Warning: SPOILERS for Tokyo Underworld chapter 1A new series called Tokyo Underworld is giving an unsettling spin to a popular manga genre where main characters are thrust into games where they are forced to participate in deadly scenarios.
An earlier manga that undoubtedly influenced Tokyo Underworld is Gantz, a series where characters who just died are transported to an unfurnished room. There, a bald man in a black sphere called Gantz forces these recently deceased characters to participate in various games where they must kill aliens.
In Tokyo Underworld by Kenji Sakaki, there's an urban legend that anyone who causes the death of another in Tokyo is dragged into a hellish version of the city. A poor teacher who's relentlessly bullied by his students takes this myth quite seriously and decides to test its truth by gathering them on a bus and performing a horrifying act that leads to his death. Unfortunately for his students, the urban legend about Tokyo Underworld is true because before the teacher dies, he proclaims that they drove him to his death, and they are transported to this underworld. There, the students find themselves part of some twisted game where the first round requires them to kill a terrifying warrior on a broken bridge.
Besides the death game connection, mangaka Kenji Sakaki of Tokyo Underworld also clearly found inspiration from Gantz by how he portrays his two main protagonists. Before their teacher's death, the two of them actually try to protect their teacher from their peers while they harass him. And yet, their teacher still perceives them negatively and decides to condemn them as well. In Gantz, two of the main characters are transported to the eponymous villain after performing a selfless act. They got hit by an oncoming train when trying to save a man who had just fallen onto the tracks. Worst of all, everyone else who was there at the station only took out their phones to capture the whole ordeal on video. Meanwhile, the two heroes who tried to save the man are repaid by being forced to partake in gruesome games to the death.
As of now, only two chapters of Tokyo Underworld have been published simultaneously on Shonen Jump's online-only spinoff MANGA Plus. The twist in the first chapter where the teacher condemns his students, even his two pupils who have been nice to him, serves as a perfect homage to Gantz. However, the introduction of the death games in the following installment, while interesting, is almost too much of a nod to the earlier series. After Gantz, numerous other manga have replicated the death game to some degree. In popular culture outside of manga, for example, creator Hwang Dong-hyuk released the South Korean television series Squid Game, whichfollows a similar premise except none of the characters had to die first to get there. While it's exciting that the students are in a hellish landscape, it's kind of disappointing that they are now the contenders in yet another death game. Hopefully Tokyo Underworld will find ways to distinguish itself from Gantz and the manga that have followed in its footsteps.