Sugarholic 1-5 by Gong GooGoo: B

Jae-Gyu Sin is a lazy and listless twenty-year-old living with her mother and grandmother. When a mudslide destroys their house, her grandmother ships Jae-Gyu off to Seoul with very little money and instructions to stay with her brother, a university student, for a while. On her way there, she manages to tear the shirt being worn by a random hottie then spots her childhood bullying victim Hee-Do on TV, where he is performing as part of a popular boy band. (Incidentally, I wonder just how many manhwa feature a spunky girl who gets into a relationship with an impossibly beautiful boy due to the accidental destruction of his property. It happens in There’s Something About Sunyool, it happens (sort of) in the K-drama Coffee Prince…)

After some setup, in which Jae-Gyu reconnects with her former classmate Hyun-Ah, accidentally pantses the hottie (Whie-Hwan), runs into Hee-Do, and ends up accompanying some of Hyun-Ah’s coworkers to a sort of prostitution gig, Whie-Hwan makes a proposition. His grandfather, head of a crime family, keeps hassling him about his ex-girlfriend, so he wants Jae-Gyu to live with him and pose as his new love interest for a month. When she sees the amount of money he’s offering, Jae-Gyu agrees.

Whie-Hwan, not surprisingly, has the angst. He was weak as a kid growing up in Thailand, so his grandfather had him study Muay Thai, not realizing that Whie-Hwan would grow incredibly attached to his teacher, Athit. Grandpa eventually forced Whie-Hwan to quit, under threat of physical injury to Athit, and Whie-Hwan has been miserable ever since. This begins to change as he spends more time around Jae-Gyu. Though she’s kind of obnoxious and aggressively immature, she is quite lively, and her presence helps Whie-Hwan wake up to the world around him.

In time, and after a few timely rescues of Jae-Gyu from a sleazy rich guy who’s taken a liking to her, Whie-Hwan realizes that he’s begun to have genuine feelings for her. Jae-Gyu, too, is experiencing the same thing, and it’s here where we begin to understand that her off-putting behavior is really just a defense mechanism. When she was a child, her father abandoned his wife and children, and in order to avoid attracting anyone’s pity or sympathy, young Jae-Gyu acted as bratty and rambunctious as possible. This attitude persists even now, with Jae-Gyu denying her feelings expression because “I know well enough that if I show any weakness, I lose.” I found Jae-Gyu grating in the first two volumes, but after this insight in volume three, I began to like her (and the series as a whole) much more.

Here begins the truly charming phase of the series, in which Whie-Hwan and Jae-Gyu decide to become a real couple and attempt to do couple-ish things, although neither has been in a real relationship before. Whie-Hwan’s idea of an ideal first date is to whisk Jae-Gyu off to Thailand so that she can get to know him better by experiencing the Muay Thai he loves and so he can also show her off to Athit. Over-the-top Evil Grandpa doesn’t take well to this, however, preventing the long-awaited reunion with Athit and and shipping Whie-Hwan off to the US for a few months.

When he returns, free of his grandfather at last, Whie-Hwan is much more clear-eyed and open about what he wants: a future in which both Muay Thai and Jae-Gyu figure prominently. I really enjoyed seeing the two of them finally begin to lower some of their barriers and communicate in earnest, though it will take until near the end of volume five for Jae-Gyu to be able to plainly say, “I like you” without expecting Whie-Hwan to read her mind and discover what she really means versus what she’s actually saying. I also liked that Jae-Gyu has to deal with some jealous pangs arising from the knowledge that no matter how much Whie-Hwan cares about her, Muay Thai and Athit will be as important to him, if not more so. She eventually realizes that, if she really loves him, she will encourage him to pursue what makes him happy while seeking to find something similar for herself. In a way, this outcome reminds me of Paradise Kiss, though the ultimate conclusion is much more happy and conventional here.

I’ve been able to write this entire review so far without making more than passing references to Hee-Do, which is a good indication of how entirely unnecessary I found him to be. Petulant and self-pitying, the smitten Hee-Do continually attempts to get through to Jae-Gyu how he feels about her. He thinks it’s a failure to understand on her part, but in reality, she’s aware of his feelings but doesn’t know how to deal with them. Rather than hurt him, since she eventually comes to value his friendship, she feigns obliviousness. Hee-Do is really the clueless one here, unable to see that his advances are making Jae-Gyu uncomfortable. I found his vacillation between glomping and moping annoying.

The art in Sugarholic also has its problems. It’s appropriate for Jae-Gyu to look plain and coltish, and I’m used to the pouty male leads in manhwa looking like they’re wearing mascara, but practically everyone has this random little scribble on their lower lip that makes them look like they either got punched or are in desperate need of some healing lip balm action. It’s very distracting. Some of the dark-haired female characters look similar, too. I did like that the panels are large and not laden with dialogue, though; I’m sometimes a slow reader, but devouring this series was a breeze.

If you’re considering picking up Sugarholic, be prepared to endure two volumes that aren’t so great before things pick up in volume three. I liked it a good bit in the end, so I’m glad I continued with it, but I might not have done so if I hadn’t had all five volumes at hand already.

Sugarholic is published in English by Yen Press. All five volumes have now been released.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Did you enjoy this article? Consider supporting us.


  1. […] other reviews, Michelle Smith goes all out, with a review of volumes 1-5 (the full series) of Sugarholic (Yen Press) at Soliloquy in Blue. She also talks about volume 8 of Moon Boy (Yen Press) in the most […]

Speak Your Mind