When I think of my evolving relationship with Korean pop culture, I think I will remember 2019 fondly as the year I committed myself to Korean webtoons.
Webtoons are online-first original comics optimized for mobile consumption. (There’s an interesting article that came out earlier this year contrasting webtoons to Japan’s print-first manga culture.) A number of content platforms publish webtoons, but I’ve stuck exclusively with Naver, for no good reason except consistency; I’ve been using Naver for all Korean-related things (news, dictionaries, and its online translator, Papago) for years.
So I just finished reading season 1 of Cheese in the Trap, which is kind of a big accomplishment for me because I tend to drop webtoons pretty quickly. That, or I forget to check an update/ author goes on hiatus and it drops off my radar forever.
I like this one. I have no idea how close the author is to finishing it so the possibility may be high that I get caught up and it ends up dropping off my radar anyway, but hopefully not.
I think this is the first time I’ve read a webtoon where I actually really like the main character. Seol and I are actually very much alike. She’s smart but also hardworking, too busy to care about how she looks, struggles with her hair (see below), and is generally well-liked. There’s a part near the end of season 1 that I really identified with – Seol has to complete a big group assignment/presentation for one of her classes and all of her group members bail on her at the last minute. She ends up pulling an all-nighter and doing the whole thing herself… and still ends up failing the assignment.
Seol is very much a people-pleaser. She’s non-confrontational; so much so that even if she’s not okay with something, she stifles it until she explodes. She will go out of her way to check her own behavior and desires to put the other person(s) at ease. It’s part of what makes her so likable but it’s also to her own detriment. She’s very attuned to peoples’ reactions to her and to others. It’s a harsh kind of empathy that makes her question everything she does and says.
At the moment, I don’t really care for Jung. In the latter half of season 1 we get some insight into why he is the way he is. He’s from a really wealthy family; everyone is on their toes around them and for the sake of preserving the status quo, he has to be gracious at all times, even when he’s upset. When people upset him, he can only afford to get angry behind closed doors, so to speak; his comebacks have a particularly sadistic nuance to them.
Seriously, with friends like Jung who needs enemies? Luckily Seol has a wonderful group of friends. I freaking love Bora. When she overhears random guys “evaluating” how dateable Seol is, she completely flips out on them and then decides to set Seol up with the greatest guy in existence, Jung be damned!
I’m guessing there’s going to be an eventual romance between Jung and Seol? Jung definitely seems interested in her (whether that’s in a romantic sense or otherwise). Given the way season 1 ended, I have a feeling the happy times are coming to an end and the webtoon might turn rather dark, rather soon.
Overall I’m still having a ton of fun reading this. Onward to season 2!
Okay, so I am BLOGGGG-ing about Cheese in the Trap. Only the webtoon, though, not the drama.
(I’m feeling meh about dramas these days. I’m almost finished with 마을 아치아라의 비밀 – a drama that is seriously making me question my liking for Moon Geun-young and one that I would’ve given up if it weren’t so deliciously melodramatic. But I digress.)
So anyway, Cheese in the Trap.
We’re following the story of Hong Seol, a college student heading back to school after a long leave of absence. She’s pretty normal. She’s smart (though the circumstances behind which she received her full scholarship is one of the mysteries of the story) and has a decent social life with a tight-knit group of friends. Surprisingly she’s not dirt poor like most K-drama protagonists, but she’s trying her hardest to not burden her parents with tuition fees (there’s a story behind that too).
There’s one thorn in her side though – the campus Mr. Perfect, Yoo Jung, who happens to be the reason she ended up taking a break from school in the first place.
This dude is weird. Outwardly, he’s bizarrely perfect: good-looking, smart, polite, kind… all the girls love him and all the guys want to be him. Except Seol notices some inconsistencies in his behavior. Sometimes he’s nice, sometimes he seems cold and condescending, and sometimes he’s outright mean to Seol. I’m 30 chapters into the webtoon and I don’t know what this dude’s deal is. Seol thinks he’s playing mind games with her by orchestrating situations that make her highly uncomfortable. But she has no proof and sometimes she just thinks she’s being overly sensitive. That was a year ago. Now she’s back in school, and he seems like he’s trying really hard to be her friend for some weird reason….
So there are basically two different timelines being told in parallel – we’re privy to Seol’s flashbacks from one year prior ago as well as the present day storyline, so I don’t know (yet) what it was that made Seol quit school, but it definitely had something to do with Jung.
I’m still at the start of this series (about 75% of the way through part 1 of 3) but I’m enjoying it so far. There’s a touch of mystery, touch of comedy, touch of romance…. The characters are great, including Seol. She’s hilarious.
Also this random sunbae of hers. I don’t know if he’s going to play a bigger role later in the webtoon, but look at him. You can’t not like that face.
It seems like figuring out what the heck Jung’s deal is will be the focus of the bulk of the webtoon. My guess is that he’s the really sheltered son of a mafia boss who is on some kind of undercover mission at the university. Never mind, Jeannie tells me this isn’t true. I could’ve sworn… he’s so good at those arcade shooting games too!
I’ll probably blog on and off about the webtoon here. Is anyone else reading this or watching the drama? Let me know what you think (but no spoilers please).
And if you’re not comfortable with reading it in Korean, there’s an English translation too!