When I first received this manga, I discovered that it’s in color and heavier than a normal manga. The color and art in Solo Leveling are very well done. The story of Solo Leveling involves people who go into dungeons to fight monsters for money. Our main character, Jinwoo, lives a hard life. His mom’s hospital bills need to be paid, as does his sister's school fees. Jinwoo doesn’t like dungeon raiding but he does it to help his family. These dungeons are in seemingly random places and the monsters inside are also somewhat random. For example, while raiding a dungeon Jinwoo finds another dungeon within the original dungeon. Jinwoo struggles to survive this dungeon, but it’s worth it because he gains RPG-style abilities that let him level up and become even more powerful.
To improve his stats, Jinwoo needs to physically train and defeat more dungeons. This makes for a kind of cliche shonen experience, which isn't to say is bad. Solo Leveling is good, but it doesn't feel like anything new. Cliches are not always a bad thing, a manga/anime can be very cliche and still be amazing. Solo Leveling mixes two very common elements in anime, main character fighting for others, and RPG-style power systems. When mixing commonly found anime cliches, the focus then turns to plot and execution which Solo Leveling exceeds in. If you are looking for your classic, uncomplicated shonen, then this book is for you!
In recent years, manhwa (also known as Korean graphic novels), have grown in popularity in Western countries alongside the growth of the online manga industry. I hadn’t even heard of the term until a few years ago when my former roommate suggested a few series that would catch this shonen boy’s eyes. And one of those titles that he was adamant about was Solo Leveling. At the time, Black Clover and Rising of the Shield Hero were consuming my free time and my former roommate said that I would love the intense fight scenes in Solo Leveling. His recommendation caught my interest enough that I recalled some aspects of the series when it was mentioned, but sadly not enough to remember to check it out when I was looking for a new series (it’s a curse I’ve been living with for a while). But since we have it in our store, I HAD to finally see why my old roommate was so inclined to suggest the series. As a heads up, I know my review is longer than others, but trust me when I say I’ve barely covered half of the first volume!
The novel begins similar to the manhwa. The world is built around hunters, ranked from S-rank as the strongest, to E-rank being the weakest, clearing dungeons and protecting their world from vicious monsters. Jinwoo is the weakest E-rank hunter and is very poor due to his mother being hospitalized and his sister in school. Jinwoo makes very little money by clearing dungeons filled with monsters and bosses before the gate leading from the dungeon is opened to the public. But where the first manhwa leaves off, the first novel picks up! Once Jinwoo enters the instance dungeon, his exit is blocked. He ventures forward and encounters ferrous Steel-Fanged Lycans. Luckily, Jinwoo demolishes the group because of his daily quest training. After grinding experience on the first two floors, he decides to venture to the boss’s floor. Once arrived, he is met with a fearsome foe, Blue Venom-Fang Kasaka! During the battle with the giant snake boss, his weapon breaks and he resorts to using brute strength to whittle down the boss’s health. Luckily for Jinwoo, he prevailed. Thankfully, he’s rewarded with a few level ups and several rare items, like his trusty Kasaka’s Venom Fang that he uses as a dagger since his last weapon breaks.
After a few weeks and some newly found confidence in his back pocket, he decides it’s finally time to participate in a dungeon. This was one of my favorite parts of the novel because of how crazy the events are. After lots of hunting on the job board, he finds a freelance group of eight hunters who were looking for anyone to join their party to complete a dungeon. A brief sidenote, in this world, the Hunter’s Association restricts freelance parties less than ten to enter a dungeon for liability reasons. This group needed just two more bodies to fill the quota. With that in mind, Jinwoo and the other new guy to the group, Jinho Yoo, were stuck carrying the bags and staying behind the rest of the group as they took care of monsters. The leader of the group, Dongsuk Hwang, is a C-rank hunter, Jinho is a D-rank hunter, while the rest of the party were between C and D-rank hunters. Dongsuk leads the party through the dungeon cave, defeating bug-like monsters. The group eventually makes it to the boss’s chambers and discovers the lair is covered in essence stones that could be sold for beaucoup wons. With greed and wealth flooding through the freelance group’s minds, Dongsuk decides that Jinho and Jinwoo should stand guard of the sleeping boss while the rest of the group runs back to grab mining gear for the stones. Obvious to the reader and Jinwoo, this is a ploy so they could use the two as bait and then reap all the rewards for themselves. I really loved this chapter’s title because it highlights a common issue in their world, the lizards. When people are faced with a life-threatening situation, they will cut ties to save themselves, or how the novel phrases it, “cutting their tail.” Which is exactly what this dignified group of hunters like to do, hence why they only had eight members.
Shortly after the gang is split up, Dongsuk orders one of the members to cast a fireball to cause a cave-in to the boss’s entrance, locking Jinho and JInwoo in the boss room and waking up the boss. Rising on eight legs, the spider-like boss sizes up Jinho and Jinwoo. Luckily for Jinwoo, he’s been expecting this betrayal from the very beginning and orders Jinho to stay back as he handles the boss. Confused, terrified, and soiled, Jinho is frozen in place as he watches Jinwoo evade each strike the giant spider throws at him. Jinwoo was able to gain the advantage on the spider by using his Dash skill to increase his speed. Eventually, Jinwoo blinds the spider with the Kasaka Venom Fang and unleashes a flurry of slices, killing the spider boss and leveling up in the process. After collecting all the essence stones along with some other items only Jinwoo could see, Jinho worships Jinwoo for saving his life and calls him Boss. After proclaiming eternal loyalty to Jinwoo, Jinho gathers all the equipment and follows Jinwoo as he pushes the rocks blocking their exit away with ease.
Astounded by the two weaklings surviving the boss and carrying all the treasure from the lair, Dongsuk is convinced that the D-rank hunter, Jinho, somehow managed to defeat the boss while Jinwoo hid in the corner. On that assumption, Dongsuk threatens Jinho to kill Jinwoo otherwise his group would kill them both. This way, they could blackmail Jinho. Sticking to his unwavering loyalty and knowing what Jinwoo is capable of, he refuses and turns his blade on Dongsuk. Angry that his threat wasn’t enough, he orders his comrade to cast a fireball at Jinwoo while they kidnap Jinho. Taken down from the blast and rocks pinning him to the ground, Jinwoo is weighing all of his options. *Bing* An urgent quest pops up saying he needs to kill the eight enemies or he will receive a punishment. Not phased by this, he doesn’t move and then the message begins to rewrite itself with the ending changing from “punishment” to “your heart will stop.” With his hands tied to either die by his betrayed party or die from the urgent quest, he rises from the rocks and immediately takes out the caster. One dead, seven more to go. With insane speed and power, he finishes off six more before they could even realize their demise. Realizing Jinwoo must have incredible damage, Dongsuk charges him with his shield. With very little ease, Jinwoo knocks Dongsuk to the ground, clinging to a thread of life. Realizing his mistake, he bargains for his life with money. Showing no interest, Jinwoo creeps closer, gripping his Kasaka Venom Fang in hand. Dongsuk musters out one last threat about how his brother will aveng — Urgent quest complete!
Solo Leveling is easily leveling up to be one of my favorite series, so much that I’ve already ordered the first few volumes of the novel! The plot is caked with crazy events that continue to pull you deeper into the world. Jinwoo is one of my favorite protagonists because of how similar his thinking is to my own. He is skeptical with each unknown situation and observes how people react, which I always find myself doing. The only confusion I had while I read the novel was trying to remember which character was who because their names were similar. If you’re curious how the first novel ends and where the series will go, then I HIGHLY recommend ordering yourself a copy!
Solo Leveling Manga Volume 1
Solo Leveling Graphic Novel Volume 1 features story by Chugong and art by DUBU. The official English print publication of the popular Korean webcomic! E-class hunter Jinwoo Sung is the weakest of them all. Looked down on by everyone, he has no money, no abilities to speak of, and no other job prospects. So when his party finds a hidden dungeon, he's determined to use this chance to change his life for the better...but the opportunity he finds is a bit different from what he had in mind!Add to CartLearn More
Solo Leveling Novel Volume 1
Solo Leveling Novel Volume 1 was written by Chugong. E-rank hunter Jinwoo Sung has no money, no talent, and no prospects to speak of—and apparently, no luck, either! When he enters a hidden double dungeon one fateful day, he’s abandoned by his party and left to die at the hands of some of the most horrific monsters he’s ever encountered. But just before the last, fatal blow…Add to CartLearn More