In this episode, I fly solo again as I jump into a title that I’ve been holding back on since Lyfeblerd began. I’m talking about Solo Leveling, the South Korean action fantasy web novel written by Chugong.
Also known as Only I Level Up, it was first serialised on the digital comic and fiction platform KakaoPage in July 2016. In November the same year, Solo Leveling was then published in full by D&C Media’s Papyrus label.
Like all good web novels, the title spawned a Webtoon that was also serialised on KakaoPage in March or April 2018. This adaptation was illustrated by Jang Sung-Rak (aka Dubu), the CEO of Redice Studio, who unfortunately passed away on July 23, 2022. The manhwa ended in December 2021 with a total of 179 chapters. The light novel ended with 270 chapters which were compiled into 14 volumes. Volume 7 of the English print by Yen On goes on sale next year.
Only I Level Up
Solo Leveling is set in a world like ours but unlike the earth we know, mysterious gates to another world appear, filled with vicious monsters. Humans also develop magical abilities to combat this new threat, but not everyone acquires these powers and even among the gifted, there are huge power gaps between them.
These superpowered humans are called hunters and a guild system is created around their existence, leading to multiple factions, prestige and what not. The story begins with Sung Jinwhoo, an E-rank hunter and possibly the weakest in the world.
After a brutal dungeon run in which most of their party of hunters are killed and Sung is left to die, he is suddenly saved by a mysterious force that logs him as a Player and grants him the extremely rare ability to level up. This is a big deal because once a hunter discovers their powers, their abilities are measured by their country’s respective authority and ranked. It is almost impossible to outgrow your rank.
As you can tell, it falls into the popular manhwa and web novel trope of game systems within the real world. It also shares a lot of isekai DNA, from the overpowered protagonist to their ability to get increasingly stronger through what one might call a cheat ability. It doesn’t matter that it lacks the usual bits of reincarnation or forcefully being transported into another world.
Not only is Sung able to level up, but he also gains access to more abilities as he does so, including strong magical loot that other hunters do not have access to. This also includes those from the world’s biggest guilds, like the Ahjin Guild, White Tiger Guild and Fiend Guild.
As you can expect, Sung will meet many other hunters as he continues to level up in an attempt to find out what the System is, where the Gates came from and more.
Plus & Minus
- The writing is really nice and simple. This makes the story easy to digest and you’ll find yourself whizzing through all 350+ pages of the light novel in only a few hours.
- The story is complete, so Yen On or some other publisher will definitely be bringing the remaining volumes to the English speaking world. I believe the 7th English volume of the light novel will be dropping some time next year.
- It’s a good time to be a fan of Solo Leveling as there’s an upcoming mobile game from Netmarble that looks really good. A-1 Pictures also have an anime series in the works that’s premiering next year too.
- While this episode makes the Solo Leveling light novel its focus, I think I can mention the art as one of the pros even though it doesn’t feature prominently. However, it’s the same art in the manhwa, so you aren’t losing any quality or suffering a disconnect. The manhwa is also in colour, for those of you that hate black and white comic books.
- Our hero Sung doesn’t really have any particular character traits that make him stand out for me. He’s kind of like every generic hero in the genre — calm, cool and awkward with the ladies.
- I’m not a fan of stories with overpowered heroes. In real life, I enjoy a good challenge, which is evident in the games I play and the work I do. This means I don’t give titles like Solo Leveling too much regard. In the story’s defence though, Sung’s journey to the top is not an easy one, but he’s just got too many cheats that help him advance in strength absurdly quickly.
- The title says it all but I would have loved it if he shared the spotlight more with other characters in the story. While I’ve only read the first volume of the manga, I progressed around half-way through the manhwa years ago and never came across any deep development but maybe all that begins from where I left off.
My first contact with Solo Leveling was with the manhwa and I had a lot of fun with it.
I believe it stood out to me mostly because of the art and the powers Sung accumulated. Character designs, other character’s powers, the monsters and battles themselves were all great, but these lend themselves to a visual medium more than text, which (I can’t believe I’m saying this) is why I prefer the manhwa to it.
Solo Leveling’s story is nice but nothing new and that’s good enough. Afterall, there are millions of people around the world that love it and for several of them, this was their first contact with manhwa. Solo Leveling is lots of fun but doesn’t make it into my top 10, hence why it took me this long to decide whether to cover it so soon or not.
There are a lot of people that will love Solo Leveling and for you all I’ve picked two more titles that should get your blood pumping too with dungeons, guilds and the hunt for exp.
If you watched or read it already, pick up the light novel, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime written by Fuse and illustrated by Mitz Vah. There’s also a manga and anime with a couple of spin-offs if you’d prefer any of those mediums.
Another recommendation is the Japanese light novel, Dungeon Busters written by Toma Shinozaki and illustrated by SenriGAN. Think of this one like a mature Solo Leveling with an emphasis on a group of people trying to level up various skills instead of one person.
- Solo Leveling written by Chugong and illustrated by Jang Sung-Rak (aka Dubu) – https://amzn.to/3HINykG
- That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime written by Fuse and illustrated by Mitz Vah – https://amzn.to/3VZzFmp
- Dungeon Busters written by Toma Shinozaki and illustrated by SenriGAN – https://j-novel.club/series/dungeon-busters
For those of you that aren’t fans of the dungeon crawling genre but still enjoy a good isekai, give Fushigi Yuugi a try. It is a fantasy romance manga written and illustrated by Yuu Watase. A great example of a classic shoujo manga.
- Fushigi Yuugi written and illustrated by Yuu Watase – https://amzn.to/3WkdOpB
That’s it, the end of Lyfeblerd episode 9 and the first season. I hope you enjoyed the show and find a title to read from today’s selection, hopefully Solo Leveling. The show will be back in a couple of months, so keep an eye out on the Lyfeblerd and Ayamba LitCast social media channels. I’ve had a great time with you all and can’t wait for a bigger and better season two.
Keep levelling your fandom skills. See ya!
The theme song is Dreams by Rewayde, provided by Argofox.