There will be spoilers for the manhwa series Cherry Blossoms After Winter.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to sexual assault, stalking, sextortion/blackmail, rape, bullying, violence, child neglect, kidnapping, imprisonment, and homophobia, as it appears in the manhwa.
Haebom and Taesung were best friends when they were children. Their mothers were best friends, and they spent much of their childhood together. Unfortunately, after a terrible car accident, Haebom lost both of his parents. Taesung’s mother takes in Haebom immediately and treats him as if he were her own son. Haebom, of course, sees this as a silver lining in a terrible situation and expects to grow closer to Taesung, but overhears Taesung declaring to his mother, “I don’t want Haebom to be my brother.” Stunned by the realization that Taesung may not want him around, Haebom gradually distances himself and does his best not to be a burden on his adopted family.
Ten years later, Haebom and Taesung might as well be strangers. Unfortunately, much of Haebom’s bright disposition has also faded along with their relationship, and he has become a loner. He draws the attention of some school bullies and is forced to be their lackey. Taesung is, much to Haebom’s relief, unaware of most of this since they have never been in class together… until now. In their final year of high school, Taesung and Haebom are now in the same class together. Still doing his best not to be a burden, Haebom does his best to hide the bullying from Taesung, but it isn’t long before Taesung catches on. Much to Haebom’s surprise, Taesung ends up stepping and protecting him.
Why, though? Doesn’t Taesung hate him?
First off, it is important to note that the first two seasons are all-ages. Then from season three onward, there is a mature version and an all-ages version. I read the mature version, which is what my review will be based on. Please note that the link provided at the bottom of the post will be to the all-ages version because that is where you can access seasons one and two. To read the mature version (seasons three and four), you’ll need to search for it on the platform.
I have no clue how seasons three, four, and the epilogue could even be depicted without the sex because once season three starts it is an absolute smut-fest. That is not a complaint, but it is worth noting that if you want to read the all-ages version, you may be sifting through a lot of censorship and miss out on some content. Based on the author’s notes, this was the first time the artist had ever done sex scenes, and I think you can tell in season three, but by the end, these are some of the sexiest and most well-drawn sex scenes you will ever see in manhwa. It really is gorgeous.
Back on the topic of season three, something about the art takes a dip. The first two seasons are very pretty. They aren’t perfect, but the art style is cute and fairly consistent. By season three, though, the shapes of the heads and the body proportions seem almost like an entirely different person drew them. I think part of it can be attributed to the fact that the creator had to draw sex scenes and nude bodies, which they had never done before, so the artwork took a hit, but I can’t be sure. Thankfully, by season four, the art settles out and looks absolutely gorgeous. The art in the cover is what you get in season four and onward from there, and I promise it is worth seeing. It is beautiful.
Now enough with the art and the smut. Let’s talk about the story. The story is lovely and gradual. This is very much a coming-of-age story for both Haebom and Taesung. Haebom struggles with feelings of inadequacy and feeling like he is a bother to those around him. Meanwhile, Taesung struggles with understanding the feelings of others and especially of his parents, with whom he has strained relationships. Haebom and Taesung are perfect foils of each other. Haebom is too aware of others at the expense of himself, while Taesung is more than happy to separate himself from everyone, even at the cost of his relationships. As a result, they end up really helping each other grow and change, which creates a beautiful foundation for their relationship, and it doesn’t stop when they get together as teens. We see them grow and evolve together through high school, college, and even in their working lives together. I love that so much.
I’ve done a lot of gushing and praise, but I need to mention something odd in the epilogue. Mostly, everything is consensual, fluffy, and sexy, minus the stalker arc in college, which contains some sexual assault and sextortion. However, during the working arc where they work at a company together, the antagonist is Haebom’s gold-digging mentor, who tries to steal Taesung away from Haebom, but fails. In the epilogue, there are episodes dedicated to him where he gets kidnapped and raped. It felt like it came out of nowhere. Most of the trigger warnings come from just those few episodes. It didn’t necessarily bother me, but I can imagine readers being floored and shocked by this since the rest of the series is relatively tame. I just wanted to warn you all because it did surprise me.
This is what I would consider to be a BL classic. I feel like anyone who starts reading manhwa, particularly BL manhwa, has to read this because it encapsulates some of the strongest parts of BL: the sex, the fluff, the drama, the romance, the beautiful art, etc. Of course, it isn’t perfect by any means, but it is a really, really strong series that I can readily recommend to most BL readers. Again, I can’t speak for the all-ages version, but I can say for sure that if you haven’t read this one yet, you are missing out on a good one.
Have you read Cherry Blossoms After Winter? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!