Book (Manhwa): I thought My Time Was Up! by Essie, Hyeyong, and Ari Choi

Logo for the webcomic "I Thought My Time Was Up!"

I thought My Time Was Up
by Essie, Hyeyong, and Ari Choi
published by Webtoon (chapters 1-64 (Season 1), ongoing)
2023-present

Lariette Blanche is the neglected younger daughter of Duke Blanche, who is running House Blanche to ruin. While the Blanches spoil their eldest son and allow him formal education, they keep Lariette uneducated and untrained in using her magical abilities, allow her brother to push her around, and hatch a plan to sell her off to a creepy old man who can bail out their business.

Meanwhile, Lariette doesn’t feel well. When her doctor tells her she has a terminal illness and just a few months to live, the shock shakes Lariette out of her docility, and she decides to boldly enjoy her last few months of life. She resolves to leave her abusive family’s home, ditch the creep her family sold her to, and enjoy herself with a handsome man in her remaining months of life before she will literally (and literarily, because this is fiction) explode.

With her strong-yet-underdeveloped abilities as a purification mage, she encounters handsome Sword of the Empire, Duke Ashrahan Kandel, who happens to be suffering from a terrible curse that has afflicted him his entire life… Which is exactly the niche thing that purification mages are good for! She offers to work for him, signs a contract, and also asks him out – she’s gonna die, so why not go big?

Collage of Lariette, sexy future pope Doha, and Duke Kandel.
Collage of Essie’s fantastic characters: heroine Lariette, sexy most likely future pope Doha, and Duke Kandel.
Look at the LACE! Look at the great hair! Look at the EYELASHES!

Lariette gets to live in the Duke’s manor, flirt with him relentlessly (overcoming his self-consciousness about the icky curse and his bloody reputation), and has someone who has her back when others try to abuse her again.

But, as in all of these stories, there are misunderstandings and overt deceptions. She won’t admit that she is terminally ill, so some of her actions and bravery go unexplained; the sexy “deacon” who heals her doesn’t admit he is a powerful senior cleric, nor admit that she is his equal in magical power; one of her “friends” really just wants to steal the duke away; and people get misgendered because of their fantastic hair. (I see you, handsome princess!)

Season One ends in blood, but we know that there are more episodes coming, so it can’t be the end! OR CAN IT?

Essie’s art is super fun – I love everyone’s hair (ooooh, Doha), but especially their eyelashes. They are colorful! They match their hair! They are so THICK! It’s an amazing look which I can’t emulate because I wear glasses and can’t stand the feeling of mascara beating on them, but it makes me want to be that cool! (I already had pastel pink hair, and people were so sweet to me… but it was WORK.)

Fun, bold, cheeky heroine! Action rather than pining! Women who flirt! Beheadings in public spaces! Women who kick rude men down hallways! A long suffering and stealthy knight, Gerard (I want one!)! Loving couples who get to share a bed! Magic that removes bloodstains! Sexy yet modestly dressed potential popes with gorgeous hair!

This is a fun series that reminds us to live our best lives. I look forward to future seasons, and want to see many more projects drawn by Essie.

Book (Manhwa): Men of the Harem by HereLee, Alphatart, & Yeongbin

Logo of Men of the Harem webtoon, chapter 148
Men of the Harem chapter heading (chapter 148)

Men of the Harem
by HereLee, Alphatart, Yeongbin
published by Webtoon (150 chapters, 2 seasons, ongoing)
2021 – present

Latil believed her boyfriend would send for her after settling a crisis in his home empire, but instead she received an invitation to his wedding as emperor… to someone else.

After her father was murdered and she executed her dangerous brother, Latil became empress of her own empire, and decided to establish a harem of consorts – for spite and fun! Would her ex become jealous? Oh, yes. Would a variety of handsome and influential men apply, ranging from both wealthy royals to mercenaries and spies? Again, yes – and one of them is her emperor-ex’s overconfident brother.

Despite the fun implications of the title, Latil is a really hard worker, and birth control doesn’t exist in this world yet, so it isn’t the party it could be. Latil must stabilize her empire and determine who killed her father, so she is too busy to frolic with her attractive consorts and risk a pregnancy that will leave her unable to swing her sword – something she still needs to do often. Also, because of the influence of the men, favoring one over another creates political drama outside of the palace – and not just drama for her closest knight, who secretly pines for her.

Season 1 is filled with drama, political intrigue, flirting, secret maps, magical items, and possible imposters.

Season 2 reveals that dark magic seems may have returned to the world after an absence of 500 years, with outlying villages being emptied by monsters, and rumors that her ex’s new empress has gone mad, because she is claiming to see people back from the dead.

Did I both gasp AND make a pained sound at seeing a familiar character oozing blood and sinking into a pond – yes, yes I did!

Even during crises, the harem is a source of campy humor and entertainment – and outside it, some of her consorts are both useful and eager to help. My favorite is the secret leader of the assassins’ guild, who also likes to read (ooooh), fall of out his clothes (haha), send Latil naughty paintings (o_o) – AND ALSO go undercover with his empress, collect intelligence for her through his guild, and capture people! (Competence is sexy!) Then there’s the big pale one who implies he has always known her, without explaining the specifics of these prior life relationships. His strength and unflinching devotion are assets, even if he is a bit spooky… When he says her knight was born to protect her, is he being melodramatic, or is he hinting at a prophecy he is eager for her to ask about?

Latil is a woman who works too much and needs to have more fun (aside from participating in brawls while eating street food without her knights present), and I really want her to have a chance to relax! And also, not to need to manage a zombie outbreak, or worry that she’s going to become the bad guy. (Problems we all face at one time or another, amirite.)

Season Two delivered the always enjoyable, ‘don’t worry, this isn’t my blood’ trope that I eagerly await in all Korean graphical fiction.

I stayed up too late several evenings reading Season Two, and I’m eagerly awaiting Season Three.

Administration: Adding Manhwa Tag for Selected Webcomics

I’m starting to add the tag “manhwa” to the Korean webcomics I’m posting, because I got into them before being able to have pedantic arguments about what distinguishes manga, manhwa, and even manhua!

The general gist is that these are comics (a) from South Korea that are often (b) in color and now even (c) set up for vertical (phone) scrolling publication.

If you haven’t noticed (because I usually only write at the end of publication, and so much of what I’m reading is in ongoing serialization without end), my main sources of manhwa content are Tappytoon and the Webtoon app.

Many genres and styles are available. I primarily choose stories of:

  • dying of overwork in the real world, waking up as a the villainess of a novel the heroine has already read, and trying to reform her character to change her unfortunate fate
  • avenging the killing of one’s immediate family (feudal settings)
  • secret identities (especially including girls having to pretend to be guys to survive; sole survivors of royal families pretending to be commoners to they can get revenge later, etc.)
  • dramedies (dramatic comedies) which are often also romances and invovle women who are good at fighting with swords (and sometimes magic).

The digital coloring, use of 3D software to model figures in lifelike positions and odd angles, and the application of complex textures and patterns makes this genre quite visually appealing – my phone is filled with screenshots of favorite characters whose costumes would be disabling to draw by hand, but are slightly less so with digital tools. (They can still be disabling – the artists need to take long breaks between seasons to recover from the efforts! Some are on long term hiatus for health reasons… I worry a bit for the artists over this.). I’m a bit discouraged by the dominance of European castles and royal themes, though I understand why the elaborate costumes can be fun, and why it is convenient to have idle (not ordinarily employed) characters with time to get into trouble.

You’ll see the new tag applied as I consider whether to rename the titles to a broader category like comic (which evokes American retro-newspaper comics, rather inaccurately) or perhaps graphic fiction.

Life: Pajama Weekend

So, it turns out four months is too long to go without a vacation. Who knew?

What? [conversational sounds] Oh. Oh, really? Everyone knew? [conversational sounds] I see. [takes notes, breaks pencil lead from pressing into notebook too hard, tosses notebook across desk.]

I used this weekend to rest. Read, eat, and rest. I am still wearing the very soft clothes I slept in, and I am not ashamed.

I’m reading more [written things] than I write about here. Also, I’m intentionally not writing about much of what I read, because I write to share / endorse / celebrate / promote things I enjoy, and if I’m not that enthused, I don’t want to waste my energy.

I’m not writing about webcomics that spend too much time discussing agriculture. It sounds like a weird bias, but if someone was tortured in a dungeon by their family and uses magic to time travel to avenge themselves, only to spend their days giving expositions about strategic crops, I feel like they are avenging themselves on me, somehow. Another webcomic with a hotly drawn villain somehow led to the lovely heroine making dramatic statements about the berry industry, and I nearly threw my phone. (I’m enjoying one now that involves a secret mission to secure a port, but it is just a side thing, not something I have to pay attention to! The world and characters are well established, and the story doesn’t require this – it’s just a footnote. World-building such details by footnote is FINE!)

I’m not writing about webcomics centered on rivalries between two female-led religious institutions. One of the women is a fraud whose powers are being faked by manipulative men (yes, in more than one comic), and it is getting predictable.

I’m not writing about religious instructional texts I’m dipping into, because those are only interesting if you are in the same sect, and any subjective criticism of such texts is unlikely to be welcome.

I’m not writing about the audiobooks I can’t hear properly in the train or the eBooks on my phone that are in progress.

I’m not writing about current event news, because such news is uniformly awful at the moment, and might encourage you to live under a rock. You might upset a sweet octopus or eel living under that rock, so just leave them and their hidden home alone, deal with humans as much as the rest of us must, and whip a few humans into shape, please.

I do love the magic of scheduling posts in advance, and will try to use this magic more often to spread my infrequent-yet-enthusiastic output more evenly.

Book (Manhwa): The Knight and Her Emperor by G.M, Team IYAK (winter, heyum)

Tappytoon banner for The Knight and Her Emperor by GM and Team IYAK (winter, heyum).
Tappytoon banner for The Knight and Her Emperor by GM and Team IYAK (winter, heyum).

The Knight and Her Emperor
by. G.M, Team IYAK (winter, heyum)
published by Tappytoon (197 chapters over 4 seasons, complete)
2023

Pollyanna’s neglectful family needed to contribute a family member to the war effort. Her parents favored her younger sister, so they just… handed Pollyana over to be trained as a solider, and didn’t look back. Her mentor trained her as well as he could, advising her on how to compensate for her weaknesses, while grimly warning that both the enemy and her own side were likely to rape her. Her fellow soldiers were cold and abusive, and she had little personal safety and no sympathy. She gave up all femininity to be one of the guys, pulled together a loyal team during military campaigns, and tried to die an honorable soldier’s death while saving them.

As her captors struggled to execute her less-than-honorably, she made an impression on the enemy’s emperor.

Such a big impression, that he offered her a job.

And, given her first real opportunity, the foreign (!) woman (!) solider (!) took that job offer and ROLLED WITH IT. Pollyanna swore an oath to the emperor, became the knight Sir Pol, and served his majesty faithfully throughout his military campaign to conquer the incessantly warring continent.

This webtoon spans MORE THAN A DECADE! (I’ll change to present tense!) In a country where people express sympathy for the misfortune of giving birth to a daughter, Pol’s life requires near-daily struggle, struggle softened by the loyalty and friendship of her knights plus rewards from her appreciative emperor. Along the way she makes friends and enemies, kicks men where it hurts, becomes a war hero, conceals weapons in formalwear, inspires fierce loyalty in comrades at arms, becomes lonely, tries to do too much herself, develops close female friendships, becomes a role model, and… punches trees.

This multi-season graphic novel (based on a book) took the artists six years to complete, and it’s epic! I hadn’t realized when I started how many chapters were available, so each chapter was a cliffhanger – I wasn’t sure anyone would survive, and was pleasantly surprised to hit the button providing the next chapter, even when the (relatable) pain of Pol’s struggles to be taken seriously stung me in familiar ways. In that spirit of suspense, I’ll only note that Season 1 centers on the decade-long war across the continent; Season 2 is focuses on establishing a lasting peace and living in a society that has no clear space for senior female officers; and Season 3 is about being true to oneself and pursuing happiness against all odds after ALL OF THAT.

I felt weary on Pol’s behalf at the at the end of the war, worried that Pol’s spirit would be broken during peacetime by hateful old men, charmed by the emperor’s adoration-plus-respect for her [swoon], and misty that she could be herself AND (to her own surprise) have people who truly care about her and like her just as she is.

This webtoon has many lighthearted moments, funny jokes told by characters that other characters refuse to laugh at, adorable chibi-style illustrations, hard life lessons, babies drooling, a man with blinding physical beauty, and moments of yelling at the characters to JUST TELL EACH OTHER WHAT YOU ARE GOING THROUGH that must go unheeded for the sake of the plot for a while, but not forever.

This webtoon delights me, and I’m so glad I read it. I developed care and affection for the characters, and was emotionally moved at the end. I strongly recommend The Knight and Her Emperor.

Life: Declining Social Events Politely

I’ve invited some long-time friends to dine with me, but don’t want to pressure them to attend. Long time friends can always decline – we’ve known each other forever, after all – and I’ve invited them to say they aren’t in the mood if that is true. Historically, some of them won’t decline, but then bounce during the event, or agree to attend, but cancel at the last moment, which is less fun.

To prevent bouncing and bailing, I’ve invented a list of excuses they may use at any time with me, which I will accept without challenge. This list includes:

  • attending an appointment for plastic surgery (giving or receiving)
  • having tires rotated (must pretend to own car)
  • entertaining out of town guests
  • filming porn
  • engaging in crimes on behalf of the Republican National Committee
  • washing hair (must not be bald)
  • having hair cut (same)
  • cutting hair for others
  • attending pet therapy.

I hope to update this list seasonally, so none of the excuses become worn out.

Life: Working too much, reading too little

So, the usual.

I’ve been entertaining myself during times when I can stay awake. I took a ferry ride, and observed that the usual boat was in the shop, so one of the giant commuter boats took its place. I texted a friend about this, with the note, “I like big boats and I cannot lie,” and he found it hilarious. (This is a Sir Mix-a-lot reference, for you young people.)

I am enjoying pleasant cross-employer camaraderie during my commute, and enjoy speaking with my solution-oriented allies at the office.

*

I’m reading multiple new manga which are published serially and are incomplete, so it is difficult to know WHEN to write about them. I may invent a rule about reviewing them at the end of each season, or perhaps 100 chapters? (I’ll need a similar rule if and when I ever write about The Second Sex, which is complete but very, very long. And filled with book flags/darts that I’ve left there for points I want to dwell on.)

I continue to avoid comics which are creepy about female characters’ bodies (groin close-ups on underdressed female characters during battle scenes? No, thank you!), while the men are covered to such an extreme that you can’t see their hands without gloves. That is just weird. If men are that uncomfortable with men showing skin, they should really work on their issues.

The drama and fantasy stories often have women softening/improving violent male characters, even to the point of turning depots and recluses into engaged authority figures who actively attend to the needs of their subjects, and I don’t think that is a very safe theme to promote. The hashtag for those is #charactergrowth, and I find that funny.

I’m still mystified by the many story tangents relating to agriculture. There is a drama, someone is trying to prevent their own execution, and then there are many pages devoted to growing a crop. I… I… What?

There is a running manga in-joke that still surprises me, sometimes 100 or more chapters into a story:
a main character enters a room covered in blood
others characters express concern
the bloody character then says ‘it’s not my blood’ (the actual wording varies), suggesting that they just won a battle of some type that is not being illustrated here.
It is… very funny, in these stories – unexpected, as there hasn’t been a lot of violence until that point, or there was but it was distant. The fact that I find this funny means it is well done, but also that I am living in a culture that has normalized violence. (Oh-oh. True. Yes.)

Please be sure to work on your own #charactergrowth without waiting for a new romantic partner, and avoid being covered in ANYONE’S blood.