If murder mysteries and stories about cat-and-mouse police chases get your heart palpitating, grab one of these Japanese crime novels for your summer reading list. Some will have you guessing until the end, while others show you the perspective of both the criminal and victim as their stories intertwine.
Whether you pick up one or all of these thrilling Japanese crime novels, they’re sure to keep you up, doors locked, and reading all night under the covers.
1. Out, Natsuo Kirino
In a time when women were expected to write romance stories, Natsuo Kirino bulldozed the way forward for a wave of Japanese female crime authors to take the literary stage. Her novel Out, published in 1997, won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, the top honor for the genre.
The novel weaves together the narratives of four women who work the graveyard shift together at a bento lunch box factory, struggling to make ends meet. A spontaneous murder and the following cover-up bring them closer together before things start to unravel between them in alarming ways. This novel will challenge your thinking on the meaning of justice, and reflect on how you might help a friend cover up a crime.
Other Natsuo Kirino recommendations: Grotesque and Real World
2. The Decagon House Murders, Yukito Ayatsuji
Agatha Christie fans rejoice! Yukito Ayatsuji’s debut crime novel, The Decagon House Murders, pulls inspiration from Christie’s world-renowned And Then There Were None. The mystery-loving characters in the story even mention the similarities.
In the novel, seven university students tempt fate by embarking on a week-long trip to an isolated island, where a brutal murder-spree happened months earlier. What was supposed to be an academic exercise for the students interested in solving the murders, quickly takes a gruesome turn. This one will leave you suspecting every character before the shocking truth is revealed.
Other Yukito Ayatsuji recommendations: Another; Mansion Murders series (Japanese only)
3. The Devotion of Suspect X, Keigo Higashino
The Devotion of Suspect X is the third book by Keigo Higashino that features the genius Detective Galileo and is also the most internationally celebrated. The novel inspired a movie with the same name that now has a cult following in Japan. The same goes for the TV drama Galileo, starring Masaharu Fukuyama as the hyper-intelligent detective.
The novel pits two brilliant minds against each other. As a reader, you can’t help but root for Detective Galileo and the criminal he’s hunting down—a reclusive, quick-witted math teacher who has nothing but good intentions. Warning: the ending may leave you pulling out your hair!
Other Keigo Higashino recommendations: Under the Midnight Sun; Salvation of a Saint
4. Puppet Master, Miyuki Miyabe
Miyuki Miyabe has written dozens of novels in various genres, but her most awarded narratives internationally are all intense crime fiction books. Puppet Master is a five-volume monster that follows a sociopathic serial killer, the scrambling police force, and the victims’ families who try to pick up the pieces of their lives after the crimes. This is a gruesome psychological thriller that is sure to keep you wide awake and feeling unsettled until you finish all 1,500 pages.
Other Miyuki Miyabe recommendations: Crossfire; All She Was Worth
5. Confessions, Kanae Minato
Kanae Minato is Japan’s queen of the iyamisu or iya-mystery genre, which are mysteries that make you feel uncomfortable and just “eww.” They delve into the dark crevices of human nature and psychology. A critic hailed Confessions as the Gone Girl of Japan by Gillian Flynn, also advertised for its iyamisu characteristics.
In Confessions, middle school teacher Yuko Moriguchi’s four-year-old child dies tragically at the school she teaches. After giving a rattling confession to her homeroom class, she resigns from her position, a last act of revenge for the death that was no accident. As Moriguchi’s story and the stories of characters labeled “Student A” and “Student B” unravel, it turns out that she’s not the only one with confessions to make.
Other Kanae Minato recommendations: Confessions (the movie); Reverse; The Night Ferris Wheel
6. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, Soji Shimada
This intricate Japanese crime novel by Soji Shimada spans several decades. It all starts with a gruesome locked-door murder mystery with themes from astrology and alchemy. In 1936, a wealthy painter is found dead in his studio and bodies of women he’s connected to are discovered around rural Japan. Decades later, investigators reopen the unsolved Tokyo Zodiac Murder case.
The novel’s foreword is a challenge to the reader from Shimada—all the clues needed to solve the mystery are found in the text. As the reader, you have all the same information as the investigators in the novel. As they travel around Japan trying to revive the historical case and solve the grisly murders, so can you!
It’s the perfect test for the avid crime reader.
Other Soji Shimada recommendations: Murder in the Crooked House
Got any more Japanese crime novel recommendations? Tell us in the comments!