Naerim Shin has been the victim of bullying since middle school. Between her introverted nature, her ‘gloomy’ appearance, and her mother’s work as a shaman, she’s been an easy target, and none of the adults in her life seem to notice or care. She dreads each day going to school, only to return to an empty home, as her mother’s work often is her sole focus.
An upcoming class means 48 hours with no escape from her classmates’ torment, and Naerim can’t help but wish for a knight in shining armor to come to her rescue. But when a group of girls force Naerim to break open a sealed wardrobe in an abandoned church, she ends up accidentally forming a contract with an ancient vampire instead.
The vampire, Fetechou Vlad, is bound to be Naerim’s servant in exchange for her “witch’s blood” in the hopes it will eventually make him human again.
Bloody Sweet is a manhwa (translated from Korean) originally serialized as a webcomic, with the first few installments available for free, and the rest locked behind a paywall. Yen Press’s edition is the first physical release of the english translation, with volume one currently available, and volume two set to release in 2024.
I set out really hoping to enjoy this title, and it definitely had a few things going for it. The art, published in full color, is lovely, and Naerim is a protagonist that is easy to relate to and root for- her struggles with depression, isolation and bullying are unfortunately all too common. Unfortunately, the story’s tone was incredibly inconsistent. Fetechou, the vampire, and really all of the paranormal elements, feel like they’ve been tacked on in a way that doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the story. The narrative swings wildly between intense scenes of bullying and suicidal ideation, and awkward, manic jokes about the vampire eating scabs, quoting snack commercials and acting like a puppy.
The story is strongest when it deals with real world elements, focusing on Naerim and the people in her life. She reconnects with a childhood church friend called Hyoyeol, who had been crushing on Naerim for years, and truly admires her as a person for her kindness. Hyoyeol is bubbly and bright. Because he is a year younger than Naerim, they don’t attend the same school, but he has huge potential to be a positive force in Naerim’s life, reaching out to include her and introducing her to others willing to accept her.
At the same time, one of the adults Naerim met at the church has also been hired at her school as a counselor, meant to help address bullying in the school. But whenever the story seems to really be hitting its stride, Fetechou returns with more false, overly cutesy energy and jarring sexual innuendo.
There are intense discussions of bullying, depression, and implications of an attempted suicide. (A bloody boxcutter is shown, as well as self-harm scars on the protagonist’s wrist). However, it is the prevalence of BDSM imagery and awkward sexual remarks (including those related to Naerim’s menstrual blood) that lead me to disagree with the publisher’s age recommendation of 13+. I would bump that up to a 16+ or even perhaps shelve this title with the adult collection. Libraries with a tight graphics budget could probably stand to skip this title entirely.
Bloody Sweet,Vol. 1
By NaRae Lee
Yen Press, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 13+
Series ISBNs and Orde
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Korean,
Character Representation: Korean, Depression