Cheonsaeng Yeonbun (천생연분, Soul Mates)
(Manhwa, Webtoon 2012-2013)
By: Ho Kyoung Yeo
Cheonsaeng Yeonbun is a South Korean webtoon created by Ho Kyoung Yeo.
Ji-woo plans on inheriting her grandfather’s company, but her grandfather has other plans in mind. He plans on marrying her off to Kang Min-woo, her childhood playmate. In the past, they “played together,” but Ji-woo found his chubby appearance to be displeasing. She doesn’t want to get married to him. When she learns that Kang Min-Woo is participating in a business training program, she joins the program. Ji-woo dresses up as a man to secretly check him out and stop the possible engagement. Yet when she starts the program, she finds out that there are two Kang Min-woo. Now, she has to figure out which one is the real Kang Min-woo, whom she met a long time ago and see if she can cancel the arranged marriage.
This webtoon seems to emphasize the importance of physical appearance. Ji-woo is a bit shallow for comparing Kang Min-woo’s adult self to his past’s physical appearance. One shouldn’t assume a person’s present self to what he or she has done or who he or she was in the past. Also, Ji-woo is somewhat superficial because she seems to not like Kang Min-woo because of his physical appearance. Physical appearance is important to her to the extent that she doesn’t want to marry someone who looks ugly. However one could argue that Ji-woo isn’t superficial because she is willing to cross dress as a man; in which indicates that she doesn’t care about her physical appearance. In fact, Ji-woo cut off her long beautiful hair for a more boyish hairstyle. Her progressive move of cross dressing serves a selfish purpose: she wants to spy on Kang Min-woo. Yet just because Ji-woo may seem superficial, she is a progressive woman because she wants to run her grandfather’s company on her own merits and abilities as oppose to relying on a man for help.
Like most shoujo manga, this webtoon focuses on the male body, and how it should be depicted. (I admit that being a young woman myself, I enjoy my “fangirling” over anime guys.) Yet in a darker perspective, how these characters are drawn or depicted implies a certain physical standard that actual male readers should live up to. This standard is to look like a pretty boy, having a slim, masculine figure. Let’s be honest. Both men and women are face with body conscious notions on a daily basis. However, it seems that in today’s media the emphasis is being placed on a woman’s body as oppose to guys. I don’t think that these manga or webtoons have any intentions of enforcing these standards. This is just something I observed as I was reading this webtoon. For me, I just read manga and watch anime for fun and entertainment.
Aside from physical appearance, this webtoon discusses the topic of sexual orientation as well. Both Kang Min-woos question their sexuality because they fall in love with Ji-woo as a man. Sexual orientation is a sensitive topic to discuss in today’s society. Throughout the webtoon, we see how both Kang Min-woos struggle with their feelings and society’s view on sexual orientation. Eventually both Kang Min-woos ignore society’s standards and put their love and feelings first, which is a pretty progressive move.
So should you read it? I think it is a good read. It dives into topics about sexuality and gender roles on a playful note. There are moments that are adorable and the storyline is straightforward and entertaining. I just kind of wish that the ending was more exciting. It was very anticlimactic, but still a happy ending (sorry for the spoiler).