We may not enjoy being scared in real life, but a good, spooky story is something many of us love to see - or, in the case of the best horror comics of all time - read.
The best horror comics of all time are far more than just supernatural action stories. While we all enjoy vampires, ghosts, and other creepies and crawlies that go bump in the night, due to the immense creativity and wall-breaking of comics, sometimes those creatures are more superhero than super scary.
When it comes to real horror, it's all about creating a little bit (or a lot) of unease, fear, and terror that lingers long after you turn the final page. The best horror comics also often provide that uneasy twist to something classic, mundane, and safe in your life.
Do you enjoy gossip and small talk? Do you ever feel homesick? Do you like doodling spirals and seemingly innocent patterns? Not for long, if these horror comics get a hold of you.
One could easily make a list of the best horror comics of the past decade, best horror manga, or many other sub-categories, but we've given equal weight to comics no matter their format, time, or country of origin - a kind of 'big picture' look into the best examples of horror comics the world over.
So dim the lights, check the locks, and steel your nerves as we countdown the best, most hair-raising horror comics of all time.
20. The Man Who Came Down the Attic Stairs (2017)
The comic: Celine Loup's The Man Who Came Down the Attic Stairs follows Emma, a new mom dealing with severe postpartum depression. Her baby won't stop crying as if terrified and she can't sleep, which leads to terrible tension between her and her husband. He, on the other hand, is oddly detached from it all, which makes her feel even more isolated - especially when she starts seeing strange things in the house and can't determine what's real and what's fantasy.
Why it's scary: Horror that blurs the line between fantasy and reality can be very hit or miss, depending on how the creator handles it. With this graphic novel, Loup presents a masterclass in atmospheric horror that examines the darker side of new parenthood and how such a dramatic change can affect people at the deepest level.
19. Through the Woods (2014)
The comic: Emily Carroll's Through the Woods collects five dark fairytales which may seem familiar at first, but quickly take surprising turns. As readers travel through the woods (i.e. read the book), they'll encounter "Our Neighbor's House," though they may not be able to return, and meet a young bride in a secretive old house in "A Lady's Hands Are Cold." The collection also asks what's haunting "My Friend Janna" and reveals dark secrets about the narrator's soon-to-be sister-in-law in "The Nesting Place." Through the Woods also prints the webcomic "His Face All Red."
Why it's scary: The Brothers Grimm may have done it first, but they certainly didn't do it best. Carroll's award-winning writing and illustrations are sharply on display in this graphic anthology, which plays with every sense to create a truly immersive and visceral reading experience. There's just enough left up to the reader's imagination for them to incorporate their deepest fears, and each story tugs at a different core memory for anyone who remembers being read or told fairytales as a kid.
18. Afterlife with Archie (2013 - 2016)
The comic: They say "the road to hell is paved with good intentions," and Afterlife with Archie brings that saying to life - or unlife - as it begins with one simple, kind request: to save Jughead's furbaby, Hot Dog, using magic. But when Sabrina the Teenage Witch tries and succeeds in resurrecting the dog, the spell sets off a chain of events that quickly leaves Riverdale overrun with zombies ... and the monsters don't stop there.
Why it's scary: Whereas The Walking Dead is more of a survivalist adventure/drama than true horror, Afterlife with Archie works by leveraging the nostalgia of Archie comics and the Riverdale gang against the twist of them being put through the supernatural wringer. And while such a story could be done simply for shock value, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla make the horror just as real and pulsating as the folksy vibe of these iconic teens, taking the story itself to the next level.
17. Wytches (2014 - 2015)
The comic: When a young family relocates to a small New England town to try to give their daughter Sailor a second chance after a bad hand in their hometown, they find that they've traded in one evil for another. They've moved into a town where the locals barter living people to mysterious entities living at the edge of town (and out the corner of your eye) in exchange for better health and better fortunes. These 'Wytches,' as they're called, feed on the greed of humanity to turn people against one another - and as Jock's terrifying art aptly shows, they aren't afraid to get their own hands (and teeth) dirty from time to time.
Why it's scary: The Image Comics series Wytches by Scott Snyder and Jock is a quintessential horror comic for focusing the story on their monstrous twist on witches while using those monsters to show the true evil of the humans who would trade human decency for a better stock in life. Snyder cuts the comparison to the bone by the end of Wytches, showing that no one is completely immune from giving in to temptation - even a parent of a child in trouble.
16. The Sandman (1989 - Present)
The comic: The Sandman primarily follows the titular Dream, AKA Morpheus of the Dreaming, starting when he is kidnapped by a human on Earth who accidentally summons him instead of his sibling, Death. Dream remains imprisoned for over a century, then has to restore not only his kingdom, but Earth itself, because everything has been thrown out of whack in his absence.
Why it's scary: Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, and Mike Dringenberg explore multiple genres in The Sandman, but anyone who has watched the Netflix adaptation of the series or read the comic stories "24 Hours" and/or "The Collectors" knows that the series delves into horror often - and does so in a way that is so terrifying it leaves you white-knuckled and wide-eyed despite desperately wanting to look away. The concept of an endless, godlike being creating dreams and nightmares is scary enough, but add in humans who claim power that doesn't belong to them and serial killers who worship walking nightmares and you're bound to feel real, skin-crawling fear.
15. The Nice House on the Lake (2021 - Present)
The comic: The Nice House on the Lake tells the story of 12 people who accept an invitation from Walter, an oddball who otherwise seems harmless, to spend a week at a beautiful lake house in Wisconsin. There's little to no cell phone service, but the place is beautiful, and everything has been provided for them. Putting up with Walter's bizarre scheming and goofy nicknames seems like a small price to pay for such a perfect vacation... until the truth comes out.
Why it's scary: The Nice House on the Lake won the 2022 Eisner Award for best new series, for good reason. James Tynion IV, Álvaro Martínez Bueno, Jordie Bellaire, and AndWorld Design set readers up just to knock them down - and we experience the horror in real-time with the characters themselves, as each one narrates a different issue and reveals new secrets. This book is dark and plays upon fear of the unknown while painting over the whole thing with a lovely façade. This house is haunted, not by ghosts, but by the lingering terror of its permanent guests.
14. InSEXts (2016 - 2017)
The comic: InSEXts follows two women in Victorian London who create a family of their own choosing as they attempt to maintain their romantic relationship as they struggle against social expectations. But their romance isn't their only secret: The main characters can literally turn into insect-like creatures, allowing them to protect not just themselves, but their loved ones as well.
Why it's scary: Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis poses the thought experiment, 'What would you do if you woke up as a giant bug?' Marguerite Bennett and Ariela Kristantina's InSEXts answers: Protect oneself and their loved ones from harm, then go after the ones who perpetrated that violence. There's something especially creepy about human beings transforming into bugs, but this comic hits hardest in its social commentary as it forces readers to examine their own behaviors and sit in how uncomfortable that is.
13. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (1989)
The comic: There's a riot underway at the prison/mental facility that houses many of Batman's rogue's gallery, and Batman is called in to quell the situation. Upon arriving, however, he's drawn into a whirlwind series of one-on-one confrontations with his most iconic adversaries in a twisted, Through the Looking Glass-style scenario that is heightened by the relatively abstract artwork of Dave McKean.
Why it's scary: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth excels in psychological horror, contorting the classic villains of Gotham into their base symbolism through confrontations with the hero (Batman) who put them behind bars. Echoing elements of both HP Lovecraft and Francis Bacon simultaneously, Arkham Asylum expertly grapples with the idea of sanity in a modern world.
12. These Savage Shores (2018 - 2019)
The comic: These Savage Shores takes place in 1766 on a ship owned by the East India Trading Company. It seeks a place on the lucrative Silk Route, but an ancient and insatiable vampire lurks on the ship as well, and he also seeks a landing spot to make his home. The problem is that the land along the Indus is already home to things to lurk in the darkness - and he might not be welcome among them.
Why it's scary: Written by Ram V, illustrated by Sumit Kumar, colored by Vittorio Astone, and lettered by Aditya Bidikar, These Savage Shores is in many ways the classic, creepy vampire story we expect - but it also centers native experiences and pries at the negative impacts of colonialism with a crowbar. This book is fast-paced and relentless as it takes readers from India to London and back again, with atmospheric horror that gets under the skin and lingers there.
11. Harrow County (2015 - 2018)
The comic: Harrow County centers on Emmy Crawford, a young girl who knows her home is surrounded by ghosts and monsters - but she has no idea she's connected to the land's magics until she nears adulthood. Using her newly-discovered powers, she has to defend Harrow from the darkness surrounding it, without losing her empathy in the process.
Why it's scary: This may be writer Cullen Bunn and artist Tyler Crook's magnum opus of horror. Harrow County plays on feelings of isolation and fear of the unknown, while also imbuing a sense of urgency that requires Emmy - and by extension, the reader - to look darkness in the face and ask what it's doing and why. Horror-fantasy can sometimes stray too far into magical waters to be truly scary, but that's not the case here. What goes bump in the night? And would you be willing to stop it, if you could?
10. Something is Killing the Children (2019 - Present)
The comic: Believe the victims. It may seem like an easy thing, but it's rarely simple - even when the victims are talking about actual monsters. In the hit series Something is Killing the Children, a little hamlet of a town called Archer's Peak is the hunting ground for a pack of otherworldly monsters who have a taste for children - and whom only children can see. When a hunter of these hunters, Erica Slaughter, comes to town boasting a no-nonsense manner to rout these beasts, she becomes an easy target for adult townsfolk looking for answers.
Why it's scary: With Something is Killing the Children, James Tynion IV and Werther Dell'edera let us have our cake and eat it too. While the classic trope of monsters preying on children is present, the concept is inverted through the palate-cleansing, post-modern revenge story of 'final girl' all-grown-up Erica Slaughter. This sinister Mobius strip of hunters and the hunted is a perfect set-up for tension, dread, and release like a thrilling roller coaster ride where you know the end, but jump into the seat anyway for the thrill it provides.
9. Bitter Root (2018 - 2021)
The comic: Enter New York City in the 1920s, when the Harlem Renaissance is in full swing. Then meet the monster-hunting Sangerye family, all of whom have strict roles - but there's a rift forming due to conflicting morality and a series of tragedies, and it could be to the detriment of humanity as a whole. You see, it's not just monsters the Sangeryes have to face - it's also an oppressive, racist system and an unspeakable evil that will push them to their limits.
Why it's scary: Writers David F. Walker and Chuck Brown build incredible tension from the first issue of Bitter Root, which dives into the story in media res and doesn't let up on the gas. Then artist Sanford Greene steps in with strong, stylized work that highlights not just how horrifying the monsters are, but how horrible people can be, especially in such a confident supernatural period piece. Horror is at its best when it tugs the strings of actual evil, and Bitter Root never shies away from what's going on under the surface or why the Sangerye family is fighting so hard.
8. The Plot (2019 - 2021)
The comic: "In order to receive, first you must give." The Plot follows Chase Blaine, who's forced to take guardianship of his niece and nephew MacKenzie and Zach after his estranged brother and sister-in-law are brutally murdered. Chase and the kids move back to the family home in Cape Augusta, which sits on a bog teeming with an evil force that's plagued the Blaines for generations. What can Chase do other than hold the kids close and try to burn the Blaine legacy - and the things that haunt it - to the ground?
Why it's scary: Mental illness is widely stigmatized, which doesn't make managing it any easier. In The Plot, from writers Tim Daniel and Michael Moreci, artist Josh Hixson, colorist Jordan Boyd, and letterer Jim Campbell, monsters aren't just a metaphor for mental illness - they're real, and they're hunting the Blaine family one by one. There's a creeping sensation of always being followed in this comic, with darkness lurking around every corner - and because the creative team handles the real-life horrors of The Plot so well, it's an especially relatable and terrifying story.
7. Cat Eyed Boy (1967 - 1976)
The comic: Writer/artist Kazuo Umeza is the godfather of horror manga, and Cat Eyed Boy gives him wide latitude to touch on many aspects of horror - all led, and in some cases starring, the cute-but-dangerous titular Cat Eyed Boy. Kicked out of monster society for being too human, the monster child lives in the shadows and attics of the human world - finding a place to stay, then acting like a victim (and sometimes instigator) of supernatural threats to the families and neighborhood he tries to find refuge in.
Why it's scary: Like some sort of demonic Cheshire Cat, the Cat Eyed Boy is magnetic for readers' attention just as much as the horror that seems to follow him. Umezu expertly uses each short story to delve into a new and different gruesome supernatural avenue against the Cat Eyed Boy's unsuspecting human hosts, made all the more memorable by the monster child's devilish charm.
6. The Drifting Classroom (1972 - 1974)
The comic: It's like Lord of the Flies meets Dante Alighieri's Inferno in Kazuo Umezu's The Drifting Classroom. Ditching the dark humor of the horror mangaka's aforementioned Cat Eyed Boy, The Drifting Classroom follows the students and faculty of a Japanese high school which is ripped and transported to a charred wasteland revealed to be a future of their own world. The adults and children fight each other and make alliances, all the while developing special abilities of their own which help them try to come to terms with the desolate environment in which they must now survive.
Why it's scary: Proving once again that the most dangerous animal in the world is humans, The Drifting Classroom lives in the space created by the uncomfortable idea that people pushed past their limits will do anything to survive - no matter if they're the responsible teacher or the 'innocent' young student.
5. Victor Lavalle's Destroyer (2017)
The comic: Victor Lavalle's Destroyer is a gripping sci-fi personification of the fractured world in which we now live. Lavalle and artist Dietrich Smith cast their story as a modern-day continuation of Mary Shelley's iconic Frankenstein novel, following a scientist who is a descendent of the family Frankenstein as she uses her ancestors' arcane practices to try and resurrect her son - a Black young man who was murdered by police. As the original Frankenstein's Monster enters the scenario, the contrast between how some people value his life versus that of a dead child becomes the heart of Victor Lavalle's Destroyer, wrapped in layers of sci-fi, body horror, and even a giant mech.
Why it's scary: Victor Lavalle's Destroyer is scary because for all of its fantastical science and imagination, at its heart is a misshapen value system for humanity that puts a higher value on an amalgamated mass of body parts turned into a man (Frankenstein's Monster) than an actual 12-year-old boy killed for the color of his skin.
4. Black Hole (1995 - 2005)
The comic: Black Hole is the best - and worst - of teenage angst, especially when you get to the part about the STD that causes its victims to become physically disfigured. Set in mid-'70s Seattle, Black Hole finds a way to blend real-life ideas of alienation among teenagers with the sci-fi and horror of a mutant virus that affects your body, and in turn your relationships with other teens going through the same issues.
Why it's scary: To be clear, the mutants of Black Hole aren't X-Men - there aren't powers, just afflictions. And with Charles Burns' stoic and stark illustration style, these dramatic disfigurations are on full display - not in the four-color fantasy of superhero comics, but in grotesque black & white. Add to that the all-too-real metaphor of monsters and puberty, and Black Hole adds up to a fully unsettling read.
3. The Autumnal (2020 - 2021)
The comic: The Autumnal follows single mom Kat Somerville and her daughter, Sybil, as they move from Chicago to Kat's hometown of Comfort Notch, New Hampshire. Kast's estranged mother just died, and she barely remembers her life in this quaint little place, but that may be for the better... America's prettiest autumn might just be hiding its most incredible horrors under all those fall leaves.
Why it's scary: Daniel Kraus, Chris Shehan, Jason Wordie, and Jim Campbell manage to make homesickness seem like something we should all want to be cured of ASAP. The Autumnal is absolutely petrifying as it digs into the horrors that lurk behind the beautiful town of Comfort Notch, playing up the kind of ancient evil that only seems to lurk in the oldest parts of our world.
2. Gideon Falls (2018 - 2020)
The comic: Gideon Falls centers on a titular town that lost its resident Catholic priest (who may still haunt the area), and a washed-up replacement who needs as much faith as he's being relied on to provide. The town's crisis of faith falls on his head as a dilapidated black barn appears out of nowhere, its presence dredging up an urban legend about similar black barns materializing as a portent for bad times ahead. And surprise: those rumors are true.
Why it's scary: Like the best creepypasta, Gideon Falls excels in that sweet spot of a haunting but meme-able idea: in this case, a black barn that appears and disappears throughout time and all over the world, acting as an omen for bad deeds. It brings out that particular brand of curiosity of witnessing a horror that pulls us inside the proverbial doors of the beat-up old barn that forms the mysterious heart of the story.
1. Uzumaki (1998 - 1999)
The comic: Years before J-horror like The Ring grabbed us through the screen or you drew that funky 'S' symbol in the liner of your notebook, Junji Ito's Uzumaki turned the classic spiral into a twisting sign of fear. When the inhabitants of a small town became enrapt with the idea of spirals, two unfazed teens can only watch in horror when that fascination turns into obsession as their affected friends, neighbors, and family take the inexplicable pull of the spiral to horrific lengths - twisting up objects, animals, and even their own bodies into increasingly gruesome shapes.
Why it's scary: Spirals are simple constructs, to the point of being harmless - so when they're turned, quite literally, into Cronenberg-esque body horror and symbolic ritual terror, it has a way of getting under your skin - especially when spirals are something anyone can draw or create, something you might idly doodle on a piece of paper. But after reading Uzumaki, you won't be making spirals without experiencing a sense of dread - and perhaps the fear of your own loss of sanity - thanks to Junji Ito.
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