Manhwa is becoming an increasingly popular medium for Otakus and other general comic book fans worldwide. With many readers, especially in 2024, their gateway will be Solo Leveling, but truthfully, some of the best manhwa to find are just beyond that gateway with some true gems among them.
What’s Great About Solo Leveling?
Solo Leveling isn’t always the most groundbreaking work of literature, but it’s remarkably entertaining and succeeds as a strong example of a good manhwa. Thanks to a left-to-right presentation for its print editions, along with color-printed pages, it’s accessible to Western audiences. It also boasts stellar artwork and a style reminiscent of traditional manga.
What Makes A Manhwa Similar to Solo Leveling?
As I’ve gone over in previous pieces, many popular manhwa scratch a common itch similar to Shonen manga featuring gimmicky, months-long fights. In the case of Solo Leveling, manhwa similar to it touches upon its themes including rapid ascent to incredible power, overcoming one’s lower social status, and often a modern-day setting common in most manhwa.
The best manhwa similar to Solo Leveling, however, aren’t just carbon copies, but series that steer into their gimmicks, and draw readers into the written medium to seek a broader variety of series. They may share common traits like OP main characters, a penchant for game UIs, and bizarre powers/scenarios creating a sort of inverted isekai plotline, so here are my top 5 picks!
5. Tomb Raider King
I’ve gone over Tomb Raider King already a couple of times at this point, thoroughly appreciating its angles commonly shared with Solo Leveling. It boasts a resurrected protagonist, relics and weapons of ascending potency, and a modern-ish world suddenly littered with dungeon-like areas to explore and raid. While Solo Leveling has Gates, Tomb Raider King has Tombs. Jinwoo Sung is killed in the double dungeon, while Jooheon Suh is betrayed by his colleagues and the raider organization.
The comparisons become more unclear when comparing their personalities, however. Jooheon is certainly more unapologetically manipulative, while Jinwoo has more of a journey to discovering the newfound power he has over people in his new status. But both characters embark on similar paths, an ascent to greater power, this time with the foresight to improve themselves, and their mutual experiences of having felt death’s embrace.
I love Overgeared. It’s one of the more upbeat stories comparable to Solo Leveling, although perhaps because it’s got a bit of Sword Art Online isekai mixed in with the OP MC structure. Youngwoo Shin is a player of an in-universe VRMMORPG in this case, as opposed to Jinwoo’s more mysterious “Player” status carried into the perceivable real world.
Overgeared features blacksmithing as Youngwoo forges his way forward, creating incredible equipment to make a living and protect himself. He functions well as part of a team, while still maintaining a similar OP Hero’s Journey narrative.
Jinwoo, upon seemingly dying, receives his quest and path to ascension. Youngwoo dies in-game while on an SS-Rank quest, jumpstarting his own experiences as well. While Youngwoo didn’t suffer the same penalties or stakes, he was brought to Level -1 after a class change, creating a distinctive twist on the formula that’s amusing to read, so check it out!
3. Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint
Knowledge is power, and when you know everything, you can quickly find power over everything. In the case of Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint, there’s a strong set of common elements shared with Solo Leveling. There’s a stat-building mechanic, a layered and sympathetic protagonist, and existential, fantastical threats to a modern world.
What sets Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint apart is its distinctive appreciation for web novels as a medium. Dokja Kim is the sole reader of “Three Ways to Survive the Apocalypse,” giving him a unique insight into its various life-or-death scenarios. It’s equal parts MacGuffin and Deus Ex Machina, standing in for a more compelling and overt concept than Solo Leveling’s “System,” I’d argue.
2. The God of High School
Armed with lethal style and a MAPPA anime adaptation already under its belt, The God of High School is a great example of a successful and popular manhwa. This is possibly also the most nebulous comparison to Solo Leveling, as beyond their modern setting, it’s tougher to find the common elements.
While both series are set in the present day, The God of High School deals with martial arts as opposed to the more typical manhwa adventure in Solo Leveling. Instead of parties of hunters crashing gates and storming dungeons, The God of High School is named after its central martial arts tournament.
But despite these differences, their respective paths lead to similar insane levels of strength. The God of High School predates Solo Leveling by 5 years, but with Mori Jin’s surprising heritage from a certain simian monarch, you can mix in more than a fair share of Dragon Ball for the formula, and it’s a highly worthwhile series to check out.
1. Jungle Juice
I will never quite be able to shut up about Jungle Juice. Picking it up at NYCC turned out to be a bit of a life-changing decision of sorts because it’s become my favorite action manhwa. To call it manhwa like Solo Leveling would be an oversimplification. It shares elements with the series, sure, but it arguably also has traits of X-Men, Spider-Man, Vixen, and my all-time favorite superhero, Animal Man, but with a specific focus on insects and arthropods.
Jungle Juice is so good that I suggest you look past any fears of insects before you give it a try. While that sentence feels weird to write out, I stand by it. Suchan Jang as the protagonist is wonderfully engaging, turning slightly away from the Solo Leveling formula. There are no game UIs, and instead, people have been transformed by cans of Jungle Juice, a bug spray that disintegrates bugs and bestows their traits upon the users.
Related: Solo Leveling Episodes 1 & 2 Review
This doesn’t mean people are transformed entirely into bugs, decidedly taking a middle ground between fantasy and Cronenbergian horror. Often this results in aesthetically pleasing infusions of the most important traits, such as Suchan having dragonfly wings yet retaining other human traits like a mostly unchanged body free of insectoid limbs or chitin.
But here’s the kicker: Suchan tried to hide this and blended in as a popular young man. It’s only in embracing his abilities in a life-or-death situation where he became an outcast, and when he was brought into the fold of the Nest, an ‘Xavier’s School’-like haven for others affected by Jungle Juice, he still seeks a cure for his condition. Instead of quickly embracing his new powers, Suchan sees them as a threat to his happy, normal life and wishes to remove them while also discovering how incredibly powerful he is.
With the reward for excelling at the Nest being Cinderella, the key to reversing his condition, Suchan quickly guns for this, while encountering dangerous villains who threaten his classmates. It’s so much more than just another action manhwa like Solo Leveling, yet it can be just as gory, and for what it’s worth, I’d argue its art is streets ahead.
- This article was updated on January 2nd, 2024