A Deviation – Let’s Talk Manhwa

Now, I know there’s a ton of people in the ani-blogging and manga-blogging but it’s pretty rare to see people talk about Manhwa.

Now, some of you might genuinely be thinking; what the f*** is Manhwa. Manhwa is the general term for printed comics in South Korea, although they are also produced in North Korea. This type of comic is largely under represented internationally if it ever gets picked up, and when it does the comic publishers rarely make the distinction from manga. Typically, and unfortunately manhwa tends to under perform abroad as well since even Koreans prefer manga to manhwa.

Another factor in manhwa’s under performance on the global stage is how quickly it got usurped by web toons. Webtoons being those nifty little comics I’ve talked about here and here. In Korea, these are incredibly popular even given that they’re short form is easier to keep up with, and that they get picked up to have drama adaptations and movies all the time. While there are a select few manhwa that have been adapted to films or dramas; even the fans themselves usually assume it’s a web toon verses a manhwa.

Which leads into a huge problem actually. The printed manwha industry is rapidly declining since well, manga and web toons are so popular. In fact, in order to breathe some life into the printed industry a lot of manhwa companies actually print web toons now as well. To the point where even my anime list registered the titles as manwha and the top 5 of 10 most popular titles, that I am aware of, are actually web toons printed formally by a manwha company…

So, why am I even talking about them? My blog is suppose to follow Japanese pop culture, not Korean parts. Well I for one am doing this to somewhat formally renounce my elitism of manga > manhwa which crops up as a discourse every once in awhile.  I tend to like Japanese popular media more then Korean popular media, but diversity is important. It helps keep everyone on their toes, and helps me shake up my blog content when I run into a wall. And in my review of my animelist page I’ve read exactly four over my many years of reading manga. So I’m here to drop a few a recommendations and offer some positives on manhwa.

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Title: Model (모델)

By: Lee, So Young

Available in English? Yes, originally printed by Tokyopop but is now out of print.

Story: Jae is a Korean student studying painting in Europe. She’s in a bit of a slump, but willing to tough it out. Her friend Melissa, ends up asking if she can bring a drunk man, Michael, to the apartment to stay the night. Jae begrudgingly agrees only to have a dream that Michael is drinking her blood which… isn’t quite the dream she thought it was.

Worth Reading: Honestly, it’s been so long I have no idea. I remember my friend desperately recommending it to me and saying it was good and my library had the whole series so I just read it. It certainly wasn’t that bad, but if romance and vampires aren’t your think I’d skip.

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However, the art style is genuinely in my opinion, incredibly unique. Unlike shoujo manga, you can’t mistake Model for any other series out there at the moment. If art is your main draw (hell yes puns), I would give it a go.

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Title: Jack Frost (잭 프로스트)

By: Go Jin-hoh

Available in English? Yes, Yen Press has published the whole series.

Story: Noh-A begins attending Amityville High School, and her reception is a bit odd considering she just died. She immediately realizes that she is caught in the cross fire of something beyond death and even super natural in nature. However, it appears her only ally in all of this is the incredibly cruel Jack Frost himself!

Worth Reading: Meh. I read this series purposefully since it was Manhwa not manga and was kinda… bored with it. Maybe I was burnt out from other shonen manga, but I found the plot pretty standard and the action alright at best, and just… no ommph to it.

However, it does have a well paced plot so you aren’t into reading a million tournament arches or same villain clashes five times in a row. The art style, again it a big draw since it’s really different from the current shonen style that’s popular in Japan. If you’re a big fan of shonen style stories, with some supernatural elements thrown in there this might be the manwha to start with.

Title: Teen Spirit (틴 스피릿)

By: Kim Jae-Eun

Available in English: Not Officially

Story: Hwee Kang is a pretty boy in a band and recruited by the label JBL to debut as a full fledged band. However, there’s some other pretty stiff competition within the company and outside of it, as well as some growth Hwee Kang needs to go through first.

Worth Reading: If you want your heart broken, of course. Unfortunately, Kim Jae-Eun passed away from cancer in 2011. Teen Spirit is considered ‘finished’ since she did not leave any direction for the story after her passing. However, Teen Spirit is the first manhwa I consider myself having been fully invested in. It was the right combo of art, plot, characters and pacing.

If the unfinished nature of the story is a turn off, still give it a go. To me, this series more then makes up for what my other comments about previous manhwa defaults. Should Teen Spirit have had the opportunity to finish by all means it would have been as popular as manga for sure.

Title: The Color of Earth (황토빛이야기)

By: Kim Dong Hwa

Available in English: Yes, published by Viz Media under their signature collection.

Story: The story is about the daily lives of Ewha, and her mother. Both are close and often talk of the beauty of small town life and flowers. We follow Ewha as she grows and becomes a young woman. In a unique twist, we watch her mother end up falling in love for a second time.

Worth Reading: Yes. A thousand times yes. The plot is nothing revolutionary and the art falls into the more simplistic styles. It really reminded me of early Osamu Tezuka, and that’s not a bad thing. If you love slice of life and watching a character literally grow before your eyes this is for you.

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Come ON, you have to give something like this a shot.

If you’re worried about action: it’s there. It’s not the main theme, but it certain exists in this series. The pacing is a little slow but there are appropriate leaps and bounds in the timeline when needed.

So there’s a bit of an info dump, a few recommendations and a bit more about manhwa for everyone looking to shake up their reading habits for now. Drop a comment if you learned something, I got you curious, or you have a manhwa recommendation for me!


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