Hunter x Hunter: The Infinite Adventure

~ an essay on the manga/anime Hunter x Hunter by Yoshihiro Togashi.

Hunting for Conflict

“Secret treasure hoards, undiscovered wealth… mystical places, unexplored frontiers… ‘The mysterious unknown.’ There’s magic in such words for those captivated by its spell. They are called ‘Hunters’!”

Hunter X Hunter – Opening 1 | Departure!

Hunter x Hunter (1998-present), the exquisite manga and anime by writer-artist Yoshihiro Togashi — also known for his prior work Yu Yu Hakusho — presents a boundless world. Of adventure and evolution. Of monstrous terror and martial triumph. A modern world, colored nevertheless by fantastical supernatural beasts and powers, Togashi casts his four main characters right into the thick of the intrigue as aspiring “Hunters.” As the namesake of the series purports, every consequential conflict within this universe comes down to Hunters crossing Hunters in battles for discovery and power and control and … mutual amusement?

“If I can get my target to move as I want, I’ve succeeded as a Hunter.” ~ Ging Freecs
“It is not important that I live but that the Spider lives.” ~ Chrollo Lucilfer
“I am thankful for everything that has made our meeting possible.” ~ Netero
“Right now, I’m letting you live. And I’ll continue to keep you alive… until you’ve grown enough to become worth killing.” ~ Hisoka

The Hunters are the shining stars and hearts of the series; definitively superior beings capable of extraordinary feats of strength and intelligence, the Hunters are not unlike the ‘superheroes’ of other genres. Though they differ in that Hunters are generally *amoral* — as in, they fight for themselves. Within the universe that Togashi fashions, their ranks consist mostly of pathological seekers of power, treasure hunters and mercenary martial artists, consummate individualists on the hunt for something greater, whether it be material or immaterial in nature. Always unique, always exhilarating to watch, every Hunter carries their own style. We are introduced to this world in the travails of the neonate questing boy, Gon, and his journey to find his absentee father, consequently one of the top Hunters in the world… From his trip off his farmstead where he was raised by his aunt and into the wilderness, we soon meet our other protagonists — cold-hearted child assassin x best bud Killua, vengeance-seeking, true-hearted x motherly Kurapika, and greedy yet genuine comic reliever x big brother-esque Leorio. Cooperating initially within the Hunter Examination, these next-generation “four good boys” drive the series as they struggle to become Hunters, steadily training their complex “Nen” powers and evolving their own motives and morals unto the many worldly adventures they inevitably become mired within.

Kurapika, Killua, Leorio, Gon
“Being a Hunter is the most LUCRATIVE / NOBLE career there is!”

Like Yu Yu before it, HxH is primarily a battle shōnen series, filled with contests and arenas and duels between its principal characters {less ‘heroes’ vs. ‘villains’ and more a complex, constant battle royale of disparate interests and philosophies…} Throughout the series, clearly aimed at an audience more mature than many shōnen, fights between top flight Hunters can be intensely violent, with hearts ripped out of chests, heads beheaded, and healthy sheddings of blood and gore from both men and monsters. The power of “Nen” provides an underlying structure to the showdowns. An intricate system of techniques the Hunters wield for themselves is built out, with their own costs and benefits and resultant para-psychological auras that can be produced to spy, to kill, to control. Entertaining and artful, the combat in HxH — especially in The Heaven’s Arena and in The Chimera Ant story arcs — is driven by the strange and unpredictable effects of Nen from archetypal combatants titled “Enhancer” or “Manipulator” who can fluctuate the different facets of these life-energy auras to both violent and misdirecting ends. Perhaps most compellingly, Nen certifies a moral test on each of its users. Given the specificity of its potential rules and limitations — such as with Kurapika’s chains only being used with lethal force upon the Phantom Troupe, or with Gon’s future ‘Dark Transformation’ — the creative construction of one’s own Nen aura begs the question of what kind of person that power might birth. As with the aphorism of ‘great powers and great responsibilities’, how Hunters choose to use their Nen within the world reveals more about their character than words ever could.

Transcendent artist and clever writer Togashi is an expert at the depiction of moment-to-moment action within his panels, in the midst of battles and before them, in his drawing the cascades of visceral motion over the battlefields as well as conveying the twitching psychological maneuvering going on inside each of his many character’s heads {no matter how minor they may initially appear}. Monologues from those on the ground within the conflict portray the inner analysis of expert fighters, and the rationale behind their at-times complex strategies; additionally, omniscient narrations, maps and charts with arrows and math, Nen technique explainers and bestial lore dumps all make frequent appearances within the panels of the manga as useful, auto-worldbuilding asides to the rip-roaring action sequences and psychoanalytical duels.

Nen and the significance of keeping it secret…
The Zoldyck family relations via chart
Hisoka’s aura-based personality analysis

As a kind of signature to the telos of ‘hunting’, many of the characters within the saga make use of scouting — as in the art of war, as a way of gaining strategic information concerning plans and capabilities of the opposition before an attack or defense operation {especially in the Yorknew and Chimera Ant arcs}. Not unlike the use of scouts doing recon on enemy bases in real-time strategy games like Starcraft, as displayed in HxH – with two masters of equal strength the difference almost always comes down to accurate, real-time information ~ this knowledge being the edging factor, or power, within the bout, before it has even begun. Within the narrative, the meticulous scouting from characters like Killua, Kurapika, Chrollo, and Knov unveil their personalities and their fears as players within these violent games of life-and-death, as does its lacking, with a more improvisational style, from Gon, Leorio, Hisoka, and Knuckle reveal their respective approaches.

Hunters are professionals, consistently proven in their relative deeds as built quite differently from “normal” people. They are difference-makers in industry and military affairs, from a more elite echelon within the social hierarchy, operating for both governmental and private, corporate x criminal, enterprises. Because of their power, and their capability to escape the consequences of their actions, they operate from the shadows, policed and at least nominally controlled by their own through the Hunter Association and its many rules. Nen, as each Hunter singularly puts it to use, provides the audience with a way to rank the characters and gauge their power levels {vital within a battle anime!} Through the mechanisms of battle and politick, the realm of Hunters is a never-ending contest of power and skill; every major story arc features such competitions and hierarchical journeying, winner-take-all and life-or-death, “may the best man win.” With Nen-empowered Hunters as the lodestar within the HxH saga, an ever-intriguing conflict always on the horizon due to their specialized role within the world — as both detectives and criminals, security forces and intrepid terrorists, explorers and conquerors — Togashi builds the series narrative. It can go anywhere and do anything. That is essentially what he ends up doing, and in my opinion, what makes the series so much damn fun.

The bombastic and wide-ranging story arcs of Hunter x Hunter ~ {what it does / why it’s good}

  • Hunter Exam arc ~ introduces the world / variable shenanigans introduce the characters through puzzles and novel conflicts beyond just martial combat
  • Zoldyck Family arc ~ elaborate Killua and his harsh familial background / shows how strong a friendship has already been forged between Killua and the others
  • Heavens Arena arc ~ introduces Nen, the principal power within HxH / shows the inventive combat that Nen battles can produce in the concise format of arena combat
  • Yorknew City arc ~ elaborates Kurapika and The Spider Troupe, primarily / weaves complex motives, plays, and strivings in a gritty, urban setting — shows the strength of the relationship of our heroes as well as their foes in The Spiders by pitting them against one another in life-or-death stakes
  • Greed Island arc ~ further progresses Gon and Killua’s relationship & Nen training / fun card system and shifting environmental landscapes and foes — dodgeball battle with Hisoka against the Master and Gon’s fight with Genthru, the bomber, are the highlights
  • Chimera Ant arc ~ develops a set of ‘villains’ whose journey and characterization surpasses perhaps any other character in the saga thus far / shows the evolutionary and individuation process in an entirely new species, humanizing them in electrifying conflicts against our heroes. The best HxH has to offer in terms of narrative, characters, and action.
  • Election arc ~ slows down the pacing, presents the politics of the Hunter association through its interesting menagerie of leadership in the Zodiacs — also introduces Ging, Gon’s mysterious father as a vagabond adventurer that is pure passionate independence personified / the charming schemes of Pariston, and Killua’s relationship with Alluka and the rest of his family is explored more in depth with his quest to save Gon with a wish
  • Dark Continent Expedition arc ~ biggest ideas yet presented and foreshadowed in the show / Chrollo vs. Hisoka fight, the return of Kurapika and Leorio, the monstrous possibilities of the “Dark Continent”, more intriguing Ging and Pariston interactions
  • Succession Contest Arc ~ showcases the unexpected possibilities within Nen with the Nen beasts and the schemes upon the Black Whale ship between hunters, guards and the Princes themselves / Get to see detective Kurapika, back in action full force as the main character after being gone from the story for so long
“No matter how much capability you have — without tactics, you’ll still fail.” ~ Gon, the fastest, greatest battle learner in the series
“We have to take this risk sooner or later, and the time is now!!” ~ Knov
“He has surpassed me in one of the most important skills in Nen combat: the depth and speed of expecting the unexpected. ~ Theta on Fourth Prince Tserrednich

In both Yu Yu Hakusho and HxH, creator Yoshihiro Togashi creates a boundless world for the sake of his seemingly limitless creative appetite. He wants to be able to take his characters anywhere and have them suddenly involved in spectacular conflicts of monstrous and wondrous fantasy, meaningful and evolving over time in its narrative stakes. And that is just what Hunter x Hunter achieves.

Patient, Widespread, Thorough Character Investment

Rather indisputably, HxH has some of the best characters in manga and anime history. What begins in the first arc of the series — The Hunter Exam — as a cooperative 4-man adventure through the wilderness of the world, soon expands into a sprawling multiform character study, with villains and side toons generally taking up as much airspace as our series protags. That being said, Togashi clearly favors the duo of Gon and Killua as the ‘heroes’ of his tale; is through their eyes that we experience much of the story, it is them that receive the most consistent flow of change and character development, and it is their lovely companionship which is the most compelling emotional force built up within the narrative. Gon, the naive, extraverted child with limitless potential, learning as he goes, carrying an indomitable and sometimes frightening strength of will / Killua, the icy killer with a stolen childhood, quick beyond his years, neurotic but with a thawing heart at the prospect of having even a single friend in Gon.

Though this may be Gon and Killua’s journey, Togashi spends ample time with all his characters, no matter how small they may seem upon introduction. In each arc, there are variety of side characters given spotlights, albeit sometimes brief, with which to showcase their personality and power, their strangeness or their scheme, always their singularity. There are too many to name, with too many stories and quirks that make them interesting and meaningful. I will say that what Togashi does beautifully with his lesser characters is 1) gives them a clear philosophical drive or in-the-moment motive, usually through concise inner or verbal expose’, and 2) makes them impact the primary narrative with their actions, if only through their plan’s failure or foil versus the protagonists. My personal favorites include Tonpa, the perpetual Hunter Exam taker and asshole rookie-killer that you can’t help but love to hate, Melody, the kind-hearted and soft-spoken “Music Hunter”, and Ikalgo, the manic octopus-ant who receives maybe the most full circle character arc of any in the series, save one… who also happens to be one of the best villains in anime. Speaking of which…

Wing (ウイング, Uingu) is Zushi‘s teacher and introduced Killua Zoldyck and Gon Freecss to Nen. He is an Assistant Master of Shingen-ryu kung fu and a former student of Biscuit Krueger
Welfin (ウェルフィン, Werufin) is a wolf-like Chimera Ant and former Squadron Leader.
Komugi (コムギ, Komugi) was the World Gungi Champion.

The villains of HxH are god-tier. There is no other way to put it. Starting with Hisoka, the weirdo clown assassin during the Exam and Arena, and on through to Chrollo, smooth-smiling crime boss, every member of his Phantom Troupe alongside him in Yorknew, to Genthru, psychotic bomber terrorist tryhard on Greed Island, to Meruem, the King Apex Predator of a brand new species, and his royal guard during The Chimera Ant arc, to Pariston, the consummate corrupt politician who speaks out of both sides of his mouth in the Election Arc, and Prince Tserriednich, cultured psychopath and child of royalty, in the Succession Arc. They range from amusing to thrilling to terrifying, sometimes all within one character. They are as fully fleshed out as Gon and Killua, and in the case of Meruem — who may be the best character in the whole series — even more so. Everything begins with their designs, in art and affect — and with this, much like in Yu Yu Hakusho, Togashi hits home run after home run. I would claim Hisoka as my favorite ‘villain’ within the series, though he drifts between villain and anti-hero, sometimes opposing our protags and other times cooperating with them, each time for his own unseemly rationale. The androgynous high-heeled clown assassin {with a not-so-subtle sexual attraction to both children and murder} operates just like the joker in a 52-card deck of playing cards — he is the wild card that represents a force of shapeshifting chaos, fitted to his environment but only to his own purposes, who once introduced to the situation necessarily changes everything.

Chrollo Lucilfer and the Phantom Troupe make for the first (but not the last) truly sympathetic set of villains within the HxH universe. They are a gang of super criminals ranging from a samurai, to cutie magic vacuum-wielder to hulking rage monster to several different shades of deranged killer, all charismatic in their own way, and who despite their psychoses and occasional inner animosity, all love each other like a family. Gon, Killua, Leorio, and Kurapika face off against them in the megacity Yorknew, full of cross-cutting factions of organized crime, while Kurapika seeks vengeance for his clan and the Troupe takes control of the city via murder and chaos amidst their latest heist. The Troupe have their own code and it is a thrill to see what it is and how it plays out in our heroes’ showdown with them.

The Phantom Troupe ~ (
げん
えい
りょ
だん
Gen’ei Ryodan), sometimes just called Troupe (
りょ
だん
Ryodan), is a world-renowned gang of thieves with Class-A Bounties. The group is also known as “Spider” (旅団クモKumo) and its members go by the name of “Spiders”. Most of them hail from Meteor City.
Chrollo Lucilfer (Specialist), carries a book of stolen Nen abilities

In what most consider to be the best arc in HxH, a crowning achievement within the world of manga and anime, the Chimera Ant arc introduces its namesake: a new species of beast, mixing human DNA, Nen and consciousness to create an extinctive threat to humanity across the globe. As the chimera ants evolve through their conflicts with the Hunters tasked with exterminating them, learning about pain and pleasure, planning and failure, ambition and betrayal, the King Ant — Meruem — is born in a culmination of their devouring of Nen-enchanted humanity. Along with his Royal Guard of Neferpitou, Pouf, and Youpi, and with the burgeoning relationship between Meruem and his gungi opponent / strategy pig, Komugi, the richest characters and developments throughout the whole saga are born! The “Palace Invasion” sequences within the manga/anime present some of the best payoffs and digressions and emergent character-changing interdependencies within the action between the Hunters and the Ants fighting for the fate of their respective species. Humans become more like ants — predatory and hive-minded in their singular devotion to completing their mission — and Ants become more like humans, reliant on one another, reciprocal in their emotions toward other life, willing to learn, change and cooperate given the right conditions… All in all, the arc is beautiful in its showcase of our ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ — and everything in between — in dire existential conflict, of arms and ideas, all the while sowing seeds and ruminating in every single perspective therein. The evolution of apex baddie Meruem, from pure psychopathic predator god-complex to something quite different… someone beautiful, is the height of Togashi’s mastery over his characters. The Ant King’s arc shifts alongside Gon’s — as each experiences what they are unaccustomed to — life and death, respectively, each thus transforms along the axis of good and evil, light and dark, mercy and vengeance.

Chimera Ant arc ~ What starts a dangerous but thrilling mission on a ‘monster island’ ends up expanding into a deep and dark journey into humanity and evolution and psychology and power. Gon and Killua team up with a new squad of hunters in order to exterminate a novel species threatening all of humanity; the ‘Chimera Ants’ evolve before their eyes and birth a villain that ends up becoming perhaps the best character in the whole series. A detailed and digression-heavy arc that is full of exquisite character-building and wonderful payoffs. Simply one of the richest story arcs in manga/anime history!
Hunter x Hunter Chimera Arc Second Ending

In the later volumes, in The Election Arc, we are introduced to Pariston Hill, the “Rat”, who may be my dark horse favorite character. A conniving bastard with an ever-present smile on his face, Pariston is the second-in-command behind Netero as head of the Hunter’s Association. A paragon politician, his lies are as convincing as his truths, and in his endeavoring to fix the election to his favor, directly in the faces of the rest of the Zodiac council who all hate his guts, he becomes a rather exhilarating character to watch work. Every Pariston scene is electrifying, and he operates entirely through proclamations in meetings and biting whispers in conversational asides, with no martial capabilities shown {a rarity within HxH for a main and beloved character}. The Election Arc is his coming out party, consciously in control of every exciting interpersonal transpiration, squaring off with each other Zodiac member — including Gon’s father Ging — with impossible-to-predict successes.

Needless to say, the villains and side characters within HxH are the true prize for an enthusiast. Rival Hunters, criminal found families, and chimeric human-ant hybrids make for the most memorable moments within the sprawling, wayward adventure, always full of the unexpected… As a related side note, one may also cite the amorality of the characters as a reason for such narrative pandemonium. Generally, Hunters only care about themselves and their companions — but not always! There are exceptions, degrees to such a judgment. Gon and Killua, Kurapika and Leorio as our series protagonists help people, certainly; but the wider ‘world’ outside of their own tight companionship always pales in comparison. Hisoka, Chrollo and the Spiders, many of the Chimera Ants, on the other hand, are more than ready to commit instantaneous massacres of innocents, or anyone in their way — for food, for power, or for amusement. And it is this amorality — and this pernicious usage of their superior strength — along with Togashi’s own choices as a writer, that make it impossible {satisfyingly!} for the audience to ever know where the story will go next. Meruem comes to mind as the best example of such exceptions and evolution within a character. Absolutely no one can guess how the Chimera Ant arc will play out…

Top HxH Villains ~ Left to right: Pariston, Pouf, Tserriednich, Hisoka, Meruem, Chrollo, Gyro, Pitou, Youpi
The first official Hunter x Hunter character poll ~ 1. Killua, 2. Kurapika, 3. Gon, 4. Hisoka, 5. Chrollo

Details & Detours

You should enjoy the little detours, to the fullest. Because that’s where you’ll find the things more important than what you want.” ~ Ging Freecss

At the very end of the anime’s 148-episode run, Gon finally gets to meet and speak with his estranged father, Ging. At the peak of a World Tree, the designated spot for their reunion, adventurer x vagabond and “Ruins Hunter,” Ging, speaks these words of wisdom to his son that he does not ‘know’, but now implicitly respects given he has actually found him. But in arriving here, in the final volumes adapted to anime and just before a long manga hiatus from Togashi rebirthed the saga’s direction into new territories with the Dark Continent Expedition and Succession Contest arcs — we understand these words to be true.

Gon looking upon a World Tree

Going back to the beginning of the series —remember that  Gon’s hunt for his father Ging is the heart of the story. His desire to find his father, to either follow in his footsteps or just learn more about him, is the inciting action that drives our hero. Gon, after his long journeying through six full story arcs of conflicts and companionships, fights and discoveries, finally finds his father in Volume 32, Chapter 335. Thusly, given that original purpose, everything else that happened along the way to this reunion can be defined as a ‘detour.’ Befriending Killua, traveling alongside companions Leorio and Kurapika > Building his martial powers to chase a nemesis in Hisoka > Experiencing the contradictions of morality with his battle against the Troupe in Yorknew > Learning to embrace diligence and strategic thinking in the fights against Razor and Genthru on Greed Island > Bearing witness to death and the uncontrollable urging towards vengeance in the NGL in his mission to destroy the Ants… at all costs…

Gon’s pivotal impact upon Shoot
Gon’s dark transformation

ALL detours.

Ging’s words are also Togashi’s thesis concerning Hunter x Hunter. In a summary view of the series’ highs and lows, one may contemplate that many of the best passages are produced off the beaten narrative path, often the result of focusing on characters and events that other sagas might overlook or gloss. In HxH, more than any other grand anime story that I can think of, it is the little things that count, the detours and details. In character travails and in melee showdowns x in the dialogue and in the art. The best character example I can think of is the conception and building out of characters like Ikalgo and Welfin within the Chimera Ant arc. Each is a footsoldier, relatively low on the totem pole of the Ants — each is vulnerable, neurotic in their thoughts and actions; Ikalgo is defeated by Killua but spared and given a chance at redemption, while Welfin, unaware of his own limitations, has ambitions to ascend within the Ant kingdom, more than willing to betray his comrades and do everything he can to such ends. In each character’s mini arc, on opposite sides of the conflict in the Palace Invasion and eventually culminating in their own violent 1v1 clash, Togashi examines in minute detail the thrilling and terrifying complexities, possibilities, and hopes and fears that go on within a conscious mind, within a human heart. Through the accelerated evolution of these newly awakened Chimera Ants, as they take on individual assumptions and proclivities, selfish or selfless, out of pride or love or anything else, we bear witness to the human condition within a startling form — apex predatory beasts who only recently were gifted with consciousness and community.

Ikalgo learning the value of community, of belonging 😊
The ridiculous battle of Welfin v. Ikalgo, Welfin learns the ideal of selflessness, of self-sacrifice 🤔

For Togashi’s attention to detail in battle ~ one must cite Netero, the head honcho of the Hunter Association, versus Meruem, the Ant King. Taking place at the conclusion of the arc, the aged but transcendently powerful top-tier Hunter, and human, draws out the Chimera Ant King — whose full capabilities we have yet to see — into a mortal combat cage match in the mountains. With the promise of learning the name his mother gave him, Meruem agrees to go all out against Netero — who is fighting for the {potential} fate of humanity against a creature that could conquer it… What follows is a monumental bout of godlike proportions — both within the fiction of the HxH universe, no two titans this powerful had yet waged war — and upon the pages of the manga, with Togashi putting everything into the artful depictions of such thrilling battle. Alternatively, Chrollo, leader of the Spiders, participates in my second and third favorite fights of the series, one of which allows us to witness two characters we rarely get to see clash anywhere else in the series in a dream matchup ~ Chrollo vs. The Zoldycks. The other is perhaps Togashi’s most technically proficient and utterly insane fight within the whole series, taking place between Hisoka and Chrollo in live arena format ~ to the death ~ during the Dark Continent Expedition arc.

Netero v Meruem has to be one of the top anime fights of all time
Netero paying respect to his opponent, Meruem
I am thankful… ~ Analysis: Netero’s long-time solitude as a fighter {no one could come close to beating him?} led him into a life of lethargy, drained of meaning, going through the motions as Chairman of the Hunter Association – it is his final battle with Meruem in which he feels most alive, the opportunity to fight a being that can challenge him, even defeat him, gives him ultimate reward. His fight is more pleasure than duty, tho he certainly carries out his duty in the end…
Netero vs. Meruem full fight
Chrollo vs. The Zoldycks full fight

Truly, Hunter x Hunter is the infinite adventure — and I love it. Based on the highly mutable, if chaotic, format Togashi has chosen — disparate story arcs with a wide-range of character focus — taking place in the world he has built, as I said before, the saga can go anywhere and do anything. This is a testament to Togashi’s ability to create stellar characters, stories, worlds. The manga is ongoing; despite long gaps between the latest chapters within the Succession Contest, and frequent hiatuses taken by Togashi due to health and other unknown reasons {writer’s block?}, the story forges ahead. “The Dark Continent” appears to be a culmination of everything the HxH universe has to offer: a mythical land of impossibly dangerous beasts and artifacts and mystery, freshly populated by the best hunters in the world and eager to be explored…

“What do you want?” — Answer: that which I can’t see in front of me right now.
~ Ging

Is the Dark Continent fated to be where the saga ends, at the peak of such a monumentally ‘mysterious unknown’? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ~ Hunter x Hunter is a series about the journey and the possibilities of a boundless, complex and enchanted world, only ever partially unraveled. Like many stories might proclaim by their end, HxH does actually embody the cliche about “the friends made along the way” as the point of it all. And not any “ending,” if we ever get it… Ging’s ethos of those detours ‘being more important than the thing you wanted in the first place’ can be championed by most every Hunter in the series. Yoshihiro Togashi certainly does so as a creator, as will the avid HxH reader or watcher, in or out of its fictive world.

All that being said — I cannot wait for Ging and Pariston, Kurapika and the Troupe and the Zodiac and whoever succeeds as king of the Kakin Empire to touch down on the Dark Continent and see where Togashi’s infinite adventure goes next. ~

Gon entering Greed Island
Netero meditating
Youpi smashes the central staircase!
Pouf and Youpi’s supreme bliss at the revival of their King
Meruem’s peerless aura
One of my favorite YouTube channels Aleczandxr ~ great content on Hunter x Hunter and other anime