Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida is the first manga/graphic novel series I have read. I originally watched the show and have always heard the source material was better (as is often the case), so I recently read the entire series and it is a ride. I have a lot of thoughts about this series, but to keep things spoiler-free, I will refrain from going into details and will focus on the story and characters without giving anything away (except for the initial events that set up the entire story).
First, the premise. This series centers around the dichotomy of humans and ghouls. Ghouls look like humans, but can only survive by eating humans. Their consumption of humans increases a type of cell in their bodies that allows them to wield organic weapons that extend from their bodies (this is actually pretty cool for fight scenes). They blend into human society in order to survive and several ghouls try to live “normal” lives. Some even try to sustain themselves without killing while others throw caution to the wind and kill as they please. This is of course a problem, and the Commission of Counter Ghoul (CCG) is a specific agency aimed at eradicating ghouls from human society by tracking and eliminating ghouls.
The story follows the character of Ken Kaneki. He is a normal, shy, human college kid. After an accident, he receives an organ transplant but the organs were from a ghoul. Ken finds himself forced to navigate ghoul society once he realizes he can no longer eat human food. He is no longer human but he is not quite a full ghoul either.
Ken’s journey is a long and arduous one as he attempts to adapt to his new circumstances. I won’t go into details as this would defeat the purpose of this recommendation, so I hope the information so far has peaked your interest or maybe helped you realize this may not be a story for you.
I will add a few warnings though. This story is gruesome (if you couldn’t tell by the premise) and Ken Kaneki may have the worst luck of any character I have ever read. Sui Ishida took the “kill your darlings” idea and ran with it because this series delves into psychological aspects that are rare in any form of literature. This goes without even mentioning the physical aspects involved in this story. Another warning is that this story goes in unexpected directions and some storylines or characters may not get a clear cut resolution, meaning some things may seem unresolved. I know this can bother many readers, myself included, but I also felt the overarching story wraps up as well as it can. Sui Ishida provides a brief, personal story at the very end of the series about his time working on the story that I think contributes to providing a satisfied end.
My last warning is more a heads up about a major change that occurs halfway through. This series is split into two parts. The original Tokyo Ghoul is 14 volumes and covers much of Ken’s journey. The second part is titled Tokyo Ghoul:re which consists of 16 volumes and begins 2-3 years after the events of part one. The time gap and changes to characters/events proves to be a hard adjustment for many fans mainly because there is not much explanation as to how it happens. It does get briefly explained later on and hopefully by the time you get this far (if you choose to read it) you will be absorbed in the story and will need to know how it concludes.
The show follows the main storyline fairly well but there are significant changes to several events and some information or arcs are left out. These missing events are what cause some confusion in the show. Though I still really like the show, I will admit I enjoyed the graphic novels much more. Each volume can be read quickly and I think the artwork is fantastic.
I realize this is the first graphic novel series I’ve recommended, but I’m sure I will be exploring more storylines in this format so there will be more to come. I honestly believe great stories are available in any medium and I hope this one is not a barrier for you. If you are already familiar with this medium, I hope this story interests you. There is so much I’d love to discuss about this story and how it comments on our own society, but this is just a brief insight for you to see if you would like to read it yourself.
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