Title: Solo Leveling Vol. 1 (Audio Book)
Release Date: July 13, 2021
Publisher: Yen Press
Solo Leveling Vol. 1 is part of a light novel series by South Korean author Chugong. Earlier this year, we enjoyed the comic book adaptation by artist Jang Sung-Rak, and complementing the excellent comic is the audiobook release of the original light novel itself.
The book is narrated by actor Ki Hong Lee, known mostly for the awful sci-fi thriller film Maze Runner, which sucked, but he was also in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which was sort of okay. Still, while his acting resume is a mixed bag, he does a decent job narrating the prose of Solo Leveling Vol. 1.
Ki Hong Lee does a solid job of keeping the pace engaging and manages to deliver dramatic anime-style tones when the situation calls for it.
In the end, how you choose to get into the Solo Leveling series will come down to preference. Personally, I can’t recommend the comic enough, thanks to its full-color illustrations and how it succeeds at being a real page-turner whilst still driving an engaging narrative. Solo Leveling uses very familiar plot devices and tropes but brings it all together in a hugely entertaining way.
The audiobook goes for a little over 8 hours, and Ki Hong Lee does a solid job of keeping the pace engaging and manages to deliver dramatic anime-style tones when the situation calls for it. Given the nature of the content and its intended audience, he’s definitely the right voice for the job, so maybe he can try to get into more voice acting for animated projects. Maze Runner still sucks, though.
Solo Leveling Vol. 1 follows low-ranked hunter Sung Jing-Woo, in a world that is a somewhat quasi-MMORPG world, one that blurs the lines between reality and virtual simulation. Almost similar to something out of Sword Art Online, there are real consequences in terms of what the characters experience in this MMORPG setting.
Our hero, Sung, is part of a larger party, and despite him being the lowest rank, there is still a sense of teamwork and commandry among the part members. The novel does a great job of capturing the struggles of someone who needs to transition from zero to hero.
author Chugong creates a setting and perspective that only he can as someone who grew up around South Korean pop culture.
What you get from the audiobook, something that the comic book could do more efficiently with pictures, is a deeper sense of descriptive world-building, as well as a personal immersion into the shoes of Sung as a protagonist. While it is cool to witness the various epic dungeon boss battles in an illustrated form as in the comic book, there’s something to be said about a fight scene being narrated with intricate detail using just words. It is really in those moments where it becomes evident why Solo Leveling took off and became such an underground hit in the first place. In addition, the various combat situations are portrayed in dramatic, not just in terms of the nature of the combat itself but also the interplay among the various characters.
Releases like Solo Leveling are like the alternative rock equivalent to more mainstream Japanese media. Certainly, it draws from several established tropes and norms of Japanese light novels aimed at young adults, but author Chugong creates a setting and perspective that only he can as someone who grew up around South Korean pop culture. Video game fandoms function differently depending on where you are in the world. So Solo Leveling does an excellent job of representing how MMORPG as a subculture is understood and imagined by South Korean gamers.
How you choose to experience Solo Leveling really comes down to preference. I am inclined to recommend and prefer the comic adaptation, especially given the quality of the color artwork and how vividly the storyline is paced as it goes from panel to panel. That said, the audiobook succeeds at delivering the original light novel in the intended format. In any case, the light novel is where it all began for this increasingly popular underground hit, and so if you loved the comic, then it’s worth listening (or reading) the source material in richer detail.
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