This was way, way back in the Before Times when JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure wasn’t a weird looking Adventure Shonen filled with Stands, memes, and confusing masculinity. It actually started out as a martial arts based Horror Manga, like if Dragon Ball Z was about firing your Ki at Dracula instead of Space Napoleon. (Yes, I know Toriyama used horror classics in Dragon Ball, but that was very different)
A lot of JoJo’s fans see the early days as the least of the series, back when it didn’t quite know what it wanted to be yet. Only half batshit insane, instead of the overclocked 101% batshit insane the world came to know and love. But here’s the trick… If you’re a horror fan, you may well like this gothic origin set in Victorian England and its World War 2 times follow up. Mayan masks make vampires, controlling your spirit to make energy “Ripples” explosively smites the undead, and the creatures behind the Mayan mask turn out to be vampire-eating even bigger monsters known as Pillar Men.
For the full JoJo’s experience most people want to skip right to Stardust Crusaders and Stands, but there’s a lot here for the Horror Manga Connoisseur back in the late 1980’s origins. A cockney street tough called Robert E. O. Speedwagon, plane crashes spectacular enough to save the world, an unexpected amount of gore, vampires that feed using their fingers like leeches, Nazi super science, a horrific incident involving a pet dog, creative ways to cheat even the limits of undeath, and a particular highlight where a vampire Jack the Ripper bursts out of a horse.
These first two more horror focused storylines, Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency, are collected as series 1 of the anime and can be found on Netflix as well as through anime specialist Crunchyroll. From there you can carry on into the crazy Battle Shonen with some horror elements the series become, but the early stories a lot of fans will tell you to skip may be among your favourite parts if you would prefer to see the horror brought to the forefront.
Hirohiko Araki is a well known huge horror fan, likely explaining why he started his ongoing epic in that genre. These early story arcs covering the gothic to the Indiana Jones style wartime have a great pulp aesthetic which is mostly a broad and general theme. This leads to the strange paradox that if you’re looking for direct horror movie references you’re best continuing on into later JoJo’s stories.
For now, though? I couldn’t recommend giving the first series of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure higher as a horror fan!
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Luke Greensmith is an Editor at the Grimoire of Horror and an active folklorist as well as working in film across a few roles. While this can cover quite a wide range of things, he’s a dedicated horror fan at heart and pretty involved with horror communities both online and local to him. You can find their folklore work on the Ghost Story Guys Podcast, their own LukeLore podcast, and accompanying the artist Wanda Fraser’s Dark Arts series as well as on the Grimoire of Horror itself.