Coffee And Monsters: Should You Be Reading ‘Tokyo Ghoul’?
When you look at the sheer range and number of original stories being told in comics form today, it’s hard to imagine a better time to be a comics reader. Online and in print, from all around the world, artists and writers are telling stories with their own voices and styles, and there’s so much to choose from that it’s sometimes difficult to know what to read next. With ‘Should I Be Reading… ?’, ComicsAlliance hopes to offer you a guide to some of the best original ongoing comics being published today.
While on the surface, popular manga often seems to be action-oriented, there are a lot of big horror titles out there that are all immensely scary and well-liked. The latest in a legacy that includes Naoki Urasawa's Monster and the work of Junji Ito is Tokyo Ghoul, a manga that combines angst over the nature of existence and what it means to be alive, with moments of lushly illustrated, shocking terror.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Ken Kaneki did nothing wrong. All this 18-year old college freshman wanted to do was go on a bookstore date and eat burgers with the gorgeous Rize, who bumped into him at a cafe and noticed they shared a favorite author.
But Rize turned out to be a Ghoul: a species that looks exactly like humans but can only survive by eating human flesh. These Ghouls have special bodily weapons called "kagune" that they use in pursuit of their pray. Rize bites and nearly kills Kaneki, but both of them are struck by a falling I-beam, and Rize dies.
Kaneki survives when the doctor realizes that he and Rize share the same blood type, and so transplants her organs into him. As he recovers, Kaneki learns that all normal food --- except for coffee --- is inedible to him now, and one of his eyes turns black and red without warning. It turns out that he's become a half-Ghoul.
With one foot in both worlds, Kaneki struggles to keep his secret from best friend Hide while navigating Ghoul life with the help of the standoffish Touka and the other Ghouls who run the coffee shop Anteiku. But with Ghoul Investigators, or "Doves," hunting them down, it won't be easy.
WHO'S IT BY?
Unusually for a manga published weekly, Ishida does the bulk of the work himself, with a much smaller assistant pool than most mangakas being published at this level. That pays off though; like Mike Mignola and Ben Templesmith, he has a unique sense of composition and atmospherics that's instantly recognizable --- and like Kazue Kato of Blue Exorcist, Ishida also does gorgeous painted covers for both the manga volumes and the chapters that are absolutely stunning.
Although Tokyo Ghoul ended its run in Shueisha's seinen (adult male) magazine Weekly Young Jump in 2014, Ishida has made it a full-blown franchise. A prequel manga, Tokyo Ghoul: Jack, ran online in Japan in 2013, and a sequel series set after a time jump, Tokyo Ghoul: Re, has been running in Weekly Young Jump since 2014.
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?
Ishida's style is rooted in seductive shadows and dramatic facial close-ups. A relatable sense of normalcy hovers over most of the series; the Japan depicted here feels true and authentic enough that when the scares burst up, it's a shock.
Tokyo Ghoul also differs from most manga that sees an American release in that there's no clear good guy or bad guy. For all that they're persecuted against and horrifically hunted down and murdered, Ghouls do still eat people. It's hard not to empathize with the various human investigators that go up against Ghouls. But even so, your heart still breaks at the terror Kaneki feels at being turned into something he had always considered a monster, and the horror of everyday life for Touka --- who forces herself to swallow human food to appease her best human friend and fit in --- and the other Ghouls.
WHO SHOULD READ IT?
Being a seinen title, Tokyo Ghoul is definitely not for kids. Viz Media, the series' North American licensor, has it rated T for teens, and honestly, that's pretty apt. Fans of Mignola, Templesmith, Ray Fawkes, Vertigo series like Clean Room and Hellblazer, and the Archie Horror line, will definitely find a lot to enjoy here.
WHERE CAN I READ IT?
Tokyo Ghoul is available from Viz Media in print from various retailers and at your local library. It's also available digitally on Comixology, Kindle and other platforms. Five volumes have been released so far with a sixth scheduled to come out on April 19th, 2016. A free preview is available on Viz's Shonen Jump website.