe-worthy jokes, but for some mysterious reason, people laugh. 

Ghosts Of Prime Time  oneshot
Ghosts of Prime Time – Source: Tumblr

It turns out that the pair know they are terrible. They do, however, possess a power that can make the audience laugh. If anyone discovers the secret, they will make that person laugh to death. 

What makes this such a horrifying twist of Joker’s calling card is how it’s rooted in the supernatural. While one can protect himself against the Joker’s Smilex using a gas mask, nothing can defend you from Tasogare Kintoki. They control your soul without you knowing. Once you become their target, you will be subject to their whims. There is no hope left. 

Keisuke is the only one who doesn’t laugh, and problems arise when the two women see him. They decide to follow him home. 

The story is quite unsettling, with how the protagonist has to resist several hours without laughing to save his life. How long can he keep a straight face, and what would he do when pushed to the brink? Keisuke is forced to answer that question. 


“‘Greased’ is Junji Ito’s most disgusting piece'”, says Goodreads user Deborah Alice. And, well, I couldn’t agree more. 

Greased Oneshot
Brace yourself before reading this short little story. It might turn out to be disturbing! – Source: Alternative Readings

The author takes inspiration from his discomfort at dental school. All students had to sleep on the futon. The futon was always damp with the sweat of others. That’s how we have this story!

Published in “Shiver”, “Greased” follows a young girl who lives with her father and brother. Since the father owns a yakiniku restaurant, the house’s interior is always greasy. 

It’s a story of sibling rivalry drenched in grease; really, one of the most squeamish and icky tales you’ll ever read. And with the amount of detail in Ito’s artwork, some of the panels might make you want to throw up. 

The Hanging Balloons

Found in the “Shiver” anthology, Hanging Balloons is one of Ito’s most beloved standalone. There is no surprise, though: The manga represents the author at his peak. Aside from his imagination, it also boasts Ito’s uncanny ability to draw the human face in the most horrifyingly expressive ways. 

The plot of Hanging Balloons follows the events that take place in Japan after giant balloons quietly invade the country. These are no ordinary balloons: Each of them resembles a person’s exact hair and face. Everyone has a balloon, and everyone’s balloons are chasing after them. 

The Hanging Balloons oneshot
This story will forever change the way you look at balloons – Source: Fairy Drawahat Blog

Once your balloon spots you, it will loop a noose around your neck and strangle you. Soon enough, the sky is full of balloons dragging along the unfortunate victims’ corpses. 

This is quintessential Ito, demonstrating the impending threat of something beyond our comprehension. Some theories suggest that the balloons may stand for a person’s suicidal urges, but like most of Ito’s stories, any attempt to interpret the profound meaning will lead to nowhere. In the end, just like the characters, the readers are simply swept up in terror, unable to escape. 

The idea is horrific enough, but the horror comes in multiple ways. The concept of a quiet yet enormous hunter and the helpless people trying to evade them makes for an adrenalin-rushing scenario. And Ito’s illustration of gaunt, lifeless faces on these drifting balloons really tips this into the eerie valley. 

Honored Ancestors

A hilarious anecdote surrounds this story: While drawing it, Junji Ito created something he was very proud of – a person running while lying on his back in a bizarre spider-like posture. That is until he finally saw the extended version of “The Exorcist” and realized that a filmmaker had done it before he did. 

Nonetheless, the panel will still make your blood run cold. “One of Ito’s most viscerally monstrous scenes”, as noted by Redditor “Trashcoelector.”

When a high school boy takes his girlfriend home to meet his dad, she suffers from memory loss and trauma in the form of a nightmare about a giant caterpillar. The boy’s dad shows up, but he enters the room in an eerie fashion, never revealing the top of his head. 

Honored Ancestors junji ito
Can you guess what’s behind the door? – Source: Imgur

Eventually, readers discover the reason, and it’s one of the most stunning, creepy, and twisted moments in author Junji Ito‘s world. This is a glorious homage to body horror that will haunt you for a long, long time. 

Junji Ito Layer Of Fear

Terror has so many layers to it, and no one is better at peeling away those layers than Junji Ito. Though not as famous as “The Hanging Balloons” or “Fashion Model”, Junji Ito “Layer Of Fear” is a real hidden gem. Trigger warning for some REAL bad body horror. 

In the past centuries, humankind has been lucky with mutations. Once in a while, however, some mysterious diseases would rear their ugly heads and grab onto an unfortunate person. It can be as simple as being allergic to certain foods, but in the worst case, it will turn your body into a mass of muscle and bone.

Why am I bringing it up? Well, obviously, that’s what Ito is stirring up in our psyche with this one-shot! 

Junji Ito’s “Layer Of Fear” begins innocently, with some archeologists discovering a strange hole resembling a man’s face from one side. 

Junji Ito Layer Of Fear
Junji Ito Layer Of Fear. Source: i.imgur

As the rain begins to fall, the expedition team covers up the hole. We then abruptly jump forward to the year 2017, when a mother and her two daughters are driving along the road. From their conversation, we know that the mother clearly favors the younger girl, Reimi, for her immense beauty. Reimi’s mother had wanted her to become a celebrity ever since she was a child, but she was too shy to pursue that goal. 

Things start to go downhill when the mother, being the best parent of the year, tells the older sister, Narumi: 

Things start to go downhill when the mother
Yeah, right, she deserves a badge – Source: carnivorouslreviews

This causes Narumi to retort in anger, and for a moment, she loses focus on the road. When she hears Reimi yelling at her to watch out, Narumi swerves to the side and crashes onto a tree. What’s greeting us is this horrifying scene: 

This causes Narumi to retort in anger, and for a moment, she loses focus on the road.
He doesn’t have to zoom in, really – Source: Tumblr

So, yeah, Reimi was degloved. You might think she wouldn’t survive this whole ordeal, or at least would have her pretty face completely ruined. But this is from Junji. Ito’s mind, and things wouldn’t be that simple. They take Reimi to the hospital, and the doctor discovers something extremely bizarre about her skin. That’s where the body horror kicks in. 

I can’t spoil much here (though I really want to), but the nonstop panels of stomach-churning gore and horror are unprecedented. It’s a perfect combination of Ito’s passion for eldritch terror and his talent as an illustrator of gory body horror. What takes the standalone to the next level, though, is the human element in the mother. Her personality creates a contrast between something that’s more grounded with something absurdly impossible and utterly creepy. The horror of figuring out something’s wrong with your body to that extent, and the reactions of your loved ones make Junji Ito “Layer of Fear” one of the darkest stories in his repertoire. 

Some of Ito’s works have a problem with endings as they are cut off rather abruptly, but this manga wraps up at the perfect spot. The final panel is really haunting. It does answer some questions but at the same time, reveals an even bigger mystery to make the story stick in our minds for a long time. 

Lingering Goodbye 

lingering goodbye oneshot
Lingering Goodbye – Source: Medium

But Junji Ito doesn’t only tell gory, bloody tales. Some of his stories focus on tragedy, and “Lingering Goodbye” is one of them. It begins with Akiko, a young girl who struggles with the fear of her father passing away. 

We then witness Akiko marrying a man named Makoto and becoming a part of the Tokura family. The Tokura household has a strange custom: When someone dies, family members come together and perform a ritual that creates an afterimage of the deceased. As you go through the story, you will discover more about the afterimage, their nature, and the secret of the Tokura. 

“Lingering Goodbye” is not haunting. Rather, this sad little tale will stay with you long after you have finished reading and take you into an introspective mode. I found the characters relatable and the ending bittersweet. It raises questions about how long it is enough to grieve and gives us no answer because, just like closure, the process of ending a chapter is up to you. 

The Long Dream

the long dream oneshot
The Long Dream Junji Ito – Source: Reddit

We have another Ito one-shot in the “Shiver” collection, one that showcases his ability to depict the human body in a deformed, monstrous, broken way. This is what truly makes him stand tall as Japan’s “Master of Horror.”

The body horror in “The Long Dream” stands out because it doesn’t follow the same path of explosive and monstrous transformation (think the process of turning into vampires in old-school horror movies, for example). The manga takes a slow-burning approach, with its protagonist confined to a hospital bed. 

The central concept behind this weird and wonderful piece is that our bedridden man has spent years in a dream state. When he goes to sleep, he dreams about his whole life. 

When he wakes up, those years he dreamed about have added to his physical age, swiftly transforming his body into something incomprehensible, a thing that has aged thousands of years but is still alive. Ito’s talent for drawing transformed bodies really shines in this spine-chilling story. 


“Smashed” is the titular story of the “Smashed” collection. The premise might seem absurd, but the visual aesthetic and the suspenseful lead-up to the big reveal certainly create an aura of terror. 

It’s also known as “Splatter Film” in some fan translations – Source: Daniel-Lau.com

Again, in “Smashed”, our protagonist is trapped in a situation where he has to fight the temptation to retain his dignity. User “JGaitan” from r/junjiito has cited that you don’t read this manga for the characters but for the spectacle that catches them in. 

A man named Ogi went trekking in the South American rainforest and got lost. People of the tribe found him, treated his wound, and gave him a jar of sap as a parting gift. They told him to “eat, but don’t be seen”. Not knowing the true meaning, he shares the sap with his friend, Sugio. Sugio wants more, but Ogi shoos him away, saying he doesn’t have a spare jar. 

The story should end here, except that after Sugio tasted the sap, the food he usually eats now tastes like garbage. He takes some friends back to Ogi’s house, demanding more of the sap, but the door is locked. They sneak into the house through an open window, yet Ogi is nowhere to be found, only in a jar. When the group steals the sap and divides it among themselves, one of the girls suddenly notices a strange decoration on the wall…

So now you see, Junji Ito doesn’t stop with beauty or curiosity when he talks about what happens when you succumb to temptation. He can dive deeper into real-life problems, such as drug addiction. 

Slug Girl

The last story, which is featured in the “Twisted Vision” collection, is not an experiment with psychological horror like “The Earthbound” or “The Long Dream”. Still, it manages to touch our deepest fear. For its unnerving nature and the empathy it instills, “Slug Girl” has earned a place as one of Ito’s classics. 

Slug Girl tells the story of a high school girl whose family’s backyard has been plagued by slugs for as long as she can remember. She wakes up one day to find her tongue swollen and feeling really sick. After returning from school, the girl is bedridden and, soon discovers her tongue has turned into a slug’s head and body. 

Slug Girl
Slug Girl Junji Ito – Source: Crunchyroll Store

Her condition gets worse, but what truly gets on our nerves is that feeling of, “What would I do if I was in her shoes?”. Comes with the question is sheer panic.

An Interesting Change Of Pace: Cat’s Diary

Although author Junji Ito is famous for his horror works, he doesn’t shy away from exploring the comical side of life. As mentioned, the man has spent a few years as a dentist and cat owner. To fulfill both of those roles, you need to know how to laugh. That’s how we got the Junji Ito cat manga: “Yon & Mu.” 

In this manga, Ito opens up about the time he lost his dignity for some cats. His fianceé helped weather the storm while adding her trolling as well. As a result, readers are treated to a hilarious and loving slice of life. From the story, one can see how much Junji Ito cherishes those in his life, including a wonderful woman and some mischievous furbabies. 

The protagonist is J-kun, Ito’s author avatar. His fianceé, A-ko, wants to take her cat to the new home, but J-kun objects, believing he’s a dog person. Moreover, A-ko’s cat, Yon, has a spooky skull mark on his back. According to J-kun, Yon is “a living death omen, creepier than any monster humans can dream of.” Despite this, A-ko adores Yon and insists on taking him from her parents’ home. Eventually, she wins the argument, and we see a grumpy J-kun covering the wall with catproof paper. 

A-ko then adopts Mu, and the Norwegian cat turns out to be a snuggler. J-kun attitude changes, and he can’t stop grabbing My for some cuddles and kisses. At this moment, he finally realizes the power this creature can have over others. Seeing Yon suckle on his fianceé’s finger, J-kun makes it his mission to win Yon’s heart as well, but Yon keeps giving him the cold shoulder and clearly favors A-ko since she understands cats better. Mu is more lovey-dovey, so he’s more than happy to let J-kun pet him. One must be careful with his love bites, though. 

Most of the cat manga I’ve read before is just too cute. “Cat Diary” is definitely not one of them: The author maintains his creepy aesthetic throughout, which means the human characters look creepy. A-ko’s eyes don’t have pupils, and she always wears the eerie smirk you can see on Ito’s monsters. Even his wife, Ayako, reveals that she disapproves of how he depicted her since she looks too scary. 

Junji Ito cat's diary
Okay, but this is not some horror manga, really – Source: Medium

Well, that doesn’t make the story less fuzzy. Cat owners often say that your dignity is at risk when you have a cat. The pet will train you, not the other way around. That’s exactly what happened to J-kun: He complains as the huge cat tree takes up space in their apartment and covers the wall with scratchproof paper. In the end, though, he admits that he can’t imagine a life without them. The cats have become part of the family. 

All in all, this is not just an outside-the-box story for an established horror artist. It’s also a humorously heart-warming tale of companionship and love. I think, in a way, the whole manga is a metaphor for sharing your home with feline friends. Taking away the dialogue, it seems like a horror show. “You mean they poop everywhere and scratch your furniture?”, outsiders would exclaim. But then, when they take a closer look, they will discover a genuine affection that comes from both directions, enriching the lives of all involved. 

Junji Ito’s Legacy

Going through Junji Ito’s best stories, we can see a Lovecraftian flavor to his style, as well as inspiration from Japanese folklore. But they are just the ingredients; what bakes them into something wholly and utterly terrifying is his own mind. 

At the age of 59, author Junji Ito has got for himself an expansive legacy. Homage to this horror maverick can be found in media over the world. Tomie has lent her beauty to a television series spanning over 12 episodes in Japan. Her influence went all the way to the West when Quibi, an American streaming service, launched its TV adaptation. Meanwhile, Junji Ito Layers of Fear has inspired some episodes of Cartoon Network’s “Steven Universe” and “Rick & Morty.” This is a remarkable and warranted tribute to Ito’s body of works. 

It’s always intriguing to think about how stories as bloody and twisted as Junji Ito’s can also convey profound themes. It adds a layer of depth to them, something we can ponder when blood and gore are not satisfying enough. Much like the spiral he depicts, once you enter the world of Ito, you will be mesmerized by the beauty of visual nightmares and paranoia. And surely, you will come back for more. 

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Iris Vida

Well, Iris Vida is very into reading books from different eras, cultures, and anything that has been going viral lately, etc. Her passions can't be put in a few words only. Whether it's the "Jazz Age," a Neil Gaiman notable novel, the pitter-patter melodies of Taylor Swift's music, or anything else, she always sends the best materials to her top-notch writings, engaging all readers everywhere. Moreover, like Nick Carraway, who captured global attention with his rich and glamorous look, she leaves readers with a satisfying sense of wonder and an urge to learn more with her compelling writing style.