When Ghost Month is in Full Swing in 2023, How Can We Identify the Types of Spirits Said to be Visiting?

Sometimes, the best known spirits that linger around during Ghost Month are those from folklore and time honoured tradtions! Are you ready to face them?

Singapore Orchard Grave Veneration during Ghost MonthGhosts from South Asia come in different shapes and forms, and some are feared whereas others are revered. And it’s terrific they get loved in entertainment. In the past, I’ve explored the best of what cinema and literature have offered. However, when new releases are few and far between every year to recognise Ghost Month, I’ll have to look elsewhere to get my scares in.

As a result, the only book I’ve come across to bring various tales together, ranging from folklore to original works, is Asian Ghost Short Stories! This covers areas east of India. Although it’s not the perfect collection due to glaring errors with the folklore, and being mostly stories rather than recounting alleged encounters, it’s still a good primer to introduce paranormal enthusiasts to the lore from this region.

To honour this occasion, which started two days ago (Aug 16 to Sept 14), I’m going in a different direction this time. Through my research, I’ve learned nine types of spirits can roam the land! The book, Śūraṅgama Sūtra (PDF link) gives a great outline, and furthermore, the Hungry Ghost type (which gets its own festival Aug 30th) are sub-categorized! On the list are:

Yaoguai - Wikipedia

  • Weird ghosts (妖鬼)
  • Drought ghosts (魃鬼)
  • Trickster ghosts (魅鬼)
  • Venomous ghosts (蠱毒鬼)
  • Pestilence ghosts (疠鬼)
  • Hungry ghosts (饿鬼)
  • Nightmare ghosts (魘鬼)
  • Goblin ghosts (魍魉鬼)
  • Servant ghosts (役使鬼)
  • Messenger ghosts (传送鬼)

In L!ife’s article “How to repel ghosts, attract positive energy at home during Ghost Month,” author Nick Garcia talked to Feng Shui expert Hanz Cua. Since ghosts are technically some kind of incorporeal energy, it makes sense that areas with bad karma can attract negative entities. However, one way to ward them off is to burn nine sticks of incense at 9:00 am. According to local beliefs, this number symbolises completeness and eternity–concepts they can’t achieve on their own.

What I offer in this deep dive to what kind of spectres exist throughout South Eastern Asia. In this list is a mix of well-known ghost stories and anthologies that have influenced storytellers throughout the years. What I offer are online and/or Amazon links to sources that are currently available to get your Ghost Month revved up! I have the information organised by country:


Also, no list can be complete without mentioning Journey to the West (西遊記) and Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (聊齋誌異). Both are sets every paranormal enthusiast should have on their shelves! That’s because a lot of the chapters here feature spirits, too. Some are friendly and others not. Also, many tales from either collection have been adapted to media time and time again, like the Mojin franchise and Chinese Ghost Story!

Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong


In this country, the Myth of General Sinui must be noted. This tale is well known amongst the elders, and sadly, it’s only been recounted through oral tradition. It finally got in the Journal of Historical Sites of Mt. Geumo (1994) and curiously has not yet been adapted to media yet.

Perhaps the reason is that grim reapers are considered real. They escort souls from the land of the living to the underworld, and my guess is that one should not cross their paths when they are on the job. In this tale, the general wants to cheat death. Every day, he has to fight lots of Gaekgwi (a type of Korean ghost), and there’s a lord of the underworld just waiting to claim his soul.

As for where one can read this tale, I couldn’t find any online archives with the full account. But if I want to learn more about this world, I recommend the book Korean Mythology: Folklore and Legends from the Korean Peninsula. Sometimes finding the right anthology is tough.


Stillborn - The Legend of Pontianak and Other Supernatural Ghost StoriesIn my search for well known spirits from Malaysian culture, I found Stillborn – The Legend of Pontianak and Other Supernatural Ghost Stories (Kindle edition) takes those old tales and gives them a modern spin! The films made about this half vampire and half ghost aren’t easily available. Hopefully some DVD distributors can get the rights to Pontianak, Dendam Pontianak [Revenge of the Pontianak] (1957) and Sumpah Pontianak [Curse of the Pontianak] (1958). I’d love to see them since it is rare to get a series of films, and they even predate American inventions like Insidious and The Conjuring.

Elsewhere, Thailand is riddled with ghosts, and unlike other countries where most people don’t want to talk about them, it seems safe here. Part of why they exist comes from how the people here accept them into their daily life. The book, Thai Ghosts and Their Mysterious Power (Kindle edition) is highly recommended as the belief is well outlined. In this world, a vast variety of spectres exist, and some are even said to protect even visitors to this region.

As for why there isn’t more work in the entertainment front, that’s because the producers never thought of exporting out their older material. These ghosts aren’t very well known unless we go searching for them. Thus, what I’ve found as available (on YesAsia) is from the past 20 years. They include a kid friendly animated film, Nak (2008) and for the adults, two good films are Ghost of Mae Nak (2003) and Pisag (aka House of Ghosts, 2004).

The list doesn’t end here. There are plenty of publications or web series which can expand one’s knowledge in what exists around the South Eastern Asian region. Ultimately, although the series is over, Li Kim’s The Paranormal Zone (review) is the best streaming television program that explores this world. Here, she explores the smaller countries’ supernatural beliefs, and in the countries she hasn’t covered, I can help fill in the blanks.


Only one spirit rules this island’s paranormal pop culture. The Manananggal are women who can split itself from the hip. Their more agile part of the body goes hunting in the night, and prefers pregnant women over anything else. In order to protect themselves from being discovered, they tend to attack sleeping victims! Another version includes seducing men, and their favoured organs, makes me think they are this country’s answer to why cattle mutilation occurs.


Krasue - a Disembodied Head from Thaland and outlaying regions

Even though there’s an appetite for the supernatural in Vietnamese entertainment, whether that be in comic books or appearances in television or film, the government discourages veneration. Ghosts are commonly known as ma. In spite of that fact, the Krasue is more popular. This half vampire and half ghost is very famous and variations exist in neighbouring countries under different names, like the Ahp in Cambodia or Penanggalan in Malay culture.

Given that victims see a floating woman’s head (complete with entrails) when she attacks, and they get drained of blood, witnesses are probably too frightened to seek the rest of her body out to stop her! Despite this spirit’s massive popularity in many countries, there’s not a lot of home video releases or publications that are translated for Westerners to look at. Not even a continued search through Yes Asia reveals that there are a ton of products, despite getting a rap sheet of works made since.


To be fair, any talk about the Ghost Festival in this region should also include Japan. However, as Obon has come and gone, perhaps it’s best to pay our respects by acknowledging it than to break down why this time is honoured. Released earlier this year was Festival of Shadows, a graphic novel worth reading. Here, Naoko is a. young girl tasked to save the soul of a lost man. But the best way to summarise this event is to check out the movie Summer Ghost (review) since the story takes place then.

THE DO’s and DON’Ts on what to do during Ghost Month on CNN Philippines

Author: Ed Sum

I'm a freelance videographer and entertainment journalist (Absolute Underground Magazine, Two Hungry Blokes, and Otaku no Culture) with a wide range of interests. From archaeology to popular culture to paranormal studies, there's no stone unturned. Digging for the past and embracing "The Future" is my mantra.

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