American horror typically depicts a psycho lurking around in a motel, zombies brought back from the dead, or clowns eating frightened children. Junji Itō has shaped the way viewers define horror forever, bringing stories to life by drawings made from ink and paper. Unlike American horror, he illustrates supernatural events such as mysterious spirals, blood-sucking vampire bats, and much more.
Born on July 31st, 1963 in Nakatsugawa, Gifu, Japan, Junji Itō developed his love for horror at a young age. His older sisters would read him Kazuo Umezu and Shinichi Koga–famous horror manga authors during the 1960s–in Japanese magazines. Other authors such as Hideshi Hino, Yasutaka Tsutsui, Shinichi Koga, H. P. Lovecraft, and Edogawa Ranpo became major influences to his work as well.
Junji Itō’s career as a manga author began around the 1980s, when he won the Kazuo Umezu Prize after entering a short tale to Gekkan Halloween. The submission later turned into a Japanese horror manga series titled Tomie. Afterwards, he quit his previous job and pursued his hobby of writing and drawing as a full career.
Junji Itō’s works were popular in Japan, yet they only gained popularity in the United States late into his career. In 2019, Itō won an Eisner Award for his manga reinterpretation of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Known as the Academy Awards of the comic industry, Itō became one of few foreigners to receive an Eisner Award. This year, he was once again nominated for an Eisner Award under the category of “The Best Writer/Artist” for his horror comic Jigokusei Remina.
Most of Junji Itō’s creations portray a dark, impulsive universe filled with the worst traits in any human, specifically greed, jealousy, and irrationality. There are recurring themes of grotesque horror, inevitable consequences of one’s own actions, seemingly ordinary characters that gradually submit to compulsion, and settings that break down and collapse into a state which reflects our own society. As a result, all of his mangas portray the beauty and underlying horror in every story. Itō’s most popular manga is arguably Uzumaki, a three-volume novel that depicts the journey of a teenager, Kirie Goshima, who witnesses an ordinary town fall under a curse of spirals. Another famous novel is Smashed, consisting of multiple short stories such as addictive honey that flattens those who drink it, a valley of mirrors, and “earthbound” people. These novels may be the most well-known, but Itō has a variety of underrated books, series, and movies to choose from.
As a lover of horror, I’ve grown to admire Junji Itō’s novels for their distinctive illustrations and plots. They truly allow readers to feel more than just fear. The ties between Itō’s fictional and nonfictional factors truly brings out different emotions because it reflects our own world.
Junji Itō is still alive at the age of 57. Although he may not be publishing any novels in the near future, his history of twisted tales that connect our deepest unknown fears to real life truly proves he’s the master of horror.
The works of Junji Ito are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.