Hidden Gem

Most Western readers will recognize Solo Leveling as one of the most common webtoon manhwa serializations today, but the series started as a web novel by writer Chugong in 2016. and was completed in the year 2018. Now, Yen Press is taking the light novel’s English edition to a broader audience, and even though you’ve already read the manhwa, the novel still has lots to come.

Solo Leveling is set in a world where dungeons and monsters came out of nowhere, reawakening people as hunters with supernatural abilities to kill them. The plot revolves around Jinwoo Sung, who is known as “the world’s worst hunter” before an unexpected occurrence in a strange double dungeon grants Jinwoo the ability to level up like a video game player. This is the start of Jinwoo’s quest to change his destiny and become the world’s best hunter.

Solo Leveling, like many other power-fantasy novels, gives a satisfying glimpse at how a protagonist will go from being despised by almost all to a dominant hunter loved by everyone in a brief period of time. The protagonist’s development is aided in part by a training routine inspired by One-Punch Man and outlined in the novel’s prologue.

The novel does one thing differently than the manhwa adaptation: it focuses on character psychologies. The earlier chapters of the double dungeon, in particular, offer some heart-pounding action by putting the protagonists in a life-threatening situation within a terrifying world that feels both grand and claustrophobic. The characters’ desperation is palpable because even if some of their actions seem heinous, they are nevertheless relatable in their clinging to existence.

Jinwoo, the protagonist, is depicted sympathetically from the start; he is frail and often mocked, and he must suffer daily suffering and numerous illnesses in order to provide for his family. He is thoughtful but not overly so; he is a fast thinker but not a genius. He is capable of making rash decisions that place him in danger, but his keen survival skills have saved his life on many occasions, including though he is still weak. Both of these characteristics combine to make him a formidable hunter. Jinwoo is often endearing due to minor character details. For example, he adds status points in multiples of fives to make the numbers fit, which is a charming quirk.

About the fact that Jinwoo is the protagonist, the book is not very kind to him. Jinwoo’s behavior grows more distant as the story progresses, eventually exposing the process of him losing contact with some of his conscience as he becomes more obsessed with becoming stronger. culminating in a bloodbath between hobgoblins. Jinwoo’s transformation exemplifies one of the novel’s central themes: hunters can also be monsters.