Positive Masculinity: Stephen Ahn & Gray Yeon


Masculinity is hard to define, since most of it is rooted in cultural ideas which change over time, rather than Biblical truths. However, generally we associate manliness with trucks, beer, and guns working/being hard working, being logical/stoic as opposed to emotional, or being prone to outbursts of anger, being a provider and protector of the family unit, possessing raw physical strength, being handy with tools, etc. Toxic masculinity seems to describe when these masculine traits work to the detriment of men. For men, they’re often confined by these masculine ideas with the expectation they’ll live up to them, even if those things don’t come naturally, or it works to their disservice.

In fact, men are often shamed for expressing emotions besides anger, or made out to be weak for doing traditionally feminine tasks (gardening, caring for children, etc.) even though objectively nothing makes those tasks or emotions feminine and again ideas of masculinity have changed over the years. Even in the confines of romantic relationships where men are supposedly allowed to be tender, society will call men who outwardly display their affection whipped.

In fiction then we typically only see a man’s tender, more protective side via romance, which doesn’t hold true for women. The manwha Weak Hero balks at that idea, something I rambled about already as we see the boys of Weak Hero defy gender stereotypes by opening up to one another and acknowledging one another’s weaknesses whilst beating the life out of others. Still, I wanted to talk specifically about the positive masculinity between Saint Stephen Ahn and Gray Yeon.

If ever there was a quote that described Gray Yeon, the verse, “meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless,” comes to mind.

At least everything is meaningless until Gray meets Stephen Ahn.

Stephen is just built different. Even the kids in his class notice.

A panel from the manwha "Weak Hero". In it is a kid with brown hair, parted in the middle. The text bubbles from him say "What? He's loaded like that?"
A panel from the manwha "Weak Hero".  The picture contains the torso of a boy wearing a dark brown blazer, standing in front of a window with sunlight filtering in. The text bubble reads," Stephen Ahn was a peculiar guy."

But Gray and Stephen are two sides of the same coin. Gray is wholly focused on his studies despite finding little joy in them (or anything); he lives with no clear purpose or direction in life (same), no goals nor desires, just merely existing.

An image of a boy with gray hair looking dour. The text reads," I didn't know what I was supposed to do."
A panel from the manwha "Weak Hero".  The image is of a school-age boy with gray hair sitting at a desk, surrounding by books. Several over-sized hands are pointing down at him. The text reads," So I just did as I was told, like a fool."

Interestingly, Stephen doesn’t seem motivated by any strong goals or desires either besides being a saint keeping others happy.

A boy with brown hair. The text bubble reads, " So I guess it's some kind of self-satisfaction?"

For Gray, life is serious business – the only thing that matters is learning. For Stephen, life is a playground meant to be enjoyed and nothing is taken too seriously.

A boy with dark, brown hair lounging on the bed and studying for a test by reading a book. He wears a brown sweater. The text above his head reads, "I can smell what will be on this test?" The speech bubble reads, "like he was playing a game."

Still, it’s no surprise Stephen noticed Gray studying mindlessly – in Gray’s meaningless existence, he likely saw a darker, more sober reflection of himself.

The two soon become bros befor hoes amigos, finding joy in their relationship with one another (and video games).

A boy with gray hair wearing a slight smile. The text bubble reads," Was the one who completely filled,... the hole in my heart."

Alas, nothing good last forever!

A rogue Bryce Oh appears, or rather Saint Stephen takes Bryce under the shadow of his wing after noticing him solo. Bryce, the physical embodiment of everything Stephen isn’t: selfish, insecure, and cruel without reason. In contrast, Stephen’s sacrificial behavior makes others think of Jesus dying on the cross for them (lol).

This sacrificial love is most prominent towards Gray. After Bryce steal Gray’s home work for LOLz Stephen gives Gray his own, taking a beating from the trash teacher on his behalf and uttering what seems to be a prophetic statement.


Of course, Bryce’s petty behavior only escalates from there partially egged on by the validation he so desperately craves and gets from Oswald Yang, who’s wealthy and tough. We see some of Bryce’s resentment, and the reason why he turns on Stephen, most clearly when Bryce notices how the girls don’t pay any attention to him but only Stephen and Gray. Gray at least is good at something – he’s very smart, one of the top of his class. But in Bryce’s eyes Stephen is on the same level as him and not deserving of validation either. Coupled with his insecurities, it didn’t take much for Bryce’s ego to get scarred.

Oswald Tang mini HBIC of class begins bullying Stephen after Bryce spreads rumours about him wanting to throw hands, albeit bully seems almost too soft of a term, – really, they’re like torturing him. Consequently, Stephen ensures Oswald Yang’s attention remains on him and not the frail Gray by not putting up a fight. Given Bryce was “friends” with Stephen and turned on him violently as soon as his feelings got hurt (talk about toxic masculinity lol), it’s not outside the realm of possibility to believe the same could happen to Gray.

Side Note: There’s a slight implication in-text that Stephen probably could’ve adequately defended himself.

Physically Trash Bryce was weak af and there’s little evidence Oswald was like Wolf Keum/Jimmy Bae level strong – even his classmates seem surprised Oswald is suddenly “acting up”. Not only does Stephen get clobbered several times yet recovers quickly, we see him playing basketball and mentioning walking for exercise, giving the impression he’s in decent shape and relatively strong. Notably, Stephen never even tries to defend himself.

We see this lack of trying more metaphorically in Stephen’s ability to become the HBIC of class. If he tries, he gets the top spot. But he doesn’t (except to woo Gray). Applying this logic to his physical prowess, it’s reasonable to say had Stephen tried to defend himself, he likely would’ve been able to hold his own, or at least become enough of a hassle bullying him would be too much work.

Of course, Stephen doesn’t try solely to ensure Oswald’s attention remain on him.

Eventually Dumpsterwald Oswald tells Stephen if he gets the lowest grade in class, he’ll lay off. Whether that’s true or not, IDK. Nevertheless, Stephen rises to the top for the sake of Gray. This sacrifice culminates in him “falling” off the roof of a building. Whether pushed intentionally or not, seems somewhat irrelevant (though it does stand even Trashwald and his goons were genuinely shocked, so they likely didn’t actually mean for Stephen to fall).

Gray later visits Stephen at the hospital and there we see probably the most emotion he’s ever displayed aside from when he went ham on my boi Wolf.

Just as Gray saw light in Stephen and was changed by it, did Stephen see a light in Gray and was drawn to that? Or was Stephen merely alone, even until the very end, and seeking some sort of companionship as a result of that solitude?

Alas! We’ll likely never know. Stephen (if he’s still alive) was brain dead and unlikely to ever recover. Gray has a new harem of True Companions.

Weak Hero has many good examples of positive masculinity (it has toxic examples too lmao), but it displays the beauty of male friendships and how men can bring the best out of one another, rather than the worst. Stephen exemplifies the very best version of masculinity, or as my favorite book says,“[g]reater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13).

References: SEOPASS/RAZEN Weak HeroLine Webtoon/Naver, 2019. Digital.

Positive Masculinity: Bros of Weak Hero

*Contains S1 Spoilers*

Minus all the incredible beat-downs, the positive relationships between the boys of Weak Hero is it’s high point. This positivity is seen most clearly via Gray, Ben, Eugene, Alex, Rowan, and Gerard; they’re a great example of men being traditionally masculine without the toxicity. By “masculine”, I’m talking in the stereotypical, cultural sense here as in possessing raw strength, being a provider/protector, being goal-oriented, and logical/stoic, sometimes being hot-headed and prone anger/impulsive behavior.

Toxic masculinity has become quite the buzzword nowadays, describing everything from rape culture to dudes who like big, loud trucks. One way in which masculinity is indeed toxic is the expectation that men be The Stoic: emotionless, always chill unless they’re expressing anger (can you spell G r a y Y e o n?)

Typically in entertainment (whether it’s books, webtoons, manga, movies, or television), romantic love brings out the tender side of man. But that’s not the case with Weak Hero. Notably, there’s an absence of women (and romance) in general here (shout-out to silver-haired glasses girl tho). In Weak Hero all the relationships between the characters are platonic. Yet, in the absence of romance, the author of Weak Hero shows us the beauty of male friendships and how they can change men for the better.

1.  The bros use their strength to protect one another

No need for any damsels in distress, the boys of Weak Hero will cross the entire city on foot just to save one another. Interestingly, Ben ft. crew don’t really initiate many fights unless pushed and primarily throw hands to defend one another. In fact, Ben is so laid-back his reputation as the HBIC of Eunjang High is questioned more than once throughout the story.

Contrast Ben to Jimmy Bae, who picks fights with randos just because they’re wimps, or Wolf Keum who’ll throw hands because someone glanced his way for 3 seconds. Often, the strong use their strength to push around the weak. But not Ben ft. crew – they’re good guys who (mostly) only bust out those hands when their friends are in danger.

2. The bros aren’t afraid to get in their feelings

Gray gives one of his rare smiles around Ben (something that has everyone shooketh), and it’s to Ben that Gray opens up about his past after Ben repeatedly pursues a friendship with him.

Ben’s bffffffl Alex Go conceals his beat down by Jimmy simply because he doesn’t want Ben getting hurt, Gerard insists on fighting Jake Kim to prevent him from going after Ben (ironically, Jake targets Gerard knowing the only way to get Ben to fight for realz is if he curb stomps one of his amigos first).

In the absence of romance, it’s good, old-fashioned friendship that reveals the bros softer, more protective feelings. Furthermore, it isn’t to a woman that Gray opens up to manic pixie girl style, but to Ben. #bromance

3. The bros change others for the better

Teddy Jin is initially introduced as your typical bully until getting coked out whooped by Gray and unceremoniously kicked out of Phillip Kim’s squad. He soon finds a cat and bonds with Eugene over it, then he’s inadvertently roped into helping Gray’s crew in a fight, sealing his face-heel-turn.

Teddy’s an interesting case – it’s clear he and Chad were homies yet the moment Teddy lost, he’s ostracized. On the flip side, neither Gray nor any of the others hold the fact Teddy got clobbered against him, but allow him to integrate into the crew, fight alongside them, and even hang out casually.

4. The bros pursue one another

Gray isn’t really interested in friendships at the story’s beginning, but that doesn’t dissuade Ben or Eugene from reaching out to him, repeatedly inviting him to things, lending him a hand, etc. even after getting rejected several times.

When Gray finally accepts their invitation to Netflix and chill, the boys invite him to the rooftop. Except Gray doesn’t do rooftops; the boys never ask why, convince him to change his mind, or make fun of him. They simply find a different place to hang out.

5. The bros don’t knock one another for being weak

Phillip Kim gets curb stomped by Gray and loses all clout; predating that is Teddy Jin’s and Helmet’s smack-downs . Donald Na regularly pimp slaps those who don’t do what he wants (Wolf Keum). Jared Sun is garbage and deserved to get whooped. Also, screw Bryce Oh – he deserved death. Often, those who aren’t strong are kicked out of their respective groups, or punished, simply for being weak. But that’s not the case with Ben ft. crew.

Eugene isn’t very strong (though he does have fleeting moments of bravery), yet the others keep him in the crew and hang out with him, even when he’s not doling out shuttle patch information. Alex and Gerard get whooped a number of times by various individuals, yet they’re never in danger of losing relationships over it because their friendship isn’t based on what one can do for the other, but just good, old-fashioned camaraderie.

All in all, Weak Hero is a great example of positive masculinity and positive male friendships in general. Boys will be boys, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing – rather, the bros of Weak Hero show us how boys can be both strong and sensitive; protective and caring, without the influence of women, or romantic love in general. The bros are a great example of what masculinity can look like: a man who uses his strength to protect those in need even at the expense of himself.

As the Bible says, “a man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Fortunately, the bros of Weak Hero have found that brother in one another.

I also rated the Bad Boy of Weak Hero (if you’re extra bored)

References: SEOPASS/RAZEN Weak Hero. Line Webtoon/Naver, 2019. Digital.