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Ranking the Stories in Netflix’s Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre

Apologies (kinda) to all the Stephen King fans out there, but if asked to name the greatest living horror writer, the first name that would come to my mind would be Junji Ito. From bone-chilling cosmic horror epics to strange, off-kilter short stories, Ito’s body of work is nothing short of visionary. I can still distinctly recall the first moment that I opened Uzumaki as a kid and, based off of the sheer terror instilled in me by a single illustration, couldn’t sleep for a week.

Ito’s many talents make it difficult to pin down what it is exactly that makes his work so special. Though, perhaps that’s just it: his unique vision, compelling storytelling, chilling illustrations, thoughtful characterization, and mastery of plotting and dread all come together to form unparalleled works of horror.

While I would love to spend all my time here extolling the many virtue’s of Ito’s work, it is my unfortunate responsibility to instead tell you about Netflix’s new anthology series, Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the MacabreIf Ito’s magic lies in some particular mixture of skillfully executed elements, I am sorry to report that Netflix’s clumsily-named show is missing at least two of these elements altogether and has whittled the rest of them down to bare bones.

Most notably, the show looks… terrible? It’s so ugly. Oh my god, it’s so f*cking ugly. The characters themselves look like tracings of Ito’s original drawings and every aspect of any given frame is shockingly flat and lacking any kind of recognizable texture. The animation is so stiff and jerky that it’s impossible to tell which movements are supposed to look natural and which are supposed to inspire fear. Most tragic is how little care is taken to highlight moments of visual horror within the stories. In key points, the images are so sloppily conceived and lacking in detail that they come across as more confusing than scary.

A character vomits up ectoplasm.
My review of the animation.

Beyond this, the episodes are so short that Ito’s stories barely have time to establish themselves before they’re pushed towards some kind of rushed and/or vague conclusion. In his books, Ito’s brand of dread is of the sort that establishes itself through carefully constructed layers of repetition and elaboration. In the show, each vignette reads like the back-cover copy for a full story. With practically nothing to hold onto on either a visual level or a storytelling level, what should have been a celebration of the work of a true horror master ended up as yet another throwaway Netflix series.

But however disappointed I was in this show, it is still my duty to rank these stories for you, so rank I will! For those of you who just want to dip in to check out anything worthwhile, I’ve sorted all the stories into 3 categories: 1) Worth checking out, 2) Just barely watchable, 3) Throw it in the trash.

Let’s start with the good(?) stuff!

Worth Checking Out

The Hanging Balloon

Two girls hang by the neck from balloons that look like their faces.
See, this one looked okay!

Not only was this story one of the few that felt like a complete short Ito tale, it’s also the one that best escaped the issues plaguing the animation. The reason here being that the central monsters are largely immobile and so function well as essentially still images. One of the most visually successful entries, this one was chilling, well-plotted, and—perhaps most importantly—felt like a complete story.

Layers of Terror

If not for the fact that The Hanging Balloon looked better, Layers of Terror would’ve taken my top spot. I love this story about family curses and harm and, though the version on the show doesn’t quite capture the pure visual horror of the manga, it does a great job laying out the plot and characters. The voice acting in this one is also particularly strong. Overall, a modest success.

Whispering Woman

Another solid entry, Whispering Woman is plagued with some pacing issues and exposition dumping, but it looks much better than most entries for reasons I can’t fully parse. The story is also just around the right size for a show of this length and I felt like I spent enough time with the characters to develop investment, which can’t be said for most entries here. Whispering Woman has always been a tale with a classic ghost story feel, which makes it work perfectly here.

The Thing that Drifted Ashore

Someone dives into the ocean, with the subtitle "We encountered a fish that was enormous and creepy" below it.

Okay, this one was goofy as hell but I kinda loved it. The bizarre CG touches actually worked well in this one, creating a shimmery, uncanny-valley feel. And I’m always down for some weird sea-creature nonsense. No plot, just vibes, but pretty fun nonetheless.

Just Barely Watchable

Tomie – Photo

This one was supported by the fact that “Tomie” is one of Junji Ito’s most brilliant and fascinating creations. In my humble opinion, she’s one of the most interesting takes on the “beautiful dead girl” archetype since Laura Palmer. Was this entry a particularly good version of a Tomie story? No. Should it have been given a full episode run-time? Absolutely. But I’ll watch anything to do with Tomie any day of the week.

Ice Cream Truck

A decapitated head lies on the ground
It’s giving Hereditary

Frankly, this one made it into this section solely because of a fun visual gag at the end.

Long Hair in the Attic

A pretty basic haunting story, but with some fun touches. It was fine.

Tomb Town

Tomb Town is a perfect example about how the lackluster animation hindered this series. This “I Know What You Did Last Summer”-style story about a pair of siblings traveling to a town where corpses transform into their own gravestones at the time of their death should’ve worked perfectly, but the sloppy way it was animated made it a bit of a let-down.

The Bully

The Bully feels like a slightly more nuanced and adult take on a tale that would fit nicely in a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark collection. The psychological horror here is genuinely chilling. While the ending isn’t quite as strong as it could be, what the episode builds up to until then is dark, grimy, and fascinating.

Unendurable Labyrinth

A large Buddha statue with the subtitle "Come on, be brave" below it
I’m trying hard to find images that look okay!

This is another one that would’ve benefited from a longer run-time. If you have a story about fraught interpersonal dynamics, death cults, missing siblings, and getting lost in the woods, then that story needs a little time to breathe. Fun concept, though!


I wasn’t quite sure where to put this one. It’s another entry that suffers from a shorter run-time than it deserves and the story never really ventures far past “wouldn’t it be weird if…?” territory. However, the way it ends has stuck with me, so I’ll give it that.

The Mysterious Tunnel

There’s a *mysterious tunnel*! A bunch of weird things happen! There is a lot of vague plot ends all mashed together and never resolved! The way that scary bits are animated looks insane in a bad way! But! Just barely watchable.

Throw It In the Trash


Someone climbs out a window while yelling “is that dead body your doing?!”
The answer might surprise you! (It won’t)

Despite brief moments of interesting visuals, this story was ultimately pretty flaccid.


Are you interested in a creepy tale about a desperate family turning into mold? Me too! Unfortunately, this episode will give you about as much info as that previous sentence. Too short! Plot elements don’t come together! I feel like I’m starting to repeat myself here but, to be fair, a lot of these stories had the same issues!

Four X Four Walls

A creepy man with strange make-up. The subtitle says "Hello".
Waiting for this guy to drop his makeup tutorial

To be honest, Soichi seems like a strange choice of character to highlight in an anthology like this. One of Ito’s more comedic creations, Soichi is fun in short-format work, but his character is hard to get a grasp on out of context. So, while the story makes sense as a Soichi story, it doesn’t stand by itself very well, which leads to a lackluster viewing experience. Regardless, this is the stronger of the two Soichi tales.

Headless Statue

I thought this was going for a dumbed-down A Bucket of Blood vibe, but it didn’t even hit that level of interest.

Library Vision

A guy becomes obsessed with his book collection! There’s a good book and an evil book and they’re living entities, actually. But maybe they’re both evil! Honestly, this description makes it sound better than it is.

The Sandman’s Lair

A guy pulls an arm out of his mouth.

If you want to see a really strong example of sh*tty animation completely ruining the crux of a story, check this one out.

The Strange Hikizuri Siblings

Whoever made the decision to open the series with this episode should be fired. Though, perhaps they did so in order to set expectations as low as possible, in which case they succeeded? Anyways, this tale was…not great.

Soichi’s Beloved Pet

Okay, whoever decided to make this the series finale should definitely be fired. Easily the worst episode in a series that was mid at best.

Anyways, sorry to be a bummer, but I feel like it’s my journalistic duty to let you know that this show sucked ass! If, for whatever reason, you still want to check out the series after reading this article, you can find it on Netflix. And if you watch it and think to yourself, “wow, I wish I could experience something like this but actually good,” I implore you to check out literally any of Junji Ito’s books instead.

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Written by Saskia Nislow

Saskia is a writer, ceramicist, horror freak, and queer creature. Find more of their stuff at or at @cronebro on Twitter and Instagram.

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