There will be spoilers for the manhwa series The Makeup Remover.
Trigger Warning: Abuse, body image, and child exploitation will be discussed as it appears in The Makeup Remover.
Yeseul Kim finally started college. Her whole life has revolved around studying, but no one seems to care about her thoughts and instead focuses on her looks, which are extremely lacking to the standard of her peers and family. So, to make herself feel as beautiful as those around her expect her to be, she goes to a makeup artist and requests they make her look like rising social media star Heewon Ju. However, the makeup artist cannot achieve the look, which results in Yeseul looking worse.
After receiving less than optimal results, Yeseul ends up rushing to the bathroom, where she overhears her makeup artist disparaging her looks and blaming her for why the makeup didn't look good. Of course, this breaks her heart. However, upon leaving the studio, she encounters one of the top makeup artists of all time: Yuseong Cheon. When he sees Yeseul, he claims she is the ideal model for him to enter an upcoming makeup competition show. Though she doesn't believe she could ever be a model, they do end up partnering with Yeseul, hiding her identity under a rabbit costume and taking the competition by storm.
All the while, Yeseul deals with insecurities, a crush on her classmate, her goal of becoming a photographer, a competition, and the ever-growing relationship between her and Yuseong.
This manhwa is actually hilarious. Manga, anime, and manhwa are often described as a comedy, but the humor is severely lacking. That is not the case here. I found myself actually laughing out loud through a lot of the story. The female and male lead have such great chemistry; they are super endearing, and for a manhwa about makeup and beauty, the creator had no issues making Yeseul look ugly for the sake of the comedy.
While we are talking about looks, I also want to discuss the artwork. I really, really enjoyed it! It's all well-drawn and has some absolutely beautiful moments. Even when we are supposed to see certain characters as ugly, they are so well-drawn that they are still pretty in their own way. I want to point this out because I find that I am always super picky about the art, and I have dropped series that had interesting stories simply because I couldn't stand the artwork (Mob Psycho 100 comes to mind, but I am trying to give it another shot).
So we've got great humor, great art, and fantastic character arcs! All of the characters grew and changed in meaningful and realistic ways. Yeseul, in particular, was so strong in her growth. She started out feeling pressured to be beautiful, tried it, started implementing it outside of the makeup competition, found that she was doing it not for herself but for others, decided to do it all for herself instead, and in the end, determined that she liked the way she was naturally. She didn't want to be a model, though she would have excelled at it. She just wanted to be a photographer because that was her passion.
We see growth like this throughout the series. We see characters learn that beauty takes on so many different forms, what beauty means for men, the pressures of society on women, the pressures the public puts on idols and public figures, animal abuse in the industry, how control can look like love, how children are exploited and sexualized in the industry, and how the love we give ourselves is the most important kind of love. There is so much content and so many important messages that this explores. It is hard to believe they explore as much as they do in as short of a time as the series is. You will cry, you will be disgusted, and you will laugh. I can't speak enough about how strong everything is in this story.
Finally, I have to talk about the relationship between Yeseul, Yuseong, and, shockingly, Heewon. Yeseul and Yuseong have some of the most heartfelt moments I have ever seen in any comic thus far. In one of the rounds for the competition, they had to do an ad with one of the products from the new GC makeup line. Yuseong ends up using the foundation, then goes back in and repaints all of Yeseul's flaws because that is the face he wants to see and the one he loves the most. When I tell you, my heart fluttered out of my chest during that scene… it was so beautiful and romantic.
Then there is Heewon, the dark horse. Throughout the series, it seemed like she had a really good friendship building up with Yeseul, but then, in the very final chapter, it is heavily implied that Heewon might feel much more than friendly vibes with Yeseul. Only Yeseul can get Heewon to smile and show a side of herself in photos that no one photographer can. After the ending, there is even a side story that discusses how Heewon really only has eyes for Yeseul. This was actually a really nice surprise. I like the idea of Heewon's love developing slowly and gradually from friendship to admiration to finally romantic love. I wish it had received more limelight than the final chapter and a little side story, but it was nice to see it nonetheless.
This does feel a bit like a bait and switch. I really like that, ultimately, she ends up loving herself over loving another person, but I still found myself dissatisfied with the ending. We see Yuseong pining after Yeseul throughout the entirety of the series, and he even helps her break up with her gross boyfriend. There is so much evidence that they will end up together, but there is no official romance in the end.
And even the self-love to me was lacking! In the end, she still calls herself ugly! I was hoping she would grow and find beauty in who she is – not just accept that she's ugly (which she's not, none of the characters are) because she doesn't fit into society's expectations of beauty. This was honestly the most disheartening part – not the lack of requited romance, but that lack of confidence after it had been built up for so long throughout the series. Honestly, if she had said she was beautiful in her own way, I probably would have been satisfied with the ending despite there being no finalized romance.
As a romantic rival, I feel like Heewon was cheated. We really don't get any clear indication that she is a romantic rival until the final chapter, but that isn't even that clear. It isn't until an extra side story after the ending that we get clear evidence that Heewon loves Yeseul more than a friend. I wish Heewon's love had more time to grow and get some spotlight next to Yuseong. I think that also would have helped the self-love ending as Yeseul would have been able to say that she didn't want to lose either of them or that she couldn't love either of them until she learned to love herself. I don't know. I just feel like that love triangle could have been more pronounced and would have resulted in a stronger ending overall.
However, the biggest issue I have with the ending is how quickly it ended. We don't even get to see the end of the competition. I almost thought I had skipped a chapter or something because the previous chapter ends with Heewon and Yeseul on stage, and then the next chapter starts 3 years later. That was really disappointing since we spent the entirety of the series in this competition only not to see the result. We get information on what happened, but it is presented as past information rather than real-time, cheapening the moment. It was a missed opportunity to really bring home the self-love ending and even to give Heewon a chance to profess herself as a love interest. It could have all happened on stage or even directly after the competition, but that is passed over completely to go directly to a time skip. It was so disappointing for such a fantastic series.
There is so much good that I desperately want to say this is amazing, and everyone should read it, but the ending was so jarring and felt so much like a bait and switch that I hesitated. On the other hand, it's beautiful and takes on so many common issues that the world faces regarding body image and societal expectations. Still, the main selling point is the romance aspect of the story… and in the end, we don't really get any resolution. If you are okay with that, I highly recommend this series. However, if having a finite ending for the romance part is the most crucial aspect for you, I can't recommend it.
Have you read The Makeup Remover? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!