There will be spoilers for the manhwa series I Choose the Emperor Ending.
Trigger Warning: Cross-dressing, slavery, sexuality, homophobia, transphobia regarding what a male or female body is, and rape could be discussed as it appears in the manhwa.
Marina is obsessed with medieval fantasy. While her dream is to be an author, under the pressure of her family, she goes into mathematics and science, which leads her to create a virtual reality system that allows the user to import their own worlds and live out their fantasies. Then, of course, Marina has to try out her own creation and ends up in a fantasy world that she has written and published herself. Unfortunately, though, she spawns in as an enslaved person. No big deal, though, as she can just exit the game, right? Right?
Unable to get out of the game, Marina is forced to take on the role of an enslaved girl disguised as a young man named Rino. Using her knowledge of the world and the story and her scientific and mathematic prowess, Marina seeks out the protagonist Edward Allen Dihas and offers her skills to him to become the emperor. Will she be able to help her male lead achieve his ending? More importantly, will she be able to find a way out of the virtual world?
I ended up reading this overnight. I typically get in bed and catch up on all my updated manhwa/manhua/webtoons for the day, which is usually a few chapters on Webnovel, a few chapters on Tapas, the same thing over on Webtoon, and then finish off on TappyToon, then I got to bed. Unfortunately, I only had two or three chapters, and my need for romantic stories had not been fulfilled, so I ended up finding I Choose the Emperor Ending. Because it is already completed, I spent all night reading it… so as I am typing this, I have been awake for over 24 hours, and I regret nothing.
This story will make you cackle. Marina as a lead is so much fun. She’s so intelligent, cunning, cute, and just a joy to follow around. She always takes the initiative, which is a really nice change of pace. I woke up my partner probably five or six times just belly-laughing at some of the antics she gets herself into. If you really like humor mixed into your romance, this is a super strong contender for your next favorite manhwa (and if you do find this funny, let me also recommend Beware the Villainess! with a boss female lead, incredible romance, and jokes for days).
I also need to talk about the male lead. Do you want character growth? You got it. He is so great. I was already in love with him based on his design (give me a dark-haired male lead, and I’m in), but then he was also clever, adorably naive, and possibly even pansexual, which is just a fantastic package. He starts out not trusting Rino, grows to find him interesting, begins to fall in love with him, and ultimately decides: I don’t care if you are a man or a woman, I love you, and boy do I love that. But it doesn’t stop there; then we go through an arc where he struggles with letting Rino go and trusting him to be able to protect himself, which is a lovely change of pace. I find that most heroines end up being the damsel in distress, but Rino soon revealed to be Marina (Rina for short), actively fights against that trope. She doesn’t want to be protected. She wants to stand with Edward as his equal and protect him too. It gave me so many feels, and I loved it. If you like fighting the patriarchy, then this is for you.
One thing I do need to touch on, though, is the rampant sexism and homophobia. While the story does a lot to fight against sexism, there are moments where it just plays back into it. For example, there is a point where Rino is dancing with the knight, and we learn that he figures out Rino is actually a girl because of the size of his waist, how small he is, and other standard female body tropes. It was disappointing that he just assumed Rino was a woman based on these body expectations for both men and women. I will give them credit, though, having Edward see Rino’s breasts and just assume Rino is just a boy with flab was nice, but this did make me wish that one of these days I find a manhwa where the character explores their gender identity and even when they don’t end up being cis-gendered, they are still loved and accepted by the lead. I think this was a good first step, seeing as both male leads confessed they loved Rino/Rina regardless of gender, but getting away from those gender stereotypes for what male and female body looks like would make it even better.
Unfortunately, there is also lots and lots of homophobia. The word “sodomy” is used as a nickname for Rino as the people believe Rino and Edward are performing sodomy. I do understand that it is a “medieval fantasy,” and the point was that they were trying to blame Rino for all the problems in Edward’s kingdom using any means necessary, including the perceived gay relationship between Edward and Rino. Still, the fact that that is just brushed under the rug rubs me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, and I am happy that despite being called that and mocked for being in a perceived gay relationship, Edward has no problems owning his relationship publicly with Rino. Still, the fact that they never really fight against it really bothers me. There are a couple of throwaway lines where Rino notes that thinking is out of date and that it shouldn’t matter if Edward is gay or not, but nothing is ever really done about it.
I also have to harp on the art. It is rough sometimes. It gets much better as it goes on, but it is certainly not my favorite. I don’t hate it, and I definitely wouldn’t say that it is ugly by any means. It’s just that some parts are prettier than others.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t like this manhwa. It was an enjoyable time and did explore some interesting ideas such as flexible sexuality and gender identity, but on that same token, I think it fails in a lot of those aspects. I don’t believe the homophobia or the transphobia was handled very well, which ultimately undermined the whole message of feminism that this story really harps on. Women can be who they want to be, but men can’t be gay, can’t have small waists, no breasts of any kind, etc., and that is something I ultimately can’t agree with, so while I did enjoy this story, I can’t recommend it, especially if you struggle with body dysmorphia.
Have you read I Choose the Emperor Ending? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!