Bride of the Water God is the first sunjeong, or shojo-style comic from Korea, that I’ve read so far. What surprises me is not how different it is, but how familiar: if you’ve already had some exposure to the tropes and eccentricities of shojo comics, you won’t find this difficult to get into at all. In fact, if it weren’t for the names and some of the internal references, there would scarcely be any way to know this was a Korean production.
I shouldn’t make those things sound like a criticism, though. Country of origin aside, Water God is light romance first and foremost, with some excursions into the godly and the supernatural. Sadly, it doesn’t have anywhere near the narrative confidence of something like Real / Fake Princess — it has the same diffuse storytelling I've seen in other shojo titles, and when you get down to it there’s really not a lot going on. It looks good, but I’m hoping it eventually evolves past just being a fashion plate and becomes something more memorable.
The story’s set somewhere in Korea’s feudal past, and opens in a village where the legendarily monstrous God of water, Habaek, has been inflicting a long and brutal drought. As local legend has it, all they need to do is offer one of the local girls — the “Bride” of the title — as a sacrifice, and the drought will end. That’s what’s happening in the very first pages, where Soah, their girl of choice, steps into a boat and prepares to die for her people. She had plans, once, about marrying some nice man and having a family, but life (and death) are what happen while making other plans.
To her immense surprise, she does not die. Instead, she ends up in Habaek’s magical kingdom, the land of Suguk, where Habaek and a whole pantheon of other gods are found playfully a-sporting. None of this, however, is quite as startling as the revelation that Habaek himself has the appearance of a ten-year-old boy. A rather pouty, snooty ten-year-old boy, to boot, as Soah quickly discovers, but a god nonetheless. When Soah challenges him to justify having caused the drought down in her village that killed so many, Habaek’s answer is appropriately chilly: “It’s just cause and effect. Nature gives back as much as she receives. Humans are the truly selfish beings: as long as they’re safe, they don’t care what happens to others. You must know that better than I do, don’t you?”
On top of all this, another curious drama is brewing — the fact that Habaek is, in the nighttime, a totally different being. When the moon is out, he’s a handsome man that would be the envy of any bishonen worth his salt — and at first Soah doesn’t make the connection between him and his real form. But she’s going to need to put the pieces together for her own sake before long, as Soah is involved in an intrigue or three with the other gods where she may be forced to choose sides.
I have to be honest — the story I got with Bride of the Water God wasn’t the story I was expecting. With the opening few pages, I was expecting something far more serious, and there are in fact hints of a fairly serious story here and there (as when Soah and Habaek talk about the selfishness of the human race vs. the capriciousness of the gods); however, it’s mainly designed as a romance, and in that respect it’s not bad at all.