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9 Japanese Mystery and Thriller Novels to Broaden Your Horizons

Explore a rich and nuanced culture through these dark and twisting tales.

japanese mystery and thriller novels
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  • Photo Credit: The Lady Killer by Masako Togawa

While the works of European and American mystery writers from the 19th and 20th centuries are most commonly celebrated, Japan had its own golden age of mystery fiction. Japanese detective fiction from the 1920s established a subgenre known as honkaku, or "orthodox" detective fiction.

In the late 1950s, there was a rise of shakai, which were novels that adhered to a more social-minded narrative. Following after, in the 80s, shin honkaku bent the rules of classic detective fiction and called for more self-reflective tales.

We've collected some of the very best translated works for you to revitalize your TBR. Whether you like dangerous tales of erotic danger or baffling locked room mysteries, there's a book below that's just to your taste. Here are eight Japanese mystery and thriller novels!

devotion of suspect x

The Devotion of Suspect X

By Keigo Higashino

The Devotion of Suspect X, at its core, is a battle of wits. It begins with Yasuko Hanaoka, a divorced single mother who thought she was finally safe from her abusive ex-husband, Togashi…until he killed her. 

Ishigami, Yasuko's neighbor, overheard the chaos and offered to help Togashi dispose of the body and calculate his cover plan. But nevertheless, Yasuko's body is uncovered and the police are on to Togashi. 

Though Detective Kusanagi can't find any holes in Togashi's alibi, he has a hunch that Togashi's involved, so he brings in Dr. Manabu Yukawa, a physicist, college friend, and supporter of the police. 

Yukawa, also known as Professor Galileo, also went to college with Ishigami, and is convinced after speaking with him that Ishigami is also involved. But can Ishigami use his wits to out-maneuver Yukawa, his most intelligent opponent yet, and keep Yasuko protected? 



By Natsuo Kirino

There are terrible things going on behind closed doors in this Tokyo suburb. A young mother is being abused by her husband—until she finds a way out by strangling him to death. 

Now she turns to the other women she works with in the night shift, asking for their help to dispose of the body and cover up the crime. 

The cunning Masako takes the lead, but this murder may be the tip of the iceberg as they step into the terrifying underworld of Japanese society.

the tokyo zodiac murders

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders

By Soji Shimada

Kiyoshi Mitarai is an astrologer, fortune teller, and amateur detective. Now the brilliant mind has just one week to solve a case that has stumped the entirety of Japan for the past 40 years. 

It was a gruesome three-part crime: the murder of the artist Umezawa, the rape and murder of his daughter, and the dismemberment of six others to create the "perfect woman." This puzzle is one of the bloodiest yet.

the black lizard and beast in the shadows

The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows

By Edogawa Rampo

This book contains two tales of classic Japanese detective fiction, published in the early 20th century. 

In The Black Lizard, detective Akechi Kogorō has a charged relationship with the criminal mastermind and femme fatale, The Black Lizard. 

In Beast in the Shadows, a mystery writer must play detective to protect the woman he secretly loves.

The Tattoo Murder Case

The Tattoo Murder Case

By Akimitsu Takagi

After surviving the horrors of World War II, Kinue Nomura is murdered in Tokyo. 

Her severed limbs are found inside a locked room, but her breathtaking full-body tattoo is missing. 

A young doctor, Kenzo Matsushita, jumps onto the case to help his detective brother. There's just one, vital secret he's keeping: he was Kinue's lover.



By Fumiko Enchi

When Mieko Toganō's son dies, she becomes overly invested in the personal life of her newly widowed daughter-in-law, Yasuko. 

Wracked with grief, she manipulates the relationships Yasuko has with two men in love with her, pushing instead a relationship that could end only in devastation. 

But Mieko's mentally disabled daughter has a part to play in this charade as well.

the village of eight graves

The Village of Eight Graves

By Seishi Yokomizo

A classic tale featuring investigator Kosuke Kindaichi. In the 16th century, a bloody legend unfolds: eight samurais take refuge deep in the mountains, tucking away with a secret treasure. 

When the inhabitants murder them, a dark curse befalls the village. Centuries later, a man named Tatsuya arrives in the Village of Eight Graves. Unfortunately, a series of poisonings follow in his path.



By Keigo Higashino

Bestselling author Kunihiko Hidaka has plans to leave Japan and settle down in Vancouver.

 Unfortunately, the night before his trip, he's brutally murdered inside his home. When his wife and his best friend find his body in his locked office, their alibis seem to be airtight.

Police Detective Kyochiro Kaga recognizes Hidaka's friend as one of his own former colleagues, Osamu Nonoguchi. 

Years ago, they'd both been teachers at a public school. While Kaga left to join to force, Nonoguchi left to pursue writing...albeit not as successfully as Hidaka.

the lady killer

The Lady Killer

By Masako Togawa

By day, The Lady Killer leads the life of a devoted husband and honorable worker. 

By night, he slips into a double life in Tokyo's underworld, stalking clubs for lonely women to seduce. But now the predator has become the prey. 

A trail of gruesome murders seems to follow him wherever he goes and to figure out the culprit, he must untangle a complicated web of clues.