Updated: May 19, 2022
Original Story: Chugong
Illustrator: DUBU(REDICE STUDIO)
Writer: h-goon (digital) / J. Torres (print re-writes)
Editor: Michelle Kim (digital)
Translator: JJoelle (digital) / Hye Young Im (print)
Letterer: Abigail Blackman (print)
WHAT IS IT?
The worst hunter in the world is given a second chance to hone his skills after a dungeon raid goes terribly wrong. A brutal, action-packed, dungeon-crawling adventure webtoon* based on the hit fantasy light novel series.
Think Persona meets Hunter X Hunter with a dungeon-crawler, hack-n-slash RPG vibe.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
In a world where portals to other dimensions are commonplace, select individuals have gone through an “awakening,” allowing them to harness incredible powers to hunt down the evil within. These hunters travel into dungeons to clear them of the beasts and keep the peace, all for a hefty reward.
Known as the Weakest Hunter of All Mankind, Jinwoo Sung is an E-rank hunter who can’t seem to catch a break. His wounds continue to grow, as do his losses. However, he has no choice but to put his life on the line as his family’s bills keep piling up around him. Refusing to relent to his downer nickname and notorious reputation for failing miserably, he presses onward and continues to fight the good fight.
While out on a raid, a fabled double-dungeon appears, offering the opportunity for a bigger payout. Jinwoo and his fellow hunters bite off more than they can chew as this seemingly easy dungeon turns deadly. Horrific and powerful monsters wipe out several of their party members with frightening ease. Just as all hope seems lost, a strange occurrence changes Jinwoo’s fate forever. A notification box appears before him, and suddenly his bad luck life is flipped on its head.
“Congratulations on becoming a player.”
Chugong’s original story is on its way to becoming a modern classic for the current age. The mixture of video game attributes with an urban-fantasy setting filled with ordinary people doing extraordinary things is appealing for a wide variety of readers, and Jinwoo’s rise from underdog to legendary hunter is both captivating and thrilling.
DUBU(REDICE STUDIO)’s illustrations are sharp, clean, and soaked with deep, rich hues. From the character designs to the dungeon layouts and beyond, every panel is loaded with detail. Every single one of the lengthy fight sequences is on-par with some of the greatest anime matches of all time and the portrayal of motion jumps off of the pages with impact.
h-goon took great care to not only capture the original charm and soul of the source material, but crafted it in a way that translated to the medium of comics flawlessly during the creation of this series. Conversations and internal dialogue are both key elements to the narrative as our hero and his fellow hunters move about a world loaded with lore, and the exceptional way the fight sequences were scripted makes this one of the most accurate and stunning adaptations in recent memory.
Both the digital and print teams in charge of replacing the lettering and sound effects with their English equivalents made sure everything was crisp and legible, while it's obvious the translators put in an exceptional amount of work.
The character designs have that sharp manhwa* style to them that is becoming quite recognizable in the webcomics world, with a realistic lean that adds to the believability of the story. The setting of a real world quite like our own filled with gifted humans requires an overly average cast to make it feel authentic, and each character has a simplicity to their looks that makes them memorable.
Special note must be made for the coloring. The shading is realistic and consistent from panel to panel, the use of lighting to enhance key moments is subtle yet effective, textures are used appropriately to add depth, and the gradients/palettes picked for the dungeons add to the otherworldly feeling. It could be easy for a series as lengthy as this to skimp on those details, so it is appreciated that so much time was put into making every panel consistently rich with color.
Anatomy is a key piece for any action-focused comic. Solo Leveling contains a myriad of lengthy battle sequences, and watching the characters move is a thrilling experience. A variety of fighting styles and skills are used by the hunters, which keeps each battle fresh, and each strike or swing of a blade is clearly understood and powerfully portrayed.
The way Jinwoo’s leveling is shown throughout the series is a notable piece of the story. It is a slow shift, with small details popping up that feel normal (such as increased height or bigger muscles). It is a natural change, so much so that oftentimes you don’t realize how much his body has shifted until another character mentions it.
The monster design is awesome. Everything from the basic goblin enemies to monstrous, towering statues and sly, agile elves feel as though they have been ripped straight out of a massive RPG.
The chapters are incredibly long, it’s a hefty series which is great for readers who want a lot of lore and character development, as well as binge readers who have trouble putting addicting stories down.
The video game aspects are well woven into the narrative (mana potions, power runes, quest notifications, etc.). They fit the structure of the normalcy of the world without detracting from the setting which is already ripe with unique fantasy aspects. The game notifications only appear for Jinwoo to aid in his quest to level up his skills and it gives off the sense of an ARG mobile game (like Pokémon Go).
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
CW: Strong language, intense violence and gore, disturbing imagery, brief mentions of S/A, and conversations about trauma. Recommended for an older audience.
The webtoon features an “episode 0” which acts as a prologue of sorts. It actually spoils the first thirteen chapters (equivalent to about 310 pages in the print editions), so it is highly recommended that you skip this piece. Ep.0 is actually removed from the print edition.
The series is also known as I Alone Level Up. Approved English translations/publications of the series will be titled Solo Leveling, and all others will be illegal scans so please be careful to use official sources to read this series.
The “game notifications” that Jinwoo sees are done in a dark blue color that features colored text atop it, at times these bits of text can be hard to read (usually if the scene also features a darker color palette).
There are noticeable differences between the digital and print editions when it comes to translations. While the overall message is the same, comparing the two panel-for-panel will showcase sentences with entirely different verbiage/wording. Going from one format to the other may throw some readers off. The webtoon editions share the same publisher so they are interchangeable between platforms.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Solo Leveling has captivated millions across the globe with its brutal fight sequences, deeply hued and awe-inspiring illustrations, and entertaining underdog story. Based on the light novel series of the same name, the webtoon has made waves on digital platforms since its debut, amassing a loyal fanbase desperate for more. The series is available in several mediums and recently had a banging original soundtrack drop (hinting at a possible anime adaptation), as well as a video game and drama announcement, so this whirlwind of an IP is on its way to dominating every genre of media out there. There are plenty of options when it comes to getting invested in this story and it is an adventure well worth delving into.
Part of a growing wave of gaming/dungeon-crawler based series that invokes the nostalgia of old-fashioned RPGs with a modern and sharp style, this OG webtoon stands leagues above the others with its consistently thrilling story and beautifully choreographed action. Often imitated, never outshone, this powerhouse continues to make waves long after the final chapter dropped. Perfect for fans of JuJutsu Kaisen and Bleach, the series balances its fantasy and action focus with well-timed humor and a pulls-no-punches attitude.
The massive series spans two lengthy seasons (capping off at a whopping 179 chapters), offering a satisfactory sense of character development as Jinwoo begins to hone his skills and struggles with maintaining his humanity alongside the sudden increase of power. The intense battle sequences and video game based world building will delight readers who are looking for an endorphin rush with substance to its narrative. The stunning set pieces, new takes on classic foes, relatable human cast, and overall mystery behind Jinwoo’s sudden reawakening make Solo Leveling a worthy series to add to your collection.
HOW DO I READ IT?
The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
All CHUGONG/DUBU(REDICE STUDIOS) characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright CHUGONG/DUBU(REDICE STUDIOS) or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
*Webtoon is the term for scrolling digital comics from South Korea.