Squid Game has been one of the most talked-about series on Netflix. The South Korean survival thriller dominated Netflix charts last year, becoming the first-ever Korean drama to hit #1 in Netflix U.S. and in October 2021, it has become Netflix's biggest debut hit, surpassing Bridgerton, by reaching more than 625 million hours watched.
Thanks to its popularity, there's also one Netflix original that's also getting more buzz thanks to its similarities with Squid Game, and that's the Japanese survival series Alice in Borderland.
Written and directed by Shinsuke based on the original graphic of the same title by Haro Aso, Alice in Borderland premiered on Netflix in December 2020, and while the Japanese series was able to rack up significant views on the streaming service, it didn't get as much attention and praise as the more recently-released Squid Game. However, it's easy to compare the two shows because of their focus on death games, Asian cast members, and emotional scenes that have shocked fans around the world.
Table of Contents
- The Protagonists - Which series had a more interesting lead?
- The Games - Which series had more exciting games?
- The Visual Style / Set Design - Which show looks better overall?
- Supporting Characters - Which show has more interesting characters overall?
- Story (So far) - Which series had a more compelling story?
Now, fans on social media are debating which series is better: Alice in Borderland or Squid Game? While they're both good in their own way, some argue that one of them is ultimately better, so let's take a let's take a dive and see which show is better based on their first seasons alone, and decide based on a score system.
The Protagonists - Which series had a more interesting lead?
In Alice in Borderland, the videogame-obsessed Ryōhei Arisu (played by Kento Yamazaki) somehow ends up in the mysterious Borderland where people are forced to play dangerous games to have their "visas" extended, and as long as their "visas" are good, they get to live. Unlike Squid Game's Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-Jae), who chooses to participate in the deadly games in an unknown island twice, Arisu and his friends are just three of the unfortunate people who arrive in the Borderland, and they have no option to escape while Gi-hun and the remaining competitors have the choice to quit or return as long as the majority agreed.
Being an avid gamer, Arisu cleverly uses his deep logic and game sense to solve the mysteries and puzzles so he and his friends could complete and survive the games, and it's satisying to see how he is able to find solutions with his intelligence.
While Gi-hun doesn't have the intellectual prowess that Arisu has, the Squid Game lead is more relateable to the viewers. The divorced persistent gambler needs money to gain custody of his daughter will remind you of Adam Sandler's Howard Ratner from Uncut Gems. His character is more flawed, more realistic compared to Arisu even though he's not as likeable.
While each lead is interesting in their own way, Squid Game's protagonist had more character development than Arisu, largely thanks to Lee Jung-Jae's stellar acting. Alice in Borderland also had emotionally intense moments that highligted Yamazaki's skill as an actor, but often his character felt flat sometimes - which is typical for someone based on a Japanese anime or manga series. So, Squid Game gets a point here.
Alice in Borderland - 0
Squid Game - 1
Update:Some of my readers made a great point about Arisu's character development - how he finds the will to live after his friends' deaths, but I still don't think Alice in Borderland's protagonist is as fleshed out as Gihun in Squid Game.
The Games - Which series had more exciting games?
Named after traditional playing cards, Alice in Borderland's games use more advanced technology and have more unique environments compared to Squid Game's simple children games. Squid Game writer/director Hwang Dong-hyuk explained that the reason he deliberately chose children's games is that they are relatable and easy to understand, which allows him to focus more on the characters than explaining the rules of the games.
There's also something amusing about how the show turns innocent children's games into something horrifying. In Red Light, Green Light, the huge robot is modeled after a girl from children's textbooks making the scene all the more shocking as childhood fun transforms into a desperate fight for survival. The Fall Guys-like setup of most of the games look exciting, but two of the games (Red Light, Green Light and Glass Bridge) games have been accused of plagiarizing the Japanese filmAs the Gods Will.
With that being said, Alice in Borderland's games are more original and complex. Despite their more sophisticated rules, most of them are not difficult to understand. For instance, the second game of Alice in Borderland, Five of Spades (which I think, is the best game of the Netflix series), takes place in an apartment complex, and all the competitors have to do is survive the killer tagger while they try to find the buttons to deactivate the bomb before the time runs out. There's a lot of excitement, and you can see the individual talents of key characters shine in this game as Arisu is able to use his brains to find the bomb while Yuzuha Usagi's parkour skills allow her to move around different levels of the apartment complex with ease.
Overall, Alice in Borderland's games have more intense action, puzzles, and exciting twists that the children's games in Squid Game can't offer. The sixth and final game called Squid Game looks like a simple game of two people just killing each other, and it looks like they just forced the game's actual rules to make it look like it's based on a children's game. As they wait for the next game to begin in a huge warehouse, competitors in Squid Game are allowed to kill each other without any rules at all. Alice in Borderland also has similar moments when Arisu and friends reach the beach and finds dead bodies, but the characters also have more freedom to choose which game they want to participate during nightfall as long as their "visas" are not close to expiring. The Bordeland is a world of its own, with its power hierarchy and society established at the Beach, a paradise-like spot in the middle of Borderland's dark and dystopian world founded by the Hatter (Nobuaki Kaneko), Takeru Danma.
Alice in Borderland's games' system that rewards playing cards to winners is also more intriguing; Combine that with themes of Lewis Caroll's Alice in Wonderland, and you have an exciting survival mystery that children's games alone can't offer. So Alice in Wonderland clearly wins this one.
Alice in Borderland - 1
Squid Game - 1
The Visual Style / Set Design - Which show looks better overall?
Both Alice in Borderland and Squid Game have their own mysterious little worlds where the games are organized, but in reality, the actors are surrounded by blue screens that give viewers the illusion that the actors are in a totally different environment.
Without giving away major spoilers from the original graphic novel, Alice in Borderland is set in a darker, dystopian version of Tokyo, and while there's a post-apocalyptic feel to the show's envrionments, there's also the more utopian Beach where people are partying and indulging in whatever vices they distract themselves with. Since it takes place in a secluded island, Squid Game's arena is smaller, more compact, but the stages where the games take place are mostly more memorable than Alice in Borderland's urban settings, and that's largely because the "playgrounds" in Squid Game bring a sense of childhood nostalgia.
Just take a look at this:
And the set of the marble scene gives a sense of childhood and death at the same time.
While Alice in Borderland's world is bigger in terms of area, Squid Game's little island has more eye-candy visuals we'll never forget. The guards with the iconic masks and red jumpsuits also add to overall design of the show.
Hands down, Squid Game wins this category.
Alice in Borderland - 1
Squid Game - 2
Supporting Characters - Which show has more interesting characters overall?
While the competitors of Alice in Borderland come from all walks of life, the organizers of Squid Game's competition hand-pick people who have huge debts and are struggling in the real world. They are also more relatable compared to Alice in Borderland's characters based on Haro Aso's graphic novel, but in this case, the mundane and more realistic are not better than Alice's badass and cool characters.
Alice in Borderland features a roster of likeable characters, including Shuntarō Chishiya (played by Nijirō Murakami), who is arguably the most badass character from a live-action anime adaptation ever (Sorry, L from Netflix's Death Note!). From the first moment he appeared on screen, Chisiya is just a presence to be reckon with even though he's physically not the strongest player. His partner-in-crime, the sexy Hikari Kuina (Aya Asahina) is also a pleasure to watch with her tropical-colored swimsuit, especially in her spectacular fight scene.
Let's not forget the exciting action scenes with Yuzuha Usagi (Tao Tsuchiya). Alice in Borderland certainly has stronger female characters. Ann Rizuna (Ayaka Miyoshi), a member of the Beach who attempts to win difficult games through rational thinking, is also interesting.
Squid Game doesn't just lack the girl power Alice in Borderland has, it also lacks distinguishable characters - allies or villains - despite the show having a stronger protgaonist. Alice in Borderland has the Hatter, the strong figther and Hatter's bestfriend Aguni Morizono (Sho Aoyagi), and the mysterious Mira Kano (Riisa Nako). Every character in the Borderland brings something unique to the story.
Without a question, Alice in Borderland wins in this department.
Alice in Borderland - 2
Squid Game - 2
Story (So far) - Which series had a more compelling story?
For the final round of the Alice in Borderland vs. Squid Game battle, we will take a closer look at both their stories based on their first seasons alone since their sequels haven't been released yet. Although the two shows have clear differences, they have a similar premise. Both protagonists are caught in a survival contest, and they meet other competitors trying to survive while trying to figure out the mystery behind it.
Much of the focus of Squid Game's story is on the protagonist, Gi-Hun, and in the first episode, we see his struggle as a gambling-obsessed father living in his mother's house and drowning in debts. Despite his flaws, it's easy to symphatize with him because we see the main reason why he's motivated to get money: his daughter. Of course, he also wants to pay off his debts, and have the money to pay for his mother's medical bills after discovering that she is suffering from diabetes.
Because of Gi-hun's mission to survive and win , we feel the stakes in the deadly competition. We want to see him win the ultimate prize of ₩45.6 billion (US$38.7 million) and gain custody of his daughter. Alice in Borderland's Arisu? Not so much. We don't even know the ultimate prize of Alice in Borderland's games. Arisu's mission is just to survive and somehow escape the mysterious Borderland, but why should we care? Everyone else in the game are trying to do that. Why should he return to the real world? The stakes just don't seem as high as Gi-hun's.
Sure, both protagonists suffer traumatizing experiences in their most-heartbreaking games: Alice in Borderland's Seven of Hearts game and Squid Games' fourth game, marbles. Arisu is devastated losing his best friends, Chōta Segawa and Daikichi Karube, and you can feel Arisu's pain as he cries in anguish. Episode 6 of Squid Game sees competitors team-up in twos, and each pair are forced to play a marble game of their choice until they take all ten marbles from the other person, and the loser would be killed. Unfortunately, the key characters we care about are paired-up, so there's a lot of sadness either way, not just from Gi-hun's perspective, and when one person from each of those pairs lose, we could feel the sorrow.
Thanks to the powerful performance by Lee Jung-jae and Oh Il-nam actor O Yeong-su, this scene makes us cry, but it was beautifully made. It also makes us hate Cho Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo) after he heartlessly fooled the family man who deserves better, Abdul Ali (Anupam Tripathi), and later on, he becomes more hated when he pushed the glass expert guy in order to win the game, and more so when he stabbed the already-bleeding Kang Sae-byeok (Jung Ho-yeon) before his final game with Gi-hun.
Compare that conflict to Alice in Borderland's scenes at the Beach, where the final game of Season 1 sees all the residents trying to hunt down the "witch" but end up turning into a chaotic mess full of blood bath and awesome fight scenes (Thanks, Chisiya and Kuina!). There's clearly more fun action and spectacle in the climax of Alice in Borderland, but it also feels less personal than the final episode of Squid Game. As expected from a series based on a Japanese graphic novel, there are cool scenes that you don't typically see in a more realistic action film, and some people prefer that, but overall, Squid Game's story is just more believable, and the protagonist and some of the "antagonists" are more developed than the corny villains of Alice in Borderland.
Squid Game also has an interesting subplot that follows detective Hwang Jun-ho (Wi Ha-joon) infiltrating the mysterious facility in a mission to find out what happened to his missing brother and gather evidence against the organizers of the deadly survival games. His point-of-view spices up the entire story of Squid Games as we got to see more things going on behind the games, including how the disgusting VIPs place their bets and spectate the twisted competition.
Sadly, there's no James Bond-esque journey in Alice in Borderland, but its plot takes an interesting turn towards the end, when Arisu and Usagi discovered that the "witch" in the final game was not an actual player but one of the "dealers" forced to sabotage games in exchange for "visas". They use Momoka's phone as evidence to locate an underground control room, but they are shocked to discover that the people who they believed to be as the gamemasters had been killed.
While Alice in Borderland's mystery about the gamemasters is definitely more intriguing than the identity of the Front Man and the real mastermind behind the survival games of Squid Game, it's not enough to make us care the fate of Arisu and the rest of the characters, but we're still excited to see them play the remaining games in Season 2.
The final Squid Game showdown between Gi-hun and Sung-woo is not as exciting to watch as everything going on during the Ten of Hearts game at the Beach, and I'm sure many would agree that it's the worst game out of the six, but the aftermath of the final battle shows how the games have changed Gi-hun's life, and the plot twist in the end is a more satisfying revelation than Alice in Borderland's Queen of Hearts reveal in the Season 1 finale.
While several fans criticized the ending of Squid Game because of Gi-hun's decision to turn around from his plan to reunite with his daughter, it seems necessary to open the possibility for a sequel, and with the Front Man still alive and the survival games still being organized with a new group of people, the story still has a lot of questions unanswered such as the origins of the games, and whether or not Hwang Jun-ho is still alive after being shot by his own brother.
At their stories' core, both Alice in Borderland and Squid Game are about how people are trying to survive the death games, and how these games have changed them, but it's clear that there's so much more depth to Squid Game's story than Alice's.
Just like Bong Joon-ho's Academy Winner Parasite, Squid Game explores themes of the haves and the have-nots, and themes of people on the fringe rising up against their masters. The competitors are taunted by a giant clear piggy bank that hangs over the warehouse where they are being kept, and the prize money inside it is on display to motivate them to continue risking their lives. The test for human nature makes for compelling characters, and that makes Squid Game such a well-crafted show.
Alice in Borderland's story is more plot-driven, more games-centric; there is no giant piggy bank or prize money, just a quest to survive and escape the mysterious Borderland. It's escapism loaded with entertainment, but Squid Game's story packs more depth, so the South Korean series wins this one.
Alice in Borderland - 2
Squid Game - 3 (WINNER!)
There you go, Squid Game ultimately wins this match, so the show is better...for now. Alice in Borderland still has a second season already in development, and although Netflix hasn't officially confirmed a sequel for Squid Game yet, there's a strong chance that the streamer will greenlight it given the show's massive international popularity. Series creator Hwang Dong-hyuk confirmed he already started planning for Season 2.
In January 2022, Netflix officially greenlit Squid Game for a second season, so we'll compare these two shows again when their new seasons come out.
So for now, Squid Game is better overall, but they're both great in their own way. Let me know what you think by replying in my tweet: