The Investigation Plot

Summary: The Investigation Plot is a basically a typical detective/mystery procedural story but with a Japanese twist to heighten the drama. A standard of Japanese TV and manga storytelling for decades, it harkens back to the to pulp detective stories of the American 1920s and 30s, but can be found everywhere from 1980s Samurai and Ninja episodic period dramas like Yagyu Conspiracy and Kage no Gundan, Anime like Gatchaman and Sailor Moon, and Tokusatsu shows like Sentai (Power Rangers) and Kamen Rider.

Required Characters:

  • An Investigator
  • A virtuous Innocent
  • A Villain

Plot Structure


  • The Investigator is introduced along with their motivation for getting involved in investigations. (Usually that they are a detective or law enforcer of some kind, but they can be anyone really.)
  • The Investigator’s talents/abilities are introduced along with their strengths and weaknesses relevant to plot. (They can see ghosts, have superpowers, are a keen Investigator, etc)
  • The Investigator is put in a situation where they become involved in the story, often because of an Innocent who is caught up in some plot outside of their control.



  • The Investigator starts to investigate the plot and gets some form of lead to start their investigation.
  • The Investigator discovers the Villain’s plot already in motion, usually through the innocent caught up in it, but at best only has a vague sense that something is going on.



  • The Investigator encounters their first obstacle to finding the truth and overcomes it, but is left feeling no further ahead in their investigation, only having gained some small potential clues.
  • The Investigator encounters their second obstacle, which makes the plot seem to have a simple explanation after all.
  • The Investigator is thrown off the scent, sometimes thinking they found the truth they were looking for, sometimes having chosen the wrong suspect, sometimes having been imprisoned/trapped, and sometimes thinking they’ve won and given up.
  • A twist occurs, usually the Innocent discovering that the Investigator was wrong and the true Villain is revealed.



  • The Villain torments the Innocent.
  • The Investigator realizes their mistake and rushes to find the Innocent. (Optional)
  • The Investigator arrives in time to prevent the Villain from finishing off the Innocent.
  • The Investigator defeats the Villain
  • The Investigator is rewarded and the Villain receives punishment.



  • The main difference between this story structure and the one Americans typically use is the revelation of the “true” Villain near the end of the Event phase, there often having been a false or red-herring opponent prior who was just an underling. This is done to heighten the drama by setting up a situation where the hero is “gone,” the Innocent is in jeopardy, and the Villain is triumphant. Which is naturally followed by the Investigator showing up just in time to prevent the Villain from succeeding and save the day.
  • In many ways, this is the Righteous Avenger Plot from the hero’s point of view, whereas that plot follows the Innocent instead.
  • Often, in this plot, it is usually a race for the hero to solve the mystery in time to save the innocent. Can the hero uncover the truth in time to save the Innocent?
  • In superhero stories for younger children, the Innocent will be in danger of something bad happening to them when the hero shows up just in time to save them. In stories for teens and older children, the Innocent has often already been used by the Villain and turned into a monster (which the hero will have to fight) or is seemingly about to die due to injuries unless they receive immediate medical attention.
  • The Investigator’s realization of their mistake is sometimes done as a flashback after they arrive to help, or they explain how they got there as they confront the Villain. This lets the hero’s arrival seem even more uncertain, since the audience thinks the hero is on the wrong track and doesn’t know where they’re needed. In this case, there always needs to be some clue or event that allowed the hero to figure out the truth in time.
  • Sometimes the Investigator pretends to fail at the second obstacle to lure the Villain out.

For more on writing manga and anime plots, see my book Write! Shonen Manga. Available on Amazon and wherever online books are sold!

2 thoughts on “The Investigation Plot

Comments are closed.