Manhwa is a Korean genre of comic books and graphic novels which tend to have strong female lead characters.
Reviews included so far:
The Monster Duchess and The Contract Princess
Review by Rachel Blue
Heart wrenching, funny and magical, this story follows Leslie, a young girl who was fated to die in place of her sister in a cruel family tradition. She escapes her parent’s home to offer herself on contract to the ominous Monster Duchess, but to her surprise, the Duchess wants to adopt her! And another surprise! The Duchess is not a monster! She’s a badass sword master with a bad reputation. Although she offered many great contributions to the many wars she participated in, a facial scar she covered with a mask and a steely attitude earned her the rude nickname.
The magic element mixes in so well with the historical factor because there’s wizards and magical sword powers but also horses! Carriages! And very pretty ball gowns! All things I love and wish would come back to mainstream society. It is interesting how advanced the magic and the world can seem, with magic that can help them travel and an almost modern court system, but then they take carriages and wear stunning ball gowns. It is a contrast that seems so abrupt but gives the world a distinctive feel.
The art in this particular manhwa is so beautiful, I personally have reread this several times, everyone's hair is unique and the artist always surprises me with their captivating dress designs. The dialogue throughout really showcases how awful Leslie was treated and how much she just doesn’t know about how a family is supposed to love and support you. Leslie is a very lovable character who sadly wasn’t given any affection from her family, it really tugs at your heart when you see how the Duchess’ family welcomes her without a second thought. She gains two older brothers from this adoption and the sibling banter is quite cute. Her two brothers are very protective and take to her very quickly, which is always a plus in manhwas like this, since a lot of the time the step-siblings are the worst. The Duchess’s husband is quite endearing too, we learn he had always wanted a daughter to spoil and he tends to splurge on her, despite her apprehension.
The drama element stems from her old family! Of course they still need her to die in place of her sister, so they take the Duchess to court to fight for Leslie back. However it is all resolved and her family is dealt with, justice is served! Through the court case she also finds that the tradition from her previous family dates back many generations, as the second child is always born with silver hair like her own and then sacrificed to amplify the first born’s powers. It is tear jerking watching Leslie discover this, and realize that she was only born to die for her sister.
The ending is quite bittersweet in my opinion though, it's a cute little romance and a farewell to Leslie. I enjoyed how she grew as a character and in accepting the love she deserved so it was hard to let her go.
With all that being said, I love this manhwa. It was one of the first to get me into manhwa as a whole, and I have followed it since it only had a few chapters published so I am a bit torn that it has come to an end. If you enjoy historical fantasy and found family, this might be your next cup of tea.
When Riftan returns, he is surprised and angered that Maxi never left her father’s manor. She was supposed to have been residing in his lands after he left for battle. She fears that he no longer wants a marriage with her, and he does not clear up the misunderstanding, in fact, by being so quick to anger he makes her fear him further. He starts to believe that she was a spoiled noble woman, who didn’t want to leave the comforts that her father provides, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Had she known she had a chance to escape her father’s home she would have done so in a heartbeat. He promises to lavish her in the same luxury that she experienced with her father, and Maxi simply doesn't have the heart to tell him that her father never showed her any love, let alone showered her with gifts. While in his lands, Maxi begins learning magic from the eccentric fugitive mage, Ruth who is pretty much the first character to show her any type of kindness upon her arrival.
I love this story for not only the blossoming romance but also the character growth. Riftan never had to explain himself, and Maxi never had the chance to, so it is new to both of them that they must speak their mind in order to resolve issues. Riftan realizes that he cannot trap her within the manor with the excuse of protecting her and she realizes that she is more capable than she was made to believe. While at first the communication severely lacks, they learn to speak to each other and explore their feelings. Maxi’s confidence grows as well along the way, and it’s exciting to watch her learn how to stand up for herself.
If you like stories set in fantasy wartime, knights and castles, this manhwa might be your next cup of tea.
Under the Oak Tree
Review by Rachel Blue
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
If you like the classic misunderstandings and angst trope, then you might like this manhwa. And if you are not a fan of comics, this one is also a novel! The novel is quite detailed with beautiful imagery, and there is even a side novel which follows Riftan and his trials before the marriage. Written by a Korean author by the name of Suji Kim, you can find this work on Webtoons.
It follows Maximillian, or Maxi, the daughter of a Duke who has a severe stutter. Her family is extremely prestigious due to the fact that she is also one of the last descendants of the former empire’s royal family. Her father however, does not care about that, only the fact that she is an embarrassment to his good name. He marries her off to a common-born knight named Riftan, who is easy to anger, very tall and never smiles. After their first night as a married couple, Riftan is sent out to battle with a dragon, leaving Maxi alone in her father’s house for three years. She is beaten nearly everyday but her father has her healed before she can even complain about it, allowing the abuse to continue to go unnoticed by everyone around them.
Review by Rachel Blue
Genre: fantasy, historical
This manhwa, written by Korean author Ja Eunhyang Jin Jeongcheculmyeong, is set in a historical holy kingdom dependent wholly on the gods to provide prosperity and blessings for nature to thrive. We follow the illegitimate princess Osiria, born from the king and a witch who seduced him. The witch died uttering a curse should any danger befall her child, the kingdom would perish. Afraid the curse should come to fruition, the king locks the child within a high attic tower in the palace. She is then forced to grow up incredibly but deliberately neglected, maids only visiting to throw spoiled food in for her to eat. (Although witch is translated as a slur, it is not heavily mentioned past the first translated chapter, so I continue to read despite that, since I don't believe it was the original author's intent.) I had a hard time stomaching the cruelty with which they treated this poor girl and her mother, so if you are sensitive to dark topics, you may not be able to sit with this one. But the detail and background building is intricate and fulfilling, leaving you feeling well informed and knowledgeable about the world setting.
Set twenty years after the princess is born, we see that Osiria is quite intelligent despite the common knowledge that she is mentally the age of a toddler due to being neglected for so long. The kingdom continues to suffer as the gods who were once so benevolent seem to refuse to send another chosen one to bless the lands and bring water to the drought ridden lands. I thought that the way that this history unfolded in the comic was beautiful, the world building fills in the gaps seamlessly and you come to see the reasoning behind everyone’s actions.
We soon learn that the gods did indeed send a new chosen one, and it happens to be Princess Osiria who has used the powers of the spirit to learn about the world outside of the tower. She hides her identity from everyone and while people starve and die, it's still hard to blame her for her choices seeing how the king treats her and I found myself rooting for her to just put him in his place and run away.
In a last ditch attempt to be rid of her, the king gifts her to a promising lord who made significant achievements. The lord is kind as are his servants and it's so wholesome to see Osiria learn to depend on others and grow mentally and physically as well. While the lord worries for her and her safety and comfort, not knowing she is far more intelligent than she is perceived, she begins to exact her revenge. She begins using the holy powers she was gifted with to kill those who wronged her in the past with seemingly no regrets. But to my surprise she just didn't know why she was feeling guilty or even that the feelings had a name. I thought that this was an interesting way to show that while she may not be as mentally stunted as everyone around her believes, there are still concepts that she cannot grasp.
This manhwa can be quite dark at times but also just tragic. Osiria has been through so much and while her actions are violent and cruel, we come to see that she is only mimicking what she has learned. I didn't expect to come around to this manhwa in the beginning, the art style is very pretty but also very exaggerated and can be over the top at times. The tone of the story makes it seem as though it will be familiar found family trope, but when Osiria begins down a dark path it's hard to put it down, pulling you in with each new discovery of her powers. So if you are a fan of dark romance, magic and deceitful plots, this might be your next cup of tea.
Dangerous Convenience Store
Review by Rachel Blue
Genre: Comedy, romance
This manhwa, written by a Korean author under the name 945 (also known as gusao), is known for its silly comedic relief and relatable main character. Unlike a lot of mainstream manhwas, because of the genre, the main character is a young man. Dangerous Convenience Store follows Yeo Eui Joon, a college student who scrapes by financially by working night shifts at a convenience store. Unfortunately for him, while the pay is great, this particular store is frequented by gangsters who love to stir up trouble. He is forced to keep his head down and apologize to the customers to keep his job and his head all the while wishing that there would be a righteous person to come through and put some of the hoodlums in their place. This reminds me of when I get into an uncomfortable situation at my own convenience store job, but unfortunately I do not have Ahjussi to kick butt for me.
Enter Ahjussi! Bum Geon Woo (referred to almost exclusively as Ahjussi) is a middle aged gangster with a hair-trigger temper but a strong sense of justice. He effortlessly deals with customers that make life hard for Eui-Joon and Eui-Joon soon begins to look forward to the peculiar man coming in. Though he can never quite understand his actions and his blunt way of speaking, Eui-Joon remains fascinated by Ahjussi and looks forward to every time he comes in.
The art in this manhwa is one of my favorites, it switches between an elegant and clean style to chibi and rounded characterizations for comedic effect. The dialogue really encapsulates what you'd expect to spill out of your own mouth in times of fear, and while he might be a bit scary, Ahjussi is understanding and reasonable. And better yet, the more you get to know Ahjussi the more appealing he gets. He wears a suit and visits the store almost every night at the same time for the same cigarettes and Eui-Joon discovers that he may be getting over his crush and developing a new crush on Ahjussi! This part of the comic was probably my favorite to get into because we see Ahjussi in a new light as he begins to frequent the store more often.
On the other hand, Ahjussi has no experience with men, but he took a liking to Eui-Joon regardless. The romance that blooms between the two men is heart wrenching and dramatic but the communication and compromise is wonderful despite Ahjussi being a man who rarely utters a word that isn't a curse. No matter the challenges that are thrown their way through this story, they find ways to talk it out and reconcile. I was a bit hesitant to begin this manhwa at first because usually the gangster ones are toxic and very dramatic in a not so good way, and not to mention that it is classified under the smut category. But, per my sister's begging, I went into this one open minded and I was brilliantly surprised. I will definitely continue to follow as new chapters are released, the love story is surprisingly thought out and deep for the categorization and I found myself falling in love with the characters.
If you like beefy gangsters with bad attitudes who become teddy bears for the ones they care for, silly jokes, and reading about relatable school stress, then this might be your next cup of tea.
I’m Only A Step-Mother, But My Daughter Is Just Too Cute!
Review by Rachel Blue
Genre: Fantasy, Comedy
Written by a Korean Author under the pen name Yir, this manhwa follows Baekhap Lee, a children’s clothing designer who one day wakes up in a children’s retelling of Snow White! At first this manhwa reads as a classic Snow White retelling, but to my surprise, the depth of the characters and topics that this manhwa covers really sets it apart from other retellings.
Baekhap Lee is known as Abigail in the story, the infamous evil queen, wife to Saverion and step-mother to Blanche; this story’s Snow White. Blanche is timid and fearful but eventually warms up to Abigail who begins designing them matching outfits. I thought that this way of telling this classic tale was so cute! Abigail works so hard to have Blanche warm up to her since her face is considered very beautiful but evil looking, scaring everyone around her even when she’s being really nice. And when Blanche begins calling her mom I just about died, I share with Abigail an obsession with Blanche, as she is just adorable and super cute. But you come to see that her father was never around much and she spends most of her time studying and practicing etiquette skills. Abigail doesn’t like that she acts so mature and encourages her to act more her age, which I love about this story because Abigail wants Blanche to act more like a twelve year old. She sets out on a mission to raise Blanche with care and affection, but her husband, the king, just keeps getting in the way!
The king’s background had me clutching my pearls for lack of a better phrase. This manhwa excellently delved into trauma and how it affects men as well as women. The king cannot be in close contact with women at all as he was forced to help conceive Blanche against his will with a woman twice his age. He was young when it happened, the manhwa hinting that he was younger than fifteen which just makes my stomach turn. This is why he is so distant from Blanche despite his longing to be a better father than his own before him. He and Abigail’s romance blossoms slowly, due to his trauma and her utter disbelief in her beauty. She feels trapped by her previous life as an unattractive woman and he cannot even hold hands with a woman without spiraling into a panic attack, so it’s really interesting and exciting to watch them learn how to love each other and be kinder to themselves and heal.
A lot of the characters in this manhwa are named after colors, and the king’s brother, Raven is no different. His motives are unclear however, and those around Abigail warn her not to get too close to him because he could still sire a male heir who could rob Blanche of the throne. Abigail is too nice for her own good though and continues to meet with him to design color schemes and clothing for him, sending the King into a jealous spiral, but stirring a bit of drama into this otherwise very laid back retelling. Abigail also has the classic magical mirror in this retelling, who’s name is Verite and takes the form of a young man, who offers advice and companionship to Abigail who was lonely when she first arrived. I love the addition of Verite because he adds perfectly timed witty and comedic banter and even gave Abigail her nickname BiBi, which many of the characters begin to call her throughout the manhwa.
The art in this manhwa is so pretty, with unusual eye colors, fluid contrasts between silly faces and serious facial expressions, and beautiful dress designs. I love the way the author uses inspiration and samples from real life fashion, such as Marie Antoinette and other popular period figures.
My favorite thing about this manhwa is how the three characters come together and learn more about themselves, each other and how there is more to life than just politics and stress. If you like light-hearted fantasy, cute tea parties, and cute kids, this might be your next cup of tea.
Touch My Brother and You’re Dead!
Review by Rachel Blue
This manhwa, written by Korean author Morpho, follows Rosalette, a Duke’s daughter caught in an endless death loop that restarts when her brother dies and puts her right back as her sixteen year old self. It seems like she has been trapped inside of a book until she can figure out how to get to the ending. She finds that this book she has found herself in is a dark boy’s love, where all the male leads are dangerously obsessed with her younger brother, leading to his demise countless times and in turn her regression back to sixteen.
I always find it interesting when authors write about time loops, especially when only one character is aware of the resetting of time and this one is really well done! You feel Rosalette’s frustration and utter disappointment with each failure to keep her brother alive and I can completely understand why she would want to just give up. But her determination and utter perseverance is what kept me reading, she thinks outside of the box and continually does the unexpected. With each new regression, she begins to veer from dedicating all of her time to keeping her brother alive and focuses on learning new skills such as magic, which serves her well when fending off the men who want to kidnap her brother.
Our following of this manhwa’s story starts with her twentieth regression and Rosalette’s new resolution to bring anyone who harms her brother to a fiery end. Rosalette becomes further jaded and apathetic as the manhwa continues, which is understandable given what she has had to go through time and time again. Regardless, she tirelessly educates her brother and raises him to the best of her ability, but accidentally causes him to form an unhealthy attachment to her, which gets him into trouble a lot of the time. She tends to treat those around her like objects, like her fiancé who she only engaged for the purpose of pushing her work onto him, and her personal guard who literally carries her around at her whim. Their father, the Duke, is just as apathetic but oddly silly as Rosalette is. One of my favorite scenes is when they race each other to greet the messager for an excuse to get out of work for the day, as they are both workaholics even if it isn't by their own choice.
While most of this manhwa is very silly and goofy, the plot does continue to thicken. Between the six Brown siblings who work for the Duke’s family, the Duke himself, and Rosalette, I found myself laughing out loud a lot. Her view of the world has been molded by her devastating time loop and while she seems very callous, Rosalette is empathetic and caring towards those she considers her people. Though, she can be quite rude and down right annoying to those she does not care for, such as the prince, who she ruthlessly antagonizes for her own gain. Although in each life she makes new friendships, she doesn’t always pursue them again when she restarts and sometimes you can see her hesitation and contemplation, such as when she runs into the alcoholic princess who she had befriended in a regression before. While Rosalette treats her horribly, you can see that she still cares very much for her and still strives to help her from behind the scenes.
I found Rosalette to be quite a relatable character, she stands up for herself and those around her, and who wouldn’t be a little bit of a terrible person after enduring what she has for years?
So if you are looking for something that is light hearted and silly, but intense enough to make you think, this might be your next cup of tea.
Review by Rachel Blue
Genre: Comedy/ Smut
Written by Korean author Ker, Sign follows workers at an unusual coffee shop called Cafe Goyo, where the coffee sucks, and the customers never order off of the menu. When Soohwa joins the team as a new part-timer, he is asked to learn more than basic sign language in order to better communicate with the team. The manager, Yohan, offers to give him private lessons which starts the tumultuous and dramatic relationship between the pair.
Soohwa is a twenty-something year old who’s laptop dies suddenly, leaving him scrambling down back roads to try to find unlocked Wi-Fi in order to submit some job applications, because he realized that he is poor and needs money. When he finally finds a connection, he gets cold water splashed all over him, causing him to pass out since he was already sick. When he wakes up, he is surrounded by strangers who inform him that he is in the room above Cafe Goyo and he proceeds to beg for a job, embarrassingly too, (like shut up boy and put in an application🤦🏻♀️) to which they tell him no. But eventually give in and offer him a part time position. He finds out that the manager and owner of the cafe is deaf, which is why he needs to learn sign language upon receiving a position at the cafe. Surprisingly though, Yohan only speaks to him, granted it's not very often or very loud, but others around them are surprised to find that the usually silent manager spoke at all.
And on another note, y’all I have never been so embarrassed before than when I got caught reading this in the chapel, what exactly do you say when someone comes across you reading straight smut in God’s house? Needless to say, I was fiending for each chapter of this though. The plot unfurled deliciously and while the smut comes out of nowhere (literally in the first panel), it doesn’t take away from the story. The two main characters are completely infatuated with each other, which is cute to see, especially in this genre that is overrun by unsavory romance plots (SA and grape galore), so it is so nice to see two characters who are genuinely interested in one another and everything is consensual. They communicate and talk their way through problems, and rely on each other when drama from the past resurfaces and threatens their peaceful life. Which I love! (Because there’s nothing worse than having to dump your boyfriend because your ex is a psycho.)
We learn that Yohan was not born deaf but had an accident a few years back that is ominously referenced in many conversations but we don’t learn about that in detail for quite some time. I was pleasantly surprised with how this webcomic handled trauma and the effects of domestic violence and violence inflicted disabilities. Yohan’s friends rally around him and are very protective, they support him and offer advice when needed which was also a welcome surprise considering how often friends are written as backstabbing or conniving. I think it is important to have this kind of friendship and social support represented in the media and while I wasn’t expecting it because of the genre, I loved every minute of it.
The art is pretty too! Yohan looks like a bear, which is referenced several times through the webtoon, and I think it’s adorable. The designs are blocky which is something that definitely grew on me but it's pretty in a way that makes you want to savor the art in each panel.
I fell in love with this comic and will definitely reread it a couple more times, there is so much more I could say but I’d rather not spoil it for anyone. If you like drama and smut, cute relationships and ride or die friendships, then this might be your next cup of tea.
MY DAUGHTER IS THE FINAL BOSS!
Review by Rachel Blue
This webtoon is written by the Korean author, 글쓰냐 (I cannot find the romanized version of their name sadly) and the art is by RK Studio. This author is known for their weaving of modern reality with supernatural and fantasy elements. It is considered manhwa even though our main lead is a man just because the author is Korean, but it does extend on a lot of the common tropes found in manhwa such as regression and ultimate end game battles.
I was shocked right off the bat with this one, set in modern Korea, Seojun Lee is one of the warriors chosen to protect Earth from fragmented portals to other worlds that spawn horrifying monsters. Which is absolutely terrifying and intriguing at the same time, I was surprised by how thought out the organization of world building was and how each tear in the universe is ranked on a scale by danger level. The chosen humans are gifted with extra powers such as super strength and agility to help them wield weapons against the monsters. Seojun Lee is chosen to fight in the final battle and upon finding the final boss, a terrifying ice witch, he comes to see that it is none other than his daughter! (Let me tell y’all, she looks badass) After being abandoned by her father, watching her mother die in front of her and surviving so many other traumas, she leans into her dark magical powers and rises to become the ultimate evil leading the destruction of the world.
But it didn’t have to be that way, in his final moments Seojun wishes he had taken her in when her mother first came to him for a place to stay. He wished that he hadn’t turned her away and refused to believe that she was his daughter. He vowed that if he had a chance to do it all over, he’d prove to her that she was loved and cared for and find a way to teach her to control her dark powers. Luckily for him, the universe decided that it would give him another chance, sending him back in time to when his ex-girlfriend showed up on his doorstep with his daughter in tow. This time instead of blowing up in anger and turning them away, he welcomes them in with open arms and immediately begins to try to build a relationship with his daughter. Upon regressing, he finds he has a gameplay-like set up with rules and goals he must meet to prevent his daughter from going down that path again and subsequently the end of the world. He begins to take on jobs fighting monsters with his ex-girlfriend and makes an effort to make sure she survives this time around. He continually finds ways to gain more power, ultimately giving up pieces of his soul and his sanity for the ability to protect his family, which a stark contrast to how he is portrayed originally as a selfish, childish person who only really cares about himself and his things.
I loved the character development that we see immediately and the drive and motivation that pushes Seojun to be a better person, a better father and a better spouse. The plot thickens as he finds that saving his daughter from her dark future is much more difficult than he originally thought it would be but he doesn’t give up. This webtoon has a lot of plot twists and the character development is why I stuck around really, we see several characters learn from their mistakes and strive to do better for those around them and I love that, especially when it is not rushed or plot dependent.
The art is very typical of the webtoon genre and includes full color and beautiful fight scenes with a range of characters that use different fighting styles and weaponry.
Action has never been one of my preferred genres to read but this webtoon was attention gripping and fast paced, keeping my intrigue the whole way through.
I think that this webtoon is quite unique in its style of storytelling and the characters are relatable and enjoyable personality wise. So if you like wholesome families, badass monster fights and borderline dystopian fathers, this might be your next cup of tea.
Smyrna and Capri
Review by Rachel Blue
Genre: Historical/ Romance
So hear me out, when I saw this specimen fly past my screen, I stopped. The cover art was pretty and promised a war era gay romance which I was very very interested in so I just didn’t read the synopsis. In the first chapter they referenced things in an odd manner, but ever so trusting I thought, surely not, perhaps the translation was off. Thought nothing of it and continued to read. But at this point, I wouldn’t have cared what they threw at me, because the plot is really very decent, very handmaiden-esque. (However, I honestly think I might have shenagained too close to the sun this time y’all).
This manhwa, written by a group called Brothers Without A Tomorrow, is set in a fictional historical kingdom where the royal family is kept alive solely by selecting individuals to hold the title of Smyrna and give birth to a powerful heir for the kingdom. When the Smyrna finds a compatible person, they adopt the title of Capri and stay with the Smyrna for the entire pregnancy. While most of the Smyrna chose are women from powerful families, the story follows Theo, the reigning duke and war hero, chosen by the oracle to give birth to the next heir.
Theo is a strong, independent man, who was never raised for this role, and doesn’t care for the attachment. His plan is to sleep with men that the king picks out until he falls pregnant and wears a blindfold so that he cannot grow attached. I wish he was easier on himself, but I can see why he is the way he is. He and his family refer to themselves as caged birds, falcons who are kept captured by the royalty and must obey all rules set for them regardless of personal feelings.
So previously Theo had won a civil war and captured the rebellion’s leader, a man by the name of Seram. This goes exactly how you think, Seram ends up being his baby daddy and he is forced to invent a new identity for this man who is supposed to be in prison awaiting execution. There’s a lot of moving parts in this story, the war and the oppression of the nobles by the king. It can get pretty muddy and there are times where I wished that the king would just die already so that Theo and his mom can run away and live the lives they want. But so far even under pressure, the relationship between Theo and Seram is so cute and lovely. They make relationships look so easy and worth the trials and tribulations. And when I say the gold standard. THE GOLD STANDARD FOR COMMUNICATION. If there's even a hint of tension in the air, Theo turns to Seram and says “We need to talk.”, then they go to a private area and talk it out. Like, this one of the healthiest relationships I've seen in any media and they're in the midst of war.
(Also, maybe it was the translation, or maybe I just didn't pay attention, but an egg?? He gives birth to an egg???)
Anyway, I have gotten far too invested in this to say that I didn’t find it very good. Like probably one of the best I’ve read so far. The art is really pretty and the uniforms are immaculate, every time. The character development and growth? Chefs kiss perfection. The dialogue and banter? Beautiful. The romance and cute moments? The best, each time. So even though I love this particular webcomic, it's hard to explain my love for it. Honestly, it's mainly because most people cannot get past the fact that it is an male pregnancy comic, and honestly, if I had read the tags before I clicked on it, I would have missed out on this masterpiece. So maybe don’t let fear control you and click on pretty art, who knows, this might be your cup of tea.