In 2011, manga writer and artist Sui Ishida launched Tokyo Ghoul, a manga that was in a lot of ways his passion project. Tokyo Ghoul became a massive hit for Ishida and it soon received both anime and live-action adaptations. Today, Tokyo Ghoul is among the best modern-day seinen narratives out there. But what is it about?
Tokyo Ghoul story focuses on Ken Kaneki, a young boy from Tokyo who goes out on a date with a beautiful girl, not knowing that she is a ghoul; ghouls are creatures that look like humans but can survive only by eating human flesh. As he is about to be eaten by his date, they both almost die in an accident, but he is saved thanks to her organs, after which he himself becomes a ghoul. The series follows his subsequent adventures.
In the rest of article, we are going to tell you everything you need to know about Tokyo Ghoul, both the anime and the manga. You’re going to find out about the basic setting and plot, what inspired the story, the music from Tokyo Ghoul, and the main characters. We’ve prepared a thorough guide for you so do stick with us to the end.
Tokyo Ghoul is a manga set in an alternate reality where ghouls, monstrous (or demonic) creatures who look like normal people but can only survive by eating human meat and blood, live in secret among the human population and hide their true nature to avoid persecution by the authorities of the human world. Ghouls have different superhuman powers, such as increased strength and regenerative abilities; a normal ghoul produces 4-7 times more kinetic energy in their muscles than a normal human being; they also have a several times larger number of RC cells, cells that flow like blood and can solidify instantly.
A ghoul’s skin is resistant to common piercing weapons and has at least one special predatory organ called a kagune, that can manifest itself in battle and be used as a weapon. Another distinguishing feature of ghouls is that when excited or hungry, the color of their sclera in both eyes turns black and their irises become red. This mutation is known as Kakugan (or “red-eye”).
A half-ghoul can be born naturally as the descendant of a ghoul and a human, or it can be artificially created by transplanting ghoul organs into a human, which is how Kaneki became a ghoul. Either way, a half-ghoul is usually much stronger than a pure ghoul.
In the case of a half-ghoul, only one of their eyes undergoes the “red-eye” transformation described above. Naturally-born half-ghouls are very rare, and the artificial creation of half-ghouls has a low success rate initially.
There are also so-called half-humans, ghouls, and human hybrids who can feed like normal humans and do not have a kagune, while retaining enhanced abilities such as increased speed and reaction time. Naturally-born half-ghouls can also eat like both normal people and pure ghouls.
The story of Tokyo Ghoul revolves around the student Ken Kaneki, who falls in love with a young woman named Rize Kamishiro. After meeting her, she bites his shoulder in a secluded alley and reveals that she is a ghoul, which shocks Ken. As Rizeis about to eat Ken, several large metal poles fall on her from the construction site of a building. Roze dies in the process, while Ken is rushed to hospital with life-threatening injuries.
After recovering, he is released from the hospital. On the day of his release, he finds out that he is no longer human. He looks in the mirror and shivers run down his spine because he now has one “red-eye”.
He realizes that Rize’s organs were transplanted into him in the hospital. Since he now owns Rize’s organs, he is a so-called and very rarely occurring “half-ghoul”. Since he cannot turn to anyone else, he is taken in by a group of ghouls who run the café Anteiku. They teach him how to cope with his new life as a half-ghoul and explain a lot about the society of ghouls, their factions and that he has to keep his identity secret from other people. He is reluctant to consume human flesh, but in some situations, he is forced to do so.
At the end of the first season, he is kidnapped and tortured by a group of extremist ghouls until he acknowledges his ghoul nature, gets white hair and black nails and almost kills and then devours his tormentor. He’s more brutal now to protect those who mean something to him. After a war between the ghouls themselves and the humans at the end of season two (called Tokyo Ghoul √A), Kaneki sustains horrific brain damage from a fight with Kishō Arima, the CCG’s most dangerous enforcer.
The sequel, Tokyo Ghoul:re, is about Kaneki, who suffers from memory loss caused by the brain damage sustained from the right with Arima. With his new identity as Haise Sasaki, he is the leader of a special team of the CCG called Quinx Squad, whose members underwent a similar procedure as his, allowing them to obtain the special abilities of Ghouls in order to fight them but still being able to live as normal humans.
The second season of :re deals with Kaneki rediscovering his identity and Arima’s big secret and his path to becoming the bridge between the ghouls and the humans.
The prequel OVA story Tokyo Ghoul: [Jack] deals with the youth of Kishō Arima and Taishi Fura, two characters from the main series who team up to investigate the death of a friend of Taishi. Taishi died at the hand of a notorious ghoul named Lantern and Taishi follows Arima and ultimately joins the CCG (Commission of Counter Ghoul), the federal agency handling crimes related to ghouls. Another OVA, Tokyo Ghoul: PINTO, tells a story from the lives of Shū Tsukiyama and Chie Hori.
As far as we know, Tokyo Ghoul is not, like Dragon Ball, for example, inspired by anyone’s work or story. Tokyo Ghoul is an original story and although Sui Ishida did acknowledge some influences and inspirations, there doesn’t seem to be any large idea behind his narrative. We do know that Sui Ishida cited Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”, the story of salesman Gregor Samsa who wakes up one day to discover that he had turned into a giant insect, as an inspiration, but Tokyo Ghoul is far from a direct adaptation; while there are similarities between Samsa’s and Kaneki’s overnight transformations, that’s about it as far as the connections are concerned.
Other individual elements have also been inspired by other works of fiction. For example, Jason, the sadistic ghoul who tortures Ken, is based on Jason Vorhees, the fictional serial killer from the Friday the 13th franchise; Jason’s real name is Yakumo Omori, but his alter ego and his masks are more than an obvious nod to a horror icon.
In this section, we are going to introduce you to the main characters of the Tokyo Ghoul manga and anime. They are:
Three years after the manga’s debut, the first season of the anime series Tokyo Ghoul premiered in Japan. The anime series consists of a total of four seasons. The first season, Tokyo Ghoul, aired from July 4, 2014, to September 19, 2014, and it adapted the first 60 chapters of Ishida’s manga.
The second season, titled Tokyo Ghoul √A, aired from January 9 to March 27, 2015, and it roughly adapted the second part of Ishida’s manga series, but it wasn’t a direct adaptation like the first season and it contained a lot of original content. The Tokyo Ghoul:re manga was likewise adapted into an anime series of the same name.
The first season of :re aired from April 3 to June 19, 2018, while the second season of the same anime aired from October 9 to December 25, 2018. :re was a direct adaptation of Ishida’s manga, with the two seasons adapting two parts of the manga. This is a summary of the anime adaptations:
As you can see, each season of Tokyo Ghoul has exactly 12 episodes, which amounts to a total of 48 episodes that you have to watch in order to complete the narrative. Each episode is roughly 20 minutes long, which amounts to around 1000 minutes of material, i.e. a total of 16 hours. If you have the time, Tokyo Ghoul is not an overly complicated binge watch and we strongly recommend it.
The Tokyo Ghoul anime franchise is quite famous for its music, more than some other anime franchises, which is why we have decided to dedicate one section of today’s article to the music of Tokyo Ghoul. The four-season had a total of four openings and four ending songs and here they are:
In addition to these eight songs, two soundtrack discs have been released, each of them containing additional musical compositions that appeared throughout the series. The first soundtrack contains compositions from Tokyo Ghoul and Tokyo Ghoul √A, while the second one covers both seasons of Tokyo Ghoul:re. Yutaka Yamada composed the music for both discs and here is a list of compositions:
A lot of popular anime have, at one point, also received live-action adaptations, although these have rarely become as popular as the anime or the manga; regardless of that, a lot of these adaptations have also received one or more sequels. Did this happen to Tokyo Ghoul? Incidentally, it did. In 2017, a live-action adaptation of Sui Ishida’s manga, titled Tokyo Ghoul, was released. The movie was directed by Kentarō Hagiwara and featured Masata Kubota in the role of Ken Kaneki. The movie ran for 120 minutes and it adapted the origin story of Kaneki becoming a half-ghoul. The movie received mostly positive reviews from critics.
A short synopsis of the movie is: “The plot takes place in an alternative reality, where ghouls, eating only human flesh, live among normal people in secret, hiding their true nature in order to avoid persecution from the authorities. Ken Kaneki is a university student who, as a result of a ghoul attack, ends up in a hospital, where he is illegally transplanted the organs of a dead ghoul, who also happens to be one of the strongest ghouls in Tokyo, in order to save his life. In order to survive, ghouls need to feed on human flesh, so they kill people or find the bodies of people that committed suicide. Due to such an organ transplant, Kaneki becomes a half-ghoul, but he needs to feed on human flesh like everyone else. Kaneki strives to preserve his humanity while trying to keep in touch with the human world by immersing himself in the ghoul community.“
Due to the first movie’s success, a sequel was announced quite soon and it entered into production. Directed by Takuya Kawasaki and Kazuhiko Hiramaki, Tokyo Ghoul S was released in 2019 as a sequel to Tokyo Ghoul. Masataka Kubota reprised his role as Kaneki Ken in a movie that adapted the “Gourmet Arc” of the manga and introduced the live-action version of Shū Tsukiyama.
The movie ran for 101 minutes and it received mixed reviews, considered to be a step down from the first movie, although not overly bad. A brief summary of the plot is: “After the murder of model Margaret by Shū Tsukiyama, a murderous ghoul with epicurean desires, Tsukiyama arrives at Anteiku and approaches Ken Kaneki. Tsukiyama befriends Kaneki and wants to eat him. Tsukiyama invites Kaneki to the ghoul restaurant where Kaneki is captured to be eaten by other ghouls. However, after Tsukiyama discovers Kaneki’s Red Eye and a CCG raid happens, Kaneki escapes alive. Kaneki meets Kimi Nishino, a human and a friend of Nishiki Nishio, who had previously been injured by attackers. Nishino is later kidnapped by Tsukiyama, who later asks to eat Kaneki while Kaneki eats Nishino. However, Nishio and Touka Kirishima reciprocate against Tsukiyama and free Nishino. Kirishima also intended to kill Nishino because she is a human who knows the identity of ghouls. After Nishino congratulates Kagune on Kirishima, Kirishima spares him.”