Autumn and Winter tend to be my favourite seasons for reading thrillers. I feel like the dreariness of rain and slush of snow are a great accompaniment for narratives that tend to be dark, twisted, and strange. To scratch that thriller itch that tends to come with such weather, I went to my Japanese shelves in search for a deliciously wicked indulgence (Japanese thrillers tend to be the best sorts of thrillers), and that’s when I thought it would be fun to share with you my current top five favourite Japanese thrillers!
All of the novels listed here are #OwnVoices and will be creepy or macabre in one form or another, so if you have a queasy tummy and don’t tend to enjoy literature of this sort, then I would not recommend these books to you. I would also to provide a blanket trigger warning for the titles listed. Most of them have triggers for graphic depictions of violence, deaths, and sexual situations including assault. So, please read them at your own discretion.
05. Real World by Natsuo Kirino
Real World is a feminist noir, crime thriller that is authored by a woman, one who is quite a brilliant writer of paced crime fiction. It follows four high school girls who encapsulate four different traits individually: dependability, grief and melancholy, reckless curiosity, and wholesome goodness. When a neighbour to one of the girls is brutally murdered, the four of them immediately suspect the neighbour’s son. However, he quickly flees, stealing some possessions belonging to the ladies, thus implicating them into the crime.
Real World is very much a meticulous, slow-burn type of thriller. My favourite quality with this book was paying attention to details that would connect the dots much later on. If readers are able to catch those small things while they read, then it creates a very enriching and intensely gripping experience. Or if they’re like me, where I caught some but not all, they will be in for a treat that will astonish and shock them with discomforting chills down their spine.
04. The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura
The Gun is a psychological thriller written by an author I recently came across this year. Since then, I have read about three of his novels and am entirely blown away with his talent for writing complex, intellective suspense fiction. The Gun is about a young man, a college student named Nishikawa, who is out on a stroll in the middle of a rainy night, when he comes across the scene of a crime. There he discovers a lone gun lying in a pool of blood. Drawn in by the presence of the weapon, he steals it and quickly flees the scene. Afterwards, Nishikawa begins to feel an unusually great sense of power and purpose by having possession of the gun. These new feelings will lead him down a twisted web of deceit and denial, until an overwhelming urge to fire the weapon becomes his obsession, to the point where this yearning transforms into a dangerously compulsory climax.
The narrator for this book is unlikable, but also so imperfect as to be quite genuine, making him even more unsettling. The Gun also happens to be the epitome of psychological as it takes readers inside the mind of a lonely and somewhat deranged man whose emotions get the best of him. The novel also some brilliantly thought-provoking themes that incite amazing discussions (I’ve had them with Sir Besty and my cousin) and it’s all done in less than 230 pages. Extra content warning: graphic and violent death of a cat. Scenes of sexual assault.
03. Confessions: A Novel by Kanae Minato
Confessions is a psychological crime thriller and another novel that introduced me to a brand-new author this year who is beautifully skilled at writing intelligent fiction to keep readers at the very edge of their seats with anticipation. Confessions is about a middle-school teacher named Yūko, who breaks off her engagement due to an unplanned affliction. In the wake of that, her four-year-old daughter, Manami, is killed at the school where she works. Through various circumstances, Yūko learns that two of her own students were responsible for Manami’s death. Overwhelmed with grief and anguish, she hands in her resignation and has one final lesson to share with the class, specifically to the students involved in the killing, setting into motion a powerfully psychotic plot for vengeance.
There is an abundance of fabulous traits that make Confessions a grade-A psychological thriller. From the strong themes pertaining to dysfunctional relationships to strict societal perceptions on the “ideal” Japanese family to complex characters and issues of abandonment, and finally the utterly immobilising nature of grief and pleasure, which are explored as parallels in the book. The writing was enticingly smooth as it follows a sinuously sinister scheme into the darkest depths of the human psyche, especially where retribution is concerned. Then we have the mind-blowing twist that I honestly never fucking saw coming. Extra content warning: violence involving children. Suicide.
02. Revenge by Yōko Ogawa
Yōko Ogawa is one of my favourite authors ever. She has a versatility to her writing style that I find immensely breath-taking and eloquent, whether she’s writing intricately morbid thrillers or a tale of family and friendships. Revenge is by far my favourite of her works and is most decidedly not for the faint of heart. It is a psychological horror thriller anthology of short stories that are all subtly yet flawlessly interconnected to one another. The stories are rather peculiar, unearthly, and charmingly disturbing.
01. Another by Yukito Ayatsuji
Another is one of my top favourite Japanese novels of all-time, across all genres, so making it my number one pick for this list was a bit of a no brainer. Another does have an anime adaptation and a manga adaptation. The anime is quite excellent and the manga, while being decent, doesn’t truly compare to the anime or the original source material, which is the novel. This supernatural suspense thriller takes place in the fictitious town of Yomiyama in Japan. In this town there is rumour of a terrible and horrifying curse plaguing the city, specifically Class 3 of Yomiyama North Middle School; a curse that causes people to undergo unexpected, gruesome deaths.
Another is a slower-paced novel that takes its time building the tension. It does this with stunning atmospheric descriptives and ambiance that wraps up the reader in everything that is going on, sort of transporting them to Yomiyama itself so the reader is experiencing all of the awful and frightening things that the characters and the people of the small town experience.
That brings today’s Top Five post to a close. If you are new and unfamiliar with Japanese suspense, or even thrillers in general, then my recommendation from these books would be Revenge and Confessions. They are easy to read, short in length, and offer the best taste of what Japanese suspense thrillers tend to entail.