Manhwa is an increasingly popular comic format that appeals to both fans of Western comics and manga. Thanks to so many great series that it’s emerging in North America, but one similar trait defines many of its greatest hits. Here are the 10 best manhwa with an OP MC!
Top 11 Best Manhwa With An OP Main Character
Manhwa featuring an OP MC is fairly common, as is the case with Shonen manga or Western comics, particularly Marvel and DC. Detractors may believe this lowers the tension of the Hero’s Journey when they see how quickly characters rapidly ascend from humble beginnings, but the truth is, these manhwa are mighty entertaining for what they are. They often represent a radical change or growth in the main character, including maturity, cleverness, raw strength, and even height.
How this manifests varies from case to case, though. Some main characters become shrewd or even arrogant, while others remain affable throughout the story, appealing to different readers seeking a different form of escapism. Here are my choices for the 10 best manhwa with an OP MC:
11. Leveling With the Gods
I should clarify to start this list: Leveling With the Gods is considered a webtoon, which is essentially the digital format. These are typically read by scrolling up or down on your phone, and in the case of Leveling With the Gods, it’s a bit trickier to put to print due to impressive vertical panels throughout.
Right away, you’ll notice a pattern that follows many of these series. Despite often never outright pointing it out, the protagonists are faced with game UIs to guide them along their journey. In the case of Kim Yuwon, this brings him into a conflict with the Outer Gods, bringing in a mixture of mythological gods including Greek and Norse legend, a running theme in popular manga. As he is sent back in time by Chronos to reverse the outcome of the war, he begins his rapid ascent in this action-packed series.
10. The World After the Fall
I find this series intriguing because of how quickly it acknowledges its game-like challenges, equipment, and interface with an otherwise real world. The events of The World After the Fall depict an otherwise normal world suddenly threatened by calamity in the form of mysterious towers appearing around the globe.
Sing N Song penned the original story for this in its web novel format, a name you’ll want to recognize later. I found this series quite striking, and while the Tower Impacts felt a bit tropey in terms of popular manhwa plots, the underlying conspiracy is where the readers will inevitably be drawn. Jaehwon, its protagonist, undergoes a series of important developments, namely abilities, weapons, and vanquished enemies he encounters while he ascends the tower. Chief among these is the Awakening concept, a bit of a running theme in several manhwa with OP MC structures.
9. The Gamer
Perhaps the most on-the-nose name in the case of this list, The Gamer features Han Jihan who bears the eponymous moniker. This series features Hanjihan’s experiences with the world reflected by his love for gaming, in a setting where people can ascend (or attempt to ascend) to godhood.
Hanjihan’s abilities, as founder of The Players, have predictably RPG-like foundations including elemental traits, affinities, and more. It’s an interesting blend of incredible feats and mundane activities, making this one more relatable.
8. Kill the Hero
Meet Woojin Kim. Woojin was murdered in a previous timeline, and returns to the past before his awakening as a ‘player’. Noticing a running theme so far? One of the cooler aspects of Kill the Hero is how you can differentiate Woojin’s abilities from others in this list of OP protagonists.
Woojin gets access to a great deal more death and gore-focused abilities here, dealing with his connection to the Underworld. His quest brings him on a warpath to defeat the otherwise righteous hero and leader of his guild who killed him. Combine this with a modern aesthetic and fantastical, varied global mythological influences and you’ve got a standard yet compelling story!
7. Second Life Ranker
Not the first and not even the last to feature monolithic, otherworldly towers the protagonist must ascend on this list, Second Life Ranker is the revenge tale of Yeonwoo Cha. Yeonwoo’s twin brother, Jeongwoo, was the pre-eminent high-ranked Player in the Obelisk (this series’ multi-tiered tower) before his murder at the hands of his teammates. This, along with a powerful keepsake, motivates Yeonwoo to ascend the Obelisk to take his revenge.
The signature defining trait this time around is Yeon-woo’s powers which largely draw from dragons. However, in true OP fashion, he also takes on abilities featuring the other powerful races to appear in this series, including gods, demons, and giants. To top this off, Yeon-woo starts this procession by having a reawakening as part of becoming a Player, another common trait of this series.
I love Player because it speaks to the school outcasts who enjoy remedying their social anxiety woes with a little comic escapism. Seoljin Heo seems to have the same fixations as those around him in high school, yet he isn’t able to connect well with others. He despises a manhwa where a main character loses to a stronger enemy because “Losing in real life is enough.” But when his comment on the eponymous webtoon “Player” (getting meta here) got enough likes, he is incarnated into the story.
Ready to prove his mettle in a match, he is….practically disintegrated on the spot. But then he’s brought back as, you guessed it, a Player. Players in this series are destined to climb the Heavenly Arena Terrarium. That’s right, another tower features in this series. But with a great deal more humor, this series offsets its quirky faults by being delightfully self-aware of the tropes it uses. While it’s unfortunately not widely available in English yet, fans were eager to translate this one for those seeking a good story.
5. Tomb Raider King
Taking the route of regressing to an earlier point of the timeline in terms of predictable manhwa story beats, Tomb Raider King has some killer style. It’s got a decent amount of geopolitical commentary thanks to its central gimmicks of relics based on literature, legends, and myths from cultures around the world.
This results in some relics being innately more helpful than others. Some, such as an escape rope from ‘Brother and sister who became the Sun and Moon’ are originally not as strong as Muramasa, and certainly not as powerful as the Hand of Midas or Qin Shi Huang’s Elixir Plant. Still, protagonist Jooheon Suh makes excellent use of each. After dying, he’s sent back 15 years into the past when the relics started appearing around the globe. He takes this opportunity to seize them and grow his power to take revenge against Taejoon Kwon and TKBM who left him for dead.
This series not only embodies a similar structure to other manhwa series with OP MC stories, but it’s also genuinely interesting with a shrewd, hardened protagonist at its core. Plus, I just found it so compelling to see series like Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer see a reference like some sort of mythological mashup similar to the original book version of Ready Player One.
Surprisingly, Overgeared is more isekai than outright modern fantasy stories featured elsewhere on this list. It’s a full-dive VRMMORPG adventure with Youngwoo Shin as the star as he grows his presence in the game “Satisfy”.
Many gamers have dreams of making a livable wage or even getting rich off their obsessions, and that’s not even exclusive to enjoyers of this medium. Overgeared not only empowers Youngwoo to live out this fantasy but to feel a place in the world and carve out a legend for himself. He’s Grid in this world, as he gains the knowledge and skills of a legendary blacksmith along with harnessing a bizarre supposed glitch allowing him to potentially outmatch anybody of a similar level.
Overgeared is not the least bit edgy or overly serious, being a fun comic book for any reader wishing for a little escapism. It’s got possibly the most likable protagonist of the bunch here, and for fans who prefer it in print form, your adventure is just beginning!
3. Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint
This manhwa might rub it in your face just in what way its MC is OP (what’s more OP than knowing everything?) but it’s also among the best. Based on the original creation by SingNSong (told you it’d come into play later) Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint is a brilliant story that, contrary to Player‘s central webtoon, allows Dokja Kim to live out the plot of his favorite web novel.
This creates a surreal test of humanity when the world suddenly experiences apocalyptic events where people are pitted against each other in life-or-death scenarios. Dokja proves his cleverness and adaptability numerous times throughout the story thanks to knowing how the events will proceed ahead of time.
While Dokja initially seems arrogant, beneath this facade is a vulnerable character who is his own worst critic. The result is one of the best-conceived protagonists you can enjoy in manhwa,
2. Tower of God
Revisiting Tower of God, I noticed that the art style has had a nice fine-tuning, but perhaps more noteworthy is its prolific run. With over 600 chapters (or episodes) its webtoon is still running today, one of the most beloved manhwa around since its 2010 debut.
What readers will truly enjoy about this series, aside from the usual hallmarks of an OP protagonist, leveling, and towers, is that it’s the formula arguably at its best. The series flows well, is eagerly anticipated both in webtoon and in anime form (Season 2 is coming in July 2024!), and has an approachable lore.
Regulars live within the Outer Towers, chosen to climb the Inner Tower, and Rankers are those who ascend to the top, with Jahad as the God of the Tower. Irregulars, such as Twenty-Fifth Bam come from outside this realm, able to change the world around them. As you dive deeper, the lore expands further and becomes more compelling, as you find that Bam, while increasingly powerful, is surrounded by compelling, compelling characters with intriguing backstories to make them feel more fleshed-out.
1. Solo Leveling
I started this list debating just how high this series would place. In many ways, it embodies many of the common tropes found in other series here. But Solo Leveling…well, it perfects the formula. Jinwoo Sung undergoes a rapid transformation that reminds me a lot of the meek Peter Parker just as he is bitten by a spider. But it’s all done in the setting of a real-world mixed with RPG mechanics.
Jinwoo died as the infamous Weakest Hunter of All Mankind but was given a second chance in the ‘Courage of the Weak’ quest. He’s the only one who seems to suddenly see a game UI pushing him to work out, defeat threats to his progression, and climb the ranks of society. He’s able to fight threats that were normally deadly to him, grow stronger, find powerful weapons, and even just grow taller. The transformation turns him into a poised, tough, hardened warrior who sees his old limits more clearly than ever and works like hell to keep surpassing them.
If not for Jinwoo being 25 years old, I’d have sworn this would fit like a coming-of-age. He has his reawakening after being a burden to others for far too long, and this serves as his way to seize his power. He quickly overpowers or outsmarts all opponents, yet knows when to halt after seeing threats too dangerous for him to tackle just yet. It’s fascinating to watch him try to keep his progression a secret as it would understandably arouse suspicion. He gains admirers and would-be assailants and tries to figure out the secret of the mysterious System protecting him.
Solo Leveling may embody the generic trends many other series in this list have, but it’s well-paced, wonderfully drawn, and utterly so satisfying. It doesn’t hurt that the series has an anime you can enjoy (for which I got to review the premiere!) and I can assure you that this one is likely to go down as one of the most famous manhwa ever.