Solo Leveling is a Webtoon series that's been making waves. Despite its seemingly generic premise and story, the series has surprisingly impressive world-building and art that make it perfect for any reader itching for a new action series to delve into. With its second season begun, now is an opportune time to catch up and delve right in.
The story takes place in a world where mysterious portals known as Gates have sprung up around the globe, connecting the human world to alternate dimensions. Simultaneously, something has awakened within humans, granting them supernatural abilities to fight the monsters found in these Gates. These humans came to be known as Hunters and are ranked by letter grade from E to S. With the establishment of Hunter agencies and guilds, it became a career for individuals to enter Gates and slay the bosses that keep them open for profit.
The protagonist Sung Jin-Woo is an E-Rank Hunter who is exceptionally weak even for his low rank and bears the nickname World's Weakest Hunter. He's incompetent in even the lowest level dungeons and constantly finds himself getting injured, but persists to support his younger sister and sick mother.
One day Jin-Woo accompanies a group to clear a D-Rank Gate, something far above his power level but easy enough for ordinary Hunters to handle. Things go south when the party discovers a secret room filled with stone statues. They quickly realize they're out of their depth when the strongest Hunters in their party are killed with ease by the statues. Finding himself abandoned by his party moments before death Jin-Woo is given the chance to become a Player, he readily accepts his only alternative to death.
Waking up in the hospital, he finds himself physically unchanged but can access a HUD which gives him quests. Completing them provides Jin-Woo with various rewards that benefit him. Through these quests he discovers that he can level up, which strengthens his power, giving him the ability to infinitely grow stronger. But in order to get there, he'll need to start from the ground up.
Leveling up changes his entire physical appearance and improves his combat ability, allowing him to stand a chance against monsters and even killing a D-Rank boss on his own. Once he gains this power, he decides to join raid groups to get experience inside dungeons. Alongside another novice Hunter named Yoo Jin-Ho, he joins a small group of C-Rank Hunters, simply carrying their luggage. He discovers that the group intends to kill the two of them, but easily disposes of the group. Things grow increasingly complicated when it's discovered one of the Hunters killed was the brother of S-Rank Hunter Hwang Dong-Su.
Following their near-death experience, Jin-Woo and Jin-Ho meet again. Jin-Ho reveals his goal is to perform a set number of raids so he can become the guild master of his rich father's new guild. He offers Jin-Woo a generous amount of money, which he accepts on the condition that the two of them enter each dungeon alone.
While waiting for Jin-Ho to acquire dungeons for them to enter, he joined another raid composed of some members that abandoned him on that fateful day. They retain some guilt on the matter, but Jin-Woo holds no grudge. It turns out an assassin is among them. Hired to kill one of the party members, he decides to kill everyone in order to remove any witnesses but is foiled by Jin-Woo. After killing the assassin, Jin-Woo gains the ability to camouflage.
After clearing the dungeon, Jin-Woo receives a new quest to acquire a career. This leads to him entering a special dungeon where he gains the title of Necromancer after defeating the boos. With this ability, he can harvest the souls of enemies he's defeated and summon them to fight on his side. With this newfound ability, he acquires the soul of his first major shadow, Igris.
With his newfound power, he joins a guild raid on a seemingly normal Gate, only for it to transform into a high-rank Red Gate as soon as they enter. It throws them into a frozen wasteland with intelligent monsters who can communicate with them. The guild is decimated but ultimately saved by Jin-Woo, who learns through a conversation that monsters are compelled by a voice in their head to kill humans. After his encounter, Jin-Woo shifts his focus to a new S-Rank dungeon. Meanwhile, a man is found within a Gate and labeled as a monster by Hwang Dong-Su. It's revealed that this man is Jin-Woo's father, Il-Hwan and after making quick work of Dong-Su is shown to be incredibly powerful.
Within the new dungeon, Jin-Woo finds two key items that can craft a powerful healing item and hopes to find the third to cure his mother's illness. He decides to come back later and undergoes a new rank evaluation since despite his increase in power Jin-Woo was still an E-Rank officially. His test reveals him to have become an S-Rank Hunter, but the results will not be publicly decided for three days, in the meantime, he decides to pose as a dungeon miner for a firsthand look at high ranking raids. When the monsters prove too powerful for the party, Jin-Woo saves them but reveals his power in the process.
Shortly after the raid, he is revealed to the world as the newest S-Rank Hunter and garners the attention of various guilds meaning to recruit them, he refuses them and reenters the previous dungeon for the component required for the healing item. Along the way, he meets and befriends the demon Esil. He learns from her that not all monsters desire to kill humans and some simply exist to protect their area. After acquiring the final component, Jin-Woo crafts the elixir and successfully heals his mother.
While he was away, a new crisis emerged involving flying ant monsters invading the human world, this led to a mobilization of Hunters from various countries that Jin-Woo initially sat out on. Things were seemingly unwinnable, but he arrived on the scene and killed the King Ant, claiming its soul as a part of his growing shadow army. With this, Jin-Woo became a renowned hero and world-famous Hunter.
With that, the first season of Solo Leveling comes to a close. Those interested in where Jin-Woo's journey will take him next will have to begin reading the second season of Solo Leveling, which picks up right where the previous left off.