Title: Solo Leveling Comic Vol.1
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Publisher: Yen Press
Sword Art Online is one of those things that people love to hate, but it’s still hugely popular and even though it didn’t necessarily invent the idea or premise, the whole notion of an MMORPG which blurs the lines of reality remains one of the most compelling sub-genres in anime and manga. Naturally, there have been many titles that follow this basic idea and premise, but not all of them are necessarily compelling. Hell, there’s even a Final Fantasy manga spin-off where some Square Enix employee dies and ends up inside his own damn Final Fantasy game. Talk about MMORPG meta-existentialism.
Outside of Japan, Chugong, an author based in South Korea, pens Solo Leveling, which was got adapted as a webtoon comic series by Jang Sung-Rak, and after several fan translations it now all comes together into one neat compendium, and in full color too, as Solo Leveling, Vol. 1 Comic.
If you’re going to be a nerd about it, yes this isn’t a manga per se, and hence why the volume is specifically titled Solo Leveling Comic. I guess if it’s outside of Japan then it really isn’t a manga, which is why Solo Leveling is designated as a comic for the sake of making nitpicky nerds happy. Hell, let’s just call it a graphic novel then.
Like any good graphic novel, Solo Leveling Vol 1 looks great with these full-color illustrations showcasing a deal of detail. Sure, the character designs aren’t exactly original, but they certainly look awesome and very expressive. There are imperfections found within the amateurish webcomic design, but these imperfections are masked nicely thanks to the strong color tones and neat visual effects. Point is, this feels like a high-quality effort that is nice to look at.
Solo Leveling Vol. 1 follows protagonist Sung Jing-Woo, who is the lowest-ranked hunter in his quasi-MMORPG world. Here this MMORPG blurs the line between simulation and reality, to the point where they’re basically the same and so actions have real consequences. Sung is part of a larger party, and the first volume does a good job of capturing the vibe of working with friends and comrades as part of an MMORPG skirmish. It manages to encapsulate the subtleties of the immersion that anyone who has stepped into the genre can easily relate to. Although Sung is the lowest rank, he still feels like an important player within the context of his team.
The first volume follows the party as they step into a treacherous dungeon filled with huge rewards, the catch is they have to deal with a menacingly tough boss battle in order to reap these rare rewards, and so anyone who has played any MMORPG can relate to the experience of banding together to take down an overpowered dungeon boss. In this encounter, our low-ranked hero has a dramatic experience, and so the first volume does the basic world setup, establishes the character dynamics, and sets the course of the hero for greater things to come.
Everything in Solo Leveling Vol. 1 feels familiar. Call them tropes, stereotypes, archetypes, or whatever else, but ultimately the comic brings together tried and tested elements into something which simply works, something that is actually entertaining and doesn’t feel embarrassed about it. Taking a look at Solo Leveling, an independent light novel transforming into a full-fledged graphic novel, it succeeds simply because unlike most “works of art” out there, the material here is actually universally entertaining.
Solo Leveling Vol. 1 is a reminder of how familiar elements and themes can come together to create something far more epic than the sum of its parts. This is a comic that feels badass, has characters you can click with, and is packed with action made for an audience who can enjoy it guilt-free. If you’re after something which will entertain you with an epic sense of escapism, then Solo Leveling Vol. 1 is the zero-to-hero story that doesn’t get told enough these days.
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