Like many of you, I’ve spent quite a bit of time confined to my apartment, waiting for the COVID-19 pandemic to blow over. And while the bulk of my time spent teleworking during the week, I do need a bit of a break from the monotony of my computer screen. So I’ve taken to buying manga on Amazon and in the two weeks I’ve been social distancing I’ve amassed quite a few new titles. Of course, most of these are boys love (which seems to be pretty much all I buy now), which given my not so secret fujoshi tendencies shouldn’t be a surprise (especially if you follow my Insta).
While I definitely snagged some interesting stuff, the one that I was most interested in starting was the manhwa, Behind Story by Narae Ahn. Now, some backstory—Amazon has been suggesting this to me for WEEKS and while I like manhwa, I kind of find their stories a bit on the soap opera side when it comes to drama. And BL manhwa tends to really crank that shit up with their angsty drama and penchant for tragedy, and… I really need to be in the mood for that. So, I kinda dragged my feet a bit. It’s just 3 volumes long so it’s not as big of an investment as say a longer running shounen or shojo series and it was on sale when I got it, so I figured I could do worse.
Behind Story is the debut title of Narae Ahn, so it is a bit rough in places, but despite some flaws I actually really enjoyed reading this story. It’s more on the shounen-ai side of things, with very little in the way of actual sex, BUT, it does deal with some intense themes like: non-consentual sex, drugs, and abuse. There are a few characters that have been the victims of sexual assault and while most boys love media tends to sexualize rape, Narae Ahn makes it very clear from the get go that this is not meant to be taken lightly! These are traumatic experiences and they are handled (for the most part) in a realistic way.
The story follows Taehee a high school student who wants nothing more than to quit school and become a professional motorcycle racer (talk about setting the bar high), he skips school in hopes of getting kicked out so he can pursue his dreams. One night he witnesses a classmate, Johann get into a motorcycle accident and rushes him to the hospital. Johann is shunned by his classmates, because they believe he is gay, but Taehee strikes up an unusual bond with him and the pair become friends. Unbeknownst to Taehee, one of their teachers is in a sexual relationship with Johann and will do anything to keep the object of his affection in his clutches. The story kind of spirals from there, dividing it’s time between the wholesome budding romance between Taehee and Johann, while also playing up some of the more dramatic undertones of Johann’s abuse at the hands of his teacher and the distance he feels from his peers and his life. There’s also a B plot where one of Taehee’s friends has a downward spiral, and it looks like its setting up to be a last minute obstacle for Taehee and Johann’s relationship… but, it actually doesn’t have much of an effect on the overall plot, save for grinding the rest of the story to a screeching hault in volume 3.
Behind Story was originally released episodically on Lezhin, which if I’m being honest explains a lot of the weird story inconsistencies and confusing dialogue flow. Since there were gaps between each new episode and it’s easy for certain details to just fall through the cracks. If this manhwa has one flaw it is definitely it’s rushed pacing and narrative flow. There are a lot of things that are set up in the first volume that don’t really get a payoff in the subsequent volumes, or details that come up early on in the story that are seemingly random, but have huge implications in the climax. If you binge all three volumes in one go, it’s easier to pick up on some of the story beats you’d miss reading episodically.
But, despite some of the more rough story elements, Behind Story does a great job at fleshing out it’s characters, you really get a sense that Taehee and Johann have grown considerably as characters over the course of the story. In volume 1 they’re teens trying to find their way in the world and their relationship is amicable, but awkward, as they try to figure out exactly how they feel for one another. In volume 2, there are separated for three years, and in that time we see them living independently, growing at their own pace as they navigate their roles in the “adult” world. Then, in volume 3, we see them reunited and after some growing we see their relationship really take off in a natural and healthy way. Johann gets closure on what happened to him in high school and thrives in his adult life, while Taehee finally grows up and starts thinking seriously about his future. Their growth isn’t reliant on their relationship with one another, but instead on them maturing into adulthood, their romantic relationship is just an extension of that and it’s beautiful to see in a boys love title.
The art is definitely one of the highlights of the series— manhwa art is a bit hit or miss for some folks, especially if you’re more used to Japanese manga art style, which tends to be more rounded. To me, manhwa seems like it favors a more realistic depiction of its characters—smaller more natural looking eyes and subtler expressions. The cover art for the first two volumes is lowkey kind of creepy in how realistic it makes the characters look—the eyes seem to stare into your soul—but, thankfully this isn’t quite as jarring in the actual volumes. I do want to note that Behind Story is more in line with a shounen-ai, sex is depicted, but not in as much detail as you’d expect from hardcore yaoi media—so no male genitalia or graphic depictions of penetration. For once I think that the 16+ rating is accurate. So, if you’re expecting something a bit more nosebleed inducing, you might want to look elsewhere. But, if you’re looking for a boys love story with interesting characters and a more natural feeling boys love romance, Behind Story is definitely the perfect pick for you.