Disclaimer: This manhwa contains violence and mature themes.
Author: Taejoon Park
Comics with real life settings are kind of like visiting a foreign country – culture shock is a natural part of the package. Previously having only read fantasy themed Korean manhwa, I picked up Lookism on Webtoons after receiving a recommendation from a friend. At the time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it only took one chapter to convince me this was worth sticking around for.
The story takes place in modern day Korea, surrounding a common but seldom addressed social issue – lookism. The word “lookism” is defined as the discrimination towards people who are considered physically unattractive. The way this manhwa deals with this issue is interesting to say the least… but read on for the rest of the breakdown.
The story opens with a typical day in the life of Park Hyung Suk (a.k.a. Daniel Park), a short and unattractive high schooler who enjoys the distinct pleasure of being the personal slave of the school’s biggest bully. He spends every day of his schooling life being tortured and humiliated by everyone deemed socially above him, translating into hate which he unleashes at home unto his poor mother. Daniel wants nothing but to escape this life he’d been given, and as fate would have it, it seemed like his wish would be granted.
Given the opportunity to transfer schools away from his old bullies, Daniel awakens in a new city on the first day of school feeling… strange. Much to his shock, he discovers that he’s awakened in a new, far more attractive body than his own, while his original body lays sleeping next to him. It doesn’t take long for him to realise that he can switch places with this new body, on the condition that the other body has to remain asleep while he does so. Eventually, he decides to take advantage of this miracle and bring his new body to school, but he never imagined what difference that one decision would make.
I think the most appealing aspects of Lookism stem from the fact that its main character essentially got the “Hannah Montana” best of both worlds treatment. Having spent most of his life as a victim of lookism, Daniel received the chance to taste the other end of the spectrum all the while maintaining a life in his old body. This brings up many interesting issues for the story to explore, from the contrast between favouritism and prejudice faced by both versions of Daniel, to their society’s overall obsession with looks, class and money.
Instead of being a story about self-gratification, I was pleasantly surprised to find many instances that actually discuss the issues at hand. With every mini arc that this manhwa goes through, there is a new character facing hardship as a result of lookism and/or classism. Bullying and reputation are two themes that the story regularly cycles through, and the lack of judicial protection is shockingly apparent.
As someone who has never experienced the full brunt of lookism nor bullying before, not to mention unfamiliar with the intricacies of Korean society, I’m not sure how much of this story is over-dramatised. Violence and a lack of common decency is often used to display the discrimination against unattractive characters, but they often seem to cross the line of what would be plausible in reality.
On one hand, that over-dramatisation slightly ruins the immersion for me. On the other hand, it makes the message of Lookism incredibly clear – we live in a world where bad things can happen to good people, and good things can happen to people who don’t deserve it. If anything, I think the manhwa artist did a great job in bringing awareness to an issue that so many of us are willing to look over, or may even subconsciously take part in.
One thing I really appreciated about Lookism was the amount of diversity there was in its characters, especially in the more “unattractive” ones (for lack of better phrasing). While each of them face the same discrimination, they each take different ways out of it. Some by working it out through pure skill, some by becoming bullies themselves, and others by allowing the bleakness of the scenario to completely break them. Hey, I never said this was a children-friendly series; the manhwa artist definitely takes every given opportunity to make each scenario more drastic and pitiful to show contrast. And it works.
However, I do feel that certain character traits begin to feel recycled and stale after awhile, especially for the bullies. We see a lot less effort being put into their character development and this fact was disappointing to me. I would love to know what caused a certain bully to start going down this path, why they continue to do this, and whether they’ve ever considered breaking out of the cycle. So far there haven’t been many arcs dedicated to humanising these types of characters, and so I hope this is something we’ll be seeing more of in future chapters.
On a side note, it may be interesting to note that many of the main characters are given English names in the Webtoon version which made it easier for me – and surely many other newbies – to remember their names. I appreciate that small gesture and thought to point it out.
The first thing I noticed is that there is an incredibly exaggerated difference between the attractive versus unattractive characters. Most of the attractive characters look the same, whereas the unattractive characters come in a greater variety of character designs; all of which, I have to mention, are pretty cringe-worthy to look at. This fact reflects reality in a way I’m sure is intentional, as all attractive people in reality tend to conform to a particular model of beauty. It also calls upon our subconscious repulsion towards unattractive character designs, successfully hammering in their point once again.
Other than that, Lookism isn’t devoid of the typical manhwa stereotypes when it comes to art style. As always, I appreciate the coloured pages, but for what it makes up for in colouring, it lacks in refinement and consistency. Personally, I would prefer an overall more serious art style for a story that deals with serious topics, compared to the comical outlook this manhwa artist takes. However, that’s just a personal preference and doesn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the manhwa too much.
Lookism tackles a topic that seldom sees the light in many other manhwa and even manga out there. For that reason alone, I would recommend you read this series. In my opinion, the manhwa artist does a great job in shedding light onto this issue in a way that may shock you and even make you feel uncomfortable, but will undoubtedly leave an impact that other stories will not. It’s also free, ongoing, and updates every week on Webtoons! Check it out HERE.