Solo Leveling has garnered increasing recognition since it first began and, with an anime adaptation set to arrive next year, the series’ popularity is undeniable. With the incredibly generic premise of a hero that grows stronger the more he trains, it’s easy to simply write it off as another by the numbers battle series hardly worth readers’ time. And while it doesn’t offer much in the realm of innovation or unpredictability, Solo Leveling stills has plenty that gives readers an experience worth their time.
The most obvious strength of the series is its action, which exists mainly to parade the sheer power of the protagonist and his abilities. Much like the progression system he gains his power from, the main appeal of the series’ fights are similar to the appeal of a video game. Watching Jin-Woo cut through waves of enemies or defeat a powerful boss in the most grandiose way possible falls hits that same satisfying feeling a hack-and-slash like Devil May Cry or God of War would. The fun doesn’t come from the challenge but from the overwhelming spectacle of the combat itself.
This is in large part supplemented by the series’ impressive, incredibly detailed art. Admittedly the designs for some main characters are uninspired, particularly in the case of Jin-Woo, whose appearance is as plain as his personality, but the enemies’ designs more than make up the difference. Any criticism that could be directed toward its mediocre humans is entirely absent in nearly every monster. From the giant “god” statue in the early chapters to the Ant King from the most recent arc, Solo Leveling has consistently done its villains justice.
If it relied solely on its action, the series would be pretty unimpressive. But what keeps things interesting and props up the admittedly shallow plot is the surprisingly deep worldbuilding. Beyond just discovering what new power-up Jin-Woo will get next, Solo Leveling inspires a genuine intrigue in its universe.
For one, its society and how it interacts with guilds and Nation Level Hunters is well thought out and logical. The series especially shines when exploring the dynamics between individual Hunters. Encounters between S-Ranks always have tenseness to them reminiscent of two alphas assessing each other, waiting for the smallest sign of weakness to pounce on. Beyond the human world, the series offers small inklings to the realm of monsters and what motivates them. As the series progresses, Jin-Woo encounters more enemies with higher thought who can communicate with humans. These exchanges are the height of Solo Leveling’s character moments and give readers a reason to follow the otherwise simple plot.
At its core, Solo Leveling is a series that is honest with itself and its audience. While it isn’t without its flaws, the webtoon never fails to give fans more of what they want to see. It is not a series for everyone, and it certainly isn’t a must-read masterpiece, but it thoroughly succeeds at what it sets out to do. With fun, high octane action and a compelling world, Solo Leveling is a series worth giving a chance.
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