The Japanese have a lot of interesting stories to tell that truly appeal to audiences worldwide, as anime and manga fans know very well. But Japan also has some very fascinating novels a bookworm could read, and there are Japanese authors who really thrive with mystery and thriller genres– keeping their readers at the edge of their seats at every turn of the page.
If you enjoy such stories filled with intrigue and mysteries, and if you admire how the Japanese weave such tales with hints of the bizarre and the macabre, then we’ve got you covered with this list. Here are ten mystery and thriller novels from Japan that are worth checking out when you need a good read!
Confessions by Kanae Minato
Confessions presents itself as a collection of perspectives detailing the events that surround one shocking incident in a school. The novel opens with the point of view of Yuko Moriguchi, a teacher telling her homeroom class that she is about to resign from her job, after her four-year-old child Manami accidentally drowned in the school’s swimming pool. During this address to her students, however, she reveals that her daughter’s drowning was not really an accident and that some of the students in the class murdered Manami. Knowing that she cannot rely on the justice system to punish minors, Moriguchi takes the matter into her own hands, plotting her own way of revenge towards the guilty party.
Buy Confessions by Kanae Minato
Out by Natsuo Kirino
Set in the late ’90s in Tokyo, the plot of Out kicks off with Yayoi, a young woman making boxed lunches for a living, who finally snaps after multiple beatings from her husband. When Yayoi strangles and kills her husband, she seeks help from her work group to escape punishment. With the cunning Masako as their ringleader, the group of inexperienced criminals gets embroiled in a cat-and-mouse game with seasoned detectives.
In The Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami
A brutal and gory novel by the author of Audition, In The Miso Soup tells the story of Kenji, a Japanese tour guide for “sex tourism” in Japan. Kenji has had a lot of experience with foreign tourists, but his latest client, an American named Frank, is unlike any other. As he spends more time with Frank, Kenji gets more and more unsettled by the man’s odd behavior. It doesn’t help that a brutal murder and dismemberment of a student has just been reported, and Kenji can’t help but imagine that his client was somehow involved.
Buy In The Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
This novel from a mystery book series is considered the most acclaimed title from author Keigo Higashino. The Devotion of Suspect X begins with Yasuko, a divorced single mother trying to make ends meet by working at a bento shop. One day, her ex-husband visits her to extort her money, a confrontation that led to violence and in Yasuko killing the man. With the help of a neighbor– a brilliant Math teacher who is secretly attracted to Yasuko– the single mother tries to cover up the crime. When Detective Kusanagi takes on the case, he soon realizes that it also requires a genius to corner this genius co-conspirator whose talents in problem-solving have been used to make a seemingly flawless murder cover-up.
Buy The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji
Inspired by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, this novel also highlights an isolated setting in its mystery. It follows seven Japanese students who are part of a university mystery club. To find inspiration for their own mystery stories, these students decide to stay at the Decagon House, a structure located on a remote island that had been witness to the horrific deaths of the owner of the house, his wife, and his servants. Unbeknownst to these students, somebody outside of their group also lurks in the seemingly empty house, and that this mysterious figure plans to harm them one by one.
Buy The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Battle Royale is a classic action thriller that begins innocently enough, with a class of high school students on a field trip. However, the bus takes a detour and the students find themselves on a deserted island, where it was revealed that they had been chosen to participate in the government’s Battle Royale program, and they must kill each other until only one student remains. Shuya Nanahara is part of this class, and as the game becomes bloody right off the bat, he tries to save his classmate Noriko, the crush of his best friend who was killed even before the program began. But can he save her in this dystopian game where only one winner can come out alive?
Buy Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Malice by Keigo Higashino
Another novel from the author of The Devotion of Suspect X, this book features the locked room murder case of a bestselling novelist. The mystery revolves around the murder of the acclaimed writer Kunihiko Hidaka, who was killed from inside his locked office within his locked home, and was discovered by his wife and best friend who seem to have pretty solid alibis. Detective Kyoichiro Kaga investigates the case, who has known Hidaka’s best friend from his own past, and tries to piece the clues together in a game of cat and mouse between the murderer and the detective.
The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo
A Japanese mystery classic from the 1940s, The Honjin Murders kicked off the famous series of detective stories featuring detective Kosuke Kindaichi. In Kindaichi’s debut, he gets summoned to investigate a shocking murder in the rural village of Okamura. The wedding of a son of the wealthy and powerful Ichiyanagi family prompts a huge celebration, but the night of the wedding turns into nightmare when a scream is heard from the room of the newly-wed couple, followed by an eerie music. The household would then discover that the husband and wife were brutally murdered inside their locked room, with no trace from the assailant except for a bloodied samurai thrust into the snow outside of the house.
Buy The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo
Murder in the Crooked House by Soji Shimada
This novel from Soji Shimada features yet another locked room mystery, and dares the reader to solve the case as they follow detective Kiyoshi Mitarai sift through the clues. The story is set in the Crooked House, a home built by the billionaire Kozaburo Hamamoto which, interestingly enough, is placed on a snowbound cliff overlooking icy seas. Even more curious is the interior of the mansion, which feels like a monolithic maze filled with creepy masks and life-sized dolls. After a man is killed inside one of the rooms under baffling circumstances, a string of bizarre deaths begins, and it’s up to Mitarai to solve the case.
Buy Murder in the Crooked House by Soji Shimada
Puppet Master by Miyuki Miyabi
Puppet Master is a five-volume mystery saga that goes outside the confines of a singular murder case. The novel opens with a gruesome discovery in a Tokyo park, followed by an anonymous call to a TV station. As more surprising events unravel, the authorities begin to suspect that they may be against a group of serial killers who can manipulate their victims, the media, and even the police just for the sake of the public’s entertainment.
Buy Puppet Master by Miyuki Miyabi (Ebook)
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