So, I’m starting this entry with the full awareness that I know very little about Korean comics, and the truth is, I’m hoping it will lead to a flood of recommendations and information so that I can remedy that. Everything I say here will be based on the very small amount of manhwa I have read, almost all of which was provided by publishers and given to me to review at Manga Recon. I hadn’t really formed an opinion about manhwa as a whole, but as I was thinking about it recently, I realized that out of the five or so titles I’ve reviewed (most of them multiple volumes), I’ve liked all of them. This makes me want to know and read more.
Soyoung Jung, VP of NETCOMICS, has been quoted as saying that she considers manhwa to be more “poetic” than Japanese manga. I don’t have enough background to necessarily say the same, but I can speak to one genre and the titles I’ve read in it, and that would be boys’ love. Most of the manhwa I’ve reviewed so far has been BL manhwa (and by “most” I mean “three”): Let Dai and Totally Captivated, both from NETCOMICS, and One Thousand and One Nights from Yen Press. All of these are good-sized series (two of them complete at this time), and they definitely have some things in common.
First of all, they all tend to be pretty violent and somewhat melodramatic. This is obviously not the draw, though, as these are the two things (aside from bizarre female fantasy versions of gay men) I’m most likely to complain about in a BL review. So what is the draw? You know, they are all freakin’ epic. They are epic, plotty, multi-volume stories with complicated characters, and that’s the thing I want from comics in general that seems so hard to find in BL. I mean, even while these three Korean series are busy being melodramatic and violent, they are also getting really deep into the characters’ minds and hearts–all their strengths, weaknesses, and contradictions–great, small, ugly, beautiful–and that’s what makes these stories so compelling. It’s also what I’ve been missing in most of the Japanese BL I’ve read. Again, these observations are based on a pretty small sample of books, so there is no way I can claim any of it as Certifiably True, just true to my experience. And judging from my experience only, it wouldn’t be ridiculous to conclude that I like Korean BL more than Japanese BL, which I think I might, and indeed I might describe it as “more poetic.”
Of the other manhwa titles I’ve read so far, only one includes multiple volumes, and that is Yen Press’ series, Comic, which I talked about here. So far it has grabbed me a little less than the other manhwa series I’ve reviewed, but enough to happily anticipate the next volume.
So, what fantastic titles am I missing? There must be loads! What should I know about Korean comics that I’m not going to find out from wikipedia? Talk to me, friends! Teach me about manhwa!
telophase saysMarch 19, 2009 at 9:30 am
Antique Gift Shop, Dokebi Bride, and Bride of the Water God are three manhwa I’m enjoying right now.
Antique Gift Shop – Bun-Nyuh is from a shamanic family, but rejects all of that because all it did was drive her mother crazy and kill her. Her grandmother tells her that she’ll be free of all obligations if she sells off all the antiques the family owns, so Bun-Nyuh opens a shop. The mysterious Mr. Yang shows up to work as shop assistant. Overall it’s an anthology series as customers come into the shop and buy an object – either the right object or the wrong one for them – and we see what happens, although the metaplot involving Bun-Nyuh, Mr. Yang, and her shamanic obligations is never too far away.
Dokebi Bride – Part of the setup is similar to AGS – Sunbi is also from a shamanic family, and her mother was driven crazy and died because of it. In this case, Sunbi has come to live with her father and his wife and daughter, but she can still see demons and is tormented by them, while her new family is concerned that she might be mentally ill, as they think her mother was. Sunbi strikes a bargain with a dokebi, an ogre-like creature, for protection although he (often played for comic relief) thinks that means she’s going to marry him one day.
Bride of the Water God – Short on plot, but long on gorgeous art. :) Soah’s family sacrifices her to the Water God, Habaek, to end a drought, and she’s brought into his kingdom, his family, and his poisonous internal politics. Habaek appears to be a young boy but she never sees him at night, when a mysterious older stranger happens to be around. :)
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 19, 2009 at 9:39 am
Oh, thank you so much! Dokebi Bride sounds particularly interesting to me, but all three sound like things I’d like to try! Thank you!
telophase saysMarch 19, 2009 at 10:25 am
The protagonists of AGS and DB are both headstrong and rebellious, but act on it in different ways – Bun-Nyuh tends to be played for comedy, while Sunbi is more serious. OTOH, Bun-Nyuh is also older, in her hearly 20s, while Sunbi is still only 15 or 16.
I really need to dig out all my Dokebi Bride books and read them at once – they’ve been released so slowly that I forget all the details and foreshadowing, so each new book is a bit jarring in the direction the plot goes. Sunbi makes some choices that I tend to first think of as stupid, but when I think a bit deeper about her situation – that everyone else is convinced she’s mentally ill, while she knows she’s not and that if she allows them to treat her as if she is, she will die the same way her mother did. At least, that’s looking back at the plot from several months’ distance. :) The next one is coming out next month, supposedly, so maybe I ought to go searching for the previous ones now to get ready.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 19, 2009 at 10:40 am
You know, I sometimes have trouble keeping perspective on series that are released very slowly as well. And, okay, you’re making both of these sound really interesting now. :D
Michelle Smith saysMarch 19, 2009 at 9:44 am
I love this quote and fully agree:
“They are epic, plotty, multi-volume stories with complicated characters, and that’s the thing I want from comics in general that seems so hard to find in BL.”
There’s one other quasi-BL manhwa series at NETCOMICS that I really want to read and that’s Do Whatever You Want. It’s by the creator of U Don’t Know Me, but has a Teen rating. We’ve reviewed the first and final volumes at Manga Recon, and Connie has also reviewed all of them at Slightly Biased Manga. I believe she also really liked Land of Silver Rain.
DVD from DramaQueen is excellent but despite their claims that they would resume publishing soon, I think they’re still kind of dead in the water so I don’t have much hope that we’ll get the other six volumes. What I would LOVE is if the great license-rescuers, Yen Press, would step in and snag this one.
The Adventures of Young Det (NETCOMICS) is only two volumes so far, but it’s definitely poetic and is shaping up to be epic. The art is very, very lovely, too.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: one of the best things about writing for Manga Recon is that I got exposed to so much wonderful manhwa. My early exposure was to things like Demon Diary and Kiss Me Kill Me from TOKYOPOP, neither of which really caught my interest.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 19, 2009 at 9:51 am
I really want to read Do Whatever You Want, too! Actually, I accidentally started to read a little of it the other day, before I realized Connie had already reviewed it. And then I was really sad that I couldn’t continue. I’ll need to pony up the cash and pick that up for myself.
Thank you too for these other recs! I got interested in Young Det from your reviews as well.
You know, as far as Japanese BL goes, I’ve loved est em’s books a lot, but I really crave epic stories. That’s part of why I push Banana Fish so hard, even though it can’t rightly be described as BL.
Grace saysMarch 19, 2009 at 10:25 am
I don’t read manhwa, but if you’re looking for longer BL series in general, Kodaka Kazuma’s Kizuna and Shimizu Yuki’s Love Mode are ones that come to mind that I know are available officially in English. (I prefer Kodaka’s Kusatta Kyoushi no Hyouteishiki over Kizuna, but I don’t think it’s out in English, though I’m sure there are scanlations.) Ozaki Minami’s Zetsuai and Bronze are also classics.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 19, 2009 at 10:31 am
Grace, thank you for the recommendations! I’ve looked at Love Mode before, but wasn’t super-interested in the premise. I’ve never read ay of Kizuna, though, so I’ll check that out.
meganbmoore saysMarch 19, 2009 at 10:42 am
I strongly second telophase’s recs.
(more info on all under their tags at my lj)
ANGEL DIARY: The princess of heaven disguises herself as a boy and flees to Earth to avoid marrying the King of Hell! All sorts of cool genderbending and cuteness and supernatural hijinks.
HOTEL AFRICA: An anthology series about a small inn in Nevada in (I think) the 80s where people have lifechanging experiences. The narrator, Elvis-the son of a small town girl who ran off to Vegas and fell for a black Elvis impersonator-is about 3-4 in these flashbacks, and the story alternates between that and his current life, as he and his two best friends try to get their breaks in LA.
TAROT CAFE: A series slightly similar to xxxHolic in that it’s about Pamela, a woman who runs a small cafe, who is actually 1000 years old, and a fortuneteller. The stories of her customers tend to be fairy tale like and centered around some form of love, not always romantic, and reflect on Pamela’s own complicated relationship with Belus, another immortal. There’s also Aaron, the sweet and very beta werewolf boy who works for her.
Other manhwa that I’ve read a at least a bit of and enjoyed, and that can be found at my LJ:
Banya: The Explosive Deliveryman
Land of Silver Rain
Nabi: The Prototype (oneshot, or it’d be higher)
Very! Very! Sweet
Some that I’ve started recently but haven’t posted on yet:
Bring It On
Love or Money
You’re So Cool
The ones I have at least the first volume of, but haven’t read yet:
Chronicles of the Grim Peddler
Evyione: Ocean Fantasy
In the Starlight
Operation Liberate Men
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 19, 2009 at 10:45 am
Oh, wow, thank you for all these titles! Heh, I have volume four of Legend to review, and I’ve been sitting on it forever, because I haven’t found an affordable way of reading the first three volumes. Maybe I’ll look at your reviews for some insight.
Again, thank you! What a wonderful list!
meganbmoore saysMarch 19, 2009 at 10:50 am
Legend is fun, but not amazing yet. I’ll be getting Vol 4 when rightstuf have a sale on Yen again. It’s by the same creators as Angel Diary, but not as fun.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 19, 2009 at 10:51 am
If you want, I can send you mine once it’s been reviewed. I was going to trade it on MT anyway.
meganbmoore saysMarch 19, 2009 at 11:21 am
Sure! I never reject free manga.
BTW, did the Basara volume get there ok?
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 19, 2009 at 11:32 am
PM me your address on LJ, and it’s yours! :) And yes it did! I just suck at communication. :D Thank you again!
Anna saysMarch 19, 2009 at 11:23 am
I can’t believe nobody’s recommended Goong yet. Yen picked it up from IK and I think it’s really one of the series that I can reread numerous times.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 19, 2009 at 11:32 am
Oh, thank you! I will check it out!
Michelle Smith saysMarch 19, 2009 at 2:33 pm
Oh, duh! The fact that Kate Dacey loves this certainly recommends it highly. I have v4 to review, so will be catching up on 1-3 in the next couple of weeks.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 19, 2009 at 2:35 pm
Oh yeah, Kate’s recommendation does go a long way! I really look forward to hearing with you think too, though. I think our tastes tend to be very similar.
clare saysMarch 19, 2009 at 10:28 pm
Threads of Time is a pretty good historical-fiction series that I would recommend, though I haven’t kept up with it very well.
In the BL realm, I would recommend Not So Bad. It’s a short series (only a few volumes), but still very nice.
I’m not so good at writing reviews, but I hope that you will consider these recs anyway. :D
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 20, 2009 at 12:19 pm
Absolutely, and thank you very much!
Tammy Lee saysMarch 19, 2009 at 11:30 am
I recc Under The Glass Moon
If only the third volume would come out!
The art is amazing, the story is interesting, the characters made me laugh, and there is hilarious snark all the way through. The amazon reviews will probably tell you more.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 19, 2009 at 11:33 am
Thank you so much!
Danielle Leigh saysMarch 19, 2009 at 11:40 am
Bride of the Water-God is beautiful and a little plot-stupid. I don’t care, I love it anyway.
Click has a LOT of potential (i.e. early volumes are very good) but the series doesn’t really fulfill it. Too bad, the first volume was really interesting. (there’s a new — to me — take on gender-trouble in this series).
Goong — What if Korea had a monarchy? Melodrama-central. Awesomely over the top.
You’re So Cool — korean version of shojo with a number of cliches, yet I’m very fond of this title. sweet-BL subplot to main couple.
Very! Very! Sweet — the culture clash (between a Japanese-raised boy and korean girl) really makes this series. One of the few comics I’ve seen that actually deals with language barriers in a sensible way
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 19, 2009 at 11:42 am
Oh yay, thank you Danielle! These sound fantastic!
Michelle Smith saysMarch 19, 2009 at 2:34 pm
I love the way the language barrier is portrayed in Very! Very! Sweet. The gradual improvement of Tsuyoshi’s Korean skills is well done.
I also think Click is interesting. I’m planning to do a series review of it for Manga Recon at some point.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 19, 2009 at 2:36 pm
Oh, cool, I look forward to it!
Hee, I actually thought Very! Very! Sweet was the one on Danielle’s list that called out to me most. Hee.
Loolaa saysMarch 19, 2009 at 11:42 am
I highly recommend DVD by Kye Young Chon (Published by DramaQueen), if you can get your hands on it. I’ve only managed to get the first two volumes, but I really want to read more of it. It’s kind of weird. A real life drama thing revolving around the three main characters an odd interesting girl who meets two odd but interesting boys. It’s surreal with the main character Ddam hallucinating some weirdly cool stuff like a cow getting the bus and a talking squid plushie. The art is nice too, if a little stylised. The front covers are gorgeous though.
Afraid I can’t find any reviews other than these though: http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/reviews/manga-reviews/dvd-vols-1-2/
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 19, 2009 at 11:45 am
I will definitely try to find this, though of course I’m worried that it will never be continued. Perhaps, as Michelle mentioned above, Yen Press will come in and save the day!
Michelle Smith saysMarch 19, 2009 at 2:36 pm
I think I might send them an e-mail. :)
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 19, 2009 at 2:37 pm
You should! And you can point to my entry, and say, “Look everyone wants this!” :D
Michelle Smith saysMarch 19, 2009 at 2:41 pm
Oh, I already sent it before I came back here to look for follow-up comments. I basically told them everyone loved them for rescuing awesome things like Goong, One Thousand and One Nights, and Yotsuba&! and pointed to DVD as another excellent manhwa languishing in limbo.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 19, 2009 at 2:42 pm
Ah haha you are so crafty! :D And it’s true! We do love them!
Katherine Dacey saysMarch 21, 2009 at 9:31 am
Hi, Melinda! Lots of great recommendations here, from Goong and Bride of the Water God to Dokebi Bride and Shaman Warrior.
A few other manhwa that I’ve really enjoyed are Forest of Gray City (Yen Press/ICE Kunion), a two-volume series in a josei vein; Run, Bong-gu, Run! (NBM), a lovely, one-volume story about urban alienation; In the Starlight (NETCOMICS), a sci-fi series that owes an obvious debt to the Magnificent 49ers; Narration of Love at 17 (NETCOMICS), a four-volume coming-of-age story about the members of a high school drama club that manages to be surprisingly fresh and funny; and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter (Tokyopop), an anthology of short stories which is very uneven but contains some truly poetic moments. CPM also published several series that got off to a good start but were canceled; my two favorite are Platina (action/comedy) and Full House (dramedy/soap opera). Finally, you might look for Buja’s Diary (NBM), a collection of short stories that run the gamut from straightforward and didactic to experimental and abstract. The art is arrestingly good, even when the stories themselves are a little trite.
If you want to familiarize yourself with more series, check out Manhwa 100 (NETCOMICS). The prose is absolutely dreadful (it appears to have been run through Babelfish and published without further editing), but the pictures and plot descriptions will give you a broader perspective on the Korean comics scene.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 21, 2009 at 9:23 pm
Kate, wow, thank you so much! What wonderful-sounding recommendations! I really look forward to checking these out!
Julia saysMarch 23, 2009 at 11:44 pm
Hi! I’d suggest checking out Banhonsa. It’s not as instantly entertaining as some of the titles mentioned above, but it’s one of my favorite Korean titles—an alternately funny and creepy take on traditional Korean folklore, with totally gorgeous artwork.
(Full disclosure: I do some proofreading work for the group that scanlates this series… but I’d totally recommend it anyway.)
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 29, 2009 at 8:22 am
Julia, thank you so much for the recommendation! I will definitely check it out!
shimmy saysJuly 21, 2009 at 10:24 pm
hey melinda, just stumbled across your entry.
well, when I was in korea, I read Let Dai, Goong, Dokebi Bride,etc. very great titles, especially Let Dai. :]
it was very deep and complex more than manga to me, and it wasn’t very short and stale.
there was one title I did like- I read it from the same manhwa magazine the bride of the water god was released from- wink, I believe? It was called the summit- or climax… I forgot, haha. my korean is now a bit rusty. but I really did like it, the art was really great, believe me. I just loved the characters.
I did try searching for it on the internet- but I couldn’t find it, except for mangatrades. however, it was dropped, I think. so I’m unable to finish what I read (only up to vol 3 ><)
so that’s one recommendation. it is a bl, I warn you though :]
Melinda Beasi saysJuly 22, 2009 at 6:54 pm
I will see if I can find that manhwa anywhere! And no worries, I like Korean BL so I’m good with that. :D
noksu saysNovember 4, 2009 at 12:27 pm
The manhwa is called The Summit, by Lee Young Hee~ (the same author of You’re so cool)
I really really love it~!
Nazo saysOctober 23, 2009 at 6:07 pm
I would recommend 1/2 Prince
It’s similar to the .Hack franchise with “The World” but with some gender bending~ The Manhwa actually is based on the novel
Kazul saysApril 27, 2010 at 7:51 pm
Over a year later, but being as newly re-obsessed with manhwa as I am, I thought I may as well comment. Hope I’m not being a pain!
Anyways, I’d have to put in a rec for Bride of the Water God. The first volume’s pace is very sketchy, but I’m a sucker for mythology and the art is to die for. i can’t comment on the story because I just came off of a Goong binge, and pretty much everything else seems dull compared to that. XD
But all these recs are so great, it’s nice to see a following for manhwa!
Melinda Beasi saysApril 28, 2010 at 11:05 am
Hi there! Glad to see more people getting into manhwa! Be sure to check out my weekly column, Manhwa Monday! And welcome!