Hunter x Hunter has long been one of those series that I defined by the enthusiasm of its fans. Without knowing much about the series, I would often see it regarded as one of the best shounen action manga ever, and arguably a cut above author Togashi Yoshihiro’s other major work, YuYu Hakusho. The only thing that seemed to stifle its relentless charge was the fact that Togashi has very serious medical issues that have inevitably resulted in numerous stops and starts. But with the series getting some new chapters last year and VIZ putting all previous chapters on their Shonen Jump app to read for free, I’ve decided to jump on board this bumpy ride called Hunter x Hunter and see what the hype is all about.
The world of Hunter x Hunter is one where the most revered but challenging career is that of a “hunter.” A hunter of what? The answer is “anything and everything.” Gourmet foods, cultural artifacts, criminals—everything is fair game. Our hero, a boy named Gon, has long heard that the father he never knew was actually a hunter, and he seeks to follow in his footsteps so that he can meet his dad. Few are able to pass the arduous and deadly test, but Gon’s combination of kindness, cleverness, athleticism, and perseverance that friends and rivals alike take notice of.
I have read around 70 chapters of Hunter x Hunter, which for all I know is only scratching the surface of what makes it so renowned. From this limited experience, though, I can begin to understand why fans of shounen fight manga love it so much, even if it hasn’t captivated me in quite the same way. This is because Hunter x Hunter feels both more advanced than the typical formula but well within its boundaries.
There are two common action formulas for what I call “structured” shounen fighting, that is to say battles that have some sort of in-story framework governing it. The first is the tournament arc, where everyone ostensibly fights to figure out who’s #1. The second is the Bruce Lee’s Game of Death–style fight to the top, where the heroes must vanquish one “boss” after the next before being able to reach the goal, like in a video game. Hunter x Hunter, at least from what I’ve read, is the formulas distilled down to their essences and mixed together so that everything is one or the other or both. But working off a formula doesn’t necessarily mean it’s formulaic, and where Hunter x Hunter shines is by emphasizing that the solution to fights isn’t always sheer strength or a passionate heart. It’s cleverness that often wins the day.
At the same time, I feel like anyone who isn’t in love with shounen fighting might have a difficult time with the series, unless they’re maybe really dedicated to shipping the characters. I think the most helpful comparison might be to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, which has a similar focus on fights that require wits and ingenuity, but the highly eccentric and over-the-top nature of JoJo’s gives it a level of spectacle I haven’t seen in Hunter x Hunter. It’s like JoJo’s loves to break rules while Hunter x Hunter prefers to at most bend them.
It’s very possible that I’m on the cusp of the series getting turned on its head, and that I’m just one step away from the series transforming into something I love rather than merely enjoy. It’s happened before, but I can’t say I’m there yet.