While manhwa, essentially the Korean version of manga, are not often licensed and published in the United States, I find that these stories are generally equal to manga. Of course, manhwa have their weaknesses and strengths too; however, what they do they do really well. The Breaker was one of the first manhwa I ever read, and it typifies what I love about manhwa, in particular ‘shonen’ style manhwa. Before I delve into these elements, let me first introduce you to the story of The Breaker.
The Breaker begins with two characters who are in many ways polar opposites of each other. The first is Han Chun Woo, who on the surface is just a fill-in English teacher at a high school . Chun Woo may act goofy and lecherous on the outside; however, when a street thug tries to harass him, he shows his true colors as a martial arts master. The second character is Shi Woon, a student of the same high school, who is always being beaten up and picked on to the point where he considers suicide. He happens to be passing by when Chun Woo momentarily reveals his strength, and later when the bullies start to threaten his female friend Shi Woon begs Chun Woo to take care of the bullies. Chun Woo instead insists Shi Woon himself must become stronger, and thus begins an odd, but inspiring, trainer/trainee relationship. As the story of The Breaker develops more of Chun Woo’s martial arts world is revealed through friends and foes, and together Shi Woon and Chun Woo will face difficulties beyond what they have ever faced before.
One of the elements that epitomizes manhwa, or at least the many I’ve read, is the notion that martial arts plays a key role in the modern world. While in The Breaker the world of super strong martial arts fighters is hidden, the notion that these fighters in many ways determine the worlds path is a strong one often presented in The Breaker’s chapters. In addition to this uniquely Asian element, The Breaker introduces the very common theme of master/apprentice, which mirrors many a Shonen Jump tale. Shi Woon could just as easily swap places with Ichigo, or Naruto for instance, especially when Shi Woon appears to have his own unexplainable fighting energy. The Breaker does differ from Naruto and Bleach largely because of the shared focus on master and apprentice, as well as the creator’s preference for comparatively fewer characters. In this way I feel that while the world of The Breaker may not always seem as interesting, the connection with the main characters and the reader develops faster and stronger than with Shonen Jump characters.
The other elements that epitomize mahnwa, again or at least the many I’ve read, is the portrayal of the main males as muscular or at least super strong, and the portrayal of the women as amazingly beautiful. Sometimes the women are relegated into stereotypically female roles, which The Breaker is occasionally victim of; however, in manhwa women seem to naturally fill the role of fighter as well as men.
Starting with the female characters, two women are of particular importance, as they both play the main friend or potential love interest of the main characters. Sai Hie is the first girl you’re introduced to in The Breaker, and she’s the girl that Shi Woon initially gets stronger to protect. Her role changes throughout the mahnwa as Shi Woon tries to hide his tutelage with Chun Woo; however, her importance is not to be understated. Shiho is the second main female lead of note. Her character serves both as the absurdly beautiful school nurse in the high school, and Chun Woo’s friend and/or compatriot. She is introduced a little later in the series than Sai Hie; however, she also serves an important role for the master/apprentice duo as a catalyst in Shi Woon’s training, and a helper for both Shi Woon and Chun Woo in general. While one or more females follow, and become lead characters, together Sai Hie and Shiho represent to me the most important, and most captivating, of the female leads.
Of course the two male leads are again the master/apprentice pairing of Chun Woo and Shi Woon. By far they have the most character development, and thus are the two that you as the reader are supposed to really get behind. Chun Woo’s own past is particularly enigmatic too, so while you may be primarily rooting for Shi Woon to get stronger, the revelations of Chun Woo provides equally exciting reasons to read The Breaker.
In addition to the two main characters there are many secondary characters, some who last only moments, and others who serve either long term roles. If you’re new to manhwa then keeping up with the characters and their Korean names may be difficult; however, the creator emphasizes the key characters enough to where you should be able to get the gist of who’s who. Most of the key secondary characters are fighters as well, so in their own way they are able to serve a role, and demonstrate different fighting techniques for the fighter fan to appreciate.
As I mentioned before The Breaker in many ways defines what I like about shonen mahnwa. Great fight scenes, beautiful girls, and likable characters fill the pages of The Breaker, and I’d have it no other way. Of course no manhwa is perfect, and the Breaker has similar flaws to match its shonen manga counterparts. For instance, sometimes the storyline becomes a little too convoluted, as more and more fighters are introduced over time. Likewise The Breaker certainly doesn’t begin as the most unique story, blending Great Teacher Onizuka with Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple; however, if you stick with the progression of Shi Woon and Chun Woo, then I believe you’ll find a tale that evolves into a great fighting story. While The Breaker is not presently released in the US, I am certainly hoping it will be. With the development of a follow-up story called The Breaker: New Waves, and the obvious popularity of the manhwa online, I feel it’s only a matter of time before someone licenses this exciting fighting manhwa.
Score: 4 out of 5