Solo Leveling | Complete Review
Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2
"In a world where hunters, humans who possess magical abilities, must battle deadly monsters to protect the human race from certain annihilation, a notoriously weak hunter named Sung Jinwoo finds himself in a seemingly endless struggle for survival.
One day, after narrowly surviving an overwhelmingly powerful double dungeon that nearly wipes out his entire party, a mysterious program called the System chooses him as its sole player and in turn, gives him the extremely rare ability to level up in strength, possibly beyond any known limits.
Jinwoo then sets out on a journey as he fights against all kinds of enemies, both man and monster, to discover the secrets of the dungeons and the true source of his powers."
Solo Leveling is a webtoon adapted from the web novel by Chugong, with art by DUBU (REDICE STUDIO) and story by h-goon.
If you have been following along with my posts, you would have seen that I have been doing arc-by-arc reviews of this series. While that does help break down my thoughts on the individual arcs, I wanted to do a complete review of the series as a whole.
I have heard about this series for a while now but wasn't particularly interested in reading it initially. For one, I have never read a leveling manhwa, so I didn't know whether I would like it or not. Secondly, it wasn't finished yet, and I would like to think I know better than to get invested in a series that isn't finished (but clearly I don't know better).
But, with the series being wrapped up last December, I thought that this was my chance to finally pick it up, and I don't regret it at all. While it took me far longer than I expected to get through, I finally get what all the hype is about. There were a lot of flaws that stood out to me, which I will go over in my review, so this wasn't a complete winner for me.
While this series may just seem like a whole lot of fighting, in the end, it is a lot more than just that, and this is a series for all kinds of readers. Are you a character-based reader? Well, this has all the Jinwoo you could want. Are you a plot-based reader? Well, this is broken up into story arcs so we definitely have that. How about some good world-building? Well, you can check that off too.
If you want to read my reviews for the arcs, I will have them listed down below. For now, though, buckle up because there is a lot to unpack in this review.
Let's get into the details!
One thing you can't complain about is the character design because we've got a whole bunch of pretty characters in this. I did notice one thing about the designs though, specifically Jinwoo and Jinha. Jinwoo's eyes kept changing between grey and black, and Jinha's hair between dark brown and purple. I don't know what the intention behind this was, but it was just something odd that jumped out to me.
As for the fight scenes, they were a bit hard to follow. Unlike manga, webtoons have long vertical panels, which results in some rather awkward scenes to have to read since you don't get the full image in one shot, you have to scroll down to see it. On top of that, the panels were full of just a lot of motion blur, flashes and text.
When it comes to the text itself, I have no complaints there really (aside from one spelling mistake I noticed). Manga and manhwa do a good job at fitting in the right amount of text and context into a bubble. I also like how it wasn't always the standard white and black boxes, as the colours would change to reflect the atmosphere.
This is the kind of story where whether you like it or not may depend on your reading preferences. If you are someone who doesn't like a lot of action or doesn't like OP characters, the chances of you liking it are slimmer. That doesn't mean though that the odds are completely down, as plenty of readers who gave this a shot with the same dislikes did end up enjoying it.
I already mentioned fight scenes in the previous section in terms of visuals, but I wanted to touch on them again in this section. For a series with a lot of fighting, there was also just not a lot of fighting, if you get what I mean. Fights tended to be on the shorter side for the most part, including fights that I had been anticipating for a while, which was disappointing. There is still no shortage of fight scenes though, so if you are looking for a series packed with an MC who kicks ass and wins every time, then we have a winner here.
Another thing the series is good for is that it almost feels like you grow with it. Because it takes a while to get through it, at least for me because I paced myself, by the time you get to the end it felt like a century ago since Jinwoo first woke up changed. With that, you can really see just how far he has come, and how much he has changed both physically and mentally.
Speaking of progression, though, the story did a very good job at showing Jinwoo's progression as a hunter in general. The story starts out by putting him in situations he has no hope of winning, but then it will circle back to it later on when he is strong enough to now deal with it. It was also a really good way to also fully flesh out all of the subplots.
That is more or less the general gist of the story: we follow Jinwoo as he grows stronger while also facing increasingly stronger foes. There is, of course, a bigger underlying story happening that is slowly revealed as you go on, but I can't really go into detail about that because of spoilers. I wouldn't say that I was particularly invested in the deeper story too much, but it didn't really matter to me since I was enjoying myself anyway.
Let's start with the magic system, dubbed the System when it comes to Jinwoo. The magic system is pretty easy to follow along with, especially if you are someone who plays video games, because it is based on a standard video game leveling system. It follows a pretty easy system of completing quests, gaining points to level up as well as getting rewards. Simple, easy, but effective.
One thing I liked about the system was how the creative team handled the system was that it wasn't too overpowering. While, yes, Jinwoo is OP, all of his abilities are tied to the specific job that he earned. It is not like he is armed with an arsenal of all abilities under the moon, no, which I am thankful for.
What I also liked was that they would show on-page exactly what Jinwoo was using. If he obtained a new item, you would be able to see the description which was an interesting and useful way to dispense information.
In terms of the other hunters, they are divided by rank and then by type. Hunters, and beasts, are put into a rank of E-S, depending on how strong their mana levels are when they awaken. Of course, once you reach S-Rank things get a little more complicated because there are no subdivisions, but the rankings do their job to depict the differences in power.
As for the types, such as tank, assassin or mage, for example, we weren't exactly given a definitive list. Types were brought up randomly when there was a character on page who was a specific type that wasn't mentioned yet. This is one of the aspects of the world-building where I would have liked to actually have a list.
One thing I did notice was the lack of items. I don't know if it is because they are invisible, but you only get to see Jinwoo use physical items, not health ones, a couple of times. Items are a huge aspect of any gaming system, so to not use them possibly just because Jinwoo was strong enough didn't make much sense to me.
The biggest flaws of this series have to do with the characters, or the side characters in particular. Since this, understandably, focuses mainly on Jinwoo and Jinwoo alone, all of the side characters are, well, pushed way off to the side. There were tons of interesting characters who had a lot of potential, who either died before their character arc went anywhere, or who were just not focused on enough, which was a real shame.
And this goes for every single side character. Starting with Hae-In, one of the very few female characters in this series (which can be a whole nother issue as well). While I was reading, I saw a lot of comments that were excited about her appearance, but her character ended up being kind of underwhelming. She is an S-Rank hunter, so I was expecting to see a badass woman kicking ass, but she barely did anything throughout the entirety of the series.
I don't know if this is because the story was written by men, but she seemed to only be there as eye candy, in my opinion, and to develop a bond with Jinwoo. Speaking of that, that is also something I don't think was done well - romantic relationships. This story didn't need it in the first place, but it was made worse because there wasn't really any development to speak of. It kind of goes from 0 to 100 with nothing in between to show that mutual feelings were growing.
Getting back on track though, we have the rest of the side characters. I would have loved to see more interaction between characters who had a really good dynamic going on between them. I also just wanted to simply see more characters period, like Zhigang for example. He had some very brief appearances, but he was considered to be the strongest hunter, aside from Jinwoo, and we did not get to see him in action properly. It was just strange for the team to hype up these characters, only to barely go anywhere with them.
That being said though, as I said, there were tons of really interesting characters. I did end up getting attached to them, and some really good bonds were created between the characters that I loved. I ended up getting a bit emotional as well when it came to certain characters and scenes.
Now that we have gone through the side characters, it is time to focus on Jinwoo. Jinwoo is a character who served his purpose well. You want a character who can continuously get stronger and doesn't lose a fight, well you got one. The good thing about Jinwoo's character though, while he is OP compared to other characters, his progression is gradual as I mentioned earlier on.
He goes from an E-Rank and climbs up the rank while fighting monsters that are proportionate to his own ranking. It is not like the team pitted him up against beasts far above his level and he came out of it with no issue, no. He still gets beat up because there wasn't a big power imbalance.
Overall, this was a very solid series. While I don't think I liked it quite as much as others, it did end up living up to the hype and delivered exactly what it was meant to.
Did I have some issues with this though, yes, but this is a webtoon adaptation, so the creative team could have just chosen not to stretch it out. I might just end up reading the novel though to see if it does rectify the issues I had with the webtoon.
Now, as I said earlier, if you want to check out my individual reviews for all of the arcs, click on the links!