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For my fourth and final installment of the horror manga-themed posts, I’ll write a bit about what is probably my #1 favorite horror manga series: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni–or Higurashi When They Cry.

It looks like a sweet and friendly series right now! But OH JUST YOU WAIT… o_o

So far I have read the following story arcs of the (long) manga series: Abducted by Demons, Cotton Drifting, Curse Killing, Time Killing, and Beyond Midnight. Each arc is two (big) volumes long, and every storyline has been really good. I have not yet watched the anime, but I have played the visual novel demo (which you can read my thoughts for here).

If asked what genre Higurashi entails, the answer will always be horror. But I feel this simple of an answer is an injustice to the series. Based on what I have read so far, Higurashi is much more than simply a horror story–it incredulously meshes together slice-of-life, comedy, and mystery to set the stage for the horror and tragedy to come. Every arc includes a great deal of character development for the main cast, and it’s clear a great deal of thought is put into each and every one of them–their backstories, their personalities, the ways in which they interact with one another… There’s just a lot more emotional investment in these characters than you would find in a typical horror story.

Yes, there is killing. There is blood. And there is maniacal laughter. These are the things that come to mind whenever people think of the Higurashi series–but that’s all just one facet of what is a much larger, much more dynamic storyline than one would expect. A wide range of emotions, tones, and moods are presented in Higurashi, and it would be a shame to go through the series focusing solely on the horror aspects.

Ara ara…

That said, the horror is handled brilliantly. For those new to the series, Higurashi starts off in the 1980s with a boy named Keiichi, who is probably one of my favorite manga/anime characters out there. He has moved from a large city to a small village called Hinamizawa, and has become good friends with a group of girls in his class. (Note that the whole school is one small class, and includes kids of all ages.) But not all is bright and cheerful in Hinamizawa, especially once the yearly festival commemorating the village deity Oyashiro takes place… Every year for the past four years, there has been a murder in the village–and as the story moves along, Keiichi begins to learn piece by piece more about the dark, bloody history of this mysterious village.

What makes the story so unsettling is the fact you can never be certain what the cause is for all the strange happenings in the village. Who is behind the various murders? Or, dare we ask… what is behind the various murders? There’s definitely supernatural vibes coming from the morbid occurrences that transpire from story arc to story arc, but we can never be entirely sure what precisely is the source of all the madness. Suffice to say, there are many people involved in this tangled web of murders, and it’s quite intense to see how the main characters deal with the terrifying situations they’re thrown in. In some cases… they become quite terrifying themselves.

So it’s been an excellent series of interconnected murder mysteries so far, with lots of engaging characters and clever plot twists. Will this level of quality last the entire series? I can’t say yet, but so far I’ve really enjoyed Higurashi. I do plan to watch the anime at some point, but I think I want to read as much of the manga as I can first, since I quite like its pacing and artwork.

What helps Higurashi stand out even more though is how when the series isn’t being ominous, foreboding, unsettling, or terrifying, it can be moving in entirely different ways. Positive, uplifting ways, even. Each of the characters is fascinating in her or his own way, and tends to be very sympathetic–which only makes their scenes of violence (justified or otherwise?) all the more distressing. Definitely a series worth checking out! Though I imagine many of you have already–it certainly isn’t an obscure one.

Many of the manga volumes are available from Yen Press, and you can find more of my thoughts on the manga volumes on my personal blog here (scroll down to see them all). Have a good Halloween, everyone!