Shounen is perhaps anime’s most notable genre. Some of the most iconic titles to come out from this medium have been of the Shounen genre. Titles like Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece, and BLEACH bear huge similarities to each other based on something we like to call “The Shounen Formula”. The latter titles arrived soon after the end of the most iconic Shounen of all, Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball Z, and are referred to as “The Big Three” – a moment in the history of the genre’s most prolific publisher, Shounen Jump.
While the background is important, we are not here to discuss the history of Shounen, but rather, the arrival of titles like Gege Akutami’s Jujutsu Kaisen, which, as Shounen anime tend to do, follows a very similar structure to titles that came before. On Honey’s Anime, we even have an article comparing the dark supernatural shounen to one of The Big Three – Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto. Being a Shounen means that Jujutsu Kaisen makes use of tropes and character archetypes that we are very familiar with, as Shounen is perhaps anime’s most self-referential genre. This time; however, we aren’t comparing Jujutsu Kaisen to Naruto, we are going to interrogate what feels like an even stronger connection: the heavy similarities between Jujutsu Kaisen and Tite Kubo’s BLEACH. What makes them so similar? Let’s find out!
The very beginning of the BLEACH series has a characteristic dark quality that, dare we say, made it the proverbial dark horse of The Big Three. With its gritty themes and aesthetic bordering on horror, BLEACH was a darker general atmosphere, which was and remains a rare and elusive trait when it comes to the Shounen genre. With the intended audience of Shounen traditionally being children and teenagers, BLEACH had an atmosphere that is more consistently seen with Seinen titles. Be that as it may; however, BLEACH followed the same patterns found in previous Shounen titles, as well as the ones it aired alongside.
Jujutsu Kaisen is just like BLEACH in the way that it leans more towards a darker overall atmosphere and darker supernatural themes; however, Jujutsu Kaisen seems to elevate that initial factor in BLEACH and take it from the realm of dark supernatural to straight-up horror. To that end, Jujutsu Kaisen features more graphic depictions of violence and body horror consistent with the theme of Cursed Spirits being malicious inhuman entities.
The Bad Guys
Curses in Jujutsu Kaisen have a similar introduction and progression to the Hollows in BLEACH. Both are sets of malicious supernatural entities that cause death and destruction to human beings and in both cases, they are revealed to have varying levels of intelligence, power, and overall influence. While BLEACH took a few arcs to truly get the ball rolling in terms of the true antagonistic potential of the Hollows, which saw them evolving into the classification known as ”Arrancar”, Jujutsu Kaisen immediately introduces the concept of intelligent, human-like curses with its main antagonist: the Cursed Spirit known as Ryoumen Sukuna. Both series grow slightly out of their dark introductions with the growing potential and ability of their protagonists and the characters around them.
Protagonists and Story Progression
In BLEACH, the protagonist Kurosaki Ichigo is someone who has always been able to see supernatural entities like ghosts and has his adolescence decorated by various interactions with these entities. Ichigo is depicted as someone with an exceptional body constitution that makes him great at all sports, a nightmare to fight against, but also a soul so rich in reiatsu (spiritual energy) that he attracts spiritual entities including Hollows. It is due to Ichigo’s ability to see ghosts and his innate spiritual potential that his mother is killed in a Hollow attack while protecting him.
His spiritual ability culminates in his fated meeting with the Shinigami (or Soul Reaper if you watched the dub) known as Kuchiki Rukia. This mysterious woman dressed in all black appears in Ichigo’s room because she has orders to eliminate a Hollow in the area. When it suddenly appears and attacks Ichigo’s family, he breaks advanced magic to run outside and fight. Rukia is gravely injured while trying to protect a brash Ichigo from facing the creature unarmed and powerless, which leads her to performing the act that would set into motion everything else from the series: channeling her Shinigami powers into a boy with loads of potential.
This pattern of introductory events can be found in Jujutsu Kaisen, where the protagonist Itadori Yuji comes into contact with a finger of Ryoumen Sukuna, the strongest Curse in existence. Itadori carries the item in a box wrapped in heavy layers of protective seals not realizing the danger, and carries on with his daily routine, visiting his elderly grandfather in the hospital. Fushiguro Megumi, a sorcerer from Jujutsu Technical High is on a mission to retrieve the Cursed Object; however, the spot he was told to look for it is empty.
He follows Itadori after feeling the demonic presence of Ryoumen Sukuna on him, hoping to find the finger. Itadori’s handing over of the actual finger to his seniors is not shown, but he carries the box that used to contain it. It is implied from Fushiguro’s explanation of Curses that the taint of Ryoumen Sukuna’s presence in the box carried by Itadori resulted in his grandfather’s death, and this is further confirmed by Fushiguro’s comment that a peaceful death after encountering a curse is a miracle.
When the Occult Club removes the protective seal from the finger, the sheer amount of negative energy unleashes a torrent of powerful curses within the school building. Fushiguro rushes to the scene, telling Itadori to remain at the school gates; however, just like Ichigo, Itadori ignores the instructions of his experienced acquaintance to deal with supernatural horrors he has never seen before. Just like Rukia in BLEACH, Fushiguro is gravely injured while focusing on the safety of the main character in a special-case kind of dangerous situation.
Jujutsu Kaisen and BLEACH both feature a main character dealing with the guilt of having been part of the reason why a close family member died. Their personalities are opposites, but their actions stem from the same place. They both decide to do the difficult thing and become a kind of supernatural peacekeeper. Jujutsu Kaisen emphasizes the perils of such a path immensely and leans into its horror element to deliver an extremely compelling protagonist origin story.
Jujutsu Kaisen was a phenomenal title from 2020 carrying into 2021 and forms part of the new wave of Shounen featuring popular titles like Demon Slayer, Black Clover, Boku no Hero Academia (My Hero Academia), Fire Force, and more; however, its popularity has come down to its unrivalled art and animation, and strong cast of characters. The supernatural element is most definitely a mainstay of the quintessential battle Shounen, but the way it leans into a more unsettling, gory, creepy kind of supernatural is what can prompt conversation about Jujutsu Kaisen’s similarity to BLEACH.
The creators of these works met very recently and had a conversation about Jujutsu Kaisen and its characters, and Akutami Gege has himself noted characters like Zaraki Kenpachi as inspiration for his own. The two titles go in different directions on a lot of things, but their underlying composition remains quite similar. What do you think about the comparison between not only Jujutsu Kaisen and BLEACH, but Jujutsu Kaisen and other older Shounen? Drop a comment below and tell us your thoughts!