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 instigating a little bit (or a lot) of unease, fear, and terror into your mind that lingers with you 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 like doodling spirals and seemingly innocent patterns? Not for long, if these horror comics get a hold of you.
Given there are only 10 spots for a top-10 list of the best horror comics, along with the huge, ongoing swath of releases in the genre from North America, Japan, and other markets, we've had to make some brutal - shall we say, downright bloody - cuts of some stories that are well-deserving of the honor.
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.
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10. 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.
9. 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.
8. 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 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.
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 as 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. 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.
5. 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.
4. 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 which 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.
3. 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.
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.