You Need to Watch the Scariest Sci-Fi Show of 2023 on Netflix ASAP
The weirdest new anthology in years and also one of the best — and spookiest.
A young boy finds himself drawn to a dark and isolated tunnel. There, at the midway point of this cavernous passage carved into a mountain, he discovers a laboratory where scientists are studying a cosmic ray phenomenon. The boy snaps a photo, and when he looks at it later, he notices what seem like long white ghosts zooming every which way as they pass through the scientists.
As the story hurtles to an abrupt end, the ghosts turn malevolent, attacking everyone in sight in a cacophony of screams and ectoplasmic. Like so many of the episodes in Netflix’s Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre, “The Story Of The Mysterious Tunnel” ends with a dark twist and little explanation. But that’s what makes it so scary.
Released in January 2023, Junji Ito Maniac takes the celebrated manga horror of Junji Ito and adapts it into 20 animated spread across 12 episodes. The stories range from spooky science fiction to straight horror (and lots of ghosts), but what ties them all together is Ito’s unique style, blending traditional Japanese folklore with the type of cosmic horror pioneered by H.P. Lovecraft.
Ito’s work has been adapted before, but this Netflix series represents perhaps the most all-encompassing attempt. It’s also the most accessible to Western audiences.
In a 2019 interview with the Japanese site Grape Japan, Ito deftly described his own unique style and what draws him to the macabre.
“It could be that my curiosity is stronger than fear or perhaps I just have bad taste,” he said. “Something which is a bit different from human, not animal either, and yet exists in our world. It spreads in rumors and remains a mystery.”
This could apply to almost any story within the new Netflix series. From a short vignette about an ice cream man with evil intentions to the tale of an apartment that becomes overgrown with a bizarre alien mold. In Junji Ito Maniac’s first episode (“The Strange Hikizuri Siblings”), a pair of students studying the paranormal visit a home that may or may not be haunted. In Episode 8 (“The Thing That Drifted Ashore”), an unidentified creature washes up on the beach, and... well, things get weird.
In perhaps the anthology's weirdest and scariest episode, the world is overrun with giant head-shaped balloons determined to murder their human counterparts. It’s the kind of story that’s almost impossible to describe, and even more impossible to forget once you’ve witnessed it for yourself.
In that same 2019 interview, Ito named “The Hanging Balloons” as one of his personal favorites and revealed that the concept for the original manga came to him in a dream, inspired by his trips to the big city:
“I lived in the countryside, but I occasionally went into town. I would see ad balloons floating above the buildings, and they were symbols of life in the big city which I aspired to. Also, I liked flying saucers as a kid, UFOs. Strange, unidentified, mysterious objects in the sky. So, I combined elements which I liked and incorporated them into my work.”
In case it wasn’t clear, Junji Ito’s work isn’t for everyone. If cats with tentacles coming out of their mouths, murderous balloons, and haunted tunnels aren’t your thing, then this isn’t the show for you.
But if, like Ito himself, your curiosity is stronger than your fear (or you just have bad taste) then it’s definitely worth giving this wonderfully weird anthology a try.