There will be spoilers for the manhwa series PAID.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to corruption, embezzlement, stalking, manipulation, traumatic brain injury, motorcycle accident, obsession, dubious consent, confinement, abuse, violence, sex work implications, blood, implied drug use, and drugging, as it appears in the manhwa.
Heejae is known as the conglomerate prince. He is part of the Jinhwa group, founded and controlled by his family, the Yeon family. His elder brother, Heekyum, is a chairman, and Heejae is a board member. For most people in Heejae's position, this would afford him all manner of luxuries. However, while he does have the title and the money, he isn't nearly as well-off as one would assume he should be as a person of his standing, living in a studio apartment and being left out of most significant decisions regarding the company. But Heejae doesn't care all that much, just happy to live his life the way he wants… as much as he can under his brother's thumb, that is.
Unfortunately, Heejae isn't the brightest bulb in the box, and when his closest friend and secretary, Haeju, mentions a chance to get back at Heekyum by embezzling one million won, Heejae is more than happy to go along with it. Unfortunately, they don't consider the bag with their contract and ledger, all with the evidence of their embezzlement inside accidentally getting swapped with someone else's on public transportation. Thankfully, the bag was taken by a regular guy, Taekyung, who would probably have no idea what he had.
Paranoid and desperate to keep himself safe, Heejae decides to tail Taekyung, but when he is inevitably caught, his only excuse is that he is attracted to Taekyung. Thankfully, Taekyung is happy to go along with Heejae's whims and to keep Taekyung close, Heejae asks him to move in with him. With Taekyung agreeing, Heejae assumes everything is in his control. Unfortunately, he doesn't anticipate Taekyung wanting to consummate their new relationship, and if Heejae wants to stay under the radar, he will have to go along with everything. Everything.
Let's just go ahead and get this out of the way: the art is stunning. It's Fujoking, so that's hardly a surprise. To me, though, having read a bunch of Fujoking at this point, this, to me, is the peak. It is stunning beyond belief, and I think part of it has to do with the story, but we'll get into that later. The style is gorgeous, and every character is stunning. Heejae is angelic and ditzy, Taekyung is confident daddy material, Joowon (dumpling!) is hilarious and attractive, and Haeju is an angry/sad bean. I love them all. Even our villain, Heekyum, is a cold beauty. If you didn't know this already, Fujoking is a master of BL, just as the name would suggest. Every piece is a work of art, and this is no exception. Also, before we get too serious to mention it… the smut is genuinely top-tier. It's worth a read just for that alone.
In true Fujoking fashion, we have a ditzy bottom in Heejae. Usually, that sets up for a fun romp with tons of comedy and smut, and while that is still present here, the ditzy bottom trope is actually much deeper in this case than you would think. Heejae wasn't originally so ditzy and “dumb” but was actually a genius until a traumatic brain injury in a car accident took both his memory and what made him unique: his IQ. If that doesn't hurt you to your very core, I don't know what will. It makes all the jokes at Heejae's expense crueler, making the reader feel like an asshole for going along with the joke. I love this sharp pain so much. I can't even explain it. I often talk about how emotional I get reading certain things, but I very rarely shed tears. This one, I do. Every single time I've read it, I cry because it's such a cruel set of circumstances that you can't help but laugh and cry. I love it and hope I can write something as painfully poignant as this one day.
As if that wasn't cruel enough, due to Heejae's memory loss, he doesn't remember Taekyung. Meanwhile, Heejae is all Taekyung has thought about for years because Heejae was his first and only love. But due to the accident, Heejae never showed up when they were supposed to run away together, and Heekyum, Heejae's brother, hid him away from the world and made the excuse that Heejae was abroad. So, to Taekyung, Heejae just abandoned him. The one person he connected with and thought he could rely on threw him away like he was less than trash. He is completely justified in his path of vengeance, but we know Heejae was not at fault. It's so painful because you agree with both of them, and they're both in their right to feel hurt and slighted, but at the same time, their hurt is directed at the wrong person. Heekyum is the reason they both suffer endlessly. He is the true villain, but neither Heejae nor Taekyung realizes it until they're both broken beyond measure. When Taekyung finally realizes Heejae didn't abandon him and that he doesn't remember him because of that night, then it's a slow climb of forgiveness, retribution, and more. It hurts on every front, but it's so good.
Thankfully, it's not all endless suffering. Taekyung, with the power he has cultivated all this time, gets his revenge on Jinhwa, taking it down. The best part of it all is that Heejae finally gets confirmation that he isn't loved because he's a genius or the child of the Jinhwa conglomerate. Even if he never got his memories or genius back, Taekyung would love him all the same. That's all Heejae ever wanted, to be loved for who he is and not for what he used to be. His brother abandoned him because he had lost his genius. Haeju always looked at him as someone to be pitied because of what he lost and has such immense guilt that their relationship could hardly be called friendship since Haeju feels such obligation toward Heejae and everyone else only ever saw him as the “conglomerate” prince. Taekyung didn't care about any of that, though. He loved Heejae because he was Heejae, which was all Heejae ever wanted. It's bittersweet because they're both still so hurt from things they had no control over, but they have each other in the end, and that's all that matters.
I could go on for years about how much I love this story. It has caused me so much pain and anguish, and I loved every second. This review doesn't do it any justice, and I implore you to give it a go. If you liked My Way with You or Crash Into Me, both very painful in their own ways, I have no doubt you will love this one, if not more. To say this is a favorite would be putting it mildly. This has altered me forever, and I can't thank the creator enough for it. If you don't read this, I think you'll miss out on one of the most beautiful stories in BL. Highly recommended.
Have you read PAID? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!