One night, the students in Nobuaki Kanazawa's class all receive a strange text message. It announces the beginning of the "King's Game", in which the entire class must participate. The mysterious King will issue a command every day which must be completed by midnight. Withdrawal from the game is forbidden. Failure to comply will result in punishment.
No one takes the game seriously at first, but the initial commands are harmless so they comply. However, when two students refuse their command, the King sends out a text announcing that their punishment is death. When their deaths are announced the next day, the students realize that this game is real. As the bodies pile up and the commands keep getting worse, Nobuaki must find and stop the sadistic King's game before he and his entire class lose their lives.
Originally a cell phone novel by Nobuaki Kanazawa (who shares his name with the protagonist), it has since been adapted into a manga by Renda Hitori, as well as a film adaptation directed by Norio Tsuruta. The film adaptation stars members of idol groups Berryz Kobo and °C-ute and focuses more on Nobuaki's girlfriend Chiemi Honda. An Animated Adaptation by Seven began airing as part of the Fall 2017 Anime season.
Not to be confused with the 2004 Danish political thriller, which has the same English title.
King's Game contains examples of:
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The King is actually a self aware computer virus that controls people via hypnotic suggestion. It was being weaponized until the head scientist decided to stop the experiments to protect her daughter Chiemi. The King then goes after Chiemi's class through her cellphone to pick a new master.
- It started out initially as a biological virus, originating from the blood of 32 insects that fought to the death, that infected the 32 members of Yonaki Village once it was unleashed by Natsuko. Kazunari, who survived, was cleared to re-enter society once the virus went dormant in his body; he also, unintentionally, creates the stipulation of reviving Natsuko as the goal of the game and presumably causes the resurfacing when he came into physical contact with the blood of the insects.
- Afterlife Welcome: In the anime adaptation. After Nobuaki was killed by Natsuko, he is welcomed by and reunited with all of his friends in the afterlife.
- All for Nothing: Riona kills herself to avoid the virus spreading to the rest of Japan, thinking that would put a stop to the King's Game once and for all. In the last moments of Shuukyoku, we learn that other schools across the country have started getting messages from the King, meaning her sacrifice was worthless.
- All Love Is Unrequited: There are quite a few people with this, Nami has a crush on Nobuaki, Natsuko also likes him in Shuukyoku, Michiko likes Kazunari in Kigen.
- Anachronic Order: The anime adaptation adapts both the first King's Game installment and its sequel, Shuukyoku. It compensates for this by jumping back and forth between the two series, rather than adapting them in order.
- The entire story was published in anachronic order too; starting with Origin/Kigen (the fourth one being published) then King's Game (the first) and Spiral/Rinjou (the third) happening almost simultaneously and before Extreme/Shuukyoku (the second).
- Anyone Can Die: With only one possible survivor in a game, the rest need to pop off somehow.
- Apocalyptic Log: Found in Yonaki-Mura from the first King's Game.
- Arc Number: 32.
- Both of Nobuaki's classes and Yonaki Village had 32 people in them.
- Kazunari lived peacefully for 32 years before the King's Game resurfaces, instead targeting his daughters and their friends.
- Additionally, what caused the King's Game was a concoction comprised of the blood of 32 insects that fought to the death.
- Ax-Crazy: Michiko and Shuuhei in Kigen.
- Bad "Bad Acting": Natsuko. Having survived one King's Game already and being forced into another one, she decides to play it as the nastiest and most wicked bitch imaginable, just so people won't get attached to her and her to them in order to avoid another dose of the same pain once again. She only starts doing it once she confirms from the other survivor of a King's Game that there's no way out from it early on and the moment a chance to escape the game arise, drops the nastiness on the drop of a dime in order to cooperate with other participants if the opportunity arises. She ends up overdoing it though.
- Barred from the Afterlife: Chiemi in the movie. She won the first King's Game but refused to become the new King. As punishment, her memory is repeatedly wiped and every new class she joins has to play the King's Game. If Chiemi dies, she is just reborn as a new Chiemi to watch her friends die over and over.
- Better to Die than Be Killed: Out of fear of the punishment, some of the students kill themselves of their own free will, such as Nami and Kana.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Natsuko starts out as a rather friendly character, until she reveals her true colors as the series progresses.
- Bittersweet Ending: Despite Nobuaki and his friends dying by the end of the anime, they are all happily reunited in the afterlife.
- Boobs of Steel: Natsuko, who has the largest breasts out of all the females.
- Bowdlerize: In the anime, Natsuko's sex scene is censored slightly. Where she was in only her bra in the manga, Natsuko had her shirt on in the animation.
- Break the Badass: Shouta began to break long before the King's Game decided to completely rear its ugly head. when Daisuke dies because of his order, he feels genuinely guilty.
- Break the Cutie: Too many to list. But a notable example is Chiemi, when she discovers (in both the manga and the film adaptation) that it's her fault that the King's Game targeted her class.
- Possibly the most heart-wrenching is Ryou mentally snapping and being in complete denial over Teruaki's death.
- Break the Haughty: Once again, many examples but notably Kana. When she loses the popularity vote, she doesn't even stop to see what her punishment is and throws herself out the window.
- Brainwashed: It is revealed in Kigen that Daiki and Suzuyo did hang themselves after the virus inside them received the signal from other infected hosts about them not having fulfilled the King's order. Also Natsuko, since she was the one who wrote the letters with the orders because of the virus' will.
- Cassandra Truth: Nobuaki's gotten himself into trouble with this trope in too many instances to count. Shuukyoku even has him try to warn the others about the game, but he laments that nobody's going to start believing it until bodies start hitting the floor.
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The King enacts its punishments through hypnotic suggestion, so Chiemi and Nobuaki escape their final punishment by simply believing that they will survive.
- Clock Discrepancy: In order to prove that the game had no power over them, Nobuaki and a few other boys hang out all day with Daisuke to make sure he doesn't die at midnight. The day passes without incident; just as they're cheering about beating the game, Nobuaki notices that his phone's clock is five minutes faster than the clock in Daisuke's living room. Soon enough he finds the boy dead, hanging in his house's library.
- Cruel Twist Ending: The anime's ending. Everyone within Nobuaki's new class has died, and Riona proceeds to commit suicide with Nobuaki's corpse to stop the spread of the virus. A very bittersw—nope. The Stinger shows that the King's Game has found more victims, and it's implied it's targeting completely random victims.
- Cutting the Knot: Rather than participate in the game any longer, Ria decides to hack the system sending out commands and delete the game off the network. No dice; hacking counts as leaving the game, so she gets set on fire.
- Deadly Game: Quite possibly the most fatal rounds of King's Game the cast will ever play.
- Deadly Euphemism:
- The Game never explicitly says anyone will die. It simply says they will be "punished" to intentionally confuse its participants. This is made all the more darkly comical given that early on in the game, Kana loses and chooses to throw herself out a window to avoid "punishment." The "punishment" in question is confessing whom she has a crush on.
- When Nobuaki is given an order to "lose something important to him", he immediately starts breaking his possessions to prove to himself that the King wasn't implying he had to kill someone close to him. Nami drowns herself after hearing the order to help him pass anyway.
- Deader than Dead: In the film, anyone who fails to follow the King's commands doesn't just die, they're completely erased from existance, with all proof they ever existed being deleted and no one outside of the class knowing they ever did exist.
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: Both Naoya and Chiemi die in Nobuaki's arms mere moments after each other.
- Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Averted. In the original, Chiemi and Naoya are ordered to have sex thirty minutes before punishment is dealt out to the latter. Naoya, not wanting to betray the feelings of the people he loves, begs Nobuaki not to make him do it, but gets punched unconscious by Nobuaki and raped by Chiemi for his own good. Both of them felt awful about it.
- Downer Ending:
- Original:Everyone but Nobuaki and Chiemi has been killed by the King's Game. They finally figure out how to escape but then Chiemi dies because of blood loss from the leg wound she got earlier.
- Shuukyoku: Natsuko decapitates Nobuaki right as she's about to fall down dead. Riona, thinking that she needs to get rid of any trace of the virus, drowns herself with Nobuaki's body. Nobody is left from Nobuaki or Natsuko's games, and yet the games continue anyway, with Japan as a whole being its next victim.
- Easily Forgiven: Despite being cruelly antagonistic for most if not all of the game, Natsuko ends up in Nobuaki's version of Heaven. The other students shown don't reject her there either.
- "Everybody Dies" Ending: How Shuukyoku and the anime end. Even worse, in order for the King's Game to stop, everyone has to die—and even that didn't stop it.
- Evil Phone
- Foregone Conclusion: Kigen, which tells the story of the events of the King's Game played in Yonaki Village; as established during Nobuaki's excursion there, everyone who lived there dies during the game, with the exception of Kazunari.
- Going into Shuukyoku or the anime, one immediately understands that Nobuaki is the sole survivor of his first King's Game.
- Forgotten Fallen Friend: When Nobuaki is shown in Heaven, he's surrounded by all of the girls that were important to him in life... except for Nami, the one person who was required to die for Nobuaki's order to be accepted.
- The Game Plays You: At first people play the King's Game because it seems like harmless fun. Then people start dying.
- Genre Savvy: Ria in the original. Michiko in Kigen.
- Ghost Town: Yonaki-Mura, after the events of the very first King's Game.
- Gorn: Oh, it gets bloody. Decapitation, dismemberment, blood releasing from every orfice, you name it. How any of this is self-inflicted is just a mystery though.
- Haunted Heroine: Chiemi. In the manga, the King is a virus that targets her class because her mother (or rather, her first cousin once removed and her father's first love) was the King's previous master. In the movie, Chiemi won the original King's Game, but because she refused to become the new King, she has to relive the tragedy in every new class she joins.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Nobuaki and Naoya, to the extent that Nobuaki lies to his classmates about knowing how to escape the King's Game in exchange to vote to save Naoya's life over Kana's, and allows (forces) Naoya to have sex with his girlfriend to save himself from a punishment. Some of Naoya's last words alive are him telling Nobuaki he loves him and Chiemi very much.
- Teruaki and Ryou of Shuukyoku. Their friendship is as close as Nobuaki and Naoya's, and has heavy amounts of Ho Yay.
- Kazunari and Yuuji in Kigen.
- Hidden Heart of Gold: Natsuko, as revealed in Shuukyoku's ending. She really did love Nobuaki the entire time, but due to her experiences in her previous King's game she thought she had to do what was needed to help him survive. Didn't come across so well.
- High-Pressure Blood: The adaptations have everyone pump out blood faster than they can breathe when it comes to the gorier punishments.
- History Repeats: Nobuaki's class in Shuukyoku is strikingly similar to his class in the in the original King's Game. Even the first few orders are exactly the same.
- How We Got Here: The anime has Shuukyoku take place in the present, while the events of the original are told in flashbacks.
- Idiot Ball: Granted, Natsuko is right that people will do irrational things in times of panic, but this gets ridiculous sometimes:
- Ria has shown herself to be competent and calm in a crisis. She has figured out the truth behind the King's Game and even has a plan to stop it. She then proceeds to wait while 7 of the remaining 10 students are killed before she actually shares this information. While her plan ultimately fails, the information on the true nature of the game lets Nobuaki and Chiemi escape, although Chiemi dies along the way.
- The classmates in the third King's Game seem to be holding it during the entire encounter with Natsuko. In the anime at least, her personality does a compete 180, she straight up agrees to have sex with Mitsuaki and takes off her shirt, then tells Nobuaki to came with her to talk in the forest. She makes them all think Nobuaki assaulted her by throwing her shirt at him and yelling for help. This might have been plausible and believable... if they weren't literally standing a few feet away from her when she reveals her true colors. And they still choose to follow her orders. Kenta on the other hand was apparently too far away to hold it by the time he shows up. After initially wanting Nobuaki, he sees what already happened to him and calls them all out on it, going so far as to smack Natsuko to the ground for her suspicious behavior.
- At one point, Natsuko forces everyone to participate in a game to break their own fingers. Her opposition could easily overwhelm her with numbers, block the King, or force her to surrender, but they just...let her do it. And one of them breaks her own fingers, for Natsuko's sake, because of some bygone kindness in the past.
- Invincible Villain: The leader(s) of the game is never revealed, knows everyone's phone numbers, locations, and can easily cause them to suffer grisly deaths should they so much as fail their games or try to concede. Even worse, it's revealed later that the entity behind all this madness is a sentient computer virus that makes people kill themselves and has no way of being tracked, erased, or destroyed (as demonstrated when Ria tried to do it). After this revelation, none of the protagonists even try to destroy the King; they just choose to outlast its games for as long as possible until they eventually cease.
- Kissing Cousins: Kazunari and Natsuko in Kigen are first cousins that are in love and plan on getting married.
- Late-Arrival Spoiler: For those watching The Animation, the story begins right as Nobuaki has flashbacks about Chiemi becoming the last one to die in his old class.
- Last Survivor Suicide: In Shuukyoku's ending, after Natsuko killed Nobuaki with her last strength, Riona, being the only person alive, took his body to the sea and drowned herself.
- Major Injury Underreaction: Ria gets immolated and she doesn't even bat an eye, saying it's nothing compared to the sexual torture she had at her father's feet. She has enough breath to make a speech, take off her clothes, decide to jump off a cliff, and everything!
- Missing Mom: Chiemi's mother disappeared when she was one.
- The manga makes it seem it is because her mother is Natsuko Honda and that she died while investigating the King's Game, the ending of Kigen reveals she left to raise her twin sister separately after her father hit her, as she was named after his first love who died during the original King's Game and she was a painful reminder of what happened.
- Mood Whiplash: The tone of the series flip flops all the time. One moment a guy can cut another guy's hair to stall for time, and the very next moment said guy breaks his hands to take down Natsuko.
- Morton's Fork: Poor Daisuke gets stuck with a particularly nasty one: hang himself and die, or hang himself for failing.
- I Never Got Any Letters: Occasionally. In the original King's Game and Shuukyoku, Nobuaki and his class received immediate notifications of the orders through text messages; in Kigen, which is set thirty years prior, the citizens of Yonaki Village received their orders through letters, as instant messaging wasn't invented yet, meaning the villagers would find their orders at different times instead of routinely at midnight.
- Nice Guy: Kazunari, Nobuaki as well.
- Official Couple: Nobuaki and Chiemi in the first book.
- One-Steve Limit: Subverted with the Toshiyukis. Natsuko Honda of Shuukyoku also has the exact same name as Natsuko Honda from Kigen, Kazunari's first love and her namesake.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: The film version boils down the story to its base elements, including taking out the origin of the King's Game.
- Prequel: Kigen, which covers the game played by Yonaki Village.
- Put on a Bus: Ryuuji in Kigen goes over ten chapters without speaking, justified as he was severely stung by giant hornets early in the manga and his face was swollen to the point where he could not speak and had little screentime until he recovered.
- Ret-Gone: In the movie, those who die in the King's Game are subject to this. A rather chilling moment occurs when the teacher addresses a half empty classroom and sees nothing wrong with this. And another scene where two bystanders notice one of the failing participant dying but after the participant disappearing, the bystanders walks by as if it's nothing.
- The Reveal: Chiemi and Natsuko are twin sisters, and Kazunari of Kigen is their father.
- Ria reveals that Chiemi's mother was the doctor investigating the game in Yonaki-Mura, and the one behind the game entirely. Kigen clarifies that she's actually Kazunari's child and he is potentially the reason for the resurfacing of the game.
- Sanity Slippage: Too many examples to count, but as the game goes on, more and more participants slowly lose their connection to life and reason.
- Shipper on Deck: Naoya is Nobuaki and Chiemi's biggest supporter. Contrasted in Kigen, where Kazunari and Natsuko's relationship is shunned by the others in the village.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Whoever's sending out the texts certainly has a bleak sense of humor. The usual punishment for death gets switched around whenever they feel like it; a prime example is Kana getting a completely harmless punishment (confessing to the person she likes) the second after she jumps out the window, then giving the next king punishment by death 30 minutes before midnight when she dies of her injuries.
- Shrinking Violet: Of sorts. In the beginning of Shuukyoku, Nobuaki is so traumatized from his experiences of the last King's Game that he has crawled inside of a shell, is very reluctant to bond with his class, and overall nothing like the lively, friendly kid he was introduced and depicted as in his first game. However, when the King's Game starts up again, he becomes a Determinator to end the game once and for all this time.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The ending to Shuukyoku/the anime. After everything Nobuaki and his new classmates go through, the final few survivors realize that they all must die in order to stop the King's Game. So Riona, the Final Girl, commits suicide. ...And then a new Game starts anyway.
- Spoiler Opening:
- The anime's opening depicts Naoya, Ria, Nami, and Chiemi all screaming as they're enveloped and eventually swallowed up by dark tendrils, foreshadowing their deaths by the end of Nobuaki's flashback arc.
- It's easy to miss, but the same opening also shows two entire class photos with X's being scribbled over the heads of all but one classmate, foreshadowing the reveal that only one person can survive the King's Game.
- Suicide Dare: When Shouta gets to be King, the first thing he does is dare Daisuke to hang himself and die. Like a good chunk of people who do this in fiction, he didn't actually want to make Daisuke actually kill himself, and he's notably distraught after hearing the news about the order.
- Too Dumb to Live: A depressingly large number of people try to block the King's texts, even though the rules state that anyone who tries to quit will be punished.
- Nami gets a surprisingly easy order of giving any order to herself. She decides her order will be "Find the king" since she was sure that King's must be someone from their class. It went as well as you might think.
- The entire cast can be considered too dumb to live. It's that type of show.
- Tragic Keepsake: Nobuaki wears Daisuke's bracelet after his death.
- Whole Episode Flashback: In King's Game: The Animation, the original King's Game is told right after the events of Shuukyouku begin to kick off. We don't even hear about what happens in the current session much because the anime spends five episodes (of a twelve episode series) on the first game.
- Your Mind Makes It Real: The King's Game is actually a computer virus that controls people with hypnotic suggestion. The more people think about and believe in the power of the game, the stronger it becomes. Eventually, its hypnotic powers become so strong as to be able to cause spontaneous combustion. How on earth the human body can completely destroy itself and set itself on fire through something a vague as hypnosis is unknown.
- Yandere: Michiko. And as we later learn, Natsuko.