There will be spoilers for the manhwa series Bound to Be Fools.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to blood, car accident, violence, child abuse, death, suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, alcoholism, gambling, domestic abuse, extortion, cheating, sex work, scamming, manipulation, gang/mafia activity, sexual assault, rape, orphans, drug activity, power imbalance, torture, gossiping, mentions of miscarriage, possible statutory rape/pedophilia, grooming, child abandonment, age gap, attempted murder, drugging, corruption, and PTSD, as it appears in the manhwa.
Kangjin Cha was on the cusp of taking his own life in high school. He was ready to jump off the top of a building at school, hoping to embarrass his overbearing and cruel father as well as escape his suffering. Before he can go through with his plan, Jungkwon Jang, another student, rushes to the rooftop and snatches Kangjin down back to the safety of the roof. Having been rescued by a stranger, Kangjin is desperate to learn more about his savior and, to do so demands that Jungkwon take responsibility for the life he saved. Jungkwon reluctantly agrees.
Over time, the two become the best of friends. It isn't long after that that the two end up becoming boyfriends. They are the epitome of happiness with each other. But outside of their relationship, their individual lives are fraught with pain and suffering. Jungkwon, in particular, is struggling with the immense debt left behind by his late father, who committed suicide. The debt collectors are once again hounding his mother, and he is desperately trying to protect both his sister and his mother from the violence, only for Kangjin to come in and bear witness to one of the most embarrassing times in his life. He loves Kangjin, but he never wanted him to see him so low.
In a fit of rage, Jungkwon breaks up with Kangjin and refuses to see him ever again. Kangjin is absolutely heartbroken, Jungkwon's love being the one bright spot in his life. Kangjin's sorrow eventually swells into rage, and even years later, as an adult working as a host and sex worker, he still finds his life being directed by the trauma that abandonment caused him. When Kangjin ends up running into Jungkwon, all of those feelings come back to the surface, and Kangjin wants nothing more than to finally get revenge. As it happens, Jungkwon is still struggling with debt and desperate for a way to dig himself and his family back out, and what better way to get his vengeance than to drag Jungkwon into the same muck Kangjin is rolling in?
Let's go ahead and get this out of the way: I'm not a fan of the art style. It's very, very inconsistent and isn't pretty 90% of the time. However, I actually think this fits the narrative rather well. Pretty art styles can work with darker storylines, but there is something about art that's rough around the edges that makes the rougher stories all the more raw and visceral. Beyond that, something else I have to appreciate is that this is full of mostly masculine men. There's nothing wrong with more feminine men, but it's much more common in BL for there to be a masculine top and a feminine bottom. In this case, pretty much everyone leans more on the masculine side, regardless of position in the bedroom, which I really appreciate. It's also black and white, which is rare for manhwa, and I think that also really fits the mood.
The most important thing to mention before we dive into other story elements is the ending for this. This is a happily ever after (HEA), but not in the way you might think. This is not a happily ever after in the romantic sense. For the entire series, we are pitted between multiple love triangles, but the main one is between Jungkwon and Chisoo for Kangjin's love. Typically, the happily ever after would be for him to end up with one of them (or both, I can dream), but in this case, he ends up with neither, which I personally think is for the best. Kangjin's whole life has been defined by men, those he loved, those he thought he loved, those who lusted after him, and even his own father, so what he really needed was to learn to love himself and find his own strength. I love this ending so much, but I know many people will read this for the potential of a romance, and while there are plenty of romantic elements, this does not end in romance. I definitely think this is still worth reading, but I think this is important to point out for those who exclusively want the romantic ending.
Unfortunately, as much as I like the ending, I'm unsure how I feel about the subplots. Everyone is an asshole. Everyone. It reminds me a lot of Stigma, where everyone's a rapist or murderer. Unlike Stigma, though, I like Kangjin, I like Chisoo, and to a lesser extent, I like Jungkwon. With Stigma, I really didn't like any of our main characters, which is why I liked this story so much more. We are deep in the underworld and the muck, but we have some bright spots with our main characters. Our characters need to have flaws, but it is equally important for them to have some likeable qualities so we can root for them, and this story did a really good job of balancing those.
And though the love triangle doesn't end with anyone being in a relationship, I do want to talk about my OTP. I typically would go for the friends-to-lovers scenario, but in this case… gangster daddy Chisoo was my choice. Sure, he's a psychopathic murderer, but his devotion to Kangjin was just everything to me. He wanted nothing more than to care for and dote on Kangjin, even when he knew Kangjin was cheating on him with Jungkwon. He still just wanted to love Kangjin. Was his love suffocating? Yes. Would he have been a healthy choice for Kangjin (or anyone, for that matter)? No. Did I still want them to end up together? Absolutely. I would have gone after Chisoo in a heartbeat, but here we are. As if it didn't hurt enough, Chisoo even lets Kangjin go without a word when Kangjin leaves him. He could have easily kidnapped Kangjin, confined him, and used his power to make him disappear, but he didn't. He just let him go. Chisoo is everything.
I liked this. I was very, very tempted to call this a fave, but I just don't think this quite makes it onto that list. Even so, it's very good. It can be frustrating and so painful at times that it's tough to keep going, but seeing Kangjin smiling at the end just made everything so worth it. Just remember, if you want a happily ever after with one (or both) of Kangjin's love interests, you'll be disappointed, but if you're more interested in characters finding happiness for themselves beyond romance, then look no further. This is a tunnel of darkness, but there is a bright light at the end.
Have you read Bound to Be Fools? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!