There will be spoilers for the manhua series Monstrous Heart.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to blood, gore, violence, inappropriate relationship between a student and teacher, assault, murder, death, self-harm, gossiping, mental illness, PTSD, child abandonment, bullying, prejudice, cannibalism, age gap, social gap, pregnancy, child abuse, child neglect, self-hatred, generational/kin punishment, memory loss and manipulation, extortion, mentions of abortion, fantasy drugs, power imbalance, dehumanization, kidnapping, forced and arranged marriage, human experimentation, drugging, mind control, disordered eating, chronic illness, confinement, torture, ableism, disability, excessive drinking, grooming, pseudo-incest, and cross-dressing, as it appears in the manhua.
Johnathan Su is a human. Yet, he has been accepted into the prestigious monster academy: Augustine Academy. Why would a human be able to apply to such a place, and why would he even want to attend such a place when many monsters' primary source of energy and sustenance is humans? Johnathan's mother is drowning in debt. While he could easily move on in life and leave her to deal with it, he would never do such a thing. Unwilling to let his mother go into further debt, putting him through college, he can attend Augustine Academy for free and allow the monsters there to learn about humans through his presence there.
There are safety precautions in place in the form of laws that prevent the monsters in the academy from harming human students, but that doesn't mean the danger is gone. Still, Johnathan finds the risks worth it and attends all the same. Within just a few days, he's assaulted and attacked by various monsters. Eventually, he learns about the Pal system, where a human partners with a monster. This partnership opens both individuals up to more opportunities, including the ability to leave campus, and requires the monster to become an unofficial bodyguard for their human.
Johnathan initially intends on becoming the pal to a bunny demon, but the bunny turns out to be a serial killer, having murdered numerous humans and demons alike in revenge for them abandoning him or bullying him. Johnathan, after coming upon his latest kill, ends up being his next victim. Before the bunny can successfully kill and consume Johnathan, Lucian Yu, the infamous black fox demon, swoops in and kills the bunny. Unfortunately, Johnathan's wound is to his heart, and he's facing death. Despite his better judgment, Lucian hands over one of his three hearts to Johnathan, keeping him alive while also intrinsically tying these two together for the foreseeable future.
It's hard enough being a human and a blacklisted species of monster, but beneath the pristine veneer of Augustine, numerous plots are stirring that could alter the monster world forever.
Before we dive into the art, I need to talk about the different translations and localizations of this title. This has two titles: Monstrous Heart (the version I've read and what my review is based on) and Ogus's Law (the version on every other platform in existence, it seems). I chose the version I did because it's on one of the platforms I prefer, and that typically has a high-quality localization. However, one unfortunate thing about the version I chose is that the names are changed from their original versions to Westernized variants, which I personally hate. This is an older title, so unfortunately, this was a common practice at the time, but it's still unfortunate to see. Su Yuan becomes Johnathan Su, Fu Yu becomes Lucian Fu, Qiu Nan becomes Willow Qiu, and Xia Sicheng becomes Simon Xia, among many others, but that's our main cast (minus Theodore, who appears to be Theodore across all versions that I have found). Those aren't terrible, but it's odd that the university's name also changed from Ogus Academy to Augustine Academy, something I never thought would be a thing when Westernizing names, but here we are. Not my favorite thing in the world, but I've seen worse.
The art is a little boxy and flat initially, but over time, it really comes into its own. Manhua often has a very soft style, and this is no exception, but not until halfway through when it can be truly stunning. Until then, it is very sketchy, and the faces are often far too wide and top-heavy, but I promise it is so worth it to see the art at the end. Something else that I have to mention about the art is that we do actually get a very, very blurred penis in a single panel. I was shocked. BL manhua is known to censor kisses between men, but this is actually pretty much softcore with a single blurred peen. I couldn't believe it. Beyond all of that steaminess, the chibis in this are also top-tier. They are super round and squishy looking, which does the heart some good. The art isn't perfect in the beginning, but it's so worth seeing the stunning panels toward the end, especially to see some of the most erotic softcore to be found in manhua.
Beyond the art, I have to praise the story. I'm reading so many ongoing manhua with arcs that make no sense, and they're just there as an excuse to keep the series going. This has multiple arcs, but each one lends itself to building out the world, strengthening the relationships, and developing our characters. None of it feels needless or like filler, which is so refreshing. That's not to say it's perfect. It sometimes comes off very cringe, especially when the two leads are hugging and kissing in the midst of a fight. Some arcs feel a bit shorter than they could have been or should have been, but overall, every arc has a purpose and builds up to the end, which is what is really important and is sorely missing in most BL manhua. It tells a cohesive, romantic, and erotic story. What more can you ask for?
However, as much as I like the story, I must mention how much I hate the side couples. Johnathan and Lucian are both students, and everyone is technically an adult since they are in college, which makes it all palatable. However, both side couples include a character who looks much more adult with a student who looks much younger (Willow, in particular, gives off shotacon vibes), which is a major ick for me. As if that isn't bad enough, both side couples start with one of the people being a child and essentially being raised by their eventual lovers. This is a major ick for me and is essentially pseudo-incest as far as I am concerned. None of them are actually related, mind you, but they do have a guardian/parental and child relationship, which is just so gross to me. Thankfully, they are just side couples, and we really don't see much of them until the after-stories at the very end, but it's still icky. I totally understand that this is fiction, and I am not here to police fiction, but I do want to share this information with any who might be opposed to this content like I am.
This is a really good manhua. If not for the pseudo-incest and shotacon bait, I would call this a favorite. It has a cohesive story, it's far more erotic than any BL manhua out there, and there are some stunning pieces of art toward the end. I highly recommend this, assuming you aren't opposed to any of the questionable content or the content warnings. This is probably a BL manhua classic if there is going to be one.
Have you read Monstrous Heart? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!