The Top 15 Best Japanese Horror Movies You Have to Watch

The Top 15 Best Japanese Horror Movies You Have to Watch
Photo 12 / Alamy Stock Photo

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While there is a slew of great scary movies made around the world, the best Japanese horror films often greatly exceed the quality of the rest of the genre. Whether it’s creepy paranormal happenings, gruesome displays of violence, or subversive suspense, the best Japanese horror films have a way of getting under your skin.

For your viewing pleasure, we’ve compiled a list of our top 15 favorite Japanese horror films. From absolute genre classics to underrated masterpieces, any of our picks are sure to scare, surprise, and disturb. Dim the lights and get ready to get scared as we list off our picks.

Here are the top 3 from the list of 15 Japanese Horror Movies you have to watch!

1. Ringu

Based on the 1991 novel by Koji Suzuki and directed by Hideo Nakata, Ringu is one of the most celebrated and recognizable Japanese horror films of all time. The movie revolves around a mysterious videotape, that when played, curses the viewer and causes them to die within seven days. Combining themes of urban legends, the paranormal, and revenge, Ringu has definitely earned its place at the top of our list of the best Japanese horror films. While the original Japanese film was released in 1998, it didn’t take long for Western audiences to experience the unique brand of horror, as the movie received a Hollywood remake in 2002. Although the Western version is respectable enough, nothing tops the original Ringu.

2. Kwaidan

Japanese folklore is rich with mysterious figures and exceptionally creepy creatures, seemingly tailor-made for use in frightening films. Kwaidan, originally released in 1965, is an anthology film that features four unconnected stories revolving around Japanese folklore. Including stories of ghostly swordsmen, a vengeful spirit missing his ears, and more, Kwaidan offers a rich variety of stories that will keep you up at night. Don’t just take our word for it; Kwaidan has been granted several awards in the West, including the Special Jury Prize from Cannes Film Festival as well as a nomination for the prestigious Academy Award.

3. Audition

Directed by the twisted, genius director Takashi Miike and based on the 1997 novel of the same name by Ryu Murakami, Audition is the kind of Japanese horror film that undoubtedly make you squirm in your seat. The movie follows Shigeharu Aoyama, a recent widower who searches for a new wife. After his friends put on mock auditions to help Aoyama, he becomes enamored with a quiet and mysterious girl named Asami Yamazaki. While the movie seemingly starts as a quirky romantic drama, it quickly descends into the horrific territory, involving graphic torture. If you’ve never experienced the emotional rollercoaster that is Audition, we highly recommend this intriguing tale of love and death.

4. Battle Royale

Even when compared to the rest of this list of critically acclaimed films, Battle Royale’s influence has had incredible reach and has completely changed the world of entertainment. Battle Royale was originally released in 2000 and directed by Kinji Fukasaku, the film tells the story of a group of students who must fight to the death on a secluded island. Upon release, the film was incredibly controversial, with some countries outright banning it from being displayed. Despite this, the premise gained notable popularity, unofficially inspiring films like The Hunger Games, which in turn, helped birth the “battle royale” sub-genre of video games. So, the next time you’re playing Call of Duty: Warzone or Fortnite, don’t forget to thank Kinji Fukasaku for helping introduce the concept to the world of entertainment.

5. Cure

Released in 1997 and directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Cure is regarded as one of the Japanese horror films that helped shape the future of the genre. By melding elements of mystery, psychological horror, and crime drama, Cure offers an engrossing tale of a detective attempting to hunt down a deranged serial killer. The movie centers around Kenichi Takabe, a detective investigating a string of grisly murders that are seemingly connected, as each victim has had the letter “X” sliced onto their body. However, as suspects are arrested and jailed, Takabe struggles to find the connection. The shocking conclusion and truth behind the crimes makes Cure one of the most interesting Japanese horror films we’ve ever seen. If you’re in the mood for some crime drama with an ample amount of scares, definitely check this fantastic Japanese horror film out!

6. Onibaba

While stories of spirits, murders, and demented dates are all great for making horror films, Onibaba derives its visceral nature from history rather than folklore. Originally released in 1964 and directed by Kaneto Shindo, Onibaba follows two women who, during a civil war in the fourteenth century, rob and kill soldiers to gain money. Eventually, the pair are confronted by a lost samurai who makes them atone for their crimes. Often regarded as a period-piece, a historical drama, and a horror film, Onibaba is a Japanese film that will subvert your expectations and shock you along the way. The cinematography is beautiful and the effects are shocking, so we definitely recommend you check out Onibaba if you’re in the mood for a slow-burn tale of karma.

7. Dark Water

Based on the short story by Koji Suzuki and directed by Hideo Nakata, Dark Water is a creepy paranormal film that will definitely make you re-think your relationship with water. The movie follows the recently divorced Yoshimi Matsubara and her young daughter Ikuko, who move into a seedy apartment building with a leaky ceiling. As the two carry on with their day-to-day lives, inexplicable events start to occur and an apparition of a long-haired girl begins stalking the apartment complex. While Dark Water is full of scares, it’s also pretty sad, offering a somber message on the importance of family. It might not be as gruesome or outright terrifying as some of the other films mentioned here, but it absolutely deserves a spot on our list of the top 15 Japanese horror movies.

8. Suicide Club

What would a list of the best Japanese horror films be without a bit of ambiguous, indie storytelling? Suicide Club, written and directed by Sion Sono and released in 2001, is exactly the type of subversive indie film that deserves a spot in cinematic history. The movie is set over the course of one week, when a string of gruesome mass suicides start to crop up across Japan. As detectives struggle to figure out the cause, the death toll continues to climb. When the film debuted at film festivals, it was met with mixed reception, with some criticism lofted at the movie’s touchy subject matter and extremely graphic visuals. Ultimately, Suicide Club is an interesting look at how pop culture can greatly influence the actions of the public, presented with unwavering brutality. While it might not have the mass appeal as some of the other big-name Japanese horror films, Suicide Club is well worth the watch, if you have the stomach for it.

9. Ju-On: The Grudge

Alongside our number 1 pick, Ringu, Ju-On: The Grudge is arguably one of the most recognizable Japanese horror films of all time. Originally released in 2002 and helmed by Takashi Shimizu, Ju-On: The Grudge is actually the third movie in the franchise, but was the first to make major waves in the international film industry. This frightening tale of the paranormal centers around the Tokunaga family, who move into a house with a bloody past. Infected with the violent spirits of the previous owners, the Tokunaga family soon experiences haunting visions and untimely ends. In the realm of Japanese horror films, Ju-On: The Grudge isn’t particularly gruesome, but the focal spirits are disturbing enough to leave you sleeping with the lights on. The film was popular enough to receive several sequels, as well as Western remakes and spin-offs, furthering its overall reach. If you haven’t sat down and experienced the supernatural terror of Ju-On: The Grudge, we can’t recommend it enough.

10. Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Created by the master of low-budget horror, Shinya Tsukamoto, Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a 1998 film that blends revolting body-horror with a cyberpunk aesthetic, resulting in a wholly unique viewing experience. The movie follows an average businessman who, for unknown reasons, begins to experience a slow transformation of his flesh into metal. Tormented by the spirit of a masochistic spirit, the businessman must uncover the truth behind the hideous changes and answer for covered-up crimes. Although it’s incredibly disturbing and full of gruesome imagery, Tsukamoto offers the audience a low-budget experience that continuously subverts your expectations and grosses you out. With twisted themes of redemption and justice, Tetsuo: The Iron Man stands out as one of the most visceral but imaginative Japanese horror movies of all time.

11. Kuroneko

Jumping back to the “old wave” of Japanese horror, 1968’s Kuroneko is a masterful example of adapting traditional folklore for the big screen. Directed by Kaneto Shindo, this black-and-white film tells the story of two vengeful spirits who seek justice for their untimely deaths during an era of feudal war. With beautiful imagery, wonderful costuming, and a timeless story of the consequences of wartime bloodlust, Kuroneko is a brutal and at times heartbreaking classic. Like Shindo’s other works, namely Onibaba, Kuroneko strikes an excellent balance between history and fiction, offering an eerie ghost story with striking visuals.

12. Noroi: The Curse

We’re big fans of the found footage sub-genre, so we had to include the 2005 film Noroi: The Curse on our list of the top 15 Japanese horror films. Co-written and directed by Koji Shiraishi, the movie follows Masafumi Kobayashi, a paranormal investigator working on a new documentary series. The movie is mostly presented through found-footage, as Kobayashi investigates the disappearance of a girl with psychic powers, eventually uncovering some dark secrets. Even if you’re not a fan of found footage, it’s hard to deny that Noroi: The Curse is of high quality, with an exceptionally well-written script and thoughtful mythos. If you enjoy the idea of ghost hunting, pseudo-documentary presentation, and white-knuckle terror, you should absolutely set aside the time to watch Noroi: The Curse.

13. Pulse

While many Japanese horror films revolve around ancient spirits or curses, Pulse subverts that expectation by directly linking its scares to the internet. Originally released in 2001 and directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the movie contains two connected stories of ghosts who use the power of the internet to cross over into reality. As characters encounter disturbing web-pages full of graphic imagery, the world of the living and dead begin to meld, resulting in some horrendous events. Instead of bombarding the viewer with mountains of gore, Pulse is a much more insidious film, preying on your sense of uneasiness and expectation. While there was an American remake of the film released in 2006, we highly recommend you check out the original film, as it’s easily one of the best Japanese horror films of all time.

14. Ringu 2

As a sequel to our number 1 pick, Ringu, Ring 2 has an interesting story. Due to poor critical response to the first sequel, Spiral, Ring 2 completely ignores the events of that film, and takes place a few weeks after the events of Ringu. Much like the first Ringu, Ring 2 revolves around the urban legend of a videotape that causes the viewer’s death within seven days, but builds upon the original movie’s discoveries. As a sequel, Ring 2 offers a slightly new mystery but also continues the story of some of our favorite characters, making it a worthy follow-up. It might not be as ground-breaking as its predecessors, but Ring 2 is a great example of how director Hideo Nakata refuses to rest on his laurels and continues to produce great films.

15. One Missed Call

Directed by Takashi Miike and based on the novel Chakushin Ari by author Yasushi Akimoto, One Missed Call produces enough fear and suspense to close out our list of the top 15 Japanese horror films. The movie focuses on psychology student Yumi Nakamura, whose friend receives a mysterious voice message on her phone from the future. After her friend dies several days later, Yumi begins investigating the source of the message and quickly discovers that the mystery is spreading across the country. Things only get more intense when Yumi receives a call herself, forcing her to solve the mystery before it’s too late. When compared to some of Takashi Miike’s other films, One Missed Call is far tamer, but it’s still loaded with atmospheric dread and some amazing shots. If you’re in the mood for a supernatural mystery with a few surprises, check out One Missed Call.


Just based on the picks included on our list, it’s clear that Japanese cinema has been ripe with fascinating horror films since the very start of the medium. From the 1960s to modern times, Japanese horror films have significantly furthered the artistry of the genre, forever shaping the movie-making world. Whether it be the brutal violence of Takashi Miike, the unnerving supernatural suspense of Hideo Nakata, or the historical horrors of Kaneto Shindo, numerous Japanese directors have left their mark on the world of cinema.

If you’re a movie buff who wants to dive headfirst into the twisted world of Japanese horror, you should consider all of our listed flicks as essential viewing. That said, we’ve only scratched the surface of the wondrous world of foreign films. There’s nothing quite as refreshing as discovering the unique contrasts between cinematic cultures, and the best Japanese horror films can provide unforgettable viewing experiences. So, the next time you’re feeling adventurous with your pick for movie night, check out one of our top 15 Japanese horror films and prepare for a wild ride.