Alongside Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Jujutsu Kaisen is the biggest name in shounen manga and anime right now. Many, myself included, have praised it for revitalising the shounen space and ushering in a new age of shounen.
When you watch or read Jujutsu Kaisen, you’re experiencing something wholly new; something that wears its inspiration on its sleeve (we’ll get to that), but also uses fresh eyes to tell an original and groundbreaking shounen story.
If you’ve already watched the anime, should you also read Jujutsu Kaisen? Or, if you haven’t seen it, is the Jujutsu Kaisen manga the best place to start enjoying the series? Let’s dig into both of these questions. But first, what is Jujutsu Kaisen?
What is Jujutsu Kaisen about?
Written and drawn by Gege Akutami, Jujutsu Kaisen is a shounen manga (and anime) series that blends the established tropes of shounen manga with horror elements — both physical and existential.
Set in a world identical to ours, with the exception of the series’ core concept of curses (monsters) and cursed energy, Jujutsu Kaisen begins with protagonist Yuji Itadori (there is also a “Chapter 0” pilot which we’ll get to below).
Itadori is an ordinary high-schooler with a lot of heart, a lack of direction, and above average physical speed and strength. Little else separates him from his classmates.
But Itadori is also a member of his school’s Occult Research Club,having joined because it allows him enough free time after school to visit his grandfather in hospital. His grandfather’s dying words of advice — “Help people. It doesn’t have to be everyone. Just whenever you can” — become Yuji’s code of ethics.
Itadori’s connection to the Occult Research Club and his close relationship to death help to immediately establish the horror atmosphere of Jujutsu Kaisen, separating it from both its inspiration and its contemporaries (with exceptions like Attack on Titan, Demon Slayer, and The Promised Neverland).
In Chapter 1 of Jujutsu Kaisen, Itadori meets Megumi Fushiguro, who corners Itadori and asks him to hand over a talisman which the Occult Research Club stumbled upon. Fushiguro is a jujutsu sorcerer, and he explains to Itadori how curses, curse energy, and cursed objects work.
The talisman that Itadori found is a “special grade” cursed object: the finger of Sukuna, King of Curses. As a handful of curses are drawn to the school, Itadori helps Fushiguro fight them off.
When they find themselves outmatched, Itadori decides to swallow the finger in the hopes of obtaining some cursed energy. This self-risking, self-sacrificing attitude is what establishes Itadori as a reckless but lovable protagonist.
Itadori is now the host of Sukuna. This leads him to join Tokyo Jujutsu High as a student sorcerer. The school’s superiors plan to execute Itadori once he collects and consumes all twenty of Sukuna’s fingers, in order to exorcise the King of Curses once and for all.
This is how Jujutsu Kaisen begins. From here, we have the perfect setup for a horror-tinged shounen manga series. At Tokyo Jujutsu High, Itadori meets his fellow sorcerers, sets out on missions to exorcise curses, and searches for the fingers of Sukuna. All the while he learns, grows, and develops as a character and jujutsu sorcerer.
What makes the Jujutsu Kaisen manga so special?
It’s a weird thing to say but, when I read Jujutsu Kaisen, I feel a sense of pride. I’m proud of Gege Akutami. I’m proud of his vision, his dedication, his embracing of inspiration and genre, his ability to twist and invert ideas and expectations.
Jujutsu Kaisen is the next step in shounen manga. It represents a fresh new generation of the genre and style. It embraces tradition, treads comfortable ground, while also forging its own path forward.
Take the trope of good vs bad. In Jujutsu Kaisen, everything is grey. Curses are the bad guys, but they are born from human emotion and human behaviour.
Or the trope of too much exposition. As Geoff Thew of Mother’s Basement explained (far better than I could) in his video, Jujutsu Kaisen provides a canonical reason why characters wax on about their powers and abilities. It’s smart, meta, and fun.
Jujutsu Kaisen is also part of the wonderful trend in modern shounen of having a hefty injection of horror in its setting, themes, and tone. This is a blood-soaked series. It has hauntings and curses and exorcism. It depicts death in a visceral way, not like a revolving door.
Gege Akutami also wears his inspiration proudly. As Bonsai Pop covered in their video, Akutami was inspired by the works of Yoshihiro Togashi, creator of Yu Yu Hakusho and Hunter x Hunter, and also husband of Sailor Moon creator Naoko Takeuchi (this has nothing to do with anything, except that it’s awesome).
Togashi is a mangaka who loves to invert expectations and twist the tropes of genre. Akutami does the same with Jujutsu Kaisen, keeping things at once recognisable and wholly, repeatedly, creative and surprising.
Why should you read Jujutsu Kaisen?
If this summary of how Jujutsu Kaisen begins has you intrigued, you’re probably now wondering if you should watch or read Jujutsu Kaisen.
As I said at the beginning, there are two types of people who want to read Jujutsu Kaisen: fans of the anime and newbies who haven’t watched or read Jujutsu Kaisen yet.
For fans of the anime
For fans of the anime, the benefits of reading the Jujutsu Kaisen manga are obvious. The biggest benefit is that the manga is far ahead of the anime. Season 1 of Jujutsu Kaisen ends on Chapter 63, and there is a lot of manga to enjoy beyond that point.
The Jujutsu Kaisen movie will adapt Chapter 0 and serve as a prequel, but that was originally the pilot of the Jujutsu Kaisen manga and so is also readily available for you to read right now. In fact, it will probably be the first thing you see if you choose to read Jujutsu Kaisen.
If you choose to read Jujutsu Kaisen physically, Chapter 0 exists as its own tankobon volume, and details events prior to Itadori joining Tokyo Jujutsu High. It introduces supporting characters Satoru Gojo, Maki Zenin, Toge Inumaki, and Panda through the eyes of Yuta Okkotsu (who is never seen and only mentioned in the main series).
Fans of the anime are probably also wondering about how the two compare. Well, the anime of Jujutsu Kaisen is shockingly faithful to its manga source material. It does an exceptional job of carrying everything over, even down to the background details that sometimes get glossed over by anime adaptations.
The anime is also gorgeous, both in art and animation. It is stunning to look at, featuring some of the most well-animated fight scenes in anime history. The Jujutsu Kaisen manga, however, also excels in this department.
Watching the actions scenes of Jujutsu Kaisen unfold in the manga is its own kind of beautiful. Gege Akutami is an exceptional artist who uses dynamic shot composition, expressive characterisation, and imaginative depictions of magic and combat to bring so much texture and electricity to his panels.
The design of Jujutsu Kaisen is a wonder to behold. And while, as I said, the anime does a stellar job of translating this to screen and colour, the manga is where it started, and Gege Akutami’s art deserves your love and admiration.
If you’re already a huge fan of the anime, you need to read Jujutsu Kaisen just to see the art, design, and plotting of this stunning series as it was originally done by its sole creator. The mind and hand of Gege Akutami are truly exceptional things.
For new fans of Jujutsu Kaisen
If you’re a new or prospective fan of the series, the biggest reason to read Jujutsu Kaisen is that you get to start at Chapter 0. As I already said, this was the manga’s pilot, so it’s where every new reader should begin.
Fans of the anime (who haven’t read the manga) will know nothing about the events of Chapter 0, until it’s covered in the Jujutsu Kaisen movie. If you start with the manga, you start with Chapter 0 and move on from there.
If you choose to read Jujutsu Kaisen, you can also enjoy it uninterrupted. You have no anime to compare it to, no pauses, no need to wait. You can just start reading and enjoy it from beginning to end (well, not quite — at the time of writing, the Jujutsu Kaisen manga isn’t finished. It is, however, currently around three anime seasons long).
I’ve already pointed out how gorgeous Gege Akutami’s art is, so you’re not losing anything by starting with the manga. You can also then turn to the anime to see how MAPPA broughtJujutsu Kaisen to life with stunning animation.