Overview

Manwha Revolution!

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One of the more daunting things a newcomer to manga has to face is the prospect of having to read their manga backwards. Let’s face it, there’s nothing quite like picking up a book and realizing that you have no idea how to read it. (As an aside, both Tokyopop and Viz provide “How to read this book” charts at the back of the book…but if you’re going to spend the first half of the book concentrating on reading it correctly and the writer keeps breaking the rules, that won’t help you very much.) When you combine reading backwards with the often radically different storytelling style, reading manga can be very scary for a newcomer. This is why it’s a good thing that there’s this little recognized genre known as manwha

Just as “manga” is Japanese comics, “manwha” is Korean comics. Unlike manga, manwha is printed left-to-right, like US books, making them much easier to read. In fact, three of the first five “mangas” that I read were actually manwha. This was purely by accident, brought on by the fact that, of the manga I saw that looked interesting, those were the ones I actually knew how to read.

Like manga, manwha covers a wide variety of plots but unlike manga, the manwha that is printed in the US seems to have a higher percentage of better quality titles than manga does. While it’s possible that the comics that come out of Korea are of an overall better quality than the ones that come out of Japan, I tend to think that it actually has more to do with publishers being more selective about the manwha they publish than they are about what manga they publish. Publishers have a bad habit, which they do seem to be recovering from, of printing whatever manga they can get a hold of, regardless of the quality. Between anime (it seems nine out of ten mangas get made into an anime, and then one or both is quickly exported to the US) and the tendency to publish ever title publishers can get a hold of when a genre has a little success, the market is positively glutted with manga. There’s maybe one manwha that’s reprinted to every ten to fifteen manga and I don’t know that any of the manwha I’ve read has been made into a cartoon. As a result, there’s also more of a notable difference in art styles among manwha than there seems to be among manga, or at least, what’s noticeable. Regardless, if I were to break it down into purely percentages, instead of the number of titles I’ve read and loved, I would most likely find that manwha would win out over manga.

The following are a few manwha titles that I’ve found to be particularly good.

Priest: A horror story set in the old west (the American one), this is the story of Ivan Isaacs, a young priest who discovered ancient secrets about the fall of the angels, resulting in the death of his love, Gina and Ivan selling his own soul to a fallen angel, Belial, for a chance at revenge. Ivan now seeks to destroy the rebel angels and to destroy the plague of zombies that have been unleashed. Playing a close second to Ivan is Lizzie, the daughter of an outlaw who took over her father’s gang after his death. Lizzie is the sole survivor of a zombie attack who has been infected with the zombie plague, making her both Ivan’s ally and his prey. Priest spans from the crusades, where the original players are put into place to the present day, where the records of the events are found and possibly the final act played out, with most of the action taking place in the old west. Artistically, Priest is very different from most manga and manwha, its art being closer to what we tend to think of as being “dark and gritty” than manga. The blacks in Priest are heavy but very effective, with only a few minor exceptions. My one complaint with the title is that there are several long battle scenes where the only words on the page are sound effects which make for some very, very quick reading for a few volumes.

Faeries Landing: I’ve heard this book described as “*expletive* great” and “*expletive hilarious,” and, while those aren’t the words I’d choose to describe it, I completely agree with the sentiment. This is the story of Ryang, a pretty normal teenaged guy, if a bit of a delinquent, who helps a strange, deerlike man—one Goodfellow by name—escape from the police. As a reward, Goodfellow takes him to spy on three beautiful girls who are, in reality, faeries. They’re discovered, naturally, and in the ensuing chaos, Ryang accidentally rips the dress of Fanta, the youngest of the faeries. Unfortunately, Fanta can’t return to Avalon without her magical robes and, as Ryang is responsible for her plight, she’s left in his care. (Shh! don’t tell Ryang but Goodfellow actually orchestrated the whole thing to help Fanta fulfill her dream of living on earth, at least for a while.) Unfortunately for Ryang, Fanta is the Faery of Affinities and by inextricably tying their fates together, Ryang is now destined to have 108 doomed relationships. Also, thanks to the machinations of Fanta’s rival, Medea they’re all destined to be evil affinities. In other words, if the girl has a boyfriend or even a guy who likes her, she’ll become obsessed with Ryang, while the other guy will become murderously jealous of him. (Eep!) Of course, thanks to her own meddling, Medea is sentenced to help Fanta fix her mess…though she may not really be all that great a help… Sound a bit kooky? Well, it is, but only in the best way imaginable. The relationship between Fanta and Ryang, a backburner to the story at times, is better developed and more realistic than what you’ll find in many mangas that focus on the “teens falling for each other” aspect of their books. The series is based on the Korean fairy tale, “The Fairy and the Woodcutter” which is rather humorously recounted in one of the volumes, with Ryang and Fanta acting out the title roles, though western readers might connect it more easily to the Scottish Selkie Legends.

Threads of Time: While only two volumes of this series have been released so far, it’s definitely worth mentioning. This is the story of Moon Bin Kim, a modern day high school student who dreams that he lived a past life as Sa Kyung, the son of a prominent warrior and politician in the 13th century. The longer he dreams, the more he takes on the traits and abilities of Sa Keung, including his warrior’s training, until one day, he almost dies and finds himself trapped in the past. With only a pack of cigarettes as proof that his life in the future existed, elements of his life in the present begin to impose themselves on the past. Moon Bin Kim is left with the question of what is real. Is he a 13th century boy who dreamed he lived in the future, a 21st century boy who dreams of the past, or is he both, with himself and others being reincarnations of long dead people? Also, what role does Sa Kyung’s comatose sister, Sa Lum play in all this? Oh, and the Mongol horde is planning an invasion, too. The art is what I tend to think of as being “photorealistic manga.” That is, while it’s very clearly grown from the manga style, it has photorealistic elements to it, which has a very striking result. While the first volume is a bit confusing with all the time jumps that take place, the second volume is much easier to follow and almost completely linear.

Unfortunately, I have neither the time nor the space to cover as many manwha titles as I’d like. It was very difficult limiting myself to just three but there are several others that I want to be sure to at least mention.

Demon Diary: About the world’s nicest Demon Lord in training, Raenef, who acquires the wrong kinds of friends—such as priests and demon hunting knights—and his tutor, Eclipse, who has to protect him from his new “friends” and train the niceness out of him.

Les Bijoux: A fantasy story about a world divided into twelve kingdoms, or mines, whose legendary savior is actually two people, a man and a woman, who share a body (the male/female bodies switch places with the personalities.) This is very interesting with art similar to that of Threads of Time. Warning: some homoerotic elements are present, but they’re never actually acted upon.

Rebirth: A vampire who is resurrected after several centuries and sets out to learn the powers of light so that he can destroy the sorcerer who killed him. A bit video-gamey at the beginning but this is how vampires should be written: a ruthless SOB who isn’t necessarily good or evil, just there and determined to get what he wants.

A good listing of the manwha that’s available in the US can be found here: http://www.animeondvd.com/specials/manga/compcharts.php?view=manhwa. Mind you, these aren’t the only manwha I’ve read and my not listing a book doesn’t mean that it isn’t good, just that I had to limit myself or you’d be off reading a book right now.

- Megan B. Moore

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