Self-image and body horror go hand in hand. The way we imagine ourselves warps the reality of who we are, and it’s something Shonen Jump’s newest series, Choujin X, understands. The titular Choujin are humans with supernatural abilities, and thanks to a new drug, high schooler Tokio Kurohara is forced to become one to save his friend, Azuma. But where other Choujin look like regular people, Tokio’s new form is that of a vulture. Why? Because years ago, someone compared him to a vulture picking at the scraps of Azuma’s lionlike greatness—and, like so many offhand comments about our appearance that burn into our brains, that one stuck with Tokio.
Not having an unusual form of his own when they took the drug together, Azuma explodes at Tokio, telling him to figure it out on his own. Having spent so long at Azuma’s side, it’s hard for Tokio to go through this new change without his best buddy. Mostly presented in flashbacks, the friendship between the pair comes across as real, especially when they both decide to inject each other with the Choujin drug. Once Tokio starts to understand how much he relied on Azuma, it’s tragic in a way that anyone who realizes they weren’t fully equal in a relationship can relate to.
Choujin X’s creator is Tokyo Ghoul’s Sui Ishida, and as with the Ghoul franchise, he excels at showcasing body horror. Comparisons could be drawn with My Hero Academia, but Choujin lacks the awestruck perspective, instead viewing its mutated super-people through a lens of fear and foreboding. When the manga gets into its body horror groove, it’s a great time, like when Tokio and Azuma face an attacker who can’t control his new elongated head, and accidentally decapitates his fellow criminals.
In reading the six currently released chapters, it’s clear this is a series that revels in its weirdness and tonal shifts, but sometimes goes a little too far. The entire second chapter is devoted to the deuteragonist Ely, a young girl on the run from a Smoke Choujin whose powers she got in a plane crash. It’s got some weird moments of comedy, like when Ely’s pursuer hijacks a motor scooter and mocks her for not knowing how to operate it—the exact same scooter she’s using to escape him. Eventually, it escalates to a point where she’s riding a tractor on the highway to escape him and a gang of bikers with lamb heads; it can feel like it’s been spliced in from a completely different book, not helped by her disappearing for another two chapters before crossing paths with Tokio.
Tonal issues aside, there’s enough in Choujin X to recommend, but it’s worth mentioning that the release schedule may be on a “when it’s done” basis. The book might be best as something to check in on every now and again, to binge what’s available and then wait for another sizable portion before diving back in.