Full House 1-4 by Sooyeon Won

There’s certainly plenty of precedent for romantic comedies in which a feisty, average girl exchanges snarky banter with a rich and handsome fellow (to whom she is often secretly attracted even while deeming him odious). It may just be a licensing fluke, but it seems that a large portion of the sunjeong manhwa that I’ve read (Very! Very! Sweet, Sugarholic, Goong: The Royal Palace, There’s Something About Sunyool) also follows this formula. Now, I can add Sooyeon Won’s Full House to that list.

Ellie Ji is a Korean living alone in the UK after the deaths of her parents. Although her family relocated while Ellie was in primary school, she still doesn’t feel quite at home in England, so the lovely house her architect father built and left to her is an important refuge. One morning, she is unceremoniously ousted by emissaries of Ryder Baye, a famous actor, who claim that he is now the owner of the home, known as Full House. Hot-tempered Ellie vows to get the house back, no matter what it takes, and when Ryder hits her with his car, the perfect opportunity arises.

Ellie demands Ryder hand over Full House as compensation for her injuries, but he’s not having that, and thus they embark upon the first of what will be many, many, many arguments. Finally, Ellie declares, “I’ll even marry you, if that’ll do the trick!!” Ryder is far from enthused (“How could you say such a thing, when the very idea of wedding you is so horrific?! It’s beyond absurd, and even more disgusting than vomit and foot odor!”) but his manager, Miranda, likes the idea because it’ll help quash some nasty rumors that Ryder is gay. Eventually, everyone ends up agreeing to the arrangement.

So, once Ellie is discharged from the hospital, she and Ryder officially announce their engagement and move into Full House, with Ryder occupying the first floor and Ellie the second. Whereupon they proceed to have the rest of those many, many, many arguments I mentioned earlier. Ellie can be hyper-defensive and obnoxious, while Ryder is somewhat more sympathetic but yet unable to say what needs to be said to defuse a hostile situation. Sometimes they almost seem to get along, then something happens to derail that. Seriously, I can’t even list all the things they find to get up in arms about, because it’s kind of ridiculous and, more importantly, absolutely wearing upon the reader. Probably the worst moment is when Ryder offers to introduce Ellie, an aspiring screenwriter, to a director and she scathingly retorts, “I’m so grateful I’m about to break into tears! Should I bow down and kiss your feet to show my appreciation?”

The characters do and say things that make one want to shake them, like Ellie’s reluctance to just tell Ryder that her dad built that house and that she’d been living in it. They’d also rather let misunderstandings and misconceptions of their motives persist than deign to provide an exonerating explanation for their behavior. Sometimes this kind of dynamic can work for me in a couple—I actually like all those series I mentioned above—but here, I just really found it maddening. They’re bound and determined to be nasty to each other, even though they both surely realize there’s something good about their influence on each other. For Ryder, Ellie serves as a “stimulant,” when compared with all the other docile fangirls who throw themselves upon him. For Ellie, Ryder’s insistence upon public appearances awakens her potential as a stunning beauty and helps the once uncouth girl develop genuine poise.

Beyond its aggravating central relationship, Full House has some other odd quirks. As demonstrated by the quotes above, the dialogue is often over-the-top and laughable. (Felix, Ellie’s former beau, on learning of her engagement: “I couldn’t fall asleep from being so overwhelmed and busy sobbing.”) There are some grammatical errors, as well. On the plus side, some effort is made to make the speech sound British, with a scattering of “bloke”s and “bloody wanker”s peppering the script. Plotting is also similarly melodramatic. For example, volume four concludes with the sudden revelation that Ryder has a brain tumor and only three to five months to live. Dun dun dun!

Despite my gripes, I actually don’t hate Full House at all. I do marvel, though, that there are sixteen volumes in this series, plus a five-volume sequel. Are they all like this? I positively long for these two to have a civil conversation, and perhaps they will do, if the events of the first chapter of volume five (the only portion of that volume currently available on the NETCOMICS website) are any indication.

And now I’ve just realized that my opinion toward this series—it drives me crazy, but I can’t seem to leave it alone—is exactly what’s going on between its two leads. So, perhaps what I really ought to be saying is “Well done, Miss Won?”

Full House was originally published in English by the now-defunct CPM, but only the first four volumes—out of a total of sixteen—were released. The series is being released on the NETCOMICS website with a new translation, though the last update (the first chapter of volume five) was just over three months ago. No print editions have yet been produced.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

There’s Something About Sunyool 2-3 by Youngran Lee: B+

Sunyool Lee’s life is full of disreputable accomplishments. If only she had something to show for them!

Volume two picks up four years after the dissolution of Sunyool’s six-month marriage to Sihyun Park, a wonderful guy with whom she was perfectly compatible. After a two-year stay in Paris, where she attempted to forget her pain and honed her pastry chef skills, she returned to Korea. A one-year stint running her own bakery ended in failure and now she works as an assistant at a bakery owned by a foul-tempered but gorgeous (aren’t they all?) novelist named Kangjae Lee.

When Kangjae first meets Sunyool, he’s willing to overlook the fact that she has just destroyed his laptop because she’s totally his type. Once he puts his contacts in, however, his illusions are shattered and they begin an adversarial relationship. Kangjae has the dubious talent of being able to enrage anyone within five seconds of meeting them, but Sunyool is able to hold her own against him, even while she’s working off her debt by working as his housekeeper. Most of the second volume consists of Kangjae acting like a spoiled child—“He’s a toddler who has no regard for anyone else’s feelings,” Sunyool decrees at one point—and Sunyool learning about his crappy childhood from his assistant/cousin, Byungman.

Things pick up a great deal in volume three with the return of Sihyun. In a nutshell: he still loves Sunyool and wants to be with her. Sunyool’s pride is stung because he didn’t stand up for their marriage four years ago and she knows that nothing has changed as far as his disapproving family is concerned. Various family members/wannabe fiancées show up to accuse Sunyool of ruining Sihyun’s life, and this is where she really shines as a character.

Although she, and members of the supporting cast, comment often on the storyline’s resemblance to a violent soap opera, Sunyool counters the over-the-top bitchiness of her accusers with a profound level-headedness that’s extremely satisfying. She has no expectations of a happy reunion with Sihyun, and makes that clear time and time again. Seeing a woman depicted as both in love and sensible is truly a lovely thing to behold, and though some of these twists are silly (though I did love the scene where she snaps and assaults someone) they also serve to show what makes her such a unique and interesting character.

Complicating matters is Kangjae. He begins hanging around the bakery more and more, getting antsy when Sunyool is not there and feeling jealous of Sihyun when he shows up. According to his cousin, Kangjae (whose real name also happens to be Sunyool Lee) was neglected by his parents in favor of his talented brother, so to see Sunyool all hung up on Sihyun when she could be basking in his hotness instead really bothers him. Initially, I was sort of annoyed that I was supposed to take the horrible Kangjae seriously as a love interest, but maybe this will shape up to be a Boys Over Flowers kind of scenario where the tough-as-nails commoner girl is able to help the immature rich guy become a better person.

In the end, There’s Something About Sunyool offers a lot of crackalicious drama that is extremely fun to read. Volume two is a bit slow, as all of the bickering grows tiresome, but don’t let that dissuade you from continuing on to volume three, which is much better and ends on quite a cliffhanger. That’s a little worrisome, since there haven’t been any new updates on the NETCOMICS site lately, but I choose to believe we’ll get more of this story in the future.

Volumes two and three of There’s Something About Sunyool are currently available only at NETCOMICS.com, though a print version for volume two is scheduled for a September release. No cover image is currently available.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

There’s Something About Sunyool 1 by Youngran Lee: B

Sunyool Lee first met her father, a powerful politician, six months after her mother’s death. He’d been unable to have children with his wife, and so acknowledged Sunyool as his daughter. The arrangement gave Sunyool access to the finer things in life, but also required a number of sacrifices, including giving up the freedom to choose her own spouse. For her part, though, Sunyool is practical about the necessities of an arranged marriage, and is more than willing to check out the candidates her father has chosen. In the end, she chooses a gentlemanly young man named Sihyun Park and the two are married.

At first, one is led to believe that There’s Something About Sunyool will be a romantic comedy in which the two leads marry as strangers but learn to love each other—akin to something like Goong: The Royal Palace—but in actuality, they quickly discover that they are highly compatible, and that a happy future is not only possible but likely. Of course, such perfect bliss cannot last for long and—through no fault or desire of the newlyweds—the marriage is ultimately short-lived. The story picks up four years later with Sunyool living in another town and poised to embark on entirely new adventures.

It’s not until one reaches the final chapter that one realizes that this change of direction is coming and that the first volume is really serving as a prologue to a story that has hardly begun. These events establish Sunyool’s character and will presumably set up an overarching plot for the series, but the story cuts off at such a random point in her new life that it’s difficult to see how the events have changed her, if at all, and without any substantive hints about the story’s direction from here, it’s a pretty abrupt and lackluster conclusion.

Gripes about plot structure aside, though, this is still an engaging read, largely because of the strong and quirky protagonist. Sunyool faces life honestly and without pretension, which enables her to accept the idea of an arranged marriage without difficulty, saying, “Well, it’s not like I have some lofty dreams for the future… It might be nice to marry whoever (sic) Assemblyman Lee says to and live a life of comfort. I’ve been at the bottom and it was not pretty.” Too, her father gives her some advice—“Be brave and confident in any circumstance”—that she takes to heart and uses to get her through the tough times resulting in the dissolution of her marriage. While some guys are intimidated (or simply turned off) by her lack of feminine mystique, her fearlessness is largely responsible for Sihyun growing to love her so swiftly, and suggests she’ll land on her feet no matter what happens.

Lee’s art is attractive, featuring the pointed chins and pouty lips that would enable those familiar with manhwa to recognize its origins pretty immediately. Her style here is a little more cute than in Click, an earlier series from this creator also published by NETCOMICS, but not as frantically sparkly as it could’ve been. Unfortunately, there are a couple of errors in the script—mostly in the form of the wrong word being chosen rather than typos or general awkwardness—that I hope will be corrected for the print edition. There aren’t so many as to ruin the reading experience, but they’re distracting nonetheless.

Ultimately, I am very intrigued by There’s Something About Sunyool and eager to see where the story goes from this point. Happily, the series updates regularly at the NETCOMICS site, with several chapters of volume two already available.

There’s Something About Sunyool is being simultaneously released in the US and Korea, with new chapters appearing regularly at the NETCOMICS site. Amazon also lists a print edition of the first volume, due in June.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Favorite Manhwa of 2009

adventures-young-det-1Over at Manga Bookshelf, Melinda Beasi has asked a few manhwa fans, including yours truly, to name their favorite titles of 2009. You can find that post here.

It was pretty tough narrowing my picks down to five, but in the end I went with:
The Adventures of Young Det (Gyojeong Kwon, NETCOMICS)
Goong: The Royal Palace (Park SoHee, Yen Press)
Small-Minded Schoolgirls (toma, NETCOMICS)
10, 20, and 30 (Morim Kang, NETCOMICS)
Very! Very! Sweet (JiSang Shin and Geo, Yen Press)

And, for a BL pick:
U Don’t Know Me (Rakun, NETCOMICS)

I’ve read some great manhwa in 2009 and am looking forward to discovering awesome new series in 2010 as well as reading some greats that’ve already been out a while. This will be the year I finally read Let Dai!

Black-Winged Love by Tomoko Yamashita: A

blackwingedloveAs in her excellent Dining Bar Akira, Tomoko Yamashita has created in Black-Winged Love a set of boys’ love stories focusing more on a universal aspect of human relationships rather than what goes on between guys in the bedroom. Each story relates in some way to the difficulties of communication, be it the crippling fear that keeps gay men from confessing their orientation or feelings to those they care about or the problem of convincing someone of your sincerity when sexual kinks keep getting in the way. By turns, these seven stories are amusing, disturbing, sexy, and heartbreaking.

My favorite in the amusing category is “It’s My Chocolate,” which is the story of a closeted gay man, Minori, who still lives at home because he feels a responsibility to help look after his many younger siblings. He’s gotten used to self-denial in order to keep the peace at home and feels that coming out to them would be impossible. The dam finally breaks and he blurts out all of his grievances in a heartfelt and thoroughly undignified manner, resulting in a wonderfully low-key response from his mother.

“A Villain’s Teeth” is an extremely interesting story with some disturbing elements, though they thankfully don’t dominate. The tale begins with daughter of a yakuza boss informing his long-time devotee, Yuikawa, that her father is dying of cancer. She’s convinced Yuikawa is in love with her father and encourages him to seize this final opportunity to let him know his feelings. Because of his laid-back demeanor, she can’t quite understand why Yuikawa has chosen the life of a thug, resulting in a marvelous panel in which Yuikawa replies, “Young lady, I am a thug.” His claim is proven a few pages later when he violently deals with an underling who’d thought to involve him in a plot against the ailing boss. It’s rather disconcerting to see graphic violence so casually perpetrated in a BL story, but definitely sets this story apart.

The title story offers the most complicated and fascinating relationship in the volume. “Black-Winged Love” involves a masochist named Futakami who has declared his love to a hot-headed coworker named Nakazu. Knowing Futakami’s special quirk, Nakazu doesn’t take the confession seriously and whenever he gets angry about it, Futakami starts swooning. In another’s hands, this situation might be played for comedy, but Yamashita approaches the problem seriously, getting inside Futakami’s head to show that he genuinely loves Nakazu, but that his fetishes—like a pair of black wings shielding his heart—keep getting in the way. I always love stories in which the obstacle keeping two people apart comes from within, and Futakami’s anguish at his own inability to express what he really feels is positively heartbreaking.

Artistically, Yamashita’s style continues to remind me of est em. Her men all look like men, with no weepy uke types in sight, though a few of them do greatly resemble characters in Dining Bar Akira. Most stories have no sexual content whatsoever, but when such moments do occur, they’re understated and brief. One special feature I really like is the gallery of deleted scenes that appears at the end of the book, including an epilogue of sorts to one of the stories.

The two BL works by Tomoko Yamashita currently available in English are some of the best the genre has to offer. I hope we see more of her other creations—including this josei title—in the near future!

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Small-Minded Schoolgirls 1-2 by toma: A-

small-minded1What do you get when you combine some admittedly funky art with excellent characterization and a slice-of-life story about the romantic woes of a pair of professional women? Small-Minded Schoolgirls, the josei-ish, online-exclusive manhwa from NETCOMICS.

The series focuses on two women: Miru Na, a successful novelist, and Somi Han, a thwarted writer whose job is to secure talent for a literary magazine. Miru, 30, is prickly and fussy, and I honestly could probably go on for three paragraphs about her various quirks and flaws. She was popular with guys in her twenties, and always wearied of their attention and wished they’d leave her alone until one day, they did. Somi is younger and aloof, adept at hiding her real feelings, and unsure about what she really wants. She has a boyfriend, whom she claims to adore, but gets caught up in illicit flirtations with a married coworker.

The two women are acquainted, since Miru is going to be writing something for the magazine Somi works for, and though they interact occasionally (and, awesomely, do not like each other at all), the narrative mostly switches back and forth between them as they go to work, ponder existential questions, and deal with the men in their lives. Miru starts off looking for a passionate love, the kind where her mere presence is something very precious to another person, but loneliness compels her to entertain the advances of a former classmate, Dongsoon. His long-term adoration of her is flattering at first, but soon turns creepy. Somi, meanwhile, eventually realizes that she’s actually a pretty crappy girlfriend and is incapable of truly supporting her boyfriend’s dream of becoming an animator. Though declaring her eye would never rove again after the first coworker incident, the pattern’s already begun to repeat itself.

Of increasing importance is Miru’s brother, Migook, who is a resolutely apathetic slacker. He left his job over a misunderstanding he couldn’t be bothered to explain, and spends most of his time loafing around the house, reading tons of manhwa and maintaining a review blog (hee!). Slowly, we learn more details about the incident at work, and he gains more confidence about dealing with it and life in general. After long feeling like a man with nothing to offer, effectively threatening his sister’s stalker seems somehow to empower him and by the end of the second volume, he’s seeing someone and actually considering going back to work.

There are a few more characters who show up from time to time—the most important of these is Jingwan, Migook’s friend, who is looking like the perfect match for Miru—but they’re significant only in the way they impact our lead characters. Small-Minded Schoolgirls is definitely a character-centric tale that hinges more on the subtleties of interaction and personal foibles than big dramatic moments. The one time it goes there—when Dongsoon briefly kidnaps Miru—it feels wrong somehow. The series is full of keen observations on human nature and achieves poignancy and humor in equal measure. One storytelling aspect I particularly adore is the way toma uses boxes of omniscient narration to comment on what’s going on in a panel or to provide further insight into a character’s state of mind at that moment. My favorite occurs when Migook has just told Miru about his girlfriend. Before she can be truly happy for him, she unconsciously begins dialing the phone to call the new man she’s begun seeing. The narration in this panel reads, “Note: People are only able to congratulate others when they have their own peace of mind.”

While I recommend the series without reservation, the one area where it could prove a disappointment to some is in the art. The most obvious deviation from traditional manhwa is the fact that it’s in color. There’s no shading in the illustrations and backgrounds are apt to be solid fields of color, almost as if they were filled in using the bucket tool in Microsoft Paint. The drawing style itself takes some getting used to, as well. At first, I was reminded of the heta uma (bad, but good) style employed by Yusaku Hanakuma in Tokyo Zombie (Last Gasp). Eventually, though, I came to appreciate toma’s skill in depicting body language, and though close-ups are few and the scribbled black eyes inexpressive, the strength of the storytelling ensures that emotions are communicated without incident.

I’d be sad if the eccentric art kept anyone from giving Small-Minded Schoolgirls a try. After a while, it honestly becomes hard to imagine the series drawn in any other way and really, can josei lovers afford to be picky?

Review copies provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Dokebi Bride 1-6 by Marley: B

dokebi1Dokebi Bride is very difficult to describe because it’s a little bit like a lot of things, but isn’t fully any one of them. On the surface, it’s the tale of a girl named Sunbi Shin who can see spirits, and those are a dime a dozen, though few incorporate myth and folklore so creatively. In later volumes, it morphs into the story of a supernaturally gifted protagonist who travels and somehow helps to ease the problems of others; I’ve never read Mushishi, but wouldn’t be surprised to learn the vibe is similar. At its core, though, it’s the story of a girl who has been deserted by those she loved and is angry about that and who tries to act as if nothing really affects her.

As we learn in the first volume, Sunbi has been raised in a rural village by her grandmother after the death of her mother. She and her grandmother, the village shaman, are close and Sunbi learns all sorts of things about dragon spirits and feeding sea dokebis. Unfortunately, she’s ostracized in school for her strangeness and learns to hide her ability to see spirits. Upon her grandmother’s death, Sunbi moves to Seoul to live with her father and his new family where she could not possibly feel more unwanted.

dokebi2Sunbi has bigger problems than her new living arrangements, however, as she seems to have no defense against the spirits that she encounters every day. An untimely encounter with a spirit at school only serves to ensure that her ostracism continues and the only friend she makes is Taehoon, a boy who’s interested in some weird energy fields around Sunbi that he’s picked up on a special camera. After a particularly traumatic spiritual visitation results in a devastating loss, Sunbi finally decides to take some action. After consulting with a professor of folklore, she performs the ritual to summon dokebis and ends up forming a contract with the strongest one of the lot, whom she names Gwangsoo. The generally comedic Gwangsoo considers Sunbi his bride, and has a vision of her as some kind of warrior, though she doesn’t seem to be aware of these facts just yet.

dokebi3With Gwangsoo at her beck and call, Sunbi has more confidence and random spirits leave her alone. She also starts helping people, beginning with the spiritual problem keeping Taehoon’s mother’s restaurant from prospering and, after leaving her father’s house when another shaman comes to claim her grandmother’s artifacts, extending to runaways with violent tendencies and a woman who blames her disabled mother for all of her life’s difficulties. Meanwhile, a mysterious guy shows up and moves in with Sunbi’s family in Seoul and something strange is going on with her right arm.

As a character, Sunbi is the personification of prickly, as if she’s refusing to let anyone in after the pain of losing her loved ones. She refuses to lean on others, even though her stepmother does try (through regrettably manipulative ways) dokebi4 to get her to confide in someone, and is disinterested in her surroundings. After losing the shamanic artifacts, the last mementos of her grandmother, she runs away but not before the spirits attending the shaman tell her that all of the pain and suffering she’s enduring is serving to make her better able to understand those who have lost and been hurt.

As Sunbi heads out on the road, this new compassion doesn’t manifest right away, but by the end of volume six she seems to be a little bit more kindly disposed to those around her, though noticeably more towards creatures than other humans. It’s when she’s with Gwangsoo, for example, that she seems the most relaxed: she can’t trust people, but she trusts him. The art reflects this too, actually, with the creatures beautifully drawn (particularly the dragon in volume one) but humans far less so.

dokebi5While Dokebi Bride is always interesting, occasionally fascinating, and sometimes very moving—and ought to be read if only for Gwangsoo and his brethren, who would be right at home in the movie Labyrinth—it does have some problems. My main issue with it is that all six volumes feel like exposition to a bigger story that hasn’t yet begun. A lot of plot threads have been advanced—Sunbi as warrior, the itchy patch on her arm, hints at a significant role that she’ll play—but they don’t seem to go anywhere. For the first four volumes I felt pretty secure that Marley was going to get to the point someday, but after the fifth volume and its wholly unpleasant detour into the life of a girlfriend-abusing former runaway I am not so sure. It seems to be back on track with the sixth volume, but many unexplained elements remain.

dokebi6Also, while I am usually delighted when a series doesn’t insult a reader’s intelligence and allows them to figure things out for themselves, I find that I actually want a bit more spoonfeeding from this series. A large portion of my synopsis, for example, is what I suppose happened based on observing the events rather than what I know happened based on a character remarking upon it in any way. The story doesn’t come right out and say, for example, why Sunbi is no longer plagued by spirits. It’s an extrapolation that I’ve made and can only hope is correct.

Dokebi Bride is definitely unique, and I feel safe in recommending it for that fact alone, but be forewarned that it might not be the most satisfying reading experience you’ve ever had. Maybe it’ll turn into something amazing down the line, if it’s ever continued, but so far it hasn’t quite managed it.

Dining Bar Akira by Tomoko Yamashita: A

diningbar12532-year-old Akira Koji doesn’t know how to handle it when Torihara Yasuyuki, a coworker six years his junior, says, “You know… I have feelings for you.” He has always considered himself to be straight and ultimately decides not to take the confession seriously. Still, he can’t help being a bit curious. As he and Torihara continue to interact at work, bickering a good bit yet dancing closer to each other, he becomes more and more intrigued. Eventually, the two begin dating but insecurities rear their heads when it’s time to think about taking their relationship to the next level.

The basic plot of Dining Bar Akira isn’t anything new, but what Tomoko Yamashita does with the characters is fascinating. Both Akira and Torihara are grown, experienced men and have learned over the years to erect defenses in order to keep from being hurt. Even after they begin dating, they must work to earn each other’s trust. Akira, for example, swears that he does have feelings for Torihara, but the idea of being physically intimate frightens him, like if he makes such a life change at age 32, there’ll be no turning back. Torihara, meanwhile, has a habitually negative outlook that makes it hard for him to believe Akira’s not merely with him out of sympathy; he needs tangible proof. To avoid responsibility, Akira unconsciously attempts to rile Torihara enough that he’ll take the decision out of his hands, but both know it would mean nothing unless it’s a step he chooses to take himself.

I love it when the obstacles a couple faces come from within and Dining Bar Akira pulls this off admirably. Like the best boys’ love manga, it focuses on the universality of its characters’ situation—the struggle of two people who like each other to achieve true intimacy. That they both happen to be sexy, professional men is completely beside the point. In this way, it reminds me of Future Lovers. (Other similarities include its sense of humor and the way the more cynical member of the pair has trouble shaking the worry that he’s robbed his optimistic partner of the security that comes with traditional married life.)

If Dining Bar Akira has a flaw, it’s that it seems to end too abruptly, but I’m not convinced that this truly is cause for complaint. In the final chapter, Torihara and Akira have developed a daily routine, but the days are slipping by so peacefully that Torihara worries the relationship will one day just naturally dissolve. There’s no real resolution to that situation, which is a little frustrating from a reader’s point of view—I, at least, tend to appreciate neat and tidy endings—but isn’t that more realistic? After such a complicated depiction of two people wrestling with feelings of fear and love, wouldn’t it cheapen the story to cap it off with a trite happy ever after? A similar tactic is employed with “Foggy Scene,” one of a pair of short bonus stories that round out the volume.

Yamashita’s art reminds me of est em, and those familiar with the latter’s work will recognize that for the compliment it is. There’s an elegant, expressive feel to her drawings that spills over into the story itself; Dining Bar Akira is positively bereft of any artistic clichés one might expect to encounter in boys’ love manga. Both leads look like adult men, and supporting characters (in the form of fellow coworkers) tend to be the same, with some approaching middle age.

I was unfamiliar with Tomoko Yamashita’s manga before this, and I’m sure many would say the same. With work of this quality, though, I hope that won’t remain the case for too much longer.

Dining Bar Akira is currently available only at NETCOMICS.com, but a print edition will be available soon. Another Tomoko Yamashita title, Black-Winged Love, is due later this year. I’ll definitely be checking it out.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

10, 20, and 30 7 by Morim Kang: B+

102030-7Morim Kang’s warm, family-oriented manhwa comes to a close in its seventh volume, bringing the tales of thirty-something Krumb, twenty-something Belle, and teenager Rok to a satisfying close. Each woman has faced personal and romantic challenges throughout the course of the series, and the ending resolves nearly all of these plot lines well while still retaining the sense that life will go on for these vibrant characters.

My one complaint about the conclusion involves the resolution of a subplot concerning an art teacher of Rok’s who became obsessed with her and who, it was suggested, suffered from mental illness. One of Rok’s friends does a bit of investigating but the solid truth behind his mysterious behavior is never known; I suppose that’s true to life—we sometimes never know the motivations of those who puzzle us—but it’s frustrating from a reader’s standpoint.

I’m not sure what the Korean equivalent of josei is, but whatever it is, I bet 10, 20, and 30 qualifies. Although there are some teens among the cast, two-thirds of the focus is on Krumb and Belle and their forays into the workplace and the dating scene. Though its tone is quite different from Mari Okazaki’s lamentably languishing Suppli, I’d recommend it as a possible consolation read for fans of that series. If nothing else, it’ll make you feel like hugging your mom.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

10, 20, and 30 3-6 by Morim Kang: B+

102030-310, 20, and 30 is a charming manhwa about three women, each in a different decade of life. Krumb is a widowed mother in her thirties; Rok, in her late teens, is Krumb’s daughter; and Belle, in her twenties, is Krumb’s niece and Rok’s cousin. As volume three begins, they’ve recently moved out of the spacious house that Krumb’s husband built and into an affordable-to-maintain apartment. Krumb has recently recovered from an illness, leading Rok to want to take on more of the caretaker role in the family. Meanwhile, Belle is spending most of her time doing nothing but loafing around and dreaming of possible careers without actually taking any steps toward making them happen.

Time is equally divided between the characters, and they all have their own plots involving personal growth. Krumb returns to work and must contend with a more demanding position, Rok is somewhat resentful of her mother’s fragility and 102030-4strives to be more independent, and Belle is still trying to figure out what she wants to do with herself. Each also has a man in her life with some mystery attached: Krumb’s boss proposed to her then disappeared on a trip to Hong Kong, Belle is being wooed by a financial consultant with a scheming (and shrewish) girlfriend, and Rok has unwittingly become an object of obsession for a teacher at the art institute where she has enrolled in a class.

Because there are so many plots going on at once, the story tends to cut between them quickly and frequently, which can take a bit of getting used to. They also frequently intertwine, often in ways that show the characters in their best light. For example, Belle, who is often selfish and annoying and who might be fairly intolerable if the protagonist of the piece, shows what a good person she can be as she protects Rok from her creepy stalker or fights to wrest Krumb’s investments out of the grasp of the corrupt financier (once she figures out his game). In general, all of the characters look after each other and a feeling of warmth presides.

102030-5My one complaint with how the plots are handled is that the most dramatic moments themselves are never shown. In volume five, Krumb learns that her boss is alive but handicapped and goes to meet him. The meeting itself is not shown, and it’s not until a few chapters later, when she’s talking about it with her sister, that we actually glimpse anything of what went on with them. A similar thing happens in volume six: Belle answers the phone, says, “Mom? What’s wrong?”, and the next thing you know everyone’s talking about how her stepfather died and his will has been altered, et cetera. It’s a little frustrating, but I also love that the story focuses on what happens after the big drama has passed, as everyone tries to figure out what to do next to move on from the experience.

Art-wise, 10, 20, and 30 is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. The style is simple, more like something you’d expect from a comic strip than a manhwa, but it does have moments when it’s quite attractive. Panel layout is strictly in the rectangle family, though at least it’s not the same rigid grid applied page after page. I do like how many chapters end on successive panels of each woman in a similar wistful 102030-6moment, like gazing out at the first snowfall of the year or enjoying a Christmas celebration in each other’s company.

As volume six concludes, the story is beginning to wrap up. Gradually, the women are beginning to grow. Krumb is starting to stand up more for what she wants, Belle has grown up a lot and finally seems to be taking some responsibility for her life, and Rok has noticed her mother’s renewed strength and become more accepting of her. There are a few things left to make the ending a truly satisfying one, though, so I’m eager to see what the seventh and final volume brings.

Review copies provided by the publisher.