Written by Yuto Sano and serialized in Jump Square since July 2022, Gokurakugai is the fresh demon-hunting manga series that Shueisha is betting on. With its first few chapters now collected in two volumes, the story is barely beginning, but shrewd readers may already be able to discern the signs of the next big hit coming. Available in English on the Shonen Jump app, Gokurakugai relates the adventures of Tao and Alma, a duo of 'troubleshooters' who, under the guise of solving everyday problems, actually fight demons.
The gorgeous art is a huge part of Gokurakugai’s appeal. Each panel is meticulously designed, from the characters' appearance and dress to the intricate architecture of the Gokuraku District, which gives the series its namesake. The lavish setting, with its decadent ambiance and Chinese elements, distinguishes this series from its predecessors. The reader is drawn in by the protagonist duo, Tao and Alma, an atypical pair of coworkers who strive for both humanity and money.
Gokurakugai Builds on the Shonen Demon-Hunting Trope
Alma is a teenager who is always hungry and has a big mouth but a bigger heart. Tao is an adult woman of few words and with a happy trigger. Their odd pair makes up the totality of the 'troubleshooter agency' that they run and that can allegedly solve any problem. In reality, Alma is a half-maga and Tao is a hunter who uses weapons built with Alma’s blood to fight magas -- demons who were once human. Unwilling to give in to his demonic side, Alma fights magas with the help of Tao, believing them to be evil creatures that must be eradicated.
If the setup doesn’t sound overly original, it’s because it technically isn’t. Like Chainsaw Man and Jujutsu Kaisen -- and Demon Slayer too, although the comparison is less evident -- Gokurakugai is another demon-hunting manga with a protagonist who is half human and half demon. To distance itself from its precursors, however, Gokurakugai reveals the magas as former humans who have been turned into demons by someone. Despite Alma’s unwavering conviction that magas needs to be exterminated, it’s clear that the ethics are a bit more complex than that. Demons are entirely malevolent in Jujutsu Kaisen and Demon Slayer, and while some are nice or fight alongside humans in Chainsaw Man, such as Angel or Pochita, they are still largely wicked. Gokurakugai confuses the morality of fighting magas by making them human.
Tao and Alma Make for a Refreshing Protagonist Duo in Gokurakugai
When she’s first introduced, Tao is sitting comfortably at her desk, smoking a cigarette and intimidating her latest client, who is trying to knock down the price of the agency’s services. She speaks like a gangster and acts like one, all without losing one ounce of her femininity. While readers can trace her character type back to older shonen series, Tao is still a revolutionary female character. On top of being strong and driven -- and the boss of the agency -- Tao is a good person and a parental figure for young Alma. While not terribly well-rounded at the moment, the story has been hinting at a potential hidden backstory that might give her more depth.
Alma, on the other hand, resembles other shonen heroes more than Tao does any of her predecessors. He's noisy, a little dumb, always hungry, and extremely talented at what he does. What distinguishes him from Denji and Yuji Itadori is his innocent innocence, which is abruptly cast aside in favor of unanticipated brutality. When he kills Isato's father in the head despite his pleadings, it's a startling deed that adds a layer of nuance to his otherwise unimaginative demeanor.
Tao and Alma’s relationship is almost that of a parent and son. She’s not really a mother figure, her role that of a tough mentor if anything, but behind her façade hides a gentleness that is fundamentally parental. In fact, some of Gokurakugai’s charm comes from small scenes of simple tenderness and care, mostly coming from Yoki, who hands Alma and Tao most of their jobs. Tao and Alma could be compared to Makima and Denji, with the huge difference that there is no toxicity in their relationship. The brave choice that the author made was to make Alma trust Tao unconditionally and for her, despite her strength and brashness, to be completely worthy of that trust -- at least as things currently stand.
Gokurakugai Has Already Shown Its Hand as a Compelling New Manga
The villains of the story have yet to become truly relevant, but Chapters 7 and 8 didn’t waste time revealing their plans and cruelty. In Gokurakugai, the villains are a group of 'cannibals' led by a leader, Yomi, who seems bent on recruiting Alma. Like My Hero Academia’s League of Villains, they look like a ragtag group of outcasts, but unlike Chainsaw Man’s devils, for instance, they don’t follow a natural instinct for evil. They seem to be consciously choosing to be 'monsters,' not wanting to run away from their nature but rather, embrace it.
In other series, demons simply want to destroy and kill due to their nature. In Gokurakugai, they are highly conscious of their choices, or at least, their leader is. Yomi shows them a way to live freely and build a twisted version of a family, which in his mind needs to include Alma. Yomi’s most intriguing trait comes from his calm and assured behavior that has nothing of the loud brutality of Demon Slayer’s demons and a lot of Chainsaw Man’s most chilling and exciting character, Makima.
With its beautiful art and compelling relationship dynamics, Gokurakugai is definitely worth checking out. While another demon-hunting manga might not be the most original choice, its characters and story have enough to draw readers in, especially fans of the genre. In fact, it’s the familiarity of its themes and characters that will almost certainly ensure its success as the next big hit.