Monday, March 01, 2010

13th Boy, by SangEun Lee

When it comes to reading girls' manga and manhwa, sometimes it's best to turn off the critical part of our brains. This allows us to enjoy series that might otherwise seem disturbing—stories featuring foul-tempered "heroes", dim-witted heroines, and deeply screwed-up romances. We just remind ourselves that these series aren't meant to reflect reality, and dive on in.

This approach was particularly useful when it came to reading SangEun Lee's manhwa 13th Boy, which features all of the troubling plot elements mentioned above: the hero is a manipulative jerk with a dark secret, the heroine is pig-headed and clueless, and their relationship involves a shared past, a love quadrangle, and a walking, talking cactus named Beatrice... who periodically turns into a boy.

So you can see why we needed to make some allowances, right?

The heroine of 13th Boy is Hee-So, an impossibly determined girl who is convinced that classmate Won-Jun is the "fated 13th boy" destined to become her true love. Unfortunately, Won-Jun is her twelfth boyfriend, dumped her after a month, and appears to be totally devoted to a different girl. Meanwhile, Hee-So keeps encountering Won-Jun's classmate Whie-Young, who always seems to catch her right at the most embarrassing moment. Whie-Young drops several hints about their shared childhood, but Hee-So's not interested—she is absolutely certain that her heart belongs to Won-Jun, and nobody (not even Beatrice, her closest confidant, a tiny talking cactus who transforms into a boy during the full moon) is going to tell her otherwise.

Although the two series have very different plots, 13th Boy frequently reminded us of Hwang Mi-Ri's Cutie Boy, another bizarre romantic comedy about a mismatched couple (the hero and heroine knew each other as children, but while he misread every situation as proof that they were a devoted pair, she remembers him as a crazed bully who dragged her along on a series of hair-raising adventures). Both Cutie Boy and 13th Boy require considerable suspension of disbelief, but they're also insanely funny and surprisingly sweet. However, Cutie Boy has the advantage of being a mere eight volumes long, while 13th Boy is currently twelve volumes and counting. We've totally enjoyed ourselves thus far (critical thought—who needs it?), but we're really hoping that the joke doesn't get stretched too thin.

[Review based on publisher-provided copy.]

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