For a long time now, the Korean Manhwa Solo Leveling has been on my radar. From seeing the infamous “smiling” photo to hearing the premise, I never had the opportunity to dive into this series. However, after being recommended by a friend to read it, my interest was piqued once again. Recently, Solo Leveling received an anime adaptation. After watching the first three episodes, I was hooked right away. I knew I stumbled into something special, and I couldn’t wait for the weekly episodes. It was then that I decided to read the manhwa, and boy was it an experience. With 179 chapters and 21 epilogue chapters, I tore through the series in 3 days. Honestly speaking, it was one of the greatest pieces of media I’ve consumed in a long time.
For those familiar with my reviews, you will know that I like to dive into the spoiler territory for most reviews. For Solo Leveling, I’m going to change up the format just a little bit. In the first half of the review, I’ll share my higher-level thoughts on the overall characters, plot, and concept. After that, and a spoiler warning, I’ll dive into the spoiler territory parts. If you haven’t experienced this series before, I highly, highly recommend enjoying this series first without spoilers. It was a ride from the beginning and worthy of rereading.
Alright, so for those who don’t know Solo Leveling, here’s a quick intro of the plot without any major spoilers.
In this version of Earth, portals known as “Gates” start appearing all over the world. From these gates, monsters spawn inside dungeons. If these gates aren’t sealed within a specific time period, then a “dungeon break” occurs, which releases these monsters into the real world. With the gates appearing all over the world, people start being exposed to mana. Those with the ability to harness this mana become Hunters to combat against these beasts. However, every person reacts differently to the mana. As a result, hunters are ranked on a scale, where E is the lowest rank and S is the highest rank. For most people, the rank they awaken their powers in is the rank they stay in for the rest of their lives.
This is when our protagonist Sung Jinwoo appears. When Jinwoo awakens his powers, he finds himself in the E rank. Not only that, but he’s also the weakest E rank to ever exist, with his power level barely higher than the regular citizen. Each time he enters a dungeon, Jinwoo almost dies, as even the lowest-level monsters cause him trouble. To add to the trouble, modern weapons don’t affect the monsters, and hunters have to opt for weapons imbued with magic, typically medieval-style weaponry. Being an E-rank hunter, Jinwoo struggles to make the money necessary to not only survive but to support his mother who is bedridden with Eternal Slumber and his sister who is still in high school. Being a hunter is a profitable, but risky, career path, as the drops from the monsters in these dungeons fetch a high price on Earth.
This is where the story of Solo Leveling starts. When Jinwoo enters a dungeon with a strike team, the group discovers another set of doors after defeating the dungeon boss. Instead of retreating, the group decides to enter the room. There, the doors get sealed behind them as a group of giant stone statues surround them. Unnerved, some members of the group try to escape through the door, but they are instantly killed. Jinwoo notices a statue with a stone tablet with a list of commandments. At first, following the commandments was enough to keep everyone alive, but soon, members started disobeying the commandments, which caused hysteria and death. In the final stage of judgment, Jinwoo is left in the room alone and brought to the brink of death. There, a mysterious power known as the “System” saves him and gives him access to the skill of levelling up.
With this quick intro, I have to say the plot was great overall from start to finish. If you couldn’t tell, this is the type of story where the protagonist is super overpowered. Like, one shot level overpowered. In most cases, the strength of these characters is usually the make or break for a story like this. Make the character too strong, and it gets boring. But if the character isn’t strong enough, then it doesn’t feel as rewarding watching them slaughter everything around them. In the case of Solo Leveling, I have to say it was handled quite well.
Yes, Jinwoo is an overpowered protagonist. His ability to level up makes the rest of the hunters irrelevant. In most cases, this would lead to a boring story, but Solo Leveling doesn’t really fall into this trap. Through the premise of the story, we see Jinwoo struggle right from the beginning, which helps his character. Yes, he is overpowered, but he had to work to get there. We get to watch his training and his development, and when he one-shots those monsters, it’s satisfying. It’s like playing a video game. After grinding enough levels, your numbers are big enough that you’re invincible. That’s the feeling his character brings. The pacing of the story also helps. As Jinwoo overcomes an obstacle, another appears that is just stronger than the last. The reader knows that Jinwoo is absolutely going to wreck this guy, but the question is how.
Besides that point, another thing I liked about this story is that Jinwoo doesn’t lose his character after getting power. Deep down, he still cares deeply for his family, which is the reason he acts the way he does. I appreciate that he doesn’t lose that part of him to become a killing machine.
Along with Jinwoo, the rest of the supporting cast is great and watching Jinwoo’s companions change throughout the story was interesting. The stronger and stronger Jinwoo gets, the stronger and stronger the people around him get. No matter who Jinwoo meets, each character feels unique, with all their own struggles. They all felt quite real, so when things happen to certain characters, I feel for them.
Overall, Solo Leveling is worth a read. 100%. Not only is there a fun and overpowered protagonist to follow, but the art is also top-tier. Some chapters are almost solely panels of action with some of the prettiest scenes I have seen. And if manhwa isn’t your thing, Solo Leveling was originally a light novel, so you can just read it as well.
Now, with the spoiler-free section done, I’m going to go into specific spoiler-filled points that I enjoyed about Solo Leveling. This is your last chance now. If you haven’t read Solo Leveling, go read it and come back.
So, first things first, the ending and epilogue. As I read the ending, I saw some opinions online about how they handled the final fight with Antares to be a bit anticlimactic. Personally, it did feel like one of the weaker fights for the series, but I didn’t mind it as much as others claimed. I do wish we got to see a bit more from the two during their fight though, and I would have liked to see the shadows of Jinwoo to do a bit more as well.
The real ending after this final battle is the reveal that Jinwoo was going to turn back time to kill off the Monarchs before they can lay waste to the world through the power of the Cup of Reincarnation. After 27 years of fighting, he achieves his goal. In the manhwa, I think I would have liked to see all of Jinwoo’s fights with the Monarchs. Since both sides keep their memories of the previous timeline, it would have been interesting to see how Jinwoo was able to complete his goal. With everyone having a happy ending, I was quite satisfied with the end.
But Solo Leveling had another trick up its sleeves: the epilogue. In the epilogues, we get glimpses of the world after Jinwoo kills the Monarchs. We get to see him live out his younger years and into his adult life. Besides Jinwoo, we also get to see how other major characters live in this new world. But, the best part of the epilogue has to be watching how the shadows of Jinwoo get more screen time and interactions with each other. Especially Beru. I loved Beru. For being one of the more dangerous soldiers in Jinwoo’s army, it was hard not to love him. It was also great seeing how his personality affected those around him as well.
As I said earlier Solo Leveling was a rollercoaster of an experience. It had everything I could want in a series. It had a great story, loveable characters, and a wonderful ending. Although there is a sequel series following Jinwoo’s son, the manhwa ends in a way that you can be satisfied without reading the sequel. 100% worth a read, and with the anime currently airing, this is the perfect time to get into Solo Leveling.