Serial killers, traumatic pasts, shocking plot twists, and bone-chilling scenarios. Psychological thrillers have always been interesting to consume, whether it is in books, comics, films, TV shows, and other forms of media. When it comes to Japanese manga and Korean manhwa, there’s a vast selection of such titles that aim to deliver chills and thrills to the reader. But of course, some titles do stand out among the rest, giving us compelling stories that stay with us, whether it is because we just enjoyed it all throughout, or maybe it left us deeply disturbed.
On this list, we’ve rounded up fifteen manga and manhwa series that we recommend you read if you’re into psychological thrillers.
By Youngchan Hwang & Carnby Kim (Completed)
A webtoon that’s filled with plot twists and heart-stopping moments, Bastard is perhaps the best way to get started on reading manhwa if you’re a newbie. The series follows the scrawny teenager Jin Seon who is blind in one eye. Despite having a weak body, Jin hides a terrible secret: he acts as an accomplice to his father Dongsoo– a respected company CEO who is secretly a psychopathic killer.
Despite his hate towards his father, Jin feels helpless and continues to assist him. But everything changes when he meets the transfer student Kyun Yoon. When the bubbly transfer student who showed care and kindness towards Jin becomes Dongsoo’s next target, Jin feels an urge to protect her. But can Jin save Kyun from his father who is always two steps ahead of him?
2. Sweet Home
By Youngchan Hwang & Carnby Kim (Completed)
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Kim and Hwang’s follow-up to Bastard has also been well-received that it was adapted into a live-action Netflix series. Sweet Home adds the supernatural element to the duo’s psychological work, incorporating monsters to an already bleak and gritty world.
The story follows the suicidal teenager Hyun Cha who moves to an apartment called Green Home after a car accident claimed the lives of his entire family. Just waiting for the day he had set for his suicide, Hyun’s plans are disrupted when his neighbor shows up outside his door with blood all over her. Soon, he also discovers that some of the apartment’s tenants are turning into monsters that manifest their deepest desires.
By Koogi (Completed)
Killing Stalking might pique one’s interest thinking it is a BL (Boy’s Love) story with a psychological thriller spin. However, that would be a big understatement to this series that’s intended for readers aged 18 and above. Besides the nudity, Killing Stalking contains graphic violence, intense abuse, and torture, so we recommend this title only to those who can read through such intense psychological themes.
The series follows Yoon Bum who suffers from mental illnesses due to his traumatic past. During his time in the military, Bum was saved by a man named Oh Sangwoo from an officer who tried to sexually assault him. Bum then becomes obsessed with Sangwoo, stalking him wherever he goes and even entering the man’s home. When he does this, however, Bum discovers that Sangwoo is hiding an injured woman in his basement. Before he could escape, the man of his dreams appears, breaks his legs, and holds him captive. Bum would then be part of a very abusive and manipulative relationship with Sangwoo who is actually a serial killer.
4. Death’s Game
By Lee Wonsik and GGULCHAN (Completed)
Death’s Game is a webtoon series that begins with the death of its protagonist. Yijae Choi is an unemployed, bankrupt man who decides to just give up on his life and commit suicide. After dying, however, he is faced with a white-haired woman who introduced herself as Death. She then declares that she took offense at Yijae’s fearless suicide and decides to punish him with a game.
Yijae Choi, now a bodiless soul, will jump from one body to another and get to live through 13 people whose deaths are imminent. If Yijae can somehow stop the death of the body he has possessed, he will get to live the rest of that person’s life. But it will not be easy, because the lives Yijae Choi receives are very random, ranging from a very successful businessman to a bullied young kid.
5. Pig Pen
By Beom Sick Cheon & Carnby Kim (Completed)
Here’s another thrilling title from the twisted imagination of Carnby Kim. This webtoon series follows a young man who wakes up on the beach of a remote island, with no recollection of who he is or where he came from. Wandering the island, he stumbles upon a bed and breakfast where a suspicious family offers him temporary shelter.
In this manhwa series, the reader joins the clueless protagonist as he tries to uncover clues that will help him remember who he is, while also trying to find out if the enigmatic family members are truly worthy of his trust. However, as he uncovers more information, the young man also discovers that his perception of reality gets more obscured. Is he going insane? Was he drugged? Is a supernatural force involved or is it something else entirely?
6. It’s Mine
By LuckS (On-going)
Here’s another dark story about obsession. The series centers on Dajeong Lee and her stalker, Yohan Do. Yohan follows her everywhere, takes pictures of her, and knows so many things about her. To top his creepy nature, Yohan is even more dangerous towards the people who want to hurt Dajeong. Whether it’s a group of bullies or her kidnappers, Yohan would use any means necessary to make them regret that they ever messed with the girl he’s obsessed with.
Like most of the manhwa series from this list, It’s Mine follows a protagonist who isn’t really the hero archetype. Instead, readers are given this creepy character who can snap any moment, but still delivers some sort of heroism whenever Dajeong gets involved with other dangerous people. As a result, the story keeps the readers at the edge of their seats while being conflicted if they should root for Yohan or not.
By Ryoung (On-going)
#Killstagram is another story about stalking, this time from the point of view of the victim. The manhwa series centers on Remi Do, a beloved social media influencer who seems to have it all– the pretty face, the best brand sponsorships, and the immense social media following. But as she will soon discover, this fame will also put her life in danger when a serial killer becomes her follower and stalker.
At a time when many people are in pursuit of fame in social media, this series takes such a dream and turns it into a nightmare. Besides telling a successfully thrilling tale, #Killstagram is also laudable for steering away from the stereotypical slasher protagonist. Remi Do might start off as a two-dimensional character, but the longer the readers follow her story, the more fleshed out she becomes.
8. Shotgun Boy
By Youngchan Hwang & Carnby Kim (On-going)
Shotgun Boy is a prequel to Sweet Home. It tells the story of Gyuhwan, a high school student who is a constant target of bullying at his school. During a school retreat, his bully chases Gyuhwan into the woods where he stumbles upon a shotgun. Filled with anger and hatred towards those who hurt him and those who wouldn’t help, Gyuhwan plans to shoot the students and faculty members of his school, only to discover that they are already being attacked by monsters that possess human bodies.
Like the main protagonists of Bastard and Sweet Home, Gyuhwan’s mind has become skewed due to his woes, cultivating an inner demon within him. Like Sweet Home, we can expect that this thriller isn’t just about humans against monsters, but it is also about Gyuhwan’s conflict within himself, which will hopefully lead to his redemption.
By Naoki Urasawa (Completed)
Monster remains to be a must-read manga for fans of thrillers. It is about a doctor that for years, would be tortured by the fact that his act of righteousness resulted in a bigger evil being unleashed upon the face of the Earth. It centers on Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a skilled Japanese surgeon in Germany. Witnessing how the hospital would use him to save people of fame and reputation, while the common people die in the hands of incompetent surgeons, Dr. Tenma’s conscience begins to trouble him.
When the mayor and a young boy are brought into the hospital at the same time, Dr. Tenma chooses to operate on the young boy while the mayor died at the hands of the other surgeons. This decision angers the hospital’s executives, and would cost Dr. Tenma everything. But what’s worse is that the young boy will grow up to be a dangerous serial killer, and Tenma would have to do everything he could just to stop him.
10. Death Note
By Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata (Completed)
Death Note is so popular that it is the most adapted title on this list, having been adapted into an anime series, a live-action series, and a number of live-action films. Still, the best way to be introduced to the franchise is through the manga or the anime series that stayed loyal to the source material.
Death Note follows Light Yagami, a high school student who always had a strong sense of justice. One day, he picks up a notebook that can kill people when you write their names down on its pages. Light then uses this to kill off criminals, sending out the message that he is a righteous god who punishes wrongdoers with death. But the seemingly untouchable mass murderer meets his match when a mysterious detective known only as L surfaces to publicly challenge him. What follows is a cat-and-mouse chase between two geniuses where the first one whose identity gets revealed will either be killed or captured.
By Kei Sanbe (Completed)
What if you can go back to the past and change the things you wished never happened? In Erased, the aspiring manga artist and pizza delivery guy Satoru received such a power. When someone near him is going to die, Satoru is sent back a few minutes earlier before it happens, and he uses this time to save that person. But he experiences a huge deviation in this ability when his mother gets murdered. Instead of going back to just a few minutes ago, the 29-year-old Satoru goes back to 20 years ago, where as a nine-year-old kid, he must save his childhood friend from becoming a victim of a serial killer.
Like Death Note, this manga is imbued with the supernatural but other than the fact that Satoru can go back in time, the series is still grounded to reality that it delivers its thrilling moments without the reader feeling like the story is too farfetched. Striking that right balance between sci-fi, mystery, and drama, Erased is truly a must-read for thrill-seeking readers.
By Naoki Urasawa (Completed)
20th Century Boys is another work from Urasawa, which focuses on a group of friends and a conspiracy that continues to tie them together even after so many years have passed. In 1969, the young Kenji and his friends built a secret base in an empty field where they would hang out. Here, they imagined a future where villains would try to destroy the world in different ways, and they will be the heroes to stop it. They jotted it down and labeled it ‘Book of Prophecy’.
Many years later, Kenji runs a convenience store and is taking care of his infant niece after his sister left the baby and disappeared. After learning that one of his childhood friends committed suicide, Kenji tries to look into the matter and is pulled into a conspiracy involving a mysterious cult headed by the masked figure called Friend, who is seemingly responsible for the catastrophic events that are strangely similar to what they wrote down in the Book of Prophecy. Kenji then seeks the help of his friends to find out if Friend is someone from their childhood and if the masked cult leader really aims to destroy the world the way that they imagined it as children.
By Hideo Yamamoto (Completed)
Homunculus revolves around the concept of trepanation, an ancient medical practice that involved drilling a hole on a patient’s skull. The manga follows the homeless man Nakoshi Susumu who is convinced by a medical student to undergo trepanation for a science experiment. The procedure opens the man’s sixth sense, allowing him to see people differently– their personalities and desires manifesting on their appearance.
As the readers try to understand how Nakoshi’s sixth sense works, they also get to see his uncommon perception of society and how it affects his newfound ability. Not only does this manga offer an interesting story that sits on a fine line between psychological and supernatural, the illustrations of the uncanny figures seen through Nakoshi’s eyes are also a treat for the eyes of the readers.
By Naoki Urasawa (Completed)
The third Urasawa title on this list, Pluto is based on the classic manga Astro Boy from Osamu Tezuka. Naoki Urasawa took the sci-fi series, toned down the superhero action, cranked up the mystery and thrills, and paired it with his more serious-looking art style.
The series follows Europol detective Gesicht who investigates a string of murders that took the lives of both humans and robots. What ties these mysterious killings is the way the victims’ bodies are discovered: their heads are either mutilated or positioned so they’d appear to have horns. The case becomes more intriguing when evidence suggests that the crimes are being committed by a robot– a rare occasion in a world where machines are not meant to hurt humans.
15. Liar Game
By Shinobu Kaitani (Completed)
Here’s a psychological thriller that isn’t as dark as most of the titles on this list, but is still an entertaining read. Liar Game is about the eponymous survival competition that involves deception, mind tricks, and gambling. Instead of death, the stakes are debt, because whoever loses the games in the competition will surely be left with huge amounts of debt.
The series follows Nao, a young naive lady who is suddenly thrust into the Liar Game after she opens a package that’s filled with money. When she is deceived into giving this starting sum to her first opponent, Nao seeks the help of the famous conman Shinichi Akiyama to help her retrieve it. As they get deeper into the game, Nao and Akiyama are faced with smarter opponents, making the game even harder to win.