The basic plot of each of the games in the series is "some sort of 'incident' is happening" that the playable characters decide to investigate for one reason or another. "Incidents" can range from events such as a red mist blocking the sun (Touhou 6 ~ Embodiment of Scarlet Devil) or investigating an unidentified flying object (Touhou 12 ~ Undefined Fantastic Object) and are usually caused by at least one of the youkai in Gensokyo.

There are over 100 characters in Touhou, but less than 10 are playable in the main games. Each playable character typically has around two or three different play-style choices that differ in power, spread, and bomb type.

Protagonists
Reimu Hakurei Name: Reimu Hakurei
Appearances: Playable for all games
Abilities: Float (including floating out of reality), Aura Manipulation, Powers as the Shrine Maiden of Hakurei
An extremely talented but extremely lazy shrine maiden. Straightforward and optimistic. She maintains the border between Gensokyo and the real world and exterminates youkai. She treats everyone- youkai and human- the same, so despite being well-liked by both youkai for this attitude, she is alone at heart. The strongest in Gensokyo.
Marisa Kirisame Name: Marisa Kirisame
Appearances: First appearance: Stage 4 Boss of Touhou 2 ~ Story of Eastern Wonderland; Playable for every game afterwards
Abilities: Using magic (specializes in light and heat)
A hard-worker, she holds the title of "Gensokyo's Second Strongest" with pride. Informal and a bit condescending. A habitual liar and known thief. Lives in the youkai-infested Forest of Magic. Known for her trademark "Love Sign: Master Spark" in which she fires a huge beam. Speaks with a very distinct, boyish speech tone.
Recurring Playable Characters
Sakuya Izayoi Name: Sakuya Izayoi
Appearances: First appearance: Stage 5 Boss of Touhou 6 ~ Embodiment of Scarlet Devil; Playable for TH 7, TH 8, TH 9, TH 14
Abilities: Time Manipulation, Proficiency with knives
An elegant maid of unknown origins and age. She is the head maid of the Scarlet Devil Mansion and is its only human occupant. Very polite and calm, although it is best not to anger her. Many of her spellcards allude to serial killers. "Sakuya Izayoi" is a name given to her by her master, Remilia Scarlet.
Youmu Konpaku Name: Youmu Konpaku
Appearances: First appearance: Stage 5 Boss of Touhou 7 ~ Perfect Cherry Blossom; Playable for TH 8, TH 9, TH 13
Abilities: Proficient with swords
The half-human, half-phantom fencing instructor/gardener Hakugyokurou in the Netherworld. The white phantom next to her is her half-phantom side. Dilligent but easily manipulated and tends to fail in her tasks. Carries around a katana ("Roukanken") and a shorter sword ("Hakurouken"). Ironically afraid of ghosts.
Sanae Kochiya Name: Sanae Kochiya
Appearances: First appearance: Stage 5 Boss of Touhou 10 ~ Mountain of Faith; Playable for TH 12, TH 13
Abilities: Can cause miracles to occur
Although she is human, she is the distant descendant of the goddess Suwako Moriya. She is the shrine maiden of the Moriya Shrine and lives with its resident goddesses, Kanako Yasaka and Suwako Moriya. Energetic and dutiful, but gets carried away easily. Grew up in the Outside World but is adjusting well to Gensokyo.

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