Manga Monday

Manga Monday #15: Zombie Boys and Human Girls

The countdown to, oh, you know, the best holiday ever, continues!  To serve up some holiday spirit (Halloween spirit, that is), this week’s Manga Monday is highlighting a web comic with some grisly fair–ZOMBIES.

Zombie Boys and Human Girls

Boyfriend of the Dead
Ushio
30 episodes (ongoing)

Zombies are a unique horror fixture.  Rather than being something unworldly like an alien or inter-dimensional being, or otherwise supernatural like a ghost or demon, zombies are basically just humans.  Dead humans, but humans nonetheless.

When you think about it, the line between zombies and us is just one bite away (or one last breath, in the case of The Walking Dead).  That thin line makes for some interesting exploration when it comes to character and plot, and the webtoon Boyfriend of the Dead does just that.

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First off, isn’t the logo just about the greatest thing you’ve ever seen?  I mean, zombie heart hands?  I’m dying.  So great.  Good font choice, too, always appreciate that.  None of that Papyrus going on here.

Boyfriend of the Dead begins as a young woman fights for her life during the zombie apocalypse.  Luckily she’s fighting alongside her rich boyfriend… who is quickly turned into a zombie himself.  Most.  Useless.  Boyfriend.  Ever.  But still, even as she’s stuck in a city overrun by the undead, this girl is anything but a damsel in distress.  In fact, she’s a zombie killing machine.

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We then meet our zombie boy.  No real memory beyond zombie life, all he knows is he’s not like his zombie comrades.  He still wants his own taste of a human meal, but he finds himself nauseated watching his buddies just eat, well, anyone on the street.  I mean, they don’t even know where those people have been.

He’s fairly convinced that

  1. He must’ve been a pretty picky eater in his past life.
  2. His zombie buddies’ taste buds must have died right along with them, because gross.

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His refined pallet has left him feeling an overwhelming amount of hunger, but it’s not stopping him from living life as usual.  Gluing fellow zombies back together, hitting the local pub for a cold pint of beer, and overall just living a good zombie life.

However, as circumstances would have it, he finds himself facing off against a human girl who has massacred a large group of zombies in a local shopping mall.  She is fearless and skilled, but what catches his attention isn’t her death toll (114 and counting), but her delicious smell.  He knows that she’s the one.  No, not the one he’s going to marry or whatever–she’s the one he wants to eat.  I mean, come on, she smells like expensive Japanese beef.

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However, his refined pallet dictates that he must wait three days to eat her, just as his grandma taught him.  When you get livestock from an unknown source, this is obviously customary–you don’t know where it’s been.  At least, this is his train of thought.

Thus, the story progresses as the zombie boy works to convince the human girl to follow him of her own accord, all with the final goal of making sure his meat is clean and free to eat.  Grandma would be so proud.

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Boyfriend of the Dead is incredibly funny, taking what could’ve been a quick oh-we’re-in-love-despite-our-differences premise and making it into something unique but also building each character on a solid groundwork of growth.

The idea that our lead zombie hasn’t eaten a human yet not because he’s a food snob?  So clever, and speaks a lot to his character before we even really know him.  The human girl is such a spoiled brat that getting what she wants has enabled her to kick major butt in the zombie apocalypse?  That’s just freaking awesome.

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When I first went to read Boyfriend of the Dead, I really wasn’t expecting much.  While I love the Webtoon platform that allows artists to publish their work in the Discovery Section and be given the opportunity to become a featured work, recently a lot of them have fallen flat with me.  So, when Boyfriend of the Dead became a feature title, I wasn’t super itching to read it.  But, man, I’m so glad I did.

The artwork is very simple, often messy, but it’s incredibly appropriate for the genre.  Boyfriend of the Dead is so freaking funny, and yet it has strong pacing that’s believably as well as humorous.  I think that one of the greatest things the author does is utilize multiple culturally significant things to progress the plot while at the same time making you laugh.  I mean, the mere fact that the zombie guy bypasses a cell phone and a writing store to get an Elsa Etch-a-Sketch to talk to the human girl?  So great.

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Both lead characters are sufficiently flawed, but effectively strong that they lead the story well together.  Even as you lack the most basic details, like either of their names, you still get a lot of sense as to what these two are and are not capable of.  They both have clear motivations, which I think strengthens their characters as well.  Even when their motivations are something like her wanting to fix her make-up or he wanting to eat something delicious, the very basic notion of a character motivator is often lost to a forced plot line.

I appreciate that Boyfriend of the Dead is so character-driven.  Even though the character’s drives are entirely shallow and mostly for gags, it still gives the story a more organic appeal.  Again, I think that my beef with the most recently featured works on Webtoon is that they are lead by circumstances rather than people.  The greatest stories aren’t just about some big event, they’re about how people react to that event.  Boyfriend of the Dead is absolutely a humor piece, but it uses characters so effectively that it’s so far beyond just being a gag.

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The story doesn’t smooth over the difficult questions about zombie stories.  In fact, the zombie asks the hard questions himself. And that’s why it’s so great–the questions asked in Boyfriend of the Dead are asked by the characters, the problems are addressed by the characters, the entirety of the story is controlled by the characters.

The artwork isn’t as refined or detailed as other webtoons, but it’s impressively well-written.  You may not realize it because it’s such a simple premise, but when you compare it to other works you notice that it’s written phenomenally.  And that’s what I love about it–it shows that a story finds its solidity in simple parts.
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You can read Boyfriend of the Dead online for free on Webtoon or on their mobile app of the same name.  It’s fantastic.

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