Tower of God, based on a South Korean webcomic of the same name by creator SIU, is Crunchyroll's latest original anime. The webcomic started in 2010, and for those of us who are admittedly old and very online webcomic readers, it's a nostalgic title. To see one of the first online comics that gained a following get an anime feels a little bit like seeing an old friend make it in this big, cruel world.
Tower of God is a standard shonen coming of age story in a fantasy world. If you like that genre, then Tower of God should tick all the boxes for you. Expect the typical shenanigans: over-the-top abilities, exaggerated battles, emotions dialed to the max, and a personal favorite, ample lessons about the power of friendship. Conversely, if those things don't quite do it for you, Tower of God is not going to be your cup of tea.
At least from the first seven episodes, it appears that Tower of God is firmly entrenched in the confines of the shonen genre's stereotypes, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The different abilities and battle systems are convincing and entertaining, and the relationships between characters feel genuinely touching. The world of shonen anime is varied, and not all shonen follows the same tropes, but there are some tried and true narratives repeated across the genre's most popular titles. Tower of God uses them effectively.All of the action takes place in a world ruled by a battle system called the Tower, an expansive universe divided into three parts: the Inner Tower, Outer Tower, and the Middle Arena. The series opens with protagonist Twenty-Fifth Bam chasing after his only friend, Rachel, who chooses to enter the Tower and pursue her dream of seeing a starry night sky--which means she must reach the very top.
The story begins in the Inner Tower, the part that individuals called "Regulars" climb and advance through. Regulars are chosen by Tower guardian Headon, and they are given the special opportunity to ascend the Tower. Bam and Rachel are considered "Irregulars"-- individuals who have found a way to climb the Tower without being chosen by Headon. And Bam is truly irregular when it comes to wanting to climb the Tower; he's less concerned with achieving power or wealth--things that people usually climb the Tower for--and is simply focused on catching up with Rachel.
Nevertheless, Bam does need to clear the Tower's floors by working with and fighting against others in his quest to find her. Tower of God shares this video game-like battle setup with other popular shonen, such as a few specific arcs in One Piece and Hunter x Hunter (in One Piece, when Luffy goes through the levels of Impel Down, encountering new bosses on each floor; and in Hunter x Hunter, when Gon and Killua scale the Trick Tower, and along the way, learn new abilities and defeat floor masters). Tower of God might echo a setup viewers have seen before, but its intricate worldbuilding helps it stand out. From the initial seven episodes, it's apparent the Tower is full of larger-than-life figures and offers healthy doses of adventures and dangers.
The tests and battles Regulars compete in feel thoughtful and clever. Some are focused on a Regular's psychological state and decision-making abilities, while others are literally about luck and innate talent, and most have some element of teamwork. The abilities each Regular will develop are team-based and include intel-gathering, direct combat, more-long distance combat, and more.
But while the abilities and battles are well planned out and entertaining, the story's protagonist is boring and uninspiring. Combined with a persistent faith in friendship, a single minded goal, and some unfair advantages, Bam should be the embodiment of a stereotypical shonen protagonist. But somehow he's much worse than your average blank slate main character. The typical shonen protagonist has at least a flaw or two, but Bam (for now) doesn't, and his "Chosen One halo"--a tried-and-true trope--carries him through everything. He gets handed a super-ultra-powerful weapon by a super-ultra-powerful person the moment he steps foot into the Tower, and as an irregular, Bam isn't subject to a lot of the Tower's usual restrictions. Watching a paper-thin character with textbook positive traits get through challenge after challenge can be infuriating.
But other characters provide the necessary intrigue and complicated depth to keep viewers hooked. There's Bam's BFF, Khun Aguero Agnis, with trust issues and good ol' family drama, and the mysterious green lizard princess, Anak Zahard, who wields a mythical weapon. Impressively, most of the large cast have something memorable about them, even the ones you'd expect to be cannon fodder in a stereotypical shonen story. Ship Leesoo, who has Normal Dude™ metaphorically stamped on his forehead, has neither supernatural abilities nor an interesting signature feature. Yet, refreshingly, he looks like he's not only going to survive, he might even be central to future storylines.
Tower of God is also interested in the philosophical battles of characters in a society that completely revolves around clearing levels of the Tower, often using violent means. The series eventually juxtaposes Rachel's desire to climb the Tower at all costs against Bam's "friends first before anything" mindset, glimmers of which can already be seen in these first seven episodes. If the show continues to follow the source material, it's likely their conflicting philosophies will be further highlighted as the show goes on.
Tower of God will feel familiar to ardent followers of the shonen genre. Some of that familiarity comes from the boring clichés, but the series has many redeeming elements. The construction of a literal universe around a battle system that takes a shonen trope and magnifies it exponentially is entertaining. Combined with a big cast of unique characters with equally special abilities, and ideological struggles that nod to a bigger picture, Tower of God has a lot going for it. The animation, too, is satisfactorily faithful to the webcomic's original style, and maybe even an improvement, especially since Tower of God's early chapters were a bit rough in the art department.
If you're curious about the source material, you can read Tower of God on Webtoon. It's still ongoing!