Squid Game requires little to no introduction for most internet users and television enjoyers. The Netflix original series has taken the world by storm, showing us, once again, how fond we are of watching characters we’ve grown attached to get massacred for the entertainment of spectators (both in-universe and outside it). Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series follows a very similar premise with its yearly ritual in which a group of teenagers, you guessed it, have to compete to the death for the amusement of strangers. While those books and their film adaptations are both wildly popular, there’s actually an entire genre revolving around this concept
Often referred to as the ‘death game’ genre, these sorts of stories serve as the premise for popular manga such as Battle Royale, Liar Game and Kaiji, all of which Squid Game creator Hwang Dong-Hyuk cites as inspiration for Squid Game. Whether you liked the Korean series for its character development, its psychological tension, or seeing people turn on each other in a desperate struggle to survive, this list should have something for you. If you’re less into reading manga, then fret not, because each entry has been adapted to other formats.
Kaiji tells the story of its titular character, a debt-ridden washout with a tendency to burst into tears – in other words, literally me. He gets roped into a high-stakes rock-paper-scissors tournament on a gambling ship, followed by many other interesting gambling games. The games are entertaining, with much of the action gluing readers to their seats with anticipation, and Kaiji’s internal narration of his decision making makes you feel intelligent, which is validation that I desperately need. While the art style takes some getting used to, it’s well worth it. Kaiji has been adapted into a fantastic anime with two seasons currently out, as well as a live action film trilogy.
2. Liar Game
In Liar Game, an absurdly naive college student named Nao Kanzaki gets roped into a high-stakes tournament of lies and deception. After getting tricked by another participant, she teams up with notorious conman Shinichi Akiyama in order to stand a chance of winning. This manga is probably the most tame – rather than getting killed or delimbed, the losers of the Liar Game are merely saddled with massive debt which they can never hope to repay, so American college students should feel right at home. Each story arc is a tense psychological battle, and the dynamic between the inexperienced, kind-hearted Nao and the brilliant, plotting (yet somehow also kind-hearted?) Akiyama is endearing. Liar Game has been adapted into a live-action Japanese television series and two films that serve as its continuation; as well as a Korean drama series.
Battle Royale is definitely the most brutal of these three entries. A class of ninth-graders is abducted, put on a remote island, and forced to fight to the death in a government-mandated program until only one student remains. You’re given plenty of reasons to care about characters – in the form of backstories, emotional connections and heartfelt confessions – just moments before they’re slaughtered by their peers. The way the story seesaws between tender hope and violent despair is sure to keep you on your toes, and the main cast is easy to get emotionally invested in. Maybe don’t read this one with your children or extended family, though. The manga is based off of the 1999 novel of the same name (the manga is written by the novel’s author, by the by); the novel has also been adapted into a famous live-action film.
The second season of Squid Game is still pretty far off, so until the return of your Gganbu, hopefully these influential manga will be enough to satisfy your bloodlust and schadenfreude (not that I’m judging – I wrote this piece).