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As everyone who’s made it through all of Netflix’s “Squid Game” can report, there’s just something utterly compelling about getting to watch characters being put through the ringer on a repeated basis, especially when that ringer gets worse and worse each and every time. Whether or not the appeal of the show is discovering which child’s game has been bastardized into a cruel death trap this episode, or simply witnessing the emotional torture of those desperately in debt purely for the entertainment of the wealthy and corrupt — or, you know, we the television audience, but don’t think about that too much — the show has become a phenomenon (and quite possibly the soon-to-be most popular Halloween costume of 2021).
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But with only nine episodes of the show released to date, and no news of a second season any time soon, it’s a fair question to ask what fans of “Squid Game” might want to turn to next. For the answer, keep reading for nine suggestions, from all across the globe.
‘The Long Walk’ by Stephen King
“The Long Walk” wasn’t the first book Stephen King had published — and, for that matter, it was originally published under the pen name Richard Bachman — but it is the first novel King wrote, way back in the 1960s when he was still a student. It is, unexpectedly, a young adult book about a contest taking place in a near-future America, where 100 teenage boys have to keep walking or face the consequences — by which I mean, get killed. The young King has no qualms about living up to that deadly premise, and the book — which has long been in development as a movie — is as brutal as you’d expect. Pity poor Ray, the central character of the book, who’s stuck wandering for days without end; at least 456 got to sleep and play marbles every now and then.
‘Battle Royale’ by Koushun Takami
The iconic debut novel from Koushun Takami is one part “Lord of the Flies” and one part unstoppable murder rampage, as a group of high school students are kidnapped during a class field trip, and placed in the latest round of the Battle Experiment No. 68 — a government program that sees what happens when kids are given deadly weapons and told that they have to kill each other until only one remains. To make sure that happens, the kids are outfitted with explosive metal collars that will detonate if they refuse to play along. As might be expected, things don’t go so well once the experiment begins, although maybe not in the way that anyone expects…!
20th Century Boys: The Perfect Edition Vol. 1 by Naoki Urasawa
The hook at the center of this manga series isn’t a game taken to extremes, but instead a conspiracy theory that reunites a group of childhood friends who suspect that, as unlikely as it is, they might have accidentally created a cult dedicated to world domination, courtesy of a fictional “Book of Prophecy” they wrote as kids. The cult behind the scenes in “20th Century Boys” — led by a masked man calling himself “Friend” — is genuinely creepy and mysterious in ways that will feel familiar to anyone who’s watched “Squid Game,” but things go so much further than the Front Man could even imagine in this particular story.
‘Would You Rather’
Combining two universal truths — dinner parties are the worst, and rich people are terrible — this little-remembered 2012 movie proves to be a diverting thrill as one woman is forced to play a number of degrading and increasingly deadly rounds of the game “Would You Rather” in an effort to pay for her brother’s medical treatment. (Think of it as “Squid Game’s” social commentary with the dial turned all the way to “American.”) Consider it the perfect viewing experience for those of us who have ever wondered if the trolley problem would be more entertaining if it included choosing between stabbing people or whipping them. (Yes, that’s an actual “would you rather” in the movie, because of course it is.)
‘Unfollow Vol 1: 140 Characters’ by Rob Williams
If you were wondering what would have happened if “Squid Game” had more of a social media element, then the 2015 DC comic “Unfollow” is just for you. When a dying social media company founder announces that he’ll split his fortune between 140 of the users of his product, he accidentally launches an unofficial contest to thin the herd, and thereby increase the amount of money the survivors receive. (Spoiler: It might not be entirely accidental.) Full of high concept, social commentary, and an admittedly high body count, “Unfollow” feels in retrospect like the American version of “Squid Game” that we never knew we needed.
What price is a utopia? In this Portuguese language original from Netflix, the answer appears to be “Basically, ‘The Hunger Games,’” as the inhabitants of an over-populated and impoverished island are given the chance to escape to a luxury new life… as long as they can survive what is euphemistically and worryingly called “The Process.” (Ambiguous naming processes are a feature of this series; those trapped in poverty live in a place called “Inland,” while they’re hoping to get to a society called, simply, “Offshore.” The coding runs through the entire process, so to speak.) How many of the invited manage to make it through? The show isn’t called “3%” for nothing, after all.
This list is light on titles that come from the same country as “Squid Game,” but “Sweet Home” — another South Korean show available via Netflix — takes the paranoia and desperation evident in the former to new levels, as a group of strangers end up trapped inside the same building just as a monster apocalypse starts unfolding outside. Who can be trusted? How can they work together? And what is the deal with that whole monster apocalypse thing, anyway? With the same life or death stakes as “Squid Game,” “Sweet Home” manages to take the tension and audience anxiety in a different direction, coming up with something all of its own, but no less compelling.
‘Alice in Borderland’ by Yamazaki Kento
Adapted from the manga of the same name, “Alice in Borderland” is a Japanese take on many of the same ideas and tropes behind “Squid Game”: Ryōhei and Yuzuha are trapped in an alternate version of Tokyo where they’re forced to take part in a number of games or be killed for forfeiting. Only, this time around, there’s no fortune to be won if they survive — just the chance to participate in the next game. As the series continues, the organization behind the games begins to be unpacked, but anyone expecting a Front-Man-and-his-cronies structure that’s easily uncovered might be frustrated by just how arcane and misleading “Alice’s”” world truly is.
As if created to convince paranoid parents that they’re right to be concerned about their children’s love of in-app purchases, “Darwin’s Game” centers around a surprisingly lethal game app where losers pay with their lives. After the death of his close friends, one teen finds himself invited to play the eponymous game, leading to hallucinations and near-death events. Before too long, he’s in deep, but determined to find out just who’s behind the whole thing no matter the cost. Admittedly, that’s the kind of thing someone decides having no idea just how high the cost can be, but suffice to say, he finds out before too long… This streaming adaptation brings the fan-favorite manga to life.
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