The Best Asian Horror Movies And How To Watch Them
Explore another territory of terror.
It has been so gratifying to see the best horror movies treated with a nearly unprecedented sense of respect in more recent years, especially considering how dynamic and versatile the genre truly is. While some cinematic genres are defined by one specific style, horror is associated with various kinds of filmmaking styles - many of which differ by culture, as one can easily see in the thrillers that originate from the continent of Asia.
Great Japanese horror movies (such as Audition by Takashi Miike) as well as some of the best Korean horror movies (like much of the work of Oscar winner Bong Joon-ho), and titles from other Asian countries have, essentially, become a genre all their own. They exhibit a tremendously distinct sense of shock and awe quite unlike anything most horror fans can name. We celebrate their achievements by naming our picks for the best Asian horror movies you can find now on streaming or available for a digital rental.
A strange series of deaths somehow linked to a supposedly cursed videotape leads a reporter and single mother (Nanako Matsushima) to learn its secrets by watching the footage herself, which she soon comes to regret.
Why it is one of the best Asian horror movies: Based on the novel by Koji Suzuki which, itself, is inspired by an old Japanese folk tale, the terrifying, supernatural mystery thriller, Ringu, is one of the few J-horror classics to spawn a generally well-received American remake (director Gore Verbinski’s The Ring from 2002), which later spawned a 2005 follow-up that the original film’s helmer Hideo Nataka actually directed himself.
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Also look for Ringu on Shudder.
The Wailing (2016)
A police officer (Kwak Do-won) grows increasingly desperate to understand and contain a mysterious illness, which many believe could be of demonic origin, spreading through the South Korean village of Gokseong.
Why it is one of the best Asian horror movies: As much a chilling fantasy fable as it is an engrossing (and sometimes morbidly humorous) crime drama, writer and director Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing is a masterful slow-burn horror movie that will have you locked in from beginning to end with a heartbreaking theme of family trauma and a strong commentary on paranoid mob mentality.
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Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
Several years after a devastating crime occurred in a house in Tokyo, the latest owners and any of the other various people who dare enter it soon fall prey to vengeful, unforgiving spirits.
Why it is one of the best Asian horror movies: Told in non-linear narrative that almost gives it an anthological feel, Ju-On: The Grudge is the third and, arguably, the scariest installment of writer and director Takashi Shimizu’s ongoing series following people literally haunted by their past, which became popular in America after the release of the first English language remake from 2004, which Shimizu also helmed.
Rent/buy Ju-On: The Grudge digitally on Amazon (opens in new tab).
Train To Busan (2016)
A divorced, workaholic father (Gong Yoo), his daughter (Su-an Kim), and a few others struggle to survive when they board a train traveling from Seoul to Busan, Korea, that becomes a hellish ride into madness when most of the passengers become hungry, frighteningly agile reanimated corpses.
Why it is one of the best Asian horror movies: At a time when apocalyptic stories about the undead had never been more saturated, co-writer and director Sang-ho Yeon managed to stand out among the rest with Train to Busan - one of the most intense, cleverly conceived, and realistic zombie movies in recent memory.
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Years after the death of his wife, a single father (Ryo Ishibashi) decides he wants to find love again and receives help in looking for the perfect woman from his friend, a film producer, by orchestrating a casting session for a fake movie in Tokyo.
Why it is one of the best Asian horror movies: The less that you know about this adaptation of Ryu Murakami’s 1997 novel, Audition, the better, but knowing that it is one of the defining efforts of director Takashi Miike and a huge influence on horror filmmakers like Hostel director Eli Roth should given audiences a pretty fair idea of how things will unfold.
Stream Audition on Tubi.
Buy Audition on DVD/Blu-ray on Amazon (opens in new tab).
The Host (2006)
A family (including future Parasite star Kang-ho Song) struggle to overcome insurmountable odds when their daughter is captured by an unidentifiable, man-eating beast that shocks the world after it emerges from the Han River in Seoul, Korea.
Why it is one of the best Asian horror movies: Not to be confused with a YA sci-fi romance from the author of Twilight or an ingenious, Shudder exclusive video call horror flick from 2020, The Host is the intense creature feature that cemented future Parasite director Bong Joon-ho as a master of, just about, any genre imaginable, especially horror.
Buy/Rent The Host on Amazon (opens in new tab).
A priest (Kang-ho Song) has no choice but to give up the life of purity and discipline he has established for himself after a medical procedure gone wrong ends up transforming him into a creature of the night with an insatiable craving for human blood.
Why it is one of the best Asian horror movies: This time, The Host star Kang-ho Song plays the (reluctant) monster in Thirst - a South Korean vampire tale from Oldboy director Chan-wook Park, inspired by French author Émile Zola’s 1868 novel, Thérèse Ravin.
Buy/Rent Thirst on Amazon (opens in new tab).
Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
An ordinary, Japanese businessman (Tomorô Taguchi) suddenly and inexplicably begins to undergo an extraordinary and painful metamorphosis into a living, breathing, metallic monster.
Why it is one of the best Asian horror movies: Not to be confused with one of the first and best MCU movies with a similar title, Tetsuo: The Iron Man - the first in a cult favorite trilogy of surreal body horror tales from writer and director Shin'ya Tsukamoto - might actually be due for remake that could reintroduce its bizarrely relevant, technophobic commentary to a new generation.
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Noroi: The Curse (2005)
A paranormal researcher (Jin Muraki) and a documentary film crew investigate a series of strange events in Japan that may be related to an ancient demon.
Why it is one of the best Asian horror movies: Although more accurately categorized as "faux documentary horror," co-writer and director Kōji Shiraishi’s Noroi: The Curse is considered by many fans of the subgenre to be one of the scariest found footage thrillers of its time, if not of all time.
Rent Noroi: The Curse on Apple TV (opens in new tab).
Also look for Noroi: The Curse on Shudder.
Dark Water (2002)
Hoping to find a place to make a fresh start following her recent divorce, a woman (Hitomi Kuroki) and her young daughter move into a dilapidated apartment building where they encounter severe water damage and a strange, deadly secret lurking beneath the surface.
Why it is one of the best Asian horror movies: Yet another J-horror classic inspired by the work of Koji Suzuki and helmed by Ringu director Hideo Nakata, Dark Water is a stunningly creepy and emotionally traumatic story that, inevitably, inspired an American remake in 2005 starring Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly.
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Battle Royale (2000)
In a dystopian future, the Japanese government passes a law that allows minors of various ages to be kidnapped and forced to fight each other to the death as punishment.
Why it is one of the best Asian horror movies: Released years before the Hunger Games movies or the YA novels by author Suzanne Collins, writer and director Kinjui Fukasaku’s adaptation of Koushun Takami’s novel Battle Royale is a much, much different kind of story and is also considered the better juvenile death match movie by many.
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Also look for Battle Royale on Pluto TV.
I Saw The Devil (2010)
A Korean National Intelligence Service agent (The Magnificent Seven’s Byung-hun Lee) subjects the sadistic, cannibalistic serial killer (Oldboy’s Min-sik Choi) who killed his fiancée to a grisly series of torturous acts.
Why it is one of the best Asian horror movies: As a hypnotic, thoroughly gripping blend of an action thriller, a crime drama, and a horror film, I Saw the Devil fits right in with The Good the Bad the Weird director Jee-woon Kim’s eclectic filmography, but is likely his bloodiest affair yet.
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Three… Extremes (2004)
A trilogy of bold disturbing stories about a revolutionary aging cure with one disturbing condition, a prestigious filmmaker falling prey to a desperate actor’s deadly game, and an author haunted by memories of her terrible childhood.
Why it is one of the best Asian horror movies: Audition director Takashi Miike, Thirst’s Chan-wook Park, and Chinese filmmaker Fruit Chan helm each of the increasingly horrifying segments from Three… Extremes, which - in addition to being one of the best anthology horror movies - could easily top the list of the viscerally unnerving and emotionally distressing of the bunch.
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Being a true horror fan requires one to broaden their horizons beyond what originates in their own continent and these Asian horror masterpieces are a great way to start if you haven’t already.
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Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.