There is no escaping the inevitable question, “Have you seen Squid Game yet?”
It’s an international craze, hitting the No.1 spot on Netflix in over 90 countries and set to eclipse streaming records for a non-English language show. What is it, though, that makes the show so addictive?
Its premise sees hundreds of debt-riddled outcasts fight for a chance to win an astronomical amount of money. The catch: if you don’t pass a series of Korean playground games, you’re mercilessly slaughtered.
Squid Game‘s success may come as a shock to those well-versed in Japanese media. Bloody survival games have been in the zeitgeist here since Battle Royale.
So, for those who chowed down the honeycomb in Squid Game and are craving some more, take a look at these Japanese winner-takes-all tournaments.
1. Battle Royale
Battle Royale is a controversial film that most folks compare to Squid Game, but it also likely inspired a whole genre of last-man-standing films, books, games and shows.
As Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movie, it’s bound to be a gruesome blood bath with a grey line etched between good and evil.
The parallels to Squid Game are endless. Drugged and transported to an undisclosed island location, a group of high schoolers under the imminent threat of death are given simple instructions: kill or be killed as only one can win.
Though there is no monetary incentive, the animalistic urge to survive takes over the teenagers as they fight over weapons, loyalties and their lives.
2. Liar Game
Squid Game creator Hwang Dong-hyuk highlighted the manga (comic) adaptation of Liar Game (and Battle Royale) as a direct inspiration, a clear connection seen in the respective protagonists, Nao Kanzaki and Seong Gi-hun. They share a naivety and hopeful outlook against a mysterious masked orchestrator.
The Liar Game TV series and manga share the same plot: unexpected individuals are given ¥100 million and told they are now part of the Liar Game Tournament.
Players must go head-to-head in a battle of wits to steal their opponent’s money or face the consequences of extreme debt. For those who cringe away from the violence of other survival shows, the wounds in Liar Game are found only in betrayals and manipulation.
Where to watch: The movies Liar Game: The Final Stage and Liar Game: Reborn can be found on Netflix.
3. As the Gods Will
Also derived from a popular manga series, As the Gods Will is an intricate splice of Japanese childhood games and murder. Its underlining tone enjoys a comedic edge, despite the number of heads exploding.
The story follows Shun Takahata, a high school student bored of his monotonous life who is unexpectedly thrown into a series of last-man-standing games with dire outcomes.
His initial trial even shares the same rules as the most deadly of Squid Game (by kill count at least): daruma-san ga koronda, or “red light, green light” as it is known in the West. However, the conductor is a foul-mouthed daruma doll rather than the iconic gigantic school-girl robot seen in Squid Game.
With appearances by a maneki-neko (lucky cat) and kokeshi dolls, this movie is distinctly Japanese.
4. Alice in Borderland
Let’s fall down the rabbit hole and into the glossy, big-budget world of Alice in Borderland.
Released in 2020 on Netflix, Alice in Borderland centers on a group of fun-loving friends who find themselves in a deserted Tokyo after running from the police. Conscripted into a tournament, they must journey through different arenas earning cards. If they make a wrong choice or refuse to move on, then—you guessed it—they die.
The excellent cinematography, such as an unnerving empty Shibuya Crossing and impactful performances, make it an intriguing watch.
Where to watch: Netflix
Much-loved Terrace House presenter Reina Triendl stars in this psychedelic horror directed by unconventional filmmaker Sion Sono. A non-linear plot takes high-school student Mitsuko through increasingly bizarre realities as she begins to realize she may be a pawn on an unseeable chessboard.
With a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, critics love the feminist themes and arthouse vibe. Its nonsensical appearance may seem outlandish, but thought-provoking questions that may keep you up at night lie beneath the surface.
Where to watch: Netflix
Straddling the line between reality and fiction, the Gantz anime, manga and live-action movie taps into the moral and philosophical questions of what it means to be alive.
Two friends, Kei Kurono and Masaru Kato, one day find themselves in a peculiar position: they are dead. They appear in front of a giant sphere known as Gantz, which tells them they must kill invading aliens until they receive enough points to be resurrected.
Although the protagonists aren’t playing games, the stakes are much higher than winning cash.
Where to Watch: Hulu
This popular battle royale game, anime and manga franchise is a peculiar mix between the detective game Ace Attorney and gruesome blockbuster Saw.
The first series sees 16 teenagers entering a prestigious high school who have been cherry-picked based on their unique abilities. But not everything is as it seems.
Their murderous teddy bear headmaster, Monokuma, soon informs them they cannot leave unless they kill another student and get away with it. These mysteries, along with many others, keep you on the edge of your seat.
The first game and anime follow almost entirely the same plot, so if you’d rather play (rather than just watch) something like Squid Game, definitely pick up Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and its sequel: Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair.
There is also a completely original anime that serves as a conclusion to the series and the first two games: Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School. Not to be confused with the third game, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, which fans debate as either a soft-reboot or set in an alternate reality—talk about confusing!
Where to play: Steam, Switch, PS4, Xbox 1 and more.
Other anime, game and manga titles like Squid Game, Danganronpa and Gantz include:
- Kakurenbo: Hide & Seek
- Deadman Wonderland
- Future Diary
- Darwin’s Game
What do you think? Did we miss any? Let us know your favorite Japanese survival game in the comments below.