The Tokyo Revengers manga is written and drawn by Ken Wakui. It began its run in 2017 but caught the eyes of new readers when the anime adaptation dropped in 2021.
For this particular manga recommendation, I’m going to get a little personal and informal (lots of Is and Mes) because it’s the only way I can really talk about this particular manga. So, here’s why I think you need to read the Tokyo Revengers manga.
Why You Should Read the Tokyo Revengers Manga
First of all, let me say that I was one of those new readers that discovered the Tokyo Revengers manga when the anime was announced. While I originally planned to just watch the anime, to this day I never have.
This is because I saw a lot of criticism about the anime’s stiff and lacklustre animation, and its general blocky visuals. These criticisms seemed to mostly come from fans of the original manga.
Having already gone through this myself with The Promised Neverland — loving the manga to pieces and feeling that the anime failed to express the same horror and suspense through its art and animation — I wasn’t interested in going through that again.
Instead, I went straight for the Tokyo Revengers manga. Even then, I was hesitant to pick it up for personal reasons.
Those reasons are simple: I don’t enjoy stories about angry boys being angry. While I adore modern shounen manga like Chainsaw Man and Jujutsu Kaisen, the Tokyo Revengers manga simply seemed too testosterone-fuelled for this sensitive enby to really enjoy.
When I did finally start reading the Tokyo Revengers manga, my apprehensions weren’t misplaced, but they were entirely overridden by an immediate adoration for this seinen manga’s protagonist.
What is Tokyo Revengers about?
Takemichi Hanagaki won me over in seconds. When the manga begins, he is a 26-year-old living in 2017 Tokyo. Since he was a teenager, Hanagaki has had a string of menial jobs that led him nowhere and made him miserable.
Hanagaki is like a reed in the wind, easily blown over and bowing apologies to everyone for everything. Until one day, when he switches on the news to find that a ruthless local gang has killed his former middle school girlfriend, Hinata Tachibana.
As it turns out, Hanagaki ran with a gang of his own at school, and the Tokyo Manji Gang (Toman for short), was the big name in the world of Tokyo gangs.
Twelve years after Hanagaki’s middle school gangster days, the Toman Gang is a force to fear in Japan’s capital, and a dispute between them led Hina to die in the crossfire when a truck plowed into a festival.
Shortly after he learns the news of Hina’s death, Hanagaki falls (or is pushed) onto the tracks at Shinjuku Station. In the seconds before a train hits him, he is thrown back in time to the same day twelve years ago.
Now, in his middle school body, Hanagaki has the chance to see Hina again, and maybe somehow stop her death. While he doesn’t succeed at first, he does manage to save her little brother who also died that day.
When he is thrown back to the present, he finds that he was saved from the train tracks by a young man who turns out to be Hina’s brother. While in the past, Hanagaki managed to alter Naoto’s future with a warning, and now Naoto is a detective.
Hina still died, however, and so Naoto has asked Hanagaki to return to the past and try again. His mission is to stop the heads of the Tokyo Manji Gang from ever meeting in the first place, thus avoiding the dispute that leads to Hina’s death.
And so Hanagaki is thrown back in time once more, now with a clear goal in mind but no idea how to accomplish it. He must now relive his dangerous, tumultuous school years. Only this time, he must lean into the danger in order to rewrite the future and save Hina.
What’s so great about Tokyo Revengers?
As I said, what ultimately won me over when I was so reserved about reading the Tokyo Revengers manga in the first place was Takemichi Hanagaki himself.
Hanagaki is an excellently written protagonist. He sits so comfortably between two distinct types of male protagonist:
- The blank slate protagonist who exists as a vehicle for the reader to project themselves onto
- The enthusiastic and inspiring go-getter typically found in shounen manga
Hanagaki is very much a seinen manga protagonist: damaged, nervous, vulnerable, and in over his head. You can see elements of these traits in seinen protagonists from Tokyo Ghoul to Blue Period.
When we first meet him, Hanagaki is washed up at only twenty-six. He’s a pushover, a failure, a brittle and spineless young man. And he knows it.
When he looks back on his more exciting years, it’s not the gang stuff (the violence, the power, the recklessness) that he remembers fondly. It’s his girlfriend, Hina.
Despite the violent world he was raised in, Hanagaki was a kind kid, affectionate and soft and considerate. My kind of guy.
Now, however, he has to look down the barrel of a gun in order to save Hina. He has to leap into the heart of Tokyo’s young gangster culture, when he has no head for that life. But he does it anyway, for Hina’s sake.
Hina herself is another reason to love the Tokyo Revengers manga. Early on, this fourteen-year-old girl demonstrates more fearlessness and righteous anger than her gang-running boyfriend ever could.
Hina is sweet and thoughtful, but also tenacious, with a head for justice. I feared that this manga would be all testosterone and mindless angst, but Hina makes sure that’s not the case.
But then, so does Hanagaki. He’s a protagonist worth following and rooting for.
As I said at the start, reports of the stodgy visuals and animation of the Tokyo Revengers anime put me off, but it’s those exact elements of the manga that help it to excel.
Ken Wakui has an eye for exaggerated, almost cartoonish action moments, which really help alleviate the sheer bloody brutality of it all.
When a face is punched, there are bulging eyes and shockwaves reminiscent of something like One Piece. This cartoonish quality is very well utilised, as is the extreme detail put to those specific action-orientated panels.
That detail feels like the manga equivalent of sakuga, as big panels drawn with so much more intricate detail burst from the page at just the right moments as kicks and punches connect.
Character designs are also excellently realised. When we are first introduced to Mikey, the young head of the Tokyo Manji Gang, and his second-in-command Draken, the two have a Vegeta/Nappa dynamic with the stronger one being slight and the subordinate being a giant.
Given how these boys are all dressed in school uniforms much of the time, their heights, hairstyles, and expressions are given appropriate focus to set them apart. This also helps to demonstrate their personalities without a single drop of dialogue needed.
Wakui is also adept at drawing busy panels packed with crowds of characters. These panels are crisp, flooded with detail, but not overwhelming or dizzying to look at. They are planned and executed with style, as is almost everything else the mangaka presents us with.
All-in-all, the unique draw of the Tokyo Revengers manga is in its lovable protagonist, Ken Wakui’s eye for lavishly detailed action scenes, and the high stakes plot that lends so much momentum to a story that unfolds with a sound and consistent pace.
For something so raw and violent, Tokyo Revengers is packed with heart. It’s a story of desperation and vulnerability told with consideration and sensitivity.