Akutagawa wrote no full-length novels, focusing instead on the short story as his main medium of expression. He began writing after entering Tokyo Imperial University in 1913 and was further encouraged by the praise of Natsume Soseki for his short story "Rashomon". He supported himself by teaching English and editing a newspaper. During his short life, he wrote over 150 short stories, the more famous including "The Nose", "The Spider's Thread", "The Hell Screen", "Autumn", "The Ball", "In a Grove", and "Kappa". Akira Kurosawa directed the film Rashomon based on Akutagawa's stories; the majority of the action in the film was actually an adaptation of "In a Grove".
Towards the end of his life, he began suffering from visual hallucinations and nervousness, and finally committed suicide in 1927, saying ぼんやりとした不安 (Bonyaritoshita fuan, meaning "dim uneasiness"). In 1935, his lifelong friend Kikuchi Kan established Japan's most prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa Prize, in his honor.