A New Type of Shonen: A Choujin X Review

Written by E.B. Hutchins

I’ve been a shonen manga junkie since I was 15, and have no plans of stopping now that I’m almost thirty. I’ve seen it all: the battles, the homoerotic friendships, the badly written romance (looking at you Naruto), the great romances (looking at you FMA), and the increasingly unsettling fanservice (looking at you Fire Force). You name it. 

However, every once in a while, I dip my toes into the dark shonen genre, shonen’s edgier older brother. The gore is more noticeable, the language is more harsh and the characters might even get with the love interest. Or the love interest and main character could just have the typical rushed ‘marriage and kids’ ending..unless you’re Sui Ishida at the helm.

For the uninitiated, Sui Ishida is a Japanese manga artist and writer best known for creating the popular manga series Tokyo Ghoul and its sequel, Tokyo Ghoul: Re

At first glance, Ishida’s art seems unpolished and sketchy, but over time that quirk works in his favor. The sketchy nature of his art reinforces the violence and levity in his work. Ishida’s artwork leans into the creepiness and body horror involved with being a monster inside of a human body. Twisting body parts used as armor, growing extra appendages, zombies ravenously eating flesh. All of this and more are in Tokyo Ghoul, as well as in Ishida’s new series, Choujin X

Choujin X is set in a fictional version of the late 90s in Japan, where some people, called Choujin, possess special abilities that come with a price. The Choujin become tools of the state at best and social pariahs to be hunted down at worst. 

Enter Tokio Kurahara, the protagonist, who along with his best friend Azuma, gains Choujin powers after running into a mob of thugs one night and taking a mysterious drug named Xember that the thugs were trafficking.  Tokio’s Choujin ability allows him to transform into a vulture-like monster, but he can’t fully transform back into a human until a few chapters later. He eventually ends up at Yamato Mori, an organization for Choujin to become Keepers, Choujin that use their powers to aid the public. 

Yamato Mori isn’t an altruistic enterprise by any stretch: it strictly serves as an arm of the state. Ichiro Sato, one of the top Keepers and a telepath, is not like X-Men’s Professor X in the slightest. He’s no pollyanna with a love affair of respectability politics. He legitimately believes that Choujin are the next step to human evolution and that human laws should not apply to them. 

With Ichiro Sato, it is clear that Ishida is more interested in analyzing and tinkering with common shonen tropes than subverting them

Which brings me to Ely Otta. 

Ely Otta is a well-rounded female character, something that in 2024 is still not as common as it should be. The daughter of a notorious thief but is determined to not become like her mother, Ely was raised by her farmer parents in rural Japan. Her goals are simple: she wants to make enough money to be able to have a successful farm, a hot husband, and a huge house. She’s shown repeatedly to be a hard worker, willing to roll up her sleeves to get the job done. 

This differs from Tokio’s best friend Azuma who for the first 20 chapters is treated like a side character. He took the same drug to turn him into a Choujin like Tokio in the first chapter, but it took longer for his Choujin powers to come in. So when Tokio gets his Choujin powers, Azuma gets an inferiority complex, and his desire to be strong and needed by people informs most of his arc in the prologue.

Did I mention that this series has a prologue? Choujin X’s prologue is 27 chapters long and we don’t get to know why the manga is called Choujin X until the very end of the prologue. Turns out, “Choujin X” is the designation given to one Choujin that is powerful enough to bring down a country on its own. There’s only one in a generation, and the narrative doesn’t make it clear who it’ll be. What a breath of fresh air. 

In a genre that is riddled with cliches even at its best, it’s refreshing to see an artist play with tropes to serve his distinct narrative instead of a checklist. It’s refreshing to see an artist use his art to emphasize the horror inherent to the premise of monsters existing inside of human bodies. It’s refreshing to see an artist take a few years off from making comics to enjoy his life, only to come back to comics to make them on his terms. 

While Choujin X has completed its prologue, it’s at the very end of its first act which has laid the groundwork for its version of the “Shibuya Incident Arc”. If you’re looking for the perfect time to jump into the series, it would be now.