5 disturbing japanese books for horror and thriller fans

People tend to underestimate just how unsettling reading horror can be. Granted, there are no images or music, but sometimes the brain fills in the blanks all too well and some stories just won’t leave you after finishing them. If said stories come from Japan, you bet they will haunt you because they have a way to get under your skin when you less expect it.

If you desire material to cause flares in your anxiety and nightmares, we present 5 Disturbing Japanese Books for Horror and Thriller Fans that we are sure you will enjoy!

5. “Penance” by Kanae Minato (Translated by Philip Gabriel)

Penance Kanae Minato

“When they were children, Sae, Maki, Akiko, and Yuko were tricked into separating from their friend Emily by a mysterious stranger. Then the unthinkable occurs: Emily is found murdered hours later.

Sae, Maki, Akiko, and Yuko weren’t able to accurately describe the stranger’s appearance to the police after Emily’s body was discovered. Asako, Emily’s mother, curses the surviving girls, vowing that they will pay for her daughter’s murder.”


Why is “Penance” by Kanae Minato disturbing? 

Let’s say that Emily’s mother’s promise of seeking revenge on her daughter’s friends messes them all up into their adulthood. None of them is exactly a well-adjusted person, but the one who marries a psycho who likes to treat her literally like a doll takes the cake. The one who lives as a shut-in who will go to great lengths to protect another little girl will definitely make a nasty impact on the reader.

4. “Earthlings” by Sayaka Murata (Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori)

 Earthlings Sayaka Murata

“Natsuki isn’t like the other girls. She has a wand and a transformation mirror. She might be a witch, or an alien from another planet. Together with her cousin Yuu, Natsuki spends her summers in the wild mountains of Nagano, dreaming of other worlds. When a terrible sequence of events threatens to part the two children forever, they make a promise: survive, no matter what.

Now Natsuki is grown. She lives a quiet life with her asexual husband, surviving as best she can by pretending to be normal. But the demands of Natsuki’s family are increasing, her friends wonder why she’s still not pregnant, and dark shadows from Natsuki’s childhood are pursuing her. Fleeing the suburbs for the mountains of her childhood, Natsuki prepares herself for a reunion with Yuu. Will he still remember their promise? And will he help her keep it?”


Why is “Earthlings” by Sayaka Murata disturbing? 

As we previously mentioned in our review, this book touches upon a pretty heavy subject matter, which is child abuse- both sexual and emotional. However, while it is disturbing to read about it, the book turns definitively creepy during the second half. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but it is fair to say that there is a reason why so many recorded themselves reading the last few pages. Their disgusted faces are priceless.

3. “The Crimson Labyrinth” by Yusuke Kishi (Translated by Camellia Nieh and Masami Isetani)

The Crimson Labyrinth usuke Kishi

“When an unemployed, former math major wakes up one day, he wonders if he’s somehow ended up on the red planet. The good-looking, young woman with aid-she says her name is Ai and that she draws erotic comics for a living-seems to have no clue either as to their whereabouts. Their only leads are cryptic instructions beamed to a portable device. Has the game begun?

 There is no reset button, no saving, and no continue-make the wrong move and it’s really GAME OVER. In the cruel world of THE CRIMSON LABYRINTH, mercy and compassion are only for the weak or the very, very strong. The stakes are nothing less than your life-and apparently a lot of money.”


Why is “The Crimson Labyrinth” by Yusuke Kishi disturbing? 

This book is like a snuff version of Squid Game, so you can tell from the get-go that things get gory fast. Since this book has been around since 1999 but just got an English re-release a few months ago, at first glance it seems it does not offer anything new to the genre. However, it still has some shocking moments and game mechanics that will surprise even the most jaded fan of this sort of work.

2. “Grotesque” by Natsuo Kirino (Translated by Rebecca Copeland)

Grotesque Natsuo Kirino

“Tokyo prostitutes Yuriko and Kazue have been brutally murdered, their deaths leaving a wake of unanswered questions about who they were, who their murderer is, and how their lives came to this end. As their stories unfurl in an ingeniously layered narrative, coolly mediated by Yuriko’s older sister, we are taken back to their time in a prestigious girls’ high school—where a strict social hierarchy decided their fates — and follow them through the years as they struggle against rigid societal conventions.”


Why is “Grotesque” by Natsuo Kirino disturbing? 

This book is horrifying, not only because of its subject matter, but also because it is hauntingly bleak. There is no hope for any of the characters, so you end up feeling both repulsion and despair for living in a world similar to the one portrayed here. Do you think that Oyasumi Pun Pun was depressing? Try and read this one. I bet you will end up feeling sad for days just as much.

1. “In The Miso Soup” by Ryu Murakami (Translated by Ralph McCarthy)

In the Miso Soup Ryu Murakami

“It is just before New Year’s. Frank, an overweight American tourist, has hired Kenji to take him on a guided tour of Tokyo’s sleazy nightlife on three successive evenings. But Kenji learns exactly how much he has to fear and how irrevocably his encounter with this great white whale of an American will change his life.”


Why is “In The Miso Soup” by Ryu Murakami disturbing? 

Where do we even begin? Yes, Frank will make you feel anxious and alert, but nothing will prepare you to see the extent of his psychopathy. To give you an example, this is one of the very few books that made one of our writers stop reading for a few minutes to collect herself. If Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk are too much for you, we don’t recommend touching this one. If that’s not the case, you will absolutely love it and won’t stop reading Ryu Murakami for a long while.

Still eager to find more disturbing content? Check our other book reviews to inspire your nightmares.

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