On the edge of summer, really the cusp of fall, I spent $140 on eight manhwa volumes.
Which . . . isn't even fair.
The first one was "Daughter of the Emperor", at the Barnes & Noble in Coral Gables. I was there with my cousin, just strolling in because that place offered free parking for a couple of hours- more than enough time to allow me to complete my goal of hitting up that sweet little boba shop and the paleta place further down. A bathroom break was requested, and while I waited, I couldn't help but peruse. I mainly loitered by the romance section, unwilling to deep dive and give myself any room for weakness. But there was no need to fear making room for it, when weakness was in the very marrow of my bones.
I'm really not sure why I picked that little book up. I told myself I shouldn't, what with "Wall of Winnipeg" already in my hand. It's art style was pretty, yes, but no prettier than, say, Fruits Basket. Maybe I marveled at how this particular manga (I hadn't clocked it was a manhwa yet, different) had fully colored pages . . . when did they start doing that? Is it- well, let me not get ahead of myself. This is a narrative after all.
It started with "Daughter of the Emperor", and I was so interested in the story that I bought the next two volumes and arranged to pick them up in two days. Nothing major yet, and in fact I was pleased to have this little kick of nostalgia. Now, the next culprit in my downfall came to me in a most auspicious place.
The local Target.
I don't care what I mean to go to Target for, I am always going to do a lap around the place. Clearance clothes, board games, books, and Funko pops. That's my routine path through Target, without fail. This Target run came four days after the Barnes and Noble visit. So, having snagged a nice graphic tee from the Men's section, I mosey on over to the books. I'm perusing the romance section, pondering the covers of a Bailey romance and a Foley mystery, when I just so happen to do a 180 and see a vividly colored, beautiful young woman. The antagonist/protagonist (anti-hero?) of my next foil- Penelope Eckhart, gracing the cover of the first volume of "Villains Are Destined To Die." I was helpless, caught in her jade green gaze, a tractor beam of celestial force zeroing in on the corroded corridor in my brain where impulse control should be. What's more, she was on sale! $15 bucks where it's normally $20- now, listen . . . how could I refuse such a bargain? It's not like I'm spending $100! I brought her home with me, and read it cover to cover in, like, 40 minutes.
Ten minutes later I discovered that Target only carried up to the second volume, but Barnes and Nobles could ship all four current volumes to me in just a few days! While I'm at it . . . why not just catch up on "Daughter of The Emperor"? And so went over $80. I got free shipping though.
After that heinous slip of self control, two days later as I stared blankly at Twitter, I texted a couple of friends about it and got exactly no reassurances in return. Just: "same." From one friend, I did get an invitation to use her Tapas account, which I found out was a web comic app after sending back a poignant "???"
The last thing I needed was to further burden my pockets with a subscription. I used to pay for Manta Comics a couple of years ago, the ads on Facebook for "Under The Oak Tree" just too enticing to not try. Those $4 were well spent every month as I quickly built a reading list of all sorts of titles, but Oak Tree was definitely my number one. The art, the colors, the yearning!! I gave up the subscription after I lost my job though, deciding that I would need to tighten my belt for a while, and unwilling to give up Disney+ (It was still only like $8 then). So, despite feeling bereft at the thought that once I finished those volumes, that was it for however long, I refused. Because I truly believed I had no further incentive to lose money. I was ready to exert self-discipline. When I kindly refused her offer . . . I had no idea that she wasn't buying the physical books for "Daughter" like I was. Because I didn't know you could get it elsewhere.
At that time . . . I had no idea that Daughter and Villains were originally web comics posted on Tapas.
It didn't take me long to find out the truth. I did finish those volumes- took me about three days. I was trying not to just gorge on them, at the time thinking that the next books wouldn't come for another month, at least. Two days after being left on an anxiety-inducing cliffhanger with Villains, I took to Google to find out when I might expect volume 5. The very first result on the page . . . was a Tapas ad for "Villains Are Destined To Die." I stared at the black page.
No, I thought to myself. It surely is not . . .
But it surely was.
The two titles I'd fervently chased after, had all along, been on Tapas. Which was the worst thing I could have discovered, and the second worst thing was that Tapas worked on an in-app purchase "ink" system. Meaning that in order to read the stories as fast as I wanted (rather than waiting to temporarily unlock episodes every three hours or every 24 hours), all I had to do was buy a set amount of ink! Easy peasy!
So I made a smart decision at first! I bought $10 worth of ink and got to the latest episode of "Villains Are Destined To Die", and got to the second season of "Daughter Of The Emperor", which is the only one of the two that's actually completed.
But then I made a mistake.
And I looked at . . . the other titles on Tapas. Titles like . . . "Author Of My Own Destiny", "I'm The Tyrant's Secretary", and "My Three Tyrant Brothers (bro, pleeeeaaaassse don't let this be an Imouto situation, please bro!!)" . . .
And then! I bought $100 worth of ink. Ink that I actually used a third of, and then somehow! Miraculously!! I gained the patience to just wait three hours for an episode. Boy lemme tell you h-what.
But my financial impotence isn't the point of this. The point is that I've found myself turning back time to middle school in a sense. I'm so invested in these manhwas! I've once again found my attention, my care, captured by the arresting art styles, the incredible coloring, and the enticing storylines of these manhwas! And, like once before, it's spread to other parts of my life, roots sinking in deep into gristle and mind and soul.
I haven't been this besotted with fictional characters in a minute! Not since . . . what, the Mandalorian maybe? Anime/manga/manhwa wise, it's been even longer! Last character I simpered over had to be . . . Hollow Ichigo. I mean, yeah I read Under The Oak Tree but I was dazzled by the character and background design, and yes the characters were enjoyable but I was able to set them aside. Now! Now I'm down dangerously for a walking talking milk noodle named Satoru Gojo- but what else was I supposed to do when I saw the first ever reveal of his eyes?! Be normal?! Please be serious, I need you to match my on my sincerity.
Now I'm neck deep in subscription across three different platforms, all because there are some soldiers on TikTok who dedicate hours of their days to creating lists of manhwa recommendations with the sped-up version of "One Of The Girls" from The Idol. And don't even get me started on all the JJK episode re-dubs, the silly jokes in fandom I kind of half get because I have been caught up on AOT against my will and given a crash course on Jujutsu Kaisen also against my will (Gege when I catch you . . . !), and the Gojo fan edits (those I don't mind. Why did they draw him so PRETTY!)
The point is! It's . . . been nice. Coming back to something sort of familiar, but from a different viewpoint, a different part of life. Once a kid who fervently checked Mangafox on Wednesdays, now a woman whose timing down Tapas and Webtoons and . . . still not quite sure about what life is supposed to be. Some things stay the same, I guess. But all I can say is, the game has changed in these streets! Whoo! None of these animators and artists are coming to play, everyone is out for blood, and my money. And they can have all of it, just keep making pretty people for me to look at, so I can, if even just for a moment, forget how much this all sucks.