Laon, vol. 1-6

17-CoverLaon is a gumiho – a mischievous nine-tailed fox spirit of extremely ambiguous gender. (If, like me, you’re more familiar with Japanese than Korean mythology, think kitsune.) After Laon loses a bet to powerful Queen Mago, the gumiho is stripped of … her? his? … tails and ears, and cast down to Earth. Specifically, to Seoul, South Korea. Laon is desperate to regain – you know what? I’m just going to say “her,” since that’s what they use most in the books – her tails, but darker forces are also looking for them – and for Laon.

What’s a gumiho to do? Well, Laon finds unlikely assistance from the staff of Rumor and Truth Monthly, a tabloid magazine. Jaded reporter Tae-ha is still bitter over the disappearance of his girlfriend, Young-yoo, four years earlier – and his own inability to remember what happened the night she vanished. He’s eager to make a deal with Laon: Tae-ha will help her recover her tails, and she will then use her power to help him find the missing Young-yoo. Meanwhile, the rest of the tabloid’s staff – including Young-yoo’s brother – have their own motives in dealing with Laon.

Of course, finding the tails won’t be easy. The city is swarming with demonic creatures that Laon calls “hwan,” capable of possessing or killing humans. Queen Mago isn’t above sending an assassin after Laon. Strange forces are drawing together under the auspices of a new religious cult. And if that doesn’t make things tough enough, the tails have taken on human hosts and made plans of their own.

This series is the first manhwa I’d read, and the Korean cultural references were fascinating. The books contain everything from political jokes to popular hangover remedies, all helpfully explained in the endnotes.

Of course, these volumes contain a lot more than that: gore, nudity (pretty much female only, but lots of it), incest, sexual violence, prostitution, suggestions of pedophilia, and general squickiness. (If a little girl is molested by a demon that’s taken on the form of the girl’s mother after brutally murdering said mother, what category does that go into?) Oh, and panty shots. You will not believe the number of panty shots.

Laon herself (himself? itself?) is an interesting character. She is quick-tempered and petulant, with the appearance of a schoolchild, but is actually a being nearly one thousand years old and in possession of formidable powers, even sans tails. Her strangeness is well-presented: Laon doesn’t have human values, isn’t familiar with human culture, and has a distinctly un-schoolchild-like tendency to devour her enemies. She makes for a convincingly otherworldly character, as do the agents of Queen Mago who are sent to find her. The gumiho’s oddness also makes for a humorous juxtaposition with the all-too-human issues that plague the staff of Rumor and Truth Monthly: unrequited love, an awkward office romance, and the magazine’s precarious profit margin.

The art is lavish and detailed, from the characters to the cityscapes to the food. The action sequences are easy to follow, which is saying something given how weird some of them are (e.g. Laon jumping in and out of the pictures on billboards). The creepy and gross bits are creepier and grosser thanks to the skillful artwork.

The plot can be disjointed at times. This complete six-volume series never makes clear the reasons for Queen Mago’s actions, and there are some other loose ends as well. Still, the story is coherent enough to easily follow what’s happening from one moment to the next. There are some intriguing mystery elements, too, as Laon searches for her tails and various other characters try to help her or trip her up.

The biggest appeal factors I see for Laon are the Korean cultural references (not a dominant part of the series, but quite present) and the action, served with a side of humor and sex. Not for the faint of heart or stomach, but could be a fun series for those who are neither.

Laon, vol. 1-6
by YoungBin Kim
Art by Hyun You
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9780759530539
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9780759530522
Vol. 3 ISBN: 9780759530546
Vol. 4 ISBN: 9780759530553
Vol. 5 ISBN: 9780316131957
Vol. 6 ISBN: 9780316132114
Yen Press, 2010-2011
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen

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