Solo Leveling, Vol. 1 by Chu-Gong

The weakest of the weak, E-class hunter Jinwoo Sung has no money, no talent, and no prospects to speak of. And when he enters a hidden dungeon that fateful day, he ends up being left to die in the aftermath of a horrendous tragedy. At death’s door, Jinwoo is suddenly invited to be a “player” by a mysterious voice. Desperate to live, Jinwoo jumps at the chance…but what is this strange new leveling system that only he can see?


I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.


A quick disclaimer: While I haven’t read the Solo Leveling webnovel or manhwa, I’m a long time reader of fan-translated Asian LitRPG/Isekai/SFF webnovels. I’m familiar with the tropes and the general pitfalls of these kinds of webnovels a reader new to this genre may not have. This review will be written from that perspective. As an aside, as a long-time reader, reading an officially translated audiobook version was a very weird experience. Not bad, per se, but like the feeling of two very different, separate worlds intersecting in a way that makes you think, huh. that shouldn’t happen.

I’ve seen the cover of the Solo Leveling manhwa for years, though I’ve never picked it up. Seeing the audiobook up on NetGalley really was the final push to pique my curiosity and I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

Sung Jinwoo is the world’s weakest hunter and man with a frequent flyers card to the ER room, but makes up for his weakness with clever thinking and a sheer willpower to not get murdered by interdimensional monsters in a pseudo-videogame. Naturally, after he’s given the power to “level up”, quite literally, his hunting abilities, it’s quick work for Jinwoo to drastically get stronger a la video game stat points (STR, WIS, AGI, etc).

Solo Leveling takes place in an alt-universe modern-day South Korea, where magical portals leading to “dungeons” filled with malicious monsters that threaten humanity. Simultaneously, certain humans have been awakened as Hunters, people with the magical abilities to kill these monsters. Hunters come in various classes, and of various power levels that cannot be changed (cue entrance of our protag). Built around this are various international Guilds and government-funded Hunter Associations to handle these portals. All in all, think the classic RPG video game elements and you’ll have a pretty solid idea of the worldbuilding.

Book 1 of Solo Leveling focuses primarily on Sung Jinwoo’s development – how he got these leveling skills and his initial explorations to figure out what the hell is going on. Naturally, there’s a lot of focus on the System (aka the RPG UI interface) he interacts with as he learns. We don’t go too heavy on the guilds or really into other supporting characters, which might read strangely to Western readers unfamiliar with webnovels, but keep in mind the full story has 240+ chapters and we’re only getting the first 12 or so!

Having read neither the fan translation nor the original Korean, I unfortunately cannot comment on the quality of the translation. The most I can say is that thankfully, the character’s names are still formatted <Last name><First name> and not localized (a personal massive pet peeve). The narrator, Ki Hong Lee, is Korean-American so there’s also no worry about having to suffer through badly pronounced Korean.

Perhaps my only complaints with the audiobook edition are that there Chugong really really likes their onomatopoeias. There’s a lot of “shkk” and “grrrr” and ‘skrrr” and the ever present “Ding!”, that all get read aloud. Which, when narrated, I surprisingly found annoying. The other part is that every time Jinwoo opens up his stats page or levels up a stat, the entire stats page gets read to you. Which happens about once a chapter. In-text, I think most readers would simply skim over this kind of information, but over audio… Man, I really don’t need to hear what this guy’s INT stat is every single time (SINCE HE DOESN’T CHANGE IT).

Overall, I rate this book a 4/5. This first volume is pretty standard material for an Asian LitRPG webnovel, but it’s laid the groundwork for some potentially really awesome stuff to come. The audiobook was an odd but enjoyable experience I’ll definitely be checking out the manhwa while I wait for book 2.

r/Fantasy 2021-22 Bingo Squares:

  • Set in Asia (hard mode)
  • 1st Person POV

Publication Date: 21 February 2021
Publisher: Yen Audio, Hachette Audio
Format: Audiobook, ARC
Pages: 320
Audiobook Length: 8 hours, 12 min
Buy It Here: Amazon | Google Books | Barnes and Nobles | Goodreads

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