5 Essential Manhwa for Beginners

For those unfamiliar with Korean manhwa, knowing where to start with the medium can be a tricky business. As more and more series slowly become more popular outside of Korea, finding an entry point might seem difficult. But, as companies like Crunchyroll have started adapting manhwa into anime, there's no time like the present to start investing your time in reading some of the source material that is out there, which are more easily accessible than ever. Here are a few popular titles to help you get started.

Something About Us

This is the cover art for Something About Us.

Josei and seinen fans will definitely enjoy the slice-of-life romantic comedy Something About Us by Lee Yunji. In it, Doh Gayong and Han Woojin have been best friends all their lives, and many of their family and friends assumed that they were going out even though they weren’t. Gayong thought they'd never be apart... until Woojin confesses his plans to join the military before attending university. Once Woojin returns from the military, Gayong realizes she has feelings for him. This is a manhwa about how two childhood friends become a couple.

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One thing to appreciate about manhwa is that many of their popular series is set within universities, catering to the college student audience that Japanese manga and anime so often ignore. As a campus story, our main characters experience some “coming of age” life lessons, much like Honey and Clover. Something About Us is also like Horimiya and Blue Spring Ride in that it features two close friends becoming something more. You can read Something About Us on Tapas or Lezhin.

Itaewon Class

Itaewon Class by Kwang Jin tells the story of ex-convict Park Saeroyi, who seeks revenge against the family that runs a well-known food conglomerate he believes caused the death of his father. To take down the family, Park Saeyori embarks on a 15-year plan where he makes an underground pub a popular hangout spot in Itaewon, a neighborhood known for its diversity, food culture and liveliness. Along the way, he hires a unique set of employees who also come with their own trauma and emotional baggage, but they willingly trust and help Park Saeroyi because he gave them a second chance at life.

Itaewon Class is all about revenge so, if you're a fan of 91 Days or Vinland Saga, this is manhwa is a must-read. The story also caters to fans of underdog characters who work hard to come out on top, similar to stories like Hajime no Ippo and Food Wars!. You can read Itaewon Class on Tapas or watch the live-action series on Netflix.

Tower of God

Tower of God by S.I.U. is centered on the story of a boy named Bam, who's lived most of his life trapped beneath a mysterious Tower. He befriends a girl named Rachel, who keeps him company until she decides to enter the Tower for a chance to ask for anything she wants. Bam also decides to enter the Tower, hoping to reunite with Rachel and along the way, he befriends many others who willingly help him go up the tower.

The series has a similar concept to Sword Art Online, where we see our protagonist leveling up as he faces dungeons filled with monsters. However, Tower of God also has a mixture of Death Parade, where there is a similarity between the game concept of the Tower and the party games played in Death Parade. You can read the series on Webtoon or watch the Crunchyroll anime adaptation of it.

Solo Leveling

Solo Leveling is a web novel created by Chugong, alongside h-goon and DUBU. The story is set in a world where monsters can enter the human realm through a portal and humans with unique abilities, known as hunters, are assigned to hunt them down. Sung Jin-woo is infamous as South Korea’s weakest hunter, but one day he and a group of other hunters get trapped in a dangerous dungeon. After Sung Jin-woo sacrifices himself so the rest of his hunting party can escape, he receives a second chance at life for completing all the trials of the dungeon. Except, this time around, he finds himself transformed into a “player” capable of seeing an interface where he can accept quests, store inventory and see his levels. From then on, Sung Jin-woo seeks to level up and become the world’s most powerful hunter.

Solo Leveling is like many isekai series, where a feeble male protagonist slowly gains more and more experience, eventually leveling up into a great hero. Sung Jin-woo also faces adversity amongst other hunters: he was treated as a useless and weak underling. Yet, once he got his unique abilities, Sung Jin-woo becomes more of a lone-wolf and only helps those who need protection, much like Naofumi Iwatani from The Rising of the Shield Hero and Hajime Nagumo from Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest. You can read Solo Leveling on Tapas.

Under the Oak Tree

This is the cover art for Under the Oak Tree.

Under the Oak Tree is a fantasy romance created by Kim Suji, alongside namu and P. In it, Maximilian Croyso’s father forces her to marry Riftan Calpyse so that he can be exempt from a dragon-slaying expedition. Unfortunately, the plan does work, and the couple are only able to spend their wedding night together before Riftan leaves for the expedition. Three years later, Maximilian and Riftan reunite and begin their life as newlyweds. The story focuses on Maximilian, who slowly learns how to be a dutiful wife and to appreciate herself, speech condition and all.

What makes Under the Oak Tree a unique historical romance is the fact that the heroine is differently-abled and must learn to overcome her insecurities,  similar to anime movies like A Silent Voice and Josee, the Tiger and the Fish. The setting of a world filled with sorcery, knights and aristocracy, will definitely appeal to fans of period pieces like Snow White With the Red Hair and My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!. You can read Under the Oak Tree on Manta Comics.

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