Seinen – Horror, mature, supernatural, drama, psychological
3 Volumes (ongoing)
Ken is a normal college student in Tokyo. Despite the news reporting more attacks by the humanoid creatures known as “ghouls”, Ken spends his days reading, going to classes, and admiring a girl who visits his favorite cafe. When she invites him out, it’s Ken’s dream come true. But his dream is about to turn into a nightmare…
Tokyo Ghoul is a perfect blend of horror and psychological drama.
I’ve commented several times before on the vampire craze in pop culture. While some media portray vampires as poor creatures who suffer from a desire for blood, other creators have vampires as blood-thirsty monsters who attack victims indiscriminately. While Tokyo Ghoul seems to have its titular creatures be closer to the latter description, there’s a surprising amount of reflection on the ghouls’ existence. It’s this blend — while also giving the overused term “vampire” a break — that makes Tokyo Ghoul so good.
Although I keep comparing ghouls to vampires, the species in this manga are a bit different from most vampires in stories. Firstly, ghouls don’t just long for blood; they long for flesh. There’s no (at least so far) repeated feedings or being bound to one person. If ghouls want to satisfy their hunger, they must eat human bodies. This is no doubt a horror story, as several corpses or severed bodies are shown throughout the series.
If Tokyo Ghoul had limited itself to being a human survival story, I doubt it would have the acclaim it has. Instead, the manga centers around Ken, the first human-ghoul hybrid. Unlike most manga where his origins would come from having a human parent as well as a ghoul parent, he ends up becoming half-ghoul well into college. It’s a good age for the protagonist in this manga: he’s old enough to have some life experience (and be at an age where it makes sense for him to be living along), but he also still has a bit of bright-eyed youthful optimism.
As such, he makes a great protagonist for the psychological aspects of the manga: how humane is it to eat other creatures? There’s no doubt it’s horrible that many children in the world of Tokyo Ghoul are left orphaned or spouses are missing their lover. What if, however, cows or pigs developed human speech and intelligence? Would the world stop eating hamburgers and bacon? Would they want revenge for years of slaughter? Of course, many people object any kind of animal harvesting. We humans are lucky top be at the top of the food chain, but what if we were the primary source of food for other creatures? Directly or indirectly, these are the type of questions Tokyo Ghoul asks. Ghouls need to eat, humans want to survive, but ghouls are not mindless creatures. Nobody is right, but nobody is wrong either. There’s shades of Death Note here, but Ken is much more likable and relatable.
It’s also nice that Ken is not presented as the sole savior of humanity in this series. Many manga with hybrids have the protagonist being the only one who can save everyone, the lone defender. While there are different ghouls with their own views in the series, one of the major character plainly tells Ken he likes humans (and not just as food). In fact, it is he who first encourages Ken to learn more about ghouls and helps Ken out of his depression. While the manager is not going to be a main character, I like how it’s not just Ken versus the world — either world. Another touching moment early in the manga is how Ken deeply cares for his best friend. Outside of any romance or boys love, it’s just true friendship.
Of course, no good manga is without rivals and antagonists. Touko reminds me a lot of Tokiko from Buso Renkin in both looks and personality. The ghouls also face an entire law enforcement agency dedicated to their extermination, but only one seems to be rising to the level of main character. Ken faces off against ghouls who are much more violent, and I imagine at least one will be making a return. On the other hand, Ken has several ghouls who support or rely on him.
Story-wise, this manga is still in the early stages, with Ken just learning the need to control himself while also indulging in something he knows others would find morally offensive. We get to follow along with Ken’s struggle instead of having a manga where the hybrid has already accepted his powers. There’s a bit of shounen “I want to protect my friends!”-like dialogue, but it feels so natural given the nature of Ken’s situation.
As most manga fans know, the art is usually weaker — or even significantly different — than later volumes. Artists get more used to drawing the characters, they adapt to the serialization schedule, and they often get more support from their publishers and/or assistants. Here, however, the art is quite good even in these early volumes. It’s even more surprising considering this is the author’s first serialized work. I read he was once TOGASHI Yoshihiro’s assistant, and Ishida’s senpai must have taught him well. Characters look well-proportioned, panels are not crowded, and there’s a good balance of shock and “awww” moments. Ghouls’ eyes are uniquely drawn, and each ghoul has their own special ability. A couple of the battle scenes were on the weak side. The action was difficult to follow when opponents are using similar abilities. There was one panel where the guy with a club-like weapon suddenly looks as if he has two. While one would think this would be the artist’s rendering of twirling his long weapon, the angles and body posture make it look like two. Fight scenes are also a bit heavy on dodging. As expected, Ishida uses a lot of blacks and dark tones in his art. Everyone has a realistic look, so there’s no “anime hair” here. Significant characters can have a lot of detail, but secondary characters are a bit bland. It was pretty easy for me to guess who was getting killed just based on appearance. But for a debut series, I was pretty impressed. Heck, I’ve read veteran works with worse art.
When I first started reading Tokyo Ghoul, the dialogue seemed pretty smooth, but I had a funny feeling. Then I realized this was done by the same guy who did Yu-Gi-Oh! Duelist and The Prince of Tennis. If you read either of my reviews on those series (especially the latter), you’ll know I was not impressed to say the least. I know those were regular Shonen Jump titles and were released years ago, but The Prince of Tennis‘ adaptation was terrible.
Fortunately, this is miles better than either of those series. (Not that The Prince of Tennis could get much worse…) He must have really improved. No honorifics are used, but I don’t feel like this is a series really hampered by their absence. Dialogue is faithful without being heavily Americanized. Overall, I felt like this adaptation was very good.
If you have any interest in this series, pick it up. And if I, as someone who isn’t a big horror genre fan, am enjoying Tokyo Ghoul, then I’m sure other non-horror fans will as well. This is a very good start with very good potential.
Note that the kanji in the title is not a real word. It’s a combination of the kanji for “eat” and “species”, which the author gives the reading of “ghoul”. It’s why the title is sometimes read as Tokyo Kushu. But it’s really Tokyo Ghoul.
The series has a sequel that is currently ongoing in Japan. I fully expect Viz Media to start releasing it (as well as the one volume spinoff and perhaps the artbook) once their release of Tokyo Ghoul finishes. Meanwhile, enjoy the Tokyo Ghoul anime from Funimation.