13th Boy is the story of Hee-So Eun, an eighth-grader who has been spectacularly unlucky in love. Despite her tender years, she’s already had–and lost–eleven boyfriends. So one can’t blame her for being reluctant to give up on boyfriend number 12, Won-Jun, when he wants to break up after a month of dating. After all, their relationship began with her dramatic confession of her feelings for him on national television: it must be destiny! But reigniting their romance isn’t going to be easy for Hee-So, especially with Won-Jun’s best friend Whie-Young offering obnoxious commentary on the futility of her efforts every step of the way.High school romances in shojo manga and sunjeong manhwa are a dime a dozen, and any series that hopes to find an audience will have to find some way to stand out from the crowd. Some attract readers with unusual spins on the usual formulas, while others rely upon their skillful storytelling or gorgeous art. The best, of course, do a combination of all three. 13th Boy doesn’t even manage to do one.
The story’s biggest shortcoming is the characterization. Most romances succeed or fail on the appeal of their leads, and none of the major characters in 13th Boy gives readers a reason to come back for volume two. Won-Jun has almost no personality, and this reflects poorly on Hee-So and her obsession with reuniting with him. Whie-Young is not quite as boring as Won-Jun and Hee-So–which is good, since he is obviously the true male lead of the series–but he certainly doesn’t have the charisma to carry the series by himself.
The addition of some fantasy elements also doesn’t do the story any favors. I am willing to overlook Hee-So’s talking cactus sidekick as random (and not very funny) comic relief, but a certain character’s magical powers feel like a plot point that took a left turn at Albuquerque and ended up in the wrong story. There just doesn’t seem to be a place for magic in a story that is otherwise firmly grounded in the humdrum details of contemporary Korean life.
As a reader who would like to see more manhwa licensed and published in the US, I really wish I could recommend this series widely. Unfortunately, I think even the most devoted readers of sunjeong manhwa can safely give this series a pass. There are just too many other high school romances out there which are more deserving of their time and attention.
Review copy provided by Yen Press. The volume features an insert of color pages at the front of the book and a page of translation notes at the end of the book.