Spiral shapes can seem innocuous enough – but Junji Ito turned them into the symbol of pure psychological horror when he wrote Uzumaki. The three-volume story, which originally ran in Big Comic Spirits magazine from 1998 to 1999, subverted various manga tropes to create a memorable and horrific plotline.
Uzumaki primarily follows Kirie Goshima and her boyfriend, Shuichi Saito. The two live in the fictional town of Kurozu-cho (“Black Vortex Town”), an area cursed by supernatural spirals. The teens witness how the spiral curse affects everyone around them and causes the citizens of Kurozu-cho to become increasingly paranoid about and obsessed with the spirals. Kirie herself ends up affected by the curse, with her hair curling into odd spiral shapes and hypnotizing other people in the town. Shuichi is eventually able to cut off the spiral hair.
Kirie and Shuichi attempt to escape the town, but are unsuccessful – however, they discover that several years passed while they were trying to escape. They learn that time passes differently around the town, with it speeding up the further away from the center of town they go. Eventually, the two resign themselves to be consumed by the spiral curse.
Junji Ito created Uzumaki as a way to subvert the traditional representation of spirals in manga – where they are normally used in a positive way, such as to denote warmth on a character’s cheeks – and instead create a horrifying element with them. Ito also took inspiration from various H.P. Lovecraft stories in crafting his tale.
Uzumaki was positively received around the world, with many considering it one of Ito’s best works. It would be nominated for the Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material in 2003. The manga saw two video game adaptations, both in 2000, as well as a live-action film that released that same year. At the 2019 Crunchyroll Expo, it was announced that Hiroshi Nagahama will be directing a four-episode anime series based on the manga, set to debut in 2020.