Webcomics have been a major factor in my love of comics for a very long time. I may have started my comics journey by reading manga, but webcomics quickly caught my attention during my college years. Over the years, the way artists and creators can share their comics with the world has changed and improved drastically. There are so many platforms they can post on, so many ways to stay in contact with and get support from their fans, and so much more support for the medium. Websites and apps like Webtoons, Tapastic, and Tumblr allowed fans to search a collection of comics in various genres, connect directly to artists, and boost the visibility of the most popular comics being created at the time. Since then, new ways of finding comics have increased, with apps being created all over the world, connecting readers to a variety of voices.
This brings us to an entirely new mobile platform I was introduced to just recently, Manta Comics. Manta Comics is a new webcomic app that allows English readers to enjoy popular Korean comics. The people at Manta reached out to me earlier last month about checking out their new app and possibly reviewing one of their new releases on the platform. In return for a free month subscription, I agreed to check it out and take a look at their comic Under the Oak Tree, a new fantasy romance on their platform just released on January 30th.
The comic itself focuses on the daughter of a duke, Maximilian, who married a knight at the coercion of her father. The morning after her wedding night, he leaves for a three-year long military campaign, leaving her at her father’s mansion. Now, after three years he returns as the most famous knight in the country. Self-conscious about her stutter and still haunted by the abuse from her father, she must now face her husband who she knows nothing about.
The app reminds me a lot of Webtoons in its design, but it does have some work that still needs to be done. I love how many series they already have up on the app to read. It definitely feels like you could spend a while just going through and reading to your heart’s content. Similar to Webtoons, the main page of the app features series that were updated that day, a list of the top series being read, and various unique genres to check out. I especially like the call-out to completed series they have, as I always want to know whether a series is completed before I dive in and get invested. However, I do think the app needs some work. For instance, it doesn’t feature a search function to find a specific series and it also does not have a desktop version if you want to read somewhere else besides your phone. I would also suggest adding a link to the Android download of the app on the main page as well, as there is only a link to the Apple store download link so far.
The biggest upside to the Manta app is its subscription model. I think it’s one of the few webcomic apps that uses a monthly subscription to give its readers access to the comics they want to read. Webtoons uses a coin system to pay for access to the newest comics in a series and Tapastic also uses a point system to unlock episodes. In these systems you pay a certain amount of money to get a certain amount of points that you can use to read new, locked episodes. The monthly subscription model is a lot more affordable and less annoying than having to pay for every single chapter that’s locked. Of course there’s trade-offs for the artists themselves, but I’m not sure how much of the money from those coin systems go to the artists or how much of a subscription model would go to the artists either. But as a reader, Manta Comics is a great choice if you’re tired of Webtoons and Tapastic’s cost of reading.
But what really keeps readers coming back is the comics, which brings us to Under the Oak Tree, created by Namu, P, and Kim Suji. I wasn’t sure if I would like this comic when I originally looked it up before diving in. I was worried that it would be a little too dramatic for me or that the relationship dynamics may be toxic, but I was pleasantly surprised the more I read. It definitely took a few chapters for me to get into the story and the characters, but after that I was hooked. I was so sad when I got to the end of the current 17 chapters, realizing that there was no more to read. Maxi and Riftan’s dynamic really makes this comic work, backed up by the elements of fantasy, drama, mental illness, and a little bit of comedy. I think I will definitely be returning to this comic when new chapters release.
The artist for Under the Oak Tree has done a pretty good job for the series. I’ve really enjoyed all the character designs, details, and art throughout the chapters. All the characters feel fairly unique and the main characters are stand-out enough to really capture and hold your attention. I love Maxi’s long flowing red hair and the variety of dress styles the team came up with. I love when character’s are given different clothing styles from day to day or chapter to chapter. I don’t know much about medieval fashion, but I loved the dresses they came up with and how they really brought out her bright red hair. Riftan as well captured my attention, especially the shots of his muscles. To be honest, I think they went a little overboard with the amount of muscle tone they gave him, but this is also a romance so in some ways it’s expected to have an over muscular male lead.
After reading so many manga with a traditional page and panel designs, it’s been nice to go back to the webtoon style of vertical scrolling. I think the team did a pretty good job setting up their chapters to take advantage of the vertical scroll, but I do think it could use a little more work. There are few moments where they want to do some wider shots that just don’t work quite as well when you have to turn your phone side-ways to look at them. Otherwise, I think that this format allows for a lot more emphasis on the passage of time through the use of white space while you scroll. It really helps add impact to certain scenes that the manga format can’t accomplish with its traditional pages (but is harder to display in reviews). But the traditional book format can win with its ability to display double-page spreads in a clear and effective way.
What I love about the story of Under the Oak Tree is how the relationship between Riftan and Maxi focuses on building their marriage from the ground up, working on setting boundaries, coming to terms with mental illness, and building a sense of love and respect for one another. I think far too often I see these kinds of story situations devolve into a kind of toxic atmosphere of the powerful husband and weaker wife. But thankfully we don’t have that here. Maxi definitely suffers from some self-confidence issues due to her stutter and childhood abuse (and the fact that she was forced into this marriage), but Riftan winds up being a very supportive partner for her. He gives her the space she needs to grow into the role of his wife, taking over the management of his castle and staff. Not to mention that neither he nor his staff ever comment on her stutter, a huge trigger for her.
The comic does deal with a lot of dark topics, like physical and emotional abuse, forced marriage, and overall mental illness, but I also think it balances those with more lighter moments. This balance plays an integral role in giving the comic depth and giving readers time to breathe between moments of drama. I loved seeing how Maxi started to work to overcome her past abuse and how she basically still suffers from PTSD because of it. On the other hand, I also loved seeing the adorable moments between her and Riftan where he shows his softer side to her and they begin to grow as a couple. If you haven’t noticed from some of my past reviews, I’m a huge sucker for a tough guy with a heart of gold, and I think Riftan fills that trope very well.
I highly encourage you to check this comic out on the Manta app. Once you do, please let me know what you thought, not only about the comic, but the app itself. I also want to thank Manta Comics and RIDI for the free one month subscription again. I think this might be a new addition to my regular reading list.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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