Junji Ito’s Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre – Is It Worth the Watch?



Junji Ito’s Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre official poster showcasing his original artwork, which inspired the series.

Milo Martinson, Photojournalist

It’s no secret that this animated adaptation of Junji Ito’s work was anticipated within the manga and anime community. As one of the most notorious horror authors in manga history, Junji Ito has mastered the art of getting under your skin. Many fans wondered if a Netflix adaptation could capture the feeling of despair that Ito’s books provide. Any avid manga reader/anime watcher knows it’s tricky to translate such feelings when creating an animated rendition, especially regarding the carefully crafted panels in each Ito volume. 

Maniac made its premiere on Netflix on January 19th, 2023, and quickly caught the eye of fans worldwide. It features 20 of Ito’s original works within 12 episodes – most of which are being adapted for the first time. It includes stories from some of his most famous mangas, such as Tomie, Sōichi, and The Hanging Balloons. The series created high hopes within the anime community, with the teasers being released as production continued. With Junji Ito involved in the project, every fan was ecstatic to see the results. Although the show was everything fans expected it to be, some elements felt missing. One of the main problems with this series is that it’s just too short. What makes Ito’s work so thrilling and beautiful is that he takes the time to build suspense. With 24 minutes per episode, that only gives about 12 minutes for the show to share a single story. Many short stories were heavily criticized by fans, calling them “hardly memorable”; however, I think that may be due to how little screen time each tale was given. The best episodes in the series were the few that focused on telling one story within the 24-minute time frame. Longer time slots gave the audience time to understand the environment, connect with the characters, and feel the anxious energy grow as the episode crept towards a shocking climax. Keeping each story in 12-minute increments cuts down the quality of the storytelling, with an abrupt end after each intriguing reveal. Overall, the show is what it looks like: a comic in motion. Like other Netflix animes, the animation is very hit-or-miss; you either love it or hate it. Despite the downfalls, the series has a creatively surreal title sequence, which fits Ito’s horror style. 

Ito’s style doesn’t work in anime format, and he can never properly capture the detail he puts into his panels.

— Hyde Vuk (11)

Junji Ito’s style is iconic; even if you haven’t read one of his works, you’ve probably seen memes or panels from them online. His work is often stark, with mundane themes and conflicts that escalate into crises, punctuated by surreal and horrifying imagery. Ito meticulously crafts the panels within his mangas, creating an image that will fester in your mind for days. The way his artwork is showcased within his volumes could never be adequately shown in any other medium. “Maniac had the same quality as the previous attempt at an Ito adaptation,” Hyde Vuk (11) explains, referring to the Junji Ito Collection, which was released in 2018. “That to say, the series was underwhelming. Ito’s style doesn’t work in anime format, and he can never properly capture the detail he puts into his panels. I’d say just read the manga; you’ll get a better experience of his work.”

Is this series worth the time? Yes and no; it depends on the viewer. While I agree that these episodes don’t do Ito’s work justice, I think it should be up for interpretation. Maniac treats Ito’s stories more like appetizers than a full meal, which is the opposite of how unsettling and engrossing his horror stories genuinely are. While fans anticipated Maniac, one of Ito’s most famous full-length stories is currently in production for its adaptation. Uzumaki, a story about a town obsessed with spirals, is scheduled to release in October of this year. It is in production with Adult Swim and may be able to give more satisfying detail since it will be focusing on a singular story. For those who have been fans of Junji Ito for years, there doesn’t seem to be any hope in an animated adaptation of his work. Uzumaki may surprise us, but only time will tell. As far as Maniac goes, despite its pros and cons, I believe it is an excellent introduction to his work; however, it doesn’t fully capture the dread that is Junji Ito.