Confession: In the grand scheme of media—print, film, and digital—I actively follow only one series. I used to follow many, but over the years they’ve all gotten the boot, except this One. It must be something extraordinary, right?
Oh yes, my friends, it is.
Tower of God is a Korean webtoon written and illustrated by SIU (a pseudonym that stands for “Slave In Utero,” which is strikingly macabre). It chronicles the adventures of a motley collection of characters as they ascend a sprawling tower in pursuit of ultimate glory.
What, you say?
I came across this webtoon circa 2010 (probably 4-6 months after it started its current incarnation), and I’ve been hooked ever since.
What Makes This Series Great
#1: The Characters
We’ll start with the main trifecta, Bam, Khun, and Rak.
The Twenty-Fifth Bam (aka Bam, black turtle, et al.): our innocent, enigmatic hero has no clue how the tower works because he has spent most of his life in darkness and isolation. He’s an irregular irregular: although he opens the tower doors himself instead of being chosen to climb, he doesn’t have the monster-like strength or skills of the other irregulars that have forced their way in. Except that he sometimes does, which is superb fun.
Favorite Bam moment: all of ’em. I freaking love this kid.
Khun Aguero Agnes (aka Mr. Khun, blue turtle, A.A., et al.): crafty, cunning, and self-serving, Khun sabotaged his own sister and raided his father’s treasure trove before starting his journey up the tower. He’s determined to win in every situation he encounters, and he’s not above using shady means. In fact, “shady means” is his preferred method.
Favorite Khun moment: pretty much any time he takes control, but his first appearance in Season 2 makes me giddy with joy every time I read it. He owns that ridiculous outfit like no one else could.
Rak Wraithraiser (aka Rak, crocodile, et al.): a giant reptilian warrior who hunts those with strength so he can fight them and get stronger. Rak is, delightfully, the comic relief. He refers to everyone else as “turtles,” and has quite the collection of specific names. He is the “leader” of the Bam/Khun/Rak trifecta (although Khun is usually the orchestrator).
Favorite Rak moment: “This turtle is his wife.” I’m not even going to explain. Imma just leave it at that.
On the powerful, confident female side of the character spectrum, we have the following:
Ha Yuri Jahad: a high-ranker and a princess of the tower’s ruler, Jahad. Yuri encounters Bam on the bottom floor just after he enters, and she ensures that he gets a fair shot at his initial challenge.
Favorite Yuri moment: Her foot-to-the-face greeting makes for a dynamic first entrance; her battle on the Hell Train is pretty epic too.
Androssi Jahad: another princess of Jahad, Androssi enters the Floor of Test at roughly the same time Bam does. Her status makes her a pop-culture icon as she progresses upward. (Note: she’s “Endorsi Jahad” in the official English translations; I have a soft spot for the fan-translated “Androssi.”)
Favorite Androssi moment: She’s referred to as a “tank” on more than one occasion, and it makes me laugh because she looks like a delicate girl but she’ll legit mess you up.
Hwa Ryun: a one-eyed, redheaded guide; or, well, she doesn’t start off one-eyed, but there’s this incident, and she pretty much rocks her eyepatch in the aftermath.
Favorite Hwa Ryun moment: “Pig, pig, pig, pig, pig, pig, pig, pig, pig.”
Describing all the other great characters would balloon this post to an easy 10K words. Each has their own personality and traits, and as they become more familiar, they become more beloved.
With one exception. There is one character that pretty much every last fan of this series wants to die in a horrible, grisly, face-mangling death. But disclosing who it is would be such a massive spoiler that it would destroy half the fun. Ha ha.
(Like, it takes some serious talent to create someone so universally and violently despised. I’d hate for you to miss out on any of that joy.)
#2: The Themes
Friendship. Loyalty. Ingenuity. Betrayal.
So much betrayal.
And yet, alongside that betrayal run the dual themes of forgiveness and redemption. Characters must constantly choose between honor and self-interest, but even those who make the selfish choice have innate value, and they are worthy of redemption.
(Except the Unnamed Hated One, I mean. Every rule has its exception.)
At some point in the series, I realized that I approach each new chapter with my heart in my hands. Every gut-wrenching cliffhanger sets my brain a-frenzy. And yet, like a masochist, I keep returning.
The good guys don’t always win. Sometimes they suffer horrible, devastating setbacks. They weather physical and mental anguish. They fall in with the bad guys for a season.
And that, ultimately, is why I list Tower of God as a “literary influence.” Right now, it’s my benchmark for high stakes and reader engagement. It makes me ask, “Am I letting my characters suffer enough? What if I twisted my plots just a little bit more?”
It’s wonderful, this literary trauma.
If you start this series, I will warn you:
- The beginning art is a bit shaky. Cut those early chapters some slack, though, because the later visuals are phenomenal.
- The plot can feel nebulous. It gets clearer as you go, but in some respects, its nebulousness is a plus, because it makes for some exhilarating revelations.
- The text has a lot of grammatical errors. But it was originally written in Korean. Any of us not blessed to read Hangul are lucky for what we get. (Seriously, if you get hung up on the grammar, this series will be wasted on you. Just let it slide.)
As of last Monday, Tower of God is 300 episodes long, with the next one soon to drop. You can find its official English translation HERE.