Tag Archives: manhwa

Antique Gift Shop Volume 1

The Antique Gift Shop, Volume 1 by Eun Lee

The Antique Gift Shop is a solid example of the “spooky shop” genre found so often in manga and manhwa, where a mysterious shopkeeper sells customers items that have mystical properties. The customers’ lives end up being changed dramatically due to their purchases. In a short story “The Summer Guest”, a man brings back an antique woven bamboo tube that was used in the past to cool houses. The androgynous shop employee informs the customer that there are no refunds, only exchanges and he asks him to consider taking “Madame Bamboo” back at some point in the future. Left in the shop again, the spirit of the object rages like a woman scorned. The next story “The Fox Lantern” shows a man and a woman rediscovering each other again after losing their memories. A handmade hairpin serves as a personal memento and the lantern sends dreams that could be reminders of the past or glimpses of a an alternate life. The concluding story “The Secret Garden” shows a high school friendship built on sharing a diary begin to unravel as each girl finds the need to keep her own secrets.

There’s a comedic element in Antique Gift Shop that isn’t usually present in the typical “spooky shop” book. While the long-haired Mr. Yang works in the shop and seems to have a unique connection to the antiques, the shop’s owner Bun-Nyuh appears to be a normal, slightly materialistic young woman who is more than a little bit annoyed at Mr. Yang’s lack of business sense. The art in Antique Gift Shop is pretty in a functional sort of way. I’m not seeing much of a unique style in Antique Gift Shop, but the items in the shop are rendered with great detail, and there’s plenty of attention paid to Mr. Yang’s billowing costumes. The first story in the collection had an arresting quality that wasn’t really maintained in some of the longer stories. I liked the emphasis on traditional Korean antiques a couple of the stories had, since I felt like I was reading some interesting cultural foot notes as opposed to reading about a more generic item. I’d definitely recommend Antique Gift Shop if you enjoy books in this particular genre.

Book won in twitter contest from the publisher.

There’s Something About Sunyool Volume 1

There’s Something about Sunyool, Volume 1 by Youngran Lee

This is an exceptionally silly manhwa, which can be both good and bad. It will be highly amusing to people who enjoy Cinderella stories and arranged marriages, and potentially annoying for people with a low tolerance of such plot devices. Fortunately I am the type to embrace silly manhwa, so I enjoyed the first volume of this series. Sunyool manages to be the classic poor heroine and rich enough for a same marriage at the same time because she was brought up by a single mother, then found out that she was the daughter of an important political figure. After her mother died, she went to live with her father and stepmother, and they now want her to go on blind dates to meet eligible bachelors.

Sunyool agrees and promptly makes a mockery of the whole process. She shows up in traditional Korean costume and announces that she has to wear a wig due to partial baldness to her first potential husband, the handsome heir to a powerful company. She verbally picks apart her second date. But she decides to marry Sihyun, bachelor #1 after all and they begin a strange platonic courtship after the wedding. There’s plenty of humor in this manga, as Sunyool’s unusually forthright way of expressing herself causes issues with the high society she’s forced to live in. Sunyool and Sihyun eventually turn into the most sickeningly sweet couple I have ever seen, down to wearing matching outfits and calling each other darling and honey.

Of course, such perfect love is not going to last and as the volume ends Sunyool is shown embarking on a new chapter of her life. Wherever she goes, she seems to be surrounded by beautiful men. The art in There’s Something about Sunyool has that vaguely static feel that I see in a lot of manhwa. Some of the character poses look a little stiff, but there’s plenty of detail lavished on everyone’s eyelashes. Lee often shows the characters in chibi mode during episodes of physical comedy. This was a fun manhwa to read even though it was utterly lightweight and frivolous. Sunyool has a sassy and indefatigable personality that makes her an interesting heroine. I’ll be on the lookout for the next volume of this series.

Land of Silver Rain

Land of Silver Rain Volume 1 by Mira Lee

I’m trying to make a point of sampling more manhwa. Land of Silver Rain is about a human child raised in the land of the Dokebis – traditional spirits from Korean folktales. Misty-Rain was found by a witch in a cabbage patch when she was an infant. The ruler of the Dokebis, The Great King of Darkness decides to hide her human identity with a spell and she grows up among the Dokebis not imagining she is human. Universal appeal is a tricky thing for works aimed at younger readers to pull off. In the case of Land of Misty Rain the storyline quickly becomes tedious due to most of it focusing on Misty-Rain’s squabbling interactions with her Dokebi classmates. Thornpricker is a Dokebi girl who is the Jan Brady to Misty-Rain’s Marsha, as Thornpricker is jealous of all the attention that Misty-Rain receives and is suspicious that Misty-Rain might not be a Dokebi after all. Too many scenes of pre-teen bickering made this book a bit of a slog to read, despite the overly feminine art, where the girls are pretty and the men are even prettier.

Misty-Rain tries to be a good Dokebi, but she is often getting into trouble and having to endure punishments like being hung upside down by a rope for a couple days. The witch who serves as her adopted mother is concerned about Misty-Rain, and the Great King of Darkness’ interest in her is mysterious. There were a few flashes of humor in the book that I enjoyed. Misty-Rain’s Dokebi lessons at school about the proper ways for demons to behave are amusing. There was a hilarious panel where the witch tries to disguise her newly acquired infant by disguising her as a cabbage, and I enjoyed the depiction of the tearful Misty-Rain in cabbage form. If moments like this had been more plentiful in Land of Silver Rain, I think I’d be interested in reading the next volume. As it is, there was too much pointless pre-teen angst in this story for me. I can definitely see this series appealing to younger readers who enjoy stories with a fairy-tale atmosphere and lavish illustrations, but it has limited appeal for older readers.

Tokyopop Ongoing Series – Maid Sama, V.B Rose, and INVU

Maid Sama Volume 3 by Hiro Fujiwara

While Maid Sama might not reach the heights of other new shoujo series from Tokyopop like Shinobi Life or Karakuri Odette, it continues to be a fun if very lightweight read. School President Misaki’s secret job at a maid cafe is almost revealed during a cosplay race at school, but the suave Usui comes to the rescue as always. Other problems in the third volume of Maid Sama include Misaki’s difficulties portraying other aspects of moe culture and Usui’s struggle to come up with a color to assign to her for a power ranger/fighting maid day. There are small glimpses of character development as the reader learns that Usui’s admiration of Misaki comes from seeing her try so hard in everything she does in contrast to the way he seems to be able to pick up things easily without being truly challenged. Things take a serious turn towards the end of the volume as a saboteur begins to threaten Misaki’s hard work with the student council.

I think one of my favorite aspects of the book are the full-panel drawings included at the beginning of each chapter. Misaki springs into action as Usui is dressed like Rambo in the background with a knife clenched between his teeth. Usui perches on a throne as a king with his crown at a jaunty angle. An accident at school turns Usui into a parody of a soaking-wet romance novel cover model. There were plenty of comedic outtakes with the trio of useless students who worship Misaki in her maid persona as well.

Misaki’s determination to be the best at what she does begins to extend to her job at the maid cafe when one of her co-workers accuses her of not taking the job seriously. I’m wondering if Misaki’s relentlessness will cause her to burn out so I’m hoping that she manages to take a vacation or rest day before the end of the manga.

VB Rose Volume 7 by Banri Hidaka

I previously enjoyed the first two volumes of this series about a girl and her adventures working at a bridal boutique. I intend to pick up the intervening volumes eventually, but I decided to go ahead and sample volume seven.

A “will they or won’t they” storyline can be hard to pull off compellingly. Seven volumes in and Ageha and boutique owner Arisaka are aware of their feelings for each other, but neither of them know for sure how each other feels. The age difference between Ageha and her much older boyfriend may cause some readers to worry, but I’m guessing the romance won’t actually start until after Ageha has graduated high school. The group at the boutique have a birthday celebration and Arisaka has too much to drink, leaning in and vomiting on Ageha after getting too close to her. She’s relieved to see a less than smooth side of Arisaka, since he always seems so perfect.

Arisaka is just getting ready to work up the courage to tell Ageha how he feels when a couple of developments take place that keep the would-be couple apart. Ageha finds out that the standoffish corsage maker Kana is Ageha’s ex-girlfriend. She isn’t sure how to react at the revelation that another woman is part of the inner circle of VB Rose. Ageha’s friend Nat always shows up just when she needs him to walk her home. She’s suddenly aware that he’s been growing up too, and Nat isn’t happy with the way Ageha always seems to be sad when she thinks about her feelings for Arisaka.

The clean lines and deceptive simplicity of Hidaka’s art have really grown on me. She adds plenty of details to the precious fashion creations of the characters, but some of my favorite panels in this manga were the ones where she just focused on Ageha and Arisaka’s facial expressions as they reacted to the new emotional tension that has settled between them. Arisaka’s partner Mitsu keeps the budding romance from being overly sweet, as he gleefully lurks in the background to observe his new favorite soap opera. The major strength of VB Rose is the interplay between the characters. The boutique workplace setting gives it a different feeling than most other shoujo manga, and it is fun seeing Ageha enjoy perfecting her craft, struggle with her feelings, and have fun with her co-workers. If the story and humor continue to develop as they were in this volume I’m definitely going to look forward to the next seven volumes of this manga and I won’t be resentful that the series is fourteen volumes long.

INVU Volume 5 by Kim Kang Won

Ah, I feel a little bitter about this series because I really wish Tokyopop would bring back Queen’s Knight by the same author instead. But if it isn’t selling, I guess I can understand why. I’ve actually read all four volumes of INVU, but I gave/traded them away because I thought that the rest of the series would never be published. I wished I still had the older volumes to skim through before picking up the fifth. There was a character guide and plot synopsis in the front of the book, which was quite handy.

As I was reading this I was struck that the wild soap-opera type plots would make this manhwa perfect for the Korean dama fan. Hali is in love with her teacher, forced to dress like her dead brother by her insane and abusive mother, and just starting to make her way in the fashion world as a model. In contrast with all the drama surrounding Hali, the more low key story lines of the supporting cast serve to ground the narrative a little bit. Sey and Siho’s halting progress towards romance may have reached a breakthrough point by the end of the volume, as Siho shares information about his childhood with Sei. Aspiring model Rea may achieve more success by working as a stylist.

INVU is disposable fun, but the hints of a conspiracy centered around Hali’s teacher introduce a darker theme that is much needed with all the fashion world antics. I am noticing that most of the parents in this book are either absent, insane, or controlling which ensures plenty of drama to come for the cast of teenagers.

Review copies provided by the publisher

Let Dai Volumes 1-3

Let Dai Volumes 1-3 by Sooyeon Won

Jaehee is a normal schoolboy in Korea. When he hears a girl calling for help he runs to see what’s wrong. He sees a girl being attacked by a gang, and throws himself in the middle of the crowd, telling her to run away. Jaehee’s sacrifice ends up not working, as the girl is captured by the gang leader and he’s beaten up. Some passers-by yell at the group of kids and Jaehee escapes. The gang leader is the legendary Dai and his followers are known as the Furies. Jaehee is overwhelmed by Dai’s presence.

It turns out that the girl Jaehee tried to save is Yooneun the older sister of Eunhyung, the girl Jaehee is dating. Yooneun and Jaehee are drawn together after their experience with Dai’s gang. When they meet again hey keep in contact with each other, making Eunhyung suspicious that her boyfriend is hanging out with her sister. Dai pops up in Jaehee’s life again with a chance encounter in a parking lot, a beating, and a bizarre ritual where he forces Jaehee to lick clean his self-inflicted wound. It turns out that Dai wants Jaehee to join his gang and despite his better impulses Jaehee agrees. Dai’s cruelty is the casual amorality of a child tormenting a bug with a stick. He’s indifferent to the needs and wants of other people, yet he is attracted to Jaehee as if the boy is his new toy. When Eunhyung tries to track down Jaehee at the gang hideout Dai does nothing to prevent her from being assaulted when he hears that she considers herself Jaehee’s girlfriend.

The second volume opens with a rift between Dai and Jaehee. Jaehee can’t forgive Dai for what happened to Eunhyung. She’s ignoring Jaehee and trying to deal with the psychological trauma of the assault all by herself, pushing Jaehee and her sister away. The reader gets a glimpse into Jaehee’s family life with his Mom. They have a pleasant, mock-bickering relationship. Jaehee moves and transfers schools. One of his new classmates is a true eccentric. Naru Hagi is a true eccentric who is very aware of his own attractiveness yet decides to roam around town wearing bizarre wigs and antagonizing bullies.

Jaehee gets caught up with gang rivalry yet again, as a group of tough guys decides to use him as bait to draw out Dai. When Dai appears he encourages the boys to beat up Jaehee as much as they want, even going so far as to suggest tying Jaehee to the nearby train tracks. While Let Dai is one of the more accomplished manhwa that I’ve read in terms of plot, character, and art there is no denying that the adaptation is somewhat clunky, especially in Jaehee’s internal monologues. On the other hand, I’m not sure how to make phrases like “What moved me more than the quenching of my longing was the fact that Dai hadn’t forgotten me. In Dai’s cold and violent eyes…I now am. That…reassured me” not seem overly emo. The art in Let Dai is attractive, with a glossy style that contrasts with the characters’ violent actions. Perhaps because the series started running in the 1990s, there is something about the characters’ eyes and mouths that reminds me a little bit of Ryoichi Ikegami.

In volume 3 we learn a little bit about Dai’s family life. I found him a little more interesting as a character when I thought he was just a pure force of chaotic evil, instead of a privileged teenager with daddy issues. The third volume focused more on the supporting cast, and I was more interested to see what was happening to them than I was in the developing relationship between Dai and Jaehee.

Eunhyung wants to become a different person. She starts hanging out with new friends, changes her clothes, and has her hair cut as short as possible. Naru Hagi and Jaehee spend more time together, and Naru’s breezy personality and open expressions are a nice contrast to the constant fights and angst going on between the main characters. Sooyeon Won builds the foundation for a soap opera filled with different connections between the characters as Dai’s older brother hits on Yooneun, Eunhyung faces down one of Jaehee’s bullies, and Naru Hagi stands up to Dai when he tries to take a horribly sick Jaehee away for treatment.

Let Dai creates a powerful blend of tawdry violence, emo naval-gazing, and unexpected connections between characters. I can see why this series would be really appealing to shonen ai fans. I enjoyed the three volumes that I read, but I think I’d be more inclined to finish up the series if it were shorter. If the series was just 5-7 volumes I think I would be following the story to its conclusion. Jaehee is getting beat up so much in every single volume I have a hard time believing that he’d survive for that much longer. I tend to have a threshold of quality want met for collecting longer series. I have to be really invested in the characters (Boys Over Flowers) or it has to be a classic (Vagabond). While the first three volumes were ok they didn’t pull me in enough to make me want to read a very long story. Knowing that Let Dai ran for 15 volumes and some people found the ending odd, I don’t think I’m going to invest the time or money to read the rest of the series.

The Color of Earth and The Color of Water

The Color of Earth by Dong Hwa Kim

The Color of Earth
lives up to its title by being extremely earthy. The characters are drenched in nature and preoccupied with relationships. Ehwa’s mother is a tavern owner and her father is long gone, so the seven year old girl must deal with snide comments from her playmates and remarks from the tavern’s customers that she barely understands. As Ehwa goes through puberty, she begins to understand what’s going on with her changing body and she has a brief first love when she encounters a young monk on a narrow bridge. Ehwa’s mother holds herself apart from her male customers, pinning her hopes and dreams on a traveling salesman nicknamed “The Picture Man” due to his ability to express the meaning of names in calligraphy.

This is a quiet, meditative book. While events happen there is no urgency to the plot. I found myself having to work a little in order to sustain the momentum to finish the book. Ehwa and her mother discuss the events of the day and their changing lives in language that refers to the natural world around them. Seldom have I encountered a book where flowers were mentioned so often. Here is a sampling of dialog:

“Do you want to plant the hollyhock seeds tomorrow? Didn’t you say you wanted to cover the entire front yard with those flowers?”
“No…I’d rather plant them on the roadside. All along the road to the orchard farm…that way the peach orchard butterfly can rest from flower to flower.”
“And, finally, rest on your heart?”

Ehwa exchanges flowers with the monk Chung-Myung and decides that her favorite flower is now the tiger lily because it reminds her of the scent of grey robes. Ehwa’s mother plants gourd flowers all over her house because these flowers only open at night, hoping that the scent will somehow summon the Picture Man back to her. Ehwa is distracted by the arrival of the young scholar Sunoo, and begins to make up excuses to gather plants in the orchards near his home. There’s an element of melancholy to this book as Ehwa becomes a young woman and leaves her first loves behind.

The characters are simply drawn but the pastoral backgrounds are rendered in meticulous detail. The plants, wildlife, and flowers that the characters constantly refer to are highlighted, providing a contrast with the simplicity of the characters’ expressions.

The Color of Water by Dong Hwa Kim

There’s more dramatic tension to The Color of Water, as Ehwa’s mother begins to experience a little bit of jealousy about her younger, prettier daughter. Ehwa has a fateful encounter with a young man named Duksam from a nearby village and begins wonder if he’ll be her future husband. The second volume was much easier for me to read than the first. As the characters aged, I found myself more invested in what happened to them. Also there were background details weaved into the storyline that I thought provided more of a window into Korean culture at the time, like an acquaintance of Ehwa’s being betrothed to a 9 year old fiance and having to care for both her new child husband and her grandmother-in-law.

I had mixed feelings about this manhwa but I think it is worth sampling although I think requires more cultural context than the average American will have about manhwa. Most of the other manhwa that makes it over here seems fairly derivative of the standard shoujo and shonen type stuff that everybody’s used to reading. There was something about the style of writing in these books that I just wasn’t able to completely connect with as a reader. For me, the symbolism used in these books would have had more impact if it wasn’t so overwhelming. On the other hand, there were several moments in the series that seemed naturistic and expressive: the arrangement of shoes having an unspoken meaning, walking across a field of flowers, and silently hanging brushes on the wall.

By the end of the second volume I was left curious enough about what would happen to Ehwa that I think I’ll try to read out the third volume of the trilogy, The Color of Heaven. I wanted to like these books more than I did, but I was much more engaged in the series after reading the second book, so I wonder if by the time I finish the third I’ll like the series that much more. If you’re curious to read manhwa with a unique sensibility and literary ambitions, The Color of Earth and the Color of Water are worth checking out.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Bride of the Water God

Bride of the Water God Volume 1 by Mi-Kyung Yun

Does exquisitely pretty art compensate for lack of plot? Bride of the Water God tells the story of Soah, a young girl from a drought stricken village. At an early age she’s set aside as a candidate for sacrifice to the Water God Habaek. When she’s sacrificed she’s rescued instead of drowning and transported to Suguk, the land of the gods. Suguk is filled with floating islands, fish shaped hot air balloons, and an exceptionally attractive pantheon of gods.

Soah wanders aimlessly through a beautiful palace and meets her husband. Habaek appears in the form of a petulant child. At night his other form is that of a mature man, but when Soah sees a handsome fellow who looks suspiciously like her husband he introduces himself as Mui and Soah assumes that he’s Habaek’s cousin.

There isn’t much narrative urgency to the events that unfold in Bride of the Water God. The relationship between Soah and Habaek is burdened by constraints. Soah’s mother-in-law is rumored to be a vengeful goddess. Unforeseen dangers lurk in the land of the gods. This mahwa would seem dangerously inert, but it is made much more interesting by the detailed art. The world of Suguk is filled with vivid backgrounds and attractive gods wearing intricate costumes. While I wish there was a clearer narrative direction, I’ll likely check out the next couple volumes of this series to see if a plot that’s worthy of the art eventually develops.

Demon Diary

Demon Diary by Lee Chi Hyong and Kara (amazon)

Raenef is a new Demon Lord. Eclipse is his servant and tutor, tasked to teach him how to properly inspire terror in the populace. The problem is that Raenef has no idea how to be demonic, and he is spectacularly untalented in his attempts to terrorize anybody. Eclipse tries to teach Raenef choice phrases like “How dare you admonish me, vermin!” but Raenef’s delivery always falls flat. Eclipse is calm, cool and collected while Raenef is given to yawning and giggling when faced with his lessons on proper demon behavior. An unlikely friendship begins to develop between the unconventional new Demon Lord and his proper tutor.

The art is attractive, but the characters suffer from a severe case of the pointy chins. Demon Diary was similar in tone to another comedic fantasy series, Vampire Game. But just going by first volumes alone, Vampire Game presents a much more compelling story, with characters whose growth and evolution I was interested in following. Demon Diary only took up around two-thirds of the volume, with two unrelated back-up stories filling up the rest of the space. Although the main story was set up adequately, I think an additional chapter or two about Raenef and Eclipse would have helped me figure out if I wanted to give additional volumes in this series a try. Unless you really crave some shonen-ai, Vampire Game is a much much better light fantasy series than Demon Diary.

Dokebi Bride

Dokebi Bride Volumes 1-4 by Marley (amazon)

Sunbi Shin’s mother is dead and she lives with her grandmother in a small village. Her grandmother is the village shaman, able to see spirits and demons called dokebis. Sunbi has inherited some of her grandmother’s powers, but her grandmother doesn’t want her to become a shaman. When Sunbi’s grandmother dies, she has to go to live in the city with her estranged father, stepmother, and stepsister. Sunbi is sullen, keeping to herself among her new classmates and avoiding interaction with her new family. Unfortunately Sunbi’s strong emotions only serve to draw demons towards her.
The stories where Sunbi interacts with traditional spirits are very interesting. I had no idea that there were spirits in charge of the well being of the bathroom, in addition to kitchen spirits. Since Sunbi was never formally trained by her grandmother, she has to figure out how to deal with demons and curses on her own, aided by some inherited shaman equipment. She makes a deal with a dokebi she names Gwangsoo, and her bargain may have some unforeseen consequences in the future. As Sunbi gets used to life in the city, she gradually starts to encounter people who may help her master her powers – a classmate, a monk, and a professor at a nearby university.
I had a couple quibbles with this manhwa. The dokebis in the book look very creepy and are intricately drawn, but the facial expressions of the human characters sometimes look mask-like. Also, a few times per book characters will go into lecture mode, where they will rattle off long unbroken paragraphs about a topic like spirit photography or psychic abilities. I usually found myself skimming over these pages, waiting to catch up to the next episode where Sunbi has to cope with a demon.

Banya the Explosive Delivery Man and Hayate the Combat Butler

Banya the Explosive Delivery Man by Kim Young-Oh 3/5 stars (amazon.com)

Banya is a deliveryman in a historical fantasy world filled with warring tribes and strange monsters. His dedication to deliver packages at any cost finds him picking his way through a battlefield and polevaulting over castle walls. At every possible moment he likes to recite his delivery philosophy, “Fast. Precise. Secure”. This manhwa is very episodic, presenting sketches showing Banya and his two colleagues performing their jobs. Mei is occasionally violent in her protection of cute animals and Kong fills the role of scrappy younger boy sidekick. There isn’t a hint of an ongoing storyline or any theme except enthusiastic mail service and fight scenes. The art is very pretty, but it isn’t pretty enough to make up for the lack of plot and character development. I can see how this title does fit in very well with the type of manga that Dark Horse tends to publish. Banya has a sense of humor, and the fight scenes are violent and well-drawn. This volume starts with a couple full-color pages.

Hayate the Combat Butler by Kenjiro Hata 3/5 stars (amazon.com)

Hayate is having the worst Christmas ever – his unscrupulous and poor parents have stolen money from him, got him fired from his job as a bike messanger, and sold him to the yakuza for organ harvesting. He turns to Santa for help and gets nothing in return. Fed up with his previous philosophy of working hard to get ahead, Hayate decides to kidnap someone rich and hold them for ransom. He finds a rich-looking little girl named Nagi alone in the park, but she confuses his demands with a declaration of love. Hayate ends up becoming her personal butler, in a house with an attractive older maid named Maria and a strict head butler. Hayate faces his troubles with a lot of slapstick action – for some reason the butler initiation in Nagi ‘s house involves fighting a robot, tiger, and giant snake. Although it is amusing, it wasn’t laugh-out loud funny. My favorite moments involved Hayate invoking books like the A Dog of Flanders and A Little Princess when trying to come up with analogies to describe his life.

Both of these titles are ok, but I can’t see myself spending money buying future volumes.