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Why Tokyo Ghoul’s Ken Kaneki Is The Ultimate Anime Antihero

For a little while, TV viewers were in love with the antihero. The vigilante. The guy doing bad things for good reasons. Sometimes those characters‘ arcs helped them grow into better people (Punisher) and others went off the deep end to become downright villains (Walter White). Anime certainly has its share of antiheroes, but it’s fair to say most protagonists either fall on one side or the other, leaving the grey areas to supporting characters. That’s part of what makes Tokyo Ghoul’s Ken Kaneki so unique and exactly why we’re celebrating his fascinating story arc in honor of his birthday.

Ken Kaneki in Tokyo Ghoul

From the outset, the very first episode, we know things cannot ever work out in Kaneki’s favor. Sure, he survived a near-fatal accident, but at a much greater cost. In the final moments, the second we see Touka forcefully push Kaneki to face his future, we know it’s all downhill for him from here. What makes Kaneki’s decline truly heartbreaking to watch is the innocence and good intentions Kaneki tries so hard to maintain along the way. We see how hard he wants both sides to unite and find mutual respect. His efforts to refrain from eating human flesh are admirable. His desire to remain friends withbut still protectHide is relatable. And selfish. And quite possibly the key to his undoing.


Just like we knew Kaneki’s life was about to seriously unravel from the very beginning, we also know nothing can end well for Hide the moment we meet him. He’s loyal, happy, friendly, hopeful. All things that don’t fit into this dystopian, segregated, desperate world he’s living in. Kaneki and Hide are perfect embodiments of the Dark Knight quote „You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.“ Hide’s joyful light was snuffed out by the harsh world around him, while Kaneki’s mind was repeatedly broken, sending him down his ultimately violent path.


Ken Kaneki in Tokyo Ghoul


Despite the obvious pain in store for these characters, Tokyo Ghoul never seems too obvious or hacky. We know Kaneki will break bad and we know Hide will fall victim to the friendship Kaneki so stubbornly refuses to give up. But every part of the story feels right. This is the way this was always supposed to go.

There’s something that resonates with these themes. The hopelessness, the loss, the divide that can’t be mended. Now more than ever, we can all think of a time when these themes touched our online or even personal lives. But part of what makes this series so wonderful is its timelessness. We might be able to see the relevancy in the unrest presented in Tokyo Ghoul, but the issues the ghouls and humans face are issues that have plagued society for centuries. Not just on a massive, racial level, but on a personal one. We all have deal-breakers and people whose differences we just couldn’t reconcile.

Tokyo Ghoul's Ken Kaneki

Ken Kaneki shows what happens when we try too hard to appease everyone. Kaneki accepts both humans and ghouls, with little to no judgment, right off the bat. But he very quickly comes to realize his mistake. It’s not that the ghouls are bloodthirsty creatures, or that humans simply will not see others as equals. It’s that everyone is a monster. It’s not bigotry that eats at Kaneki’s heart but empathy gone much, much too far as he sees the pain inflicted on both sides and takes it upon himself to forge a new, bitter, and jaded path.

We feel for Ken Kaneki because he feels for everyone. We want to protect him as much as he wants to protect everyone around him. To see him go back to his innocent book-reading days hanging out with Hide and worrying about dates with girls. And we want to see him soldier on. To come out the other side wiser, gentler, and more prepared to lead both sides to a peaceful existence. Of course, from the very beginning, we knew that was never going to happen. At least we can wish him a happy birthday.

What’s your ideal birthday treat? Leave your happy birthday wishes for Ken Kaneki in the comments! 

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Carolyn also writes for Bunny Ears and Cracked. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


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