Even if you live under a rock duplex, you’ve probably seen Netflix’s Squid Game do the rounds on social media. This should come as no surprise because Netflix reports that Squid Game (not to be confused with Nintendo’s Splatoon) is its most popular series launch ever, gaining 111 million viewers within 17 days of the show’s debut.
If you’re one of those 111 million and you’re itching for more, or even if you’ve avoided all the Squid Game hype but still want some suspenseful stuff in a similar vein, we’ve got you covered.
As the unofficial otaku of Kotaku, it would be sacrilegious of me to not recommend people check out the 2007 anime Kaiji. Similar to Squid Game’s focus on Seong Gi-hun, Kaiji follows Kaiji Ito, a “total loser” who spends his days gambling until he gets tricked by a former co-worker and has to pay off their debts. (Hate it when that happens.) One day, a loan shark named Edo offers Kaiji a way to “wipe the debt away in one night.”
What’s the way, you ask? It involves a series of illegal gambling games in which Kaiji competes against other people who are down on their luck. In many ways, Kaiji was Squid Game before Squid Game. Don’t just take my word for it. The anime pope himself, Mother’s Basement, has already made a video on YouTube about why fans of Squid Game should check out Kaiji. With any luck, Squid Game’s success will finally result in Kaiji getting a third season. Fingers crossed!
Kaiji is available to watch on Crunchyroll.
Akudama Drive is an anime I can best describe as Danganronpa meets Suicide Squad. Before you ask, I’d say the anime has the aesthetic of David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad film coupled with the general tone and likeability of James Gunn’s entry.
Produced by Danganronpa series creator Kazutaka Kodaka, the cyberpunk anime series is set in a dystopian Kansai where criminals are called Akudama (which literally translates to “villain” or “bad person”) and are hunted vehemently by the city’s elite police officers, called Executioners.
The story follows a young woman who is mistakenly classified as an Akudama. She and six other Akudama are contracted to do a string of impossible heists with the promise of a large payday, all while Executioners are hunting them down. This series was a standout anime during the Fall 2020 season, and I think fans of Squid Game would enjoy its political commentary and balls-to-the-wall action.
Akudama Drive is available to watch on Funimation.
In Gantz 0, the death game starts after its main characters have already passed on from this world. Based on the manga and anime series, the movie follows Masaru Kato after he dies from a knife attack in a subway. Masaru wakes up to find himself revived alongside other recently deceased people in a room with a black orb called “Gantz.”
After the team put on skin-tight futuristic suits, the orb announces that they have two hours to kill an army of alien monsters in Osaka and Tokyo. With each monster they kill, they earn bonuses like upgraded weapons, the ability to resurrect an ally, and the final prize: freedom from the game. If they fail, they die permanently. Be warned, this CGI movie is not for the faint of heart. It features graphic portrayals of violence, gore, sex, and nudity throughout.
Gantz 0 is available to watch on Netflix.
In the world of Kakegurui, students who attend one of Japan’s most reputable schools, Hyakkaou Private Academy, are graded on one metric: their gambling skills. Based on the manga, Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler, the anime follows Yumeko Jabami, a second-year transfer student who recently transferred to the prestigious school. While the other students gamble to raise their standing in the school’s social hierarchy, Yumeko does it for the thrill. Using her keen observation skills, she participates in various gambling games with dire consequences. The more Yumeko wins and disrupts the pecking order of the school, the more attention she draws from the student council and their president, Kirari Momobam.
Kakegurui is available to watch on Netflix.
Alice in Borderland
Based on the manga of the same name, Alice in Borderland is a TV series that follows a trio of gamers who cause a bit of trouble and then hide from the cops in the bathroom. When they emerge, they find themselves in an abandoned Tokyo. They’re then forced to complete dangerous games whose difficulty varies depending on the playing cards each character is given. Instead of earning points like in Gantz, the Borderland characters earn more time on “visas.” The more games they survive, the more time they receive. But if their visas expire, they are executed by freaking laser beams from the sky.
Alice In Borderland is available to watch on Netflix.
Network TV series don’t get much more conceptually ambitious than The 100. Seven years after a nuclear apocalypse kills most of humanity, the last remnants are crammed in a satellite called the Ark where they must wait for 100 years until the earth is habitable again. After time passes, 100 prisoners (have I said “100” enough times yet?) are sent back to earth on a mission to see how the planet’s doing. What they find are mutated animals and vicious clans who hunt them down, when the prisoners aren’t too busy hunting each other.
The show must be popular because it has seven seasons and 100 episodes (clever girl).
The 100 is available to watch on Netflix.
If you want a TV series that is more grounded in reality, Heist might be the show for you. Heist is a Netflix documentary about three individuals: a woman who steals millions of dollars from a Las Vegas casino, an aspiring father who uses tactics he saw from TV shows to steal a fortune from the Miami airport, and a dad from Kentucky who gets accused of being behind the “biggest bourbon burglary in history.” Heist features dramatic retellings of these events intercut with interviews with the people behind them.
Heist is available to watch on Netflix.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
I don’t think this game needs any introduction. If you want to play a video game version of the Japanese game show Takeshi’s Castle, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is the game to play. For those not in the know, Fall Guys is a multiplayer platform battle royale where players participate in a bunch of obstacle-course game types while navigating bean-like characters to the finish line. Fall Guys is available on Xbox One and Series S|X, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
Zero Time Dilemma
If you want the cheap thrills of an escape room survival horror but with strong character arcs and incredibly complex and heady narrative threads to unravel, look no further than Zero Time Dilemma. The third game in director Kotaro Uchikoshi’s Zero Escape trilogy is occasionally funny, often bizarre, and always hard to put down. It’s everything you could want from a visual novel and more. (It’s also extremely affordable on Steam, along with the whole trilogy).
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but nine desperate people are locked in a nuclear bunker and tormented by a masked game master named Zero. Some must die so the others can live. There are riddles to solve, logic puzzles to blow up, and multiple timelines, all of which is made manageable thanks to the chaos being broken into discrete chapters. The result is kind of like a series of deadly crosswords dramatized and punctuated with fascinating nuggets of philosophizing and sci-fi babble. Life is unfair, but Zero Time Dilemma makes figuring out why super rewarding.
Imagine, one day you wake up inside of an escape room in the form of a multitude of cube rooms with people who might have led less-than-ideal lives. That’s the basic setup for the 1997 movie Cube. In this sci-fi thriller, strangers must escape from a maze of cube rooms underground. In this maze are different Saw-like traps that the team must figure out how to survive before deciding which cube to move to next.
The movie does have sequels but I don’t see people talking about them, or its Japanese remake, which I’ll treat as a litmus test as to the quality of those films over the original.
Cube is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
Did you know wrestling legend Stone Cold Steve Austin was in a death game movie called The Condemned? In The Condemned, Stone Cold stars as a prisoner named Jack Conrad. Conrad and nine other prisoners are purchased by a TV producer and shipped to an island, Survivor-style. But instead of surviving the jungle, the prisoners must fight to the death on a live broadcast. This is one of those WWE Studios movies that probably went straight to DVD. It’s a product of its time comedy-wise, but it makes for an entertaining watch.
The Condemned is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
Similar to Cube, The Platform is a Spanish sci-fi horror movie where inmates live in a mysterious prison that is structured with a series of vertical platforms that serve as a heavy-handed metaphor for social hierarchy. In this structure, food is sent down from each floor and people who live on the lower floors eat what’s left by those above them. (Subtlety is for cowards.) Chaos naturally ensues as prisoners descend down the cells and fight for their share of food.
The Platform is available to watch on Netflix.
THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME
Rather than listing Lord of the Flies as the based pick for readers wishing to explore battle royales, we’re going a different route. Instead, we suggest that those looking for some reading material to sate their Squid Game appetite check out “The Most Dangerous Game.”
Written by Richard Connell in 1924, “The Most Dangerous Game” follows big game hunter Sanger Rainsford and his friend Whitney. After being shipwrecked in the Amazon rainforest, Rainsford finds himself as “the hunted” rather than “the hunter.’’ He and other survivors find themselves kept in captivity by a middle-aged hunter called General Zaroff, who decides, after years of hunting animals, that it’s time to hunt man. In the spirit of making things fair, Zaroff provides the survivors with food, clothes, knives, and a three-hour head start before he goes off on his Kraven the Hunter bullshit and hunts them down for sport with a pistol.
Sadly, this gripping yarn isn’t something that can be found on streaming devices or consoles. You can buy the short story on Amazon or risk it in the wild and try to flag it down at your local bookstore. It’ll make for a great story if you find it. Tell ‘em Isaiah sent you.