Book (Manhwa): I Tamed My Ex-husband’s Mad Dog by CMJM, Jagae, Jkyum

cover art for I Tamed My Ex-husband’s Mad Dog by CMJM, Jagae, Jkyum

I Tamed My Ex-husband’s Mad Dog
by CMJM, Jagae, Jkyum
published by Tappytoon (71 chapters, in season 3, ongoing)
2022 (?) – present

I didn’t expect to try to read all available chapters of this story in a few days, but it is fun enough that I didn’t want to put it down.

Reinhardt is a woman who has been wronged. She spent her youth engaged to the crown prince, only for him to send her father off to quell unrest the crown prince caused himself, get her father killed, and THEN call off the marriage and send her far away… Embittered, Reinhardt wishes for another chance – and when she gets it, and finds herself at her father’s casket 15 years in the past, she uses that chance to stab the crown prince in the leg with a sword in a way he’ll never recover from.

Her exile is harsher this time, but she is rescued from a mercenary by a feral boy – whom she recognizes as the crown prince’s henchman from the bitter version of her life. Perhaps she can raise this young version of Wilhelm in her exile to turn out differently. Perhaps he can be a tool of her revenge.

Or, as Will grows up into a powerful knight who is obsessed with her, perhaps he can be more than that – her partner or… her downfall.

Revenge is a tricky business, and one needs more than that to live a good life – as our characters discover! This story involves: speech therapy, loyal knights, daddy’s sword, stolen corpses, younger men, peat (no, seriously, peat), jealousy, teleportation crystals (!), empire-building, wars, love, obsession, annoying empresses, dungeons, capable female heads of state, wars, head injuries, male line verification science, fancy outfits, and lies… I’m very much in suspense in chapter 71, and am eager for more.

Book (Manhwa): The Castle: Keeper of the Sacred Eye by Jin Soye, hyeyong, pecan

Cover for The Castle: Keeper of the Sacred Eye

The Castle: Keeper of the Sacred Eye
by Jin Soye, hyeyong, pecan
published by Tappytoon (50 chapters ( 1 season), on hiatus / to be continued)
2023 (?) – present

Back in February, I summarized this comic as “contemporary imaginary Korean royalty battle evil spirits trapped in paintings through heterosexuality.” That is still a concise and funny summary, but I can do better… Maybe.

Jo Yuyeon is a redhead in a bad situation in contemporary Korea. She is indebted to her boss, who is keeping her comatose mother on life support in exchange for her complete devotion to running his businesses, while living in her boss’ home, and being an exploited girlfriend of the boss’ disagreeable son. A chance encounter with an evil spirit in a painting reveals that she has skills the Korean royal family needs – and she catches Prince Geon’s eye. Her adoptive family would rather get their spoiled daughter into the palace, and not give Yuyeon up. And the palace itself has a powerful spirit with its own opinion.

This has a story quite unlike the other comics I’m reading, and I have no idea how it will turn out. I want more contemporary Korean content, and so I’ll pick this up again in Season 2.

Book (Manhwa): Like Wind on a Dry Branch by Dalsaeowl, Hwaeum

iPhone version of cover for Like Wind on a Dry Branch by Dalsaeowl & Hwaeum
iPhone version of cover for Like Wind on a Dry Branch by Dalsaeowl & Hwaeum

Like Wind on a Dry Branch
by Dalsaeowl, Hwaeum
published by Webtoon (ongoing, currently at chapter 177)
2021 – present

I’m 177 chapters into this enjoyable illustrated novel, and it isn’t going to end anytime soon, so I should review and recommend it! Admittedly, this one starts rough – the author notes that they like stories of overcoming adversity, and this one starts out ALL ABOUT ADVERSITY.

When we first meet our heroine, Rieta, she is sedated and being led to a graveyard to be buried alive by the man who sold her child into slavery… No, wait, come back! This would be a one issue comic if that played out – there’s more!

AHEM. Where was I? Rieta is saved from being buried alive by a prince with a bad reputation, but it turns out that is a front – there’s a lot more going on than appearances suggest. Prince Killian Axias pretends to be a playboy, but this masks the threat he poses to the current order. Rieta seems like a hapless commoner hollowed out by grief, but has healing powers beyond explanation, raising questions about how she flunked out of religious school. Plague is spreading strangely and with suspicious timing. Magic is real, and is the subject of religious training involving the state church AND ALSO demons. And there is a curse left by a dying princess, which the current royal family is desperate to lift.

While Rieta devotes herself to healing others, the situation around her shifts, clear threats to her life emerge, and new allies refuse to let her give up on living.

The story is engaging and unpredictable, despite themes in common with other manhwa I am reading, such as: secret ancestry, corrupt religious officials, murderous royals, demons with good hair who never skip chest day (or any other day) at the gym, a harem that is not what it appears, curses, and sweet women who can cure plagues. What sets it apart is that it is well written, illustrated in subdued tones, has an unexpectedly reasonable prince, and takes non-obvious plot turns.

Plus, there is a quirk to the illustrations, where side-eye (you know what this is, don’t make me look at you this specific way with scorn) is unduly dramatic, and this delights me.

If I look forward to more even 177 chapters in, it’s good!

Book (Manhwa): In the Bleak Midwinter by Kat, Ali

Cover art for in the Bleak Midwinter on Webtoon

In the Bleak Midwinter
by Kat, Ali
published by Webtoon (37 chapters, ongoing)
2020 – present

Finally, another sci-fi story! YAAAAAAY!

Anya decides to cryogenically sleep for a year to avoid processing grief for her mother and sister in android-related accidents, only to wake up 25 years later in a human-versus-android hellscape.

Worse, the digital readout on her wrist which was counting down the years and minutes until she meets her “soulmate” lights up when she leaves her cryo-pod and sees a man… who immediately shoots her dead.

What the hell? Well, that was a short review, onto the next… wait, she comes back to life? And multiple people are after her as an advantage they could use to win the war they’ve been waging while she slept?

Everyone has Russian names, it snows constantly, Anya has terrible nightmares, and her brother is still a jerk (because some things never change). The art is a mix of video-game textures, eerie lights with convincing halos, and characters that look best straight on or in full profile. I like the eeriness and ambiguity of the characters called The Ten, and Anya’s combination of being terrified yet also being willing to try very risky plans rather than watch other humans die.

Each episode has music, which adds to the mood (but you can keep it very low).

I’m delighted to find a sci-fi story on the Webtoon platform.

Book (Manhwa): The East Wind of the Altas by Tappytoon Studio, Ziseo

Cover of the East Wind of the Altas from Tappytoon

The East Wind of the Altas
by Tappytoon Studio, Ziseo
published by Tappytoon (chapters 1-50 (season 1); season 2 in progress (ongoing)
2023 – present

I described the setup for this to a friend in a way that made him not want to read it, as the start was a bit grim. I told him a widowed mother of three has to give herself to a violent nobleman to compensate him after he kills his horse to prevent it from crushing her kids… and I lost his interest right there. But there is more to it!

Claire… is not really a widow, the kids aren’t really hers, she is in hiding under a false identity, she is fearless and assertive, she is multilingual (sexy!), and she has pretty eyes and big plans. The violent Marquess Balt (tee hee hee) Morenheitz is handsome, warm, good in bed, looks after her loved ones, and (eventually) is one of the better men in her life. That’s barely a compliment, considering what she’s been through, but she has the usual heroine-making-everyone-love-her qualities of inherent goodness, so when starts enjoying herself with him, we want that for her, even though we don’t know her plans or all of her secrets. Her wanting to enjoy him (for now) is good enough! (Hooray for women enjoying bedtime with fond, handsome men!) We might even root for Balt’s powerful eyebrows when they go to battle for him in season two, though Claire’s many unspilled secrets may defeat them.

Book (Manhwa): The Broken Ring : This Marriage Will Fail Anyway by: CHACHA KIM, CHOKAM, Cheong-gwa

Cover Art for The Broken Ring: This Marriage Will FAIL Anyway

The Broken Ring : This Marriage Will Fail Anyway
by: CHACHA KIM, CHOKAM, Cheong-gwa
published by Tappytoon (chapters 1-65 (2 seasons) with Season 3 starting / ongoing)
2022 – present

This story isn’t what it seems.

At first, it appears that our heroine, six year old Inés Valeztena de Perez, turns down a promise of marriage to the (child) emperor in favor of the (child) Cárcel Escalante because she declares him good looking. How light-hearted! How silly! Sure, she grows up to find Cárcel to be a hopeless womanizer and declares herself indifferent to his antics, but we think we know what is going on.

But. It’s all much harsher and darker than that. And so this is a general spoiler warning, without details, but still a warning. Okay?

This isn’t Inés’ first time living this life.

Her prior efforts to live and fulfill her obligations to her family and empire ended horrifically. They were the stuff of nightmares, and each time her life was unbearable – and short. So this time, when she finds herself back in childhood before her doom was sealed, she decides to chart a new course at age 6 — with the burden of memories of the horrors that befell her, which return to her from time to time. She chooses hapless Cárcel as her future husband ESPECIALLY because he has always been a sweet side character who witnessed her tragic endings, and is surely harmless. He doesn’t even need to love her, and she is determined to feel nothing for him.

Her plans may be complicated, unwittingly, by Cárcel himself, and possibly others. Can she survive? Can she do better than survive? Will Cárcel be an obstacle to her desperate plan, or can he help her finally have a life worth living?

Lovely drawing of our tragic heroine, Inés
Lovely drawing of our traumatized heroine, Inés

I found this series to be a real page-turner. The initially simple-seeming story wasn’t so simple, the way reincarnation is used is different from the other stories I’ve enjoyed, the horrors that Inés experienced were beyond the pale, and her desperation to avoid repeating them is a powerful force. Her determination to survive according to her newest plan appears to be interfering with her success, but considering what she has been through, it’s difficult to blame her!

While feudal Europe is a common setting, this story is set in a fictional version of SPAIN, which is refreshing, and which means everyone has great names! (I’m from California, so obviously we love Spanish names!) Also: excuses to use good lace. (I’m a fan!). Cárcel experiences character growth, or… is it something else? Does he… know something?

The suspense and my hopes for Inés (WITH Cárcel!) have me eager for a non-tragic ending this time around. While this has one of the darker backstories I’ve read in my recent obsession with Korean webtoons (which is really saying something), I’m eager to read the next season!

Note: I’ve been reading the “all ages” version, but there is a sexier mature version available (for sale in Mature mode only, and subject to typical webtoon censorship standards) that I haven’t purchased.

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.

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.