There will be spoilers for the manhwa series Stigma.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to slut-shaming, unsafe sexual practices, violence, gun violence, blood, assault, blackmail, harassment, gang activity, racism, theft, rape, anger management problems, self-loathing, suicidal ideation, suicide, child abuse, PTSD, and drugging, as it appears in the manhwa.
Sehyun's life is shrouded in darkness. He has little to no hope due to the terrible trauma he has experienced at the hands of his guardian, Michael. The only way he can find any semblance of peace is by plunging into the dirty underbelly of the city he lives in, having unsafe sex with strangers, and confirming to himself what everyone believes: he's trash. He has come to accept this lifestyle until he runs into Boris.
Boris is rude and standoffish, but when he finds a line to an open stall where Sehyun is being endlessly assaulted, he can't just walk away. Stepping to the front of the line, Boris fights off as many waiting men as possible. Once he's cleared them all out, he takes a worn Sehyun to a nearby hotel and lets him rest there. It is then that Sehyun admits that he wanted that to happen, which disgusts Boris. Still, Sehyun can't help being drawn to this bristly white knight.
Sehyun is far from a damsel in distress, but could he still be someone worthy of Boris?
First, let me get the art style out of the way. I hate it. I hate the boxy nature of the lines and faces. I hate the super dark coloring of the upper lips. I'm not a huge fan of how intense the black and white is, with very few gray tones in between. It's just not my style. The most tolerable design is Sehyun, but I'm still not a fan of his design either. It's just too boxy for my taste. It's highly unique, though, which is a positive as it stands out among most of the standard pretty BL fair out there.
On the story front, it's better. I love a good dark story. Escape into Oblivion comes to mind as one that was uber-dark but that I really enjoyed. However, where that one shined, this one is a bit dull. Every person is a rapist or an asshole. Everyone. The only exceptions are a few of Boris's friends, his sister, and his niece. Otherwise, everyone sucks, though to varying degrees. Boris is an asshole, but one with good intentions most of the time. Sehyun is an asshole, but he has to be just to survive. There is very little hope to be found in any of the characters, which makes this hard to enjoy.
However, with that being said, my favorite parts of this entire series are the little moments of hope we see. When Sehyun finally gets to experience another world than the one he is forced to live through in Elena's home, spending time with Anya. The sections where Sehyun gets to interact with Anya and gets to live out some level of normalcy are heart-rending, to say the least. I also love that eventually, he gets a dog with Boris, and they create their own little family. While most of this story is without hope and excruciatingly bleak, it's ultimately about healing and renewal. We can all heal and live happier lives. I really appreciate that message after all of the darkness this story presented.
While I would like to end on that positive note, I have to talk about Michael. Villains are supposed to be bad. That's what makes them villains. Of course, some are worse than others, but Michael might be the most deplorable villain I've encountered. He saves Sehyun off the street, teaches him, raises him, and then, when some goons rape Sehyun, Michael blames Sehyun. It turns out he wanted Sehyun but never acted on it. So, he gets pissed at Sehyun for being raped and then rapes him. Then, as if that isn't enough, he sells him off to other people as he sees fit, which breaks all of Sehyun's trust in people. The person who cared for him when he had no one else betrayed him in the worst way possible. It's disgusting. He is definitely part of the reason I don't care for this series much, just because he is so nonsensical and cruel due to his insecurities.
While working on this review, I did everything possible to avoid writing this. More specifically, I avoided re-reading this story because I would rather read anything else. This was actually supposed to go up two weeks ago, but I procrastinated so much on this particular work that it had to be pushed further and further out. So while I overall feel neutral about this, judging by how hard it was for me to do this review, I think it's safe to say I don't recommend this. It had good points, but the negatives completely overshadowed them.
Have you read Stigma? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!