One of the more interesting developments within the manga space in recent years is the rise of Shonen Jump+, a digital-first version of the traditional Weekly Shonen Jump. As a digital platform, Jump+ has flexibility in scheduling and in the kind of stories that can be told. Jump+ has been the incubator for future hits such as Spy x Family, Romantic Killer, and is now the home of mega-hit Chainsaw Man. This offshoot is also the home of the next big series you’ve not heard of – Kaiju No. 8.
What is Kaiju No. 8?
Since its launch in 2020, Naoya Matsumoto’s Kaiju No. 8 has been delivering a mix of military action, monster fights, and a grounded self improvement narrative without missing a beat. The series takes place in a familiar modern Japan, with the added caveat of recurring monster attacks. By the time the series starts up, Japan’s Defence Force has adapted to these incidents by restructuring entirely around detecting them and minimizing their damage. Our protagonist Kafka Hibino dreams of joining the JDF with his childhood friend Mina after their hometown is leveled by a kaiju assault – only to never achieve that goal.
Instead, Kafka washes out at the start and finds himself doing labor as a member of the cleanup teams that show up after the fighting is done. Kafka is actually pretty good at his day job even as he internally thinks about what could have been. At the beginning of Kaiju No. 8, Kafka has a chance encounter with a young upstart with the same dream that lights a fire under him to try out for the JDF one more time – just in time to also encounter a strange off-shoot kaiju that nests in his body and turns him into a kaiju himself. This gives Kafka enhanced strength and endurance, but at the cost of looking like the same monsters the JDF hunts.
Eventually, this nets him the titular classification as the 8th special kaiju they’ve encountered; but this fails to deter the newly inspired Kafka. The series takes on a balancing act of leveraging his new powers to serve in the JDF without exposing himself and immediately being exterminated by the same. It’s a setup that feels a lot like early Attack on Titan, with early chapters introducing other Force members, establishing rivalries, and setting up mysteries – after all, being the 8th special kaiju sure implies a lot when it comes to how exactly Kafka’s powers work.
Age is just a number!
What sets Kaiju No. 8 apart from that comparison is that Kafka isn’t just a goofy unspecial protagonist (though to be clear, he is), he is also 32 years old at the start of the series. Contemporary shonen series would normally make someone that age an extremely powerful inspiration for the younger protagonist: for example “Red-Haired” Shanks was almost Kafka’s age at the beginning of One Piece. Kafka’s drive for self-improvement comes from a place of trying to overcome the idea of being too old to try at all rather than sheer bone-headedness. He’s not trying to be the best that ever was, he just doesn’t want to feel like he’s wasting his life. Interestingly, that doesn’t come at the cost of selling short his previous job or the world around him. It’s clear that if Kafka never tried out again he would be a perfectly functioning and contributing member of society, instead he simply desires to try even harder.
That drive towards self improvement is reflected in the grounded and believable motivations of Kafka’s fellow officers, who are all younger than him. That age difference not only reflects the very real wall Kafka has to climb, but it also makes abundantly clear how different this young generation is compared to the generations that have come before. Despite their efforts, the older generations have failed to address the
climate kaiju crisis that the youngest generation is inheriting. As the larger story unfolds and reveals just what is at stake and what the odds are, these younger allies become equally compelling as the lead in Kafka.
Hitting like a tank
Kaiju No. 8‘s also a visual buffet. Matsumoto renders the various city scapes of Japan with a great sense of scale. Scale is necessary when those environments are going to be torn asunder by monsters running amok. The kaiju at the center of things also vary in surprising ways. Instead of appearing as traditional towering nightmares, the kaiju of Kaiju No. 8 appear at all sorts of sizes. Again, the scale of of these creatures in comparison to what is around them allows even smaller kaiju to immediately appear as a threat while keeping its human characters away from always looking up.
All of these details really shine when combat does pop off. Every hit, from all sides of the conflicts, collide with the page with weight. Strikes that are deadly visually reflect that without going into the stratosphere. Dodging these follow a well blocked choreography, as each kaiju requires a different tactic for engaging. Narratively, this gives Kafka a certain usefulness. In action, these keeps even officers who use firearms on their toes and moving through action scenes.
Mixed altogether, these layouts move briskly but clearly. Fights are exciting and tense, preventing any sense of safety from things like power scaling or familiarity putting a reader’s mind at ease. Each time a proper finisher is deployed, the hype feels real. There’s a real sense that Matsumoto is having a great time making this series.
With the recent announcement of an anime adaptation, now is the perfect time to take a closer look at Kaiju No. 8. The first three chapters are available for free on the Viz Media’s Shonen Jump app on web, iOS, and Android. Volumes 1-4 are also available at your local bookstore now!
Featured Image via Viz Media