“Solo Leveling” — a Webtoon Review

Reflection: How a fantasy webtoon captured the grimy reality of our world

By Max Vigue

Multimedia-Content Editor 

As content online continues to spread across the internet, media such as comics and manga have blown up across the digital landscape. Webtoons can trace their origins back to the early 2000s. It was a niche style of comics similar to manga that was not that well known. Unlike it’s Japanese counterpart, it tended to be in full color and a lot shorter.  

Solo Leveling is a Korean manhwa (webnovel) written by Chu-gong, art created by Gi So-Ryeong and Jang Song-Rak, and published by D’and C Media. It is distributed in English by Webnovel and Tappy-Toons.
It is a fantasy action Webtoon, following our main character Sung Jin Woo. The setting takes place in a reality similar to ours, however mysterious objects known as “gates” start appearing. 
Along with people across the planet undergoing a process known as “awakening”, in which they gain superhuman abilities. These people become “Hunters”, forming organizations known as “guilds” to traverse the dungeons which lie beyond the gate. 

Sung Jin Woo is the weakest Hunter in this world, and often undergoes lots of self-torment. He perceives himself as worthless due to his status. But after a near death experience, in a failed dungeon raid, he experiences a “reawakening” in which a Hunter’s power is either amplified, or completely changed.

However, in a rare occurrence, Jin-Woo only morphs into more of an anomaly when his power is aided by an unknown otherworldly force from where the secrets of the gates lie. His power is the ability to continuously get stronger or level up, through this outside force referred to as “the system”.  
In the course of this story, we see the progression of Sung Jin-Woo from a low E-class hunter, to becoming the renowned Shadow Monarch. 

I really think this story is not a new idea, but a refined take on the power fantasy trope. In most mainstream franchises such as Avengers, Dragon Ball, and Star Wars, we see our heroes build their power from the ground up. 

They use this power to protect the ones around them after a traumatizing event. But these motives, while believable, don’t fully capture the more gritty reality of what a normal person might become in those situations. 
In stories like Attack on Titan, the protagonist goes through a traumatizing event which shakes him to the core. But through the course of the story, we see him change as his black and white perception of the world is shifted by the grey nature of reality. 

A similar approach is taken with this story. The main character originally saw things through a very simplistic moral compass. Due to the nature of his circumstances, requirements that need to be met by the system, and the nearly almost impossible situations he must overcome, his psyche and mindset gradually change over time into a more gritty but realistic doctrine. 

What makes Solo Leveling stand out among emerging webtoons is not only just its sleek art and fast-paced action, but also its primary narrative enchants the viewer, wrapping the audience into the setting. 
Solo Leveling is a story primarily focused on providing an entertaining tale, while at the same time giving an introspective commentary on the human condition and how the world can’t be seen through a tinted glass.  
Solo Leveling is a webtoon that I recommend to any high school student and adults, as this is an M-rated (16 and Up) series. But the story will have you addicted. This is the kind of story that will have you on edge. You will most likely binge-read this series, potential reading the first 30 chapters in one sitting. It has an immersive narrative, adrenaline-packed action sequences, and very modern but satisfying art. 
Solo Leveling Art created by Gi So-Ryeong and Jang Song-Rak
Solo Leveling Art created by Gi So-Ryeong and Jang Song-Rak

Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research.

Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use

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