There will be spoilers for the manhwa series A Thousand Cranes.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to violence, mental illness, child abuse, organized crime, murder, suicidal ideation, and drugs, as it appears in the manhwa.
Craig's life has always been challenging. He's always played the role of a parent to his younger sibling and had to be a punching bag to their father. So when his father disappears, Craig momentarily believes this is the relief he and his sibling desperately need. Unfortunately, though, debt collectors come knocking once their father is gone. It turns out that Craig's father has accumulated a massive amount of debt and listed Craig as the guarantor for all of it. Craig sticks around, unable to leave his sibling behind and unwilling to throw away all of the responsibility his father did. He quits school, takes on as many jobs as possible, and starts the neverending task of paying off his father's debts.
Over time, though, the responsibility is only getting heavier and heavier, and as time goes on, the debt never seems to let up, no matter how much he pays off. Life is beginning to seem not worth the effort. Then, on an evening when those dark thoughts are incredibly taxing, Craig comes upon a scene one would only expect to see in gangster films. In the shadows of a dark alley, there is a dead body, and standing above the dead body is a killer. Craig runs off but is soon captured by the killer. At first, the killer, whose name turns out to be Dean, is fully intent on silencing Craig forever, but there is something about Craig that Dean can't seem to let go of. So, instead of killing Craig, Dean decides to hire him and take on all of Craig's debt, so Dean is the only creditor.
With some of his stress lifted, Craig finds himself lighter and freer, even when tied exclusively to Dean. As they continue to work and learn more about each other's pains and struggles, the superficial line between debtor and creditor begins to blur. Can these two broken and struggling people find solace in each other? Even as Dean's job in the dark underbelly threatens to tear everything they've built apart?
This was created by the same person who made Rain Again, which I read and immediately scrounged around for more. Having read both of these works by Jung Seokchan, I can confirm that this creator is a master at short-form comics. Just like Rain Again, this is very short. It's longer, but it is still short in the realm of webtoons and comics. It also has a similar dynamic with a sprightly, bright person paired up with a darker, gloomier individual, though it takes both of those identities and turns it up to 1,000.
The art is a tad better, though it still has that boxy quality. Again, though, there are some really beautiful moments that are worth seeing. Also, once again, I have marked this mature, but it isn't gratuitous, and I wouldn't categorize it as pornhwa. There are some sexy scenes, though, so it's a super fun time. You will see some nice butts, but there is no other nudity, censored or otherwise. I still wouldn't recommend reading this in public, but there is nothing that will scar anyone who catches a glance. I have to say I am impressed by how balanced Jung Seokchan‘s work has been. There are sexy moments, fluffy moments, and pretty despairing moments, but it doesn't dive too far into any of them, which I have to partially attribute to the length of this. If it had been any longer, it could have easily gone too far in any one direction, but it doesn't.
Where this really shines is the relationship between our two leads, Dean and Craig. As I've already mentioned, the two leads form a contrasting dynamic with the light Craig and the dark Dean. Both struggle with difficult pasts through means they would rather not be doing (Dean as a gangster/assassin, Craig as an overworked part-timer, and pseudo-parent to his sibling). However, while Dean struggles with his debilitating mental health and finds himself isolated from the world, Craig goes through life like a bright light, though internally, he is drowning in darkness inside, too. It's interesting to see how blatantly one wears their internal struggles on their outward appearance while the other hides them away behind a bright facade. So, in reality, two people who might be considered opposites are more alike than they may seem at a glance.
Finally, I have to talk about how beautifully the title is incorporated into the story. There is a saying/belief that if someone can fold a thousand paper cranes, their wish will come true. Craig tells a brief account of when he once folded a thousand paper cranes for his wish to come true, and though he didn't get his wish, he ultimately enjoyed the process in the end. Craig also explains that as a kid, he was called a crane because of his long, gawky features. This leads Dean to ask Craig for just one crane. He doesn't need a thousand, just one, implying that in Craig giving himself over to Dean, Dean will grant all of his wishes. To say my heart fluttered is an understatement. This is a moment that lives rent-free in my head, and I love to revisit it simply because it gives all the feels.
It is a fluffy moment for sure, but it lays out the desperation and power dynamics between them. Craig is willing to work himself to death to achieve freedom and happiness. Dean wants nothing in terms of wealth, but he desperately needs a light to hang on to, to keep himself going, and is willing to do anything for it. Traditionally, the tale of the paper cranes is about making a thousand paper cranes for a god to get a wish. Dean says he only needs one, which puts himself in the role of the god with the power to grant Craig's wishes and, in turn, stop him from needlessly working himself to death to achieve his goals. However, Dean isn't a god. He is just as broken of a person as Craig, and so he just as desperately needs Craig as Craig needs freedom from his debt. Seeing these two broken people find solace in each other is something else. I love it.
I think it goes without saying, but I will say it anyway: I love this. I love Jung Seokchan‘s work. I desperately want more. The art is not the star of the show in these pieces, but it doesn't have to be. The story and the romance are to die for, and I highly recommend everything I've read so far by Jung Seokchan. I swear you won't be disappointed.
Have you read A Thousand Cranes? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!