Junji Ito’s ‘Uzumaki’ is a Must-Read for Any Horror Fan

Uzumaki manga held against a bright window on a sunny day, with red-brick buildings in the background
Never read this book at night

I suspected I would be into horror books very early on in my reading journey. But I chose to ease myself into the genre, rather than dive head-first and not know what I was getting into. I started with the one and only, cult classic, The Haunting of Hill House, which made me almost certain I wanted more out of horror. Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects followed, and although it fits the mystery/thriller genre more, some of the body horror imagery still makes me shiver when I think about it.

Karin Slaughter’s Pretty Girls was a worthy addition to my horror reads, at the moment ranking third in my all-time favourites of the genre. Second place goes to the only King novel I’ve ever read (I’m working on it), The Outsider. And first place? Well, this is where it gets interesting.

The best horror book I’ve ever read is Junji Ito’s acclaimed manga, Uzumaki. I got this for Christmas and couldn’t put it down. Much like its key symbol — the spiral — Uzumaki made me feel like I fell in a trance every time I picked it up. This is the reason why the warning I gave at the beginning is very serious: avoid reading this manga at night. Whenever I opened it, I fell in a hypnosis-like state, and it took me very long to get out of that frame of mind, even after I’d put the book down. This might sound disturbing to many, but if you’re a die-hard horror fan, you know a book is good if it does that to you.

Why You Should Read ‘Uzumaki’

Spirals…. this town is contaminated with spirals.
Junji Ito, Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror

In its 600+ pages, the manga takes apart the meaning of the spiral and twists it into horrifying events. The best part about Uzumaki is its originality. It had never occurred to me, before reading it, that we’re surrounded by spirals, that they’re inside us, around us, and they manifest through our daily lives in subtle ways. Junji Ito took the meaning and presence of spirals and imagined some of the most messed up and chaotic ways in which they can get out of control. 

But Uzumaki is much more than twisted horror. It tells a moving story with a lot of substance. Throughout the book, you witness how the madness of the spiral erodes the Japanese town of Kurouzu-Cho into pure chaos, spreading like a plague. The story is all the creepier when you realise the sinister events that keep unfolding are merely dismissed by the community as “odd”, while they carry on living their ordinary lives. 

The story is told by Kirie, a young girl from Kurouzu-Cho, who starts noticing the spiral’s curse when her boyfriend’s father becomes obsessed with the twisted shape. As everything falls apart around them, Kirie and her boyfriend, Shuichi, try to save the little things that still haven’t fallen victims to the spiral, all while bravely looking for the root cause of the curse.

Every time I finished a chapter, I felt like I’d been submerged in ice-cold water. Every time I started the next chapter, I kept thinking surely Ito wouldn’t find a more disturbing way to turn the spiral into tragedy and disaster. And every time he did. It made me think how little thought we put into the details of our lives and how twisted and meaningful the world really is if we stopped to mull it over. If something as common and apparently uninteresting as the shape of the spiral created such a startling story, I’m dying to know what else Junji Ito explores in his famous horror manga.

Kirie, the protagonist. Picture provided by the author.

The art is outstanding, although I usually prefer to create my own imagery, the idea behind Uzumaki fully justified the art, and one without the other would not have worked. The art is what truly makes this manga the masterpiece it has been recognised to be. It’s pretty in a frightening way, and that’s the best part about it. Much like the spiral, it draws you in and makes it impossible to take your eyes off it. I wanted to take in every single detail, even the most unsettling ones. 

The body horror gives you chills down your spine (frankly, it gives you chills down your everything), but it’s so detailed and beautiful in the most frustrating way, that it creates a see-saw feeling. It makes you want to avert your eyes while also keeping you hooked on each line, each curve, each facial expression, because all throughout, you fear you might miss the meaning if you don’t look at it properly.

Final Thoughts

If you love horror books but feel sceptical about picking up a manga, this is your sign to give it a chance. Without Ito’s unmistakable art and frightening depictions of this surreal horror story, Uzumaki would not have had the same impact. The book was almost haunting, tempting me to pick it up again whenever I broke free of the trance it threw me in.

Did you enjoy this book review? Read more about what books inspired and moved us on our Latest Posts page. If you’d like to join us in raving about our favourite reads, check out our Write for Us page, where you’ll find more details on how to become a contributor. Thank you for reading!

Published by Eliza Lita

Founder and editor-in-chief: Coffee Time Reviews. Freelance writer and Higher Ed comms person.

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