Unsettling on Purpose: Strange and Unusual Graphic Novels and Manga

Graphic novels and manga naturally expand storytelling and genre with their illustrations. For fans of the strange and unusual, horror-driven graphic novels are an immersive visual treat. There is nothing quite as priceless as reading a story that will get your heart racing and to be able to see it too.

Graphic novels and manga that dabble within the realms of horror are a staple within their formats. Some of these titles are true works of the horror genre while others evoke similar vibes, regardless of their genre. Here are some newer titles that are unsettling by design to leave you in awe during this spooky season. And if this still isn’t enough, check out the list at the end of the post for even more books.

Many of these books have shocking content, both visually and thematically. Be sure to keep this in mind as you explore these titles and others with horror elements.

The Night Eaters, written by the creative duo behind the award-winning series Monstress, is the graphic novel that inspired this blog post. Chinese American twins Milly and Billy are tasked with cleaning out the overgrown, abandoned house across the street by their hard-to-please mother Ipo. The siblings quickly realize they are in over their heads, and there is a darn good reason why the house remains vacant. Full of dark, broody illustrations, this graphic novel takes readers through a gruesome family-driven story full of secrets and supernatural elements. The Night Eaters Book 1 is a 2023 Eisner Award winner, and the second book is on the way.

The Nib cartoonist Mattie Lubchansky’s Boys Weekend blends satire, horror, and dystopian elements into a story that is both unsettling and hilarious at the same time. Sammie, a transfemme person who is building confidence in their identity, is thrown into a chaotic Las Vegas style party zone for an old friend’s bachelor party. Boys Weekend confronts some pretty heavy feelings and topics using supernatural and monster-like elements. With eerie illustrations and a strong use of color, there are plenty of twists and turns as Sammie tries to make it out of El Campo alive while staying true to themself. This is a great read for fans of the pacing and art style of Bttm Fdrs.

James Tynion IV is known for strange and unusual graphic novels (Something Is Killing the Children, The Nice House on the Lake, and The Closet to name a few). It's no surprise that Tynion has won the Eisner Award for Best Writer numerous times including in 2023. In Nightmare Country, Tynion expands on one of the classic Sandman series’ most chilling characters - the Corinthian, a nightmarish murderer who is portrayed with mouths full of sharp teeth for eyes. Fans of the Sandman series will appreciate the sketchy and moody illustration style and callbacks to original storyline, but even if you haven’t read the any of the Sandman books, this new storyline is both chilling and thrilling enough to stand alone. 

With nods to the English gothic novel Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, Emily Carroll (Eisner winner for Through the Woods) crafts a macabre and visually stunning horror romance in her new graphic novel A Guest in the House. Mixing black and white illustrations with moments of saturated color, this tale follows newly-married Abby, a young bisexual woman, as she becomes intertwined with the haunting past of her widowed (and much older) husband’s first wife Sheila. As Abby’s interest in the mystery surrounding Sheila’s death grows, Abby begins seeing a ghost-like and often fantastical aspiration believed to be Sheila. Readers are bound to feel lost in Carroll’s dreamy Canadian wilderness landscapes all while being led to a shocking ending.

Featuring another haunted-house setting, the 2023 NAACP Image award-nominated horror fantasy The Keeper by acclaimed writers (and couple) Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes follows a young Black girl named Aisha as she confronts a growing monster in her grandmother’s apartment building. After the unexpected loss of her parents, Aisha moves in with her grandmother who passes away not long after her arrival. In her last moments, Aisha’s grandmother summons a protective generational spirit with decades of history. It doesn’t take long for Aisha to realize that the spirit she calls The Keeper has a very dark side. Using shadow-heavy illustrations, this graphic novel personifies Aisha's and her family’s experiences as she strives to destroy The Keeper.

While Junji Ito’s manga Uzumaki isn’t necessarily new, this grotesque psychological horror tale is set to be released as an anime adaptation on Adult Swim towards the end of 2023. In stark black and white illustration, Uzumaki centers on a small town in coastal Japan called Kurôzu-cho suffering under an odd curse. Instead of being haunted by something easily quantifiable, this fog-riddled village is terrorized by spirals. From small, seemingly harmless whirlpools in streams to spiraling that takes over the consciousness and physical being of the town’s residents to the point of their death, Junji Ito crafts a story that gets increasingly unsettling and disturbingly visceral as the story unfolds.

Looking for more strange and unusual graphic novel and manga reads? Check out the Unsettling on Purpose: Strange and Unusual Graphic Novels and Manga book list.

What are some unnerving graphic novels and manga you would recommend? Let us know in the comments below.