Webtoon Analysis: True Beauty, A True Disappointment

Spoilers ahoy!

True Beauty by Yaongi is a romantic comedy following the life of Jugyeong Lim, a relatable, young student who’s physical appearance is… well average. Jugyeong is no model, but she’s a cute lady who knows how to work the brush. Make-up brush that is. Her face painting skills allow her to ascend to the upper echelons of society, garnering her friends and male attention she previously lacked.

However, none of her friends know what she looks like without make-up, leaving her insecure and using make-up as a mask to hide her “ugliness”. Jugyeong is always on guard, afraid her carefully curated world as the hot girl summer will crumble once others discover what she looks like beneath the mask.

Then, a wild Suho appears!

A wild Suho!

Suho is conventionally attractive, smart, and sort of rude initially. A lover of horror and comics, he runs into a bare-faced Jugyeong at the comic store and the two eventually bond over their shared love of all things creepy. An interest that soon blossoms into love as Suho is drawn to her “true beauty”: the Jugyeong who’s awkward, likes horror, comics, and late night talks on benches while eating snacks in sweats. A Suho who encourages Jugyeong to be better, to study hard, and pursue her dreams. The feelings are mutual too.

True Beauty was sort of cheesy and not typically the sort of thing I enjoy reading, but it was light-hearted and had a semi-positive message: ladies, find a guy who likes the true you. A guy who shares your weird hobbies, isn’t put-off when you’re just chilling in sweats, and who pushes you to be better. But most importantly, a guy you’re entirely comfortable being yourself around.

Alas, all good things must be ruined by love triangles… and poor writing.

The story introduces Seonjun, who initially is very much your average bad boy type character, clad in jewelry and all.

A wild Seonjun!

He’s sort of a jerk to Jugyeong at first (or his friends are – birds of a feather, if you will) and Jugyeong is terrified of showing him her face. Unlike Suho, Jugyeong doesn’t really have much in common with Seojun. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, Jugyeong finds herself interested in him aided by the fact that right as her relationship with Suho was blooming, the author put him on a boat and ships him away. Literally. Suho disappears from the story entirely for vague reasons and then the reader gets what feels like a very lengthy filler episode, depicting Jugyeong’s relationship with Seojun. Suho eventually reappears, but is basically reduced to wangsting over Jugyeong.

Seojun’s introduction essentially marked the end of what little character development Jugyeong was experiencing and what little individuality she possessed too.

Episodes later, Jugyeong never develops beyond that insecure, young lady wearing a mask because she’s terrified of her natural appearance, and her relationship with Seojun seemingly makes her regress into an even more insecure individual, obsessed with looks. And while she quickly grew comfortable around Suho bare-faced, it took her some 90 episodes before accidentally showing Seojun her face. Fortunately, he’s fine with it but still. It’s a terrible way to start a relationship and an unhealthy message to young girls.

Rather than coming to understand what true beauty means, Jugyeong seems to have become a stereotypical “pretty girl”, vain and obsessed with her appearance. And whereas at least her relationship with Suho showed Jugyeong she didn’t need to be all dolled up to obtain meaningful relationships with others, her relationship with Seojun just sort of exists as a plot device to drag the story along endlessly, with no clear ending in sight.

While True Beauty’s not over (and it’s been made into a drama apparently), it should’ve ended long ago. Yaongi seems to have either lost the plot, or is dragging the story on because it’s successful (which get the bag, but personally I do appreciate authors like Carnby Kim who create very tight, well-paced plots without filler (to be fair – those are two different genres, but even compared to “Odd Girl Out”, another ongoing manwha centered around a young woman going through life, True Beauty is lacking as the Main character Nari develops tremendously throughout the story, whereas Jugyeong does not)).

In Yaongi’s defense, the Korean title seems to be “A Goddess Descends” or “The Secret Angel”, so it’s entirely possible English translators set unfair expectations for readers by naming it “True Beauty”. Even still, it lacks character development, the male leads are static, and the story’s initial, more interesting premise about a young girl learning about the meaning of true beauty seems to have ditched in favor of a more stereotypical, love-triangle-ish story about a young women obsessed with looking pretty for the sake of others.

True Beauty Rating: 6.5/10

Webtoon Reviews: Lookism Is a Mess

Major Spoilers.

Lookism, by Park Tae-joon, is an ongoing manwha that chronicles the woes of Daniel Park, who’s name is actually Park Hyung-seok but apparently webtoon thinks we can’t read Korean names.

Daniel is fat, “ugly” (he wears glasses), bullied relentlessly by his “peers”, and is low-key a jerk to his mother. He moves schools, moves homes, is still treated badly but bam! He wakes up one day with a second body aka Hot Daniel – taller, muscular, naturally athletic – perfection. When he falls asleep, he wakes up in his fat body (or whichever body isn’t awake).

Lookism | WEBTOON

Lookism began as a really interesting commentary on, well, lookism in Korean society. How people are treated vastly differently solely because of their looks. This is seen clearly in how Hot Daniel rapidly obtains friends, benefits, friends with benefits, expensive clothes, even gets a job as a model solely because of his immense hotness. All things his portlier self struggled to obtain. Not only is he attractive, but his natural, athletic abilities and fighting skills allow him to curb stomp the very bullies who once tormented him.

Author Park Tae-joon does a good job letting Fat Daniel grow as a character too and not just side-lining him. Fat Daniel also levels up; he begins working out, eating well, gets a job, realizes how poorly he treated his mother. Rather than begrudge the fact his more attractive version is treated better by society, he uses his time as Fat Daniel to better himself physically and socially, and consequently gains some of the things he always wanted (admiration of Zoe, his own harem of amigos).

Then, there was the added mystery of why is Daniel waking up in a different body? Where did this body come from? T’was a nice touch of the supernatural in a story that was very much grounded in reality.

However, at some point Lookism went from being a critique of lookism to seemingly a critique of Korean society as a whole to a fight manwha. We get an arc on the perils of social media, an arc on stalkers, an arc on cults, multiple references to bullying and drug usage, a Hostel arc dealing with youth homelessness and human trafficking, yet until Jiho’s arc (which is really a critique of the jail system) the story managed to maintain some semblance of it’s original premise.

When Hot Daniel was put on a boat after Jiho tossed him out a window, Lookism became too overly focused on side characters who should’ve been spin-offs or something (Jiho, Jake, Johan) and descended into something like a typical, fight manwha revolving around gangs, money, and turf wars with Daniel nowhere to be seen. The quality of the story is still high – but the plot is seemingly very far off from it’s original premise and those who were drawn to Lookism because of it’s focus on lookism would probably lose interest.

Anyway, here’s how I’d fix it.

1.) Remove the long arcs featuring other characters

Jiho, Jake, etc. While these arcs were good, they feel like filler episodes in the overarching plot. The two big questions are why is Daniel waking up with another body, and where did that body come from? And while I’m not fully caught up on the story, having stopped about ep. 340, we seem no closer to resolving these issues than when the story first began.

These side characters should’ve been side stories or spin-offs, not part of the main storyline.

2. Have tighter POVs

The story began pretty tightly from Daniel’s point-of-view and mostly stayed that way save for occasionally focusing on Daniel’s friends (like the cult arc, Zoe’s balloons, or Jay and his pups) to focusing on tons of side characters, usually for very lengthy periods of time.

Limiting the POVs in the story to a handful of characters would help the plot seem less messy. Again, it’s not that these characters aren’t interesting, it’s just that Jane Kim isn’t the reason I began reading Lookism.

While overall I’ve enjoy Lookism for what it is (an interesting critique of various facets of Korean society + I honestly like seeing people beat each other up), it’s beginning to read like a fanfiction of itself and I often find myself waiting for the story to progress a bit before picking it up again. Ultimately, it was the original, simpler premise that drew me to the tale of Daniel Park. In the absence of that, it’s become a much more generic story about gangs fighting one another over money, rather than a poignant commentary on lookism.

Lookism Rating: 8.5/10

Manga Reviews: Starving Anonymous Is Weird

*Major Spoilers*

Starving Anonymous introduces us to Ie, arguably one of the most useless protagonists I’ve ever come across. He wants to be an artist and has a photographic memory, making him 5% useful. On a bus with his ride or die Kazu, they’re both drugged and wake up in a facility called “the Cradle” full of nude people being fattened for the slaughter. Literally. Humans are being bred and fed to giant, insect-like creatures for unknown reasons.

Never fear – plot armor keeps Ie alive long enough to be saved several times by Natsune, a six year old grown man who can regenerate his body parts and wants to kill all 1000000+ insects singlehandedly, and Yamabuki, a bisexual genius who gets turned on by people being eaten by those… insects.

What follows is loads of gore as Ie and the squad unsuccessfully attempt to escape the Cradle amidst a slew of corruption and human evil. Of course we have a classic mad scientist experimenting on humans for the evulz who exists solely to add more misery to an already miserable tale, but a good chunk of the bad guys attempt to justify what they’re doing by saying it’s for the good of humanity… which it sort of was.

Pictured: classic mad scientist who is significantly more evil than any other villain for no reason

Anyway, all escape attempts are futile. Ie gets captured, rescued by plot armor Natsune, and eventually things take a turn from the worst after the HBIC of insects manages to free them all and eradicate 40% of humanity in the process. Also Trump makes an appearance, which I found hilarious.

Natsune and Yamabuki (who can give birth to baby Natsunes by eating his flesh?????) hatch a wild plan to give birth to a bunch of… baby Natsunes and feed them to the insects, dooming Natsune to a life of eternal regeneration and pain as he’s eaten alive but effectively sealing all the creatures inside the Cradle because they have an endless supply of… food… It’s incredibly hard to explain what happens, which is why I won’t really bother.

The plan works. The creatures all return to the Cradle once their eternal meal ticket arrives, Yamabuki gives birth until he dies (??) High-key bizarre but at this point I was far too invested in this foolishness to quit.

Ie, who has been useless up to this point, remains in character and leaves Natsune to his fate as forever replicating human meat. The Cradle is eventually destroyed by the government and humanity slowly recovers from the alien insect apocalypse.

Time skip!

3 years later, Ie returns to the Cradle’s ruins still guilt-ridden over how utterly useless he was over leaving Natsune and starts digging up the ground I assume in an attempt to dig his friend out (who definitely couldn’t have liked died of oxygen deprivation or something). He fails, faints, chats with a talking lizard, and has a dream in which Natsune and Yamabuki are alive and well; they explain some weird pseudoscience that eventually Natsune’s ever regenerating body got some disease, which became deadly to the alien insects and killed them all, which was the plan all along. Ie is happy and invites them home, but it’s very clear they’re both dead and he’s hallucinating.

Ie wakes up and his homeboy, Kazu, is like “where were you, bro, I was worried but I knew you’d be here.” The story ends full circle, more or less, with the bus having just arrived. Hopefully, they won’t be going back to another fake nuclear facility full of human eating insects (though apparently there is a sequel…).

Starving Anonymous dances with some interesting themes, the main being is it okay to sacrifice some for the sake of many? Shockingly, the government isn’t completely useless and evil as is typical in fiction and real life, but instead are attempting to appease these alien insectoids insatiable appetites in exchange for preventing global warming and presumably the destruction of humanity. Alien critters whose own greed and bottomless appetites ironically destroyed their own world after they consumed everything on it.

The story is full of several twists, but unfortunately falls prey to “edgy for the sake of being edgy” of which as I read, I was like “Yes, these creatures l o v e ripping people limb from limb and tossing their guts and heads across the floor, much to the shock of the MC who does nothing but gawk. Can we move on to the actual plot now?” Like 20 chapters probably could’ve been cut from this with no real loss given that the plot seemed to lose itself about halfway through.

Furthermore, much of the world building was done via flashbacks, the characters were semi-fleshed out but could’ve all been more interesting. There appeared to be a slight attempt at some sort of commentary on capitalism and the exploitation of a few for the benefit of many, as well as the perils of greed and climate change, but the execution of these ideas ultimately got loss in a festoon of guts, blood, and assault.

Nevertheless, the story ends on a sweetly bitter note that’s oddly satisfactory and if you’re a depraved soul like myself, you’ll probably be entertained.

Starving Anonymous Rating: 7/10.