What teenager has not had the fantasy – secret or otherwise – of waking up and finding their family has mysteriously disappeared, and that they are gloriously on their own? Or something similar, anyway. Sixteen-year-old Sey Hong awakens one morning to the sight of a strange face in her bedroom, only to learn that her mother has rented out their house and the new tenants have requested that they be out by 11 (the strange face belongs to one of the movers, come to pack up her room), and that she herself is going to Italy for five years to write her novel! Sey is left behind with her mother's friend Meja Kang and her family, whom Sey doesn't even know. Meja is delighted to have the girl stay with them, as she's always wanted to have a daughter! She has a son Sey's age, Terry, who seems less than pleased with the situation, and warns her that if she gets on his nerves, he'll kill her! Yet when she is in the shower, he thinks nothing of waltzing into the bathroom to retrieve his contact lenses! Which does not serve to endear him to Sey, who really hates boys! The situation is further complicated by the realization that Terry is in actuality Hali, the Kangs' daughter! Terry, their son, was killed in a car accident while riding with his mother, and she has completely blocked out the fact of his death, believing Hali to be Terry, a pretense which she goes along with – at home – for the sake of the family! And on the night of her mother's departure, while in the park in the pouring rain, she spots a bare-chested skateboarder whom she finds herself admiring – "For the very first time, I saw a guy and thought, 'how incredible'" – and she believes herself to have found a kindred spirit. And thus begins Kim Kang Won's manwha series I.N.V.U. – Innocent, Nice, Vivid, Unique.
Determined to be as independent as possible, Sey gets a part-time job at a gas station, thanks to Siho Lee, a thug type who is dating her friend Ria. But she has to learn to skate! Siho offers to teach her and she grudgingly accepts, taking a few spills in the process. When she gets in trouble at work, causing a customer damage to his vehicle, she learns that Siho actually owns the station (in fact, he comes from a Mafia family). In order to pay him back, she leaves that job and becomes his tutor instead, although she is not comfortable about tutoring him in his apartment, where he lives alone. He later tells her that he has broken up with Ria because he likes someone else, and a conversation between Sey and Ria reveals that it is Sey herself that is the cause of the breakup! Hali/Terry has transferred to Sey's school, where she discovers that the object of a long term crush is a teacher there! Hajun Cho had tutored her in middle school and she's been in love with him ever since. So is every other girl in the high school (he even has a fan club!) , including Sey, who has known him for years, the two having grown up together. Hali dreams of his acceptance of her for herself, and she seeks her own identity, to which end she becomes involved in the modeling industry, having been discovered by a friend of Hajun's who is in the business. Sey's friend Jae Eun – dreamer/cosplayer/wannabe manhwa writer has a crush on Simon Moon, a senior at her school, who works as a baker at a hotel and from whom she takes baking lessons in order to be near him, but so far, he hasn't asked her out! Ria, who never really cared about Siho, works as a part-time model, and is looking for her big break, but she keeps her activites secret from her parents, who would disapprove. As Volume 5 of I.N.V.U. begins, Jun Cho, young brother of Hajun and classmate of Sey, has inadvertently spilled hot ramen on the expensive dress that Ria has worn to an audition, not knowing that the dress was one she "borrowed" from a customer at her father's drycleaning shop, and then spills the secret of Ria's audition to her outraged father. Jun takes the blame for the mess and promises to pay it back, loaning her the money (which he gets from his brother, but without explanation). Ria heads to Siho's place for the night, discovering Sey there, and bullies her way in anyway, kicking him onto the sofa. When Ria takes Jun's money to the customer the next day, she finds her berating her father. Ria tells her a few things about fashion, in her own inimitable style (read=bitchy) which intrigues the woman, who tells her to bring the money to her place of work and then offers her a part-time job instead, impressed with the girl's fashion knowledge. Hajun and Hali's relationship deepens after her deluded mother's physical attack upon her – he takes her away to his adopted family's vacation home (they are actually quite wealthy and he is being groomed to take his place among them). As they grow closer, so do Siho and Seyo, who actually agree to have regular dates. Jae Un's crush, Simon, asks her opinion on a daring dish he is exploring which utilizes kimchi, and in the process, she accidentally drops her drawings, revealing that she is a boys love artist and that the stories she writes revolve around Simon as a main character! Mortified, she runs from him in abject shame. Hali's career is heating up, her picture is everywhere, but suddenly Hajun's family finds him a bride, who finds the closeness between Hajun and Hali totally unacceptable! And isn't afraid to do something about it! Even Jun Cho is confused and dismayed at his brother's relationship with someone his age, and lectures him about it. Sey learns that Mrs. Kang has been taken to the hospital, and when she takes some things to Mr. Kang, she sees Siho there, and learns something about him that no one else knows, and the two become closer.
Being a Korean manwha, rather than a Japanese manga, I.N.V.U. is read from front to back, which takes a little adjustment if you are used to the Japanese style, but it isn't hard once you get used to it, of course. The art style isn't perhaps as elaborate as some of the Japanese manga-kas, but I found myself coming to enjoy it. To be honest, I wasn't sure I would like this, when I began reading it – I thought it would be about shallow people with shallow interests and goals, but I soon discovered this wasn't the case, as I began to become entwined in their stories. Even Ria, who is opionated, strong and full of herself, has another side (but she does have her bitchy moments). Hali is a strange one, but I guess I would be too, if forced to lead a double life as my own brother – no wonder she wants to be with someone who sees her for who she truly is. The storyline with Jae Un and Simon is adorable, and she discovers something about him after the boys love incident which throws her for a loop! I like the progression of the relationship between Sey and Siho (and she even realizes that he was the skateboarder in the rain!), and I hope that they will end up in my favorite condition – happily ever after. Sey's mother is a total flake (when Siho answers Sey's phone once, she reminds him to buy condoms!), and the reason that Sey is so anti-boy is because of her, her many boyfriends over the years and the book which she wrote when Sey was in middle school – a tell all sex book, which led to many boys thinking that Sey was like her mother! No wonder she is so reticent about trusting any of them when they seem to her to only have one thing on their minds! Hajun Cho is adorable, especially as he battles his feelings for Hali, and questions the ethics of being with a student (not to mention that he has been forced to become engaged by his family, to a real witch, Sun Hee). Her cousin Tommy becomes acquainted with Hali, and does something at Sun Hee's behest which has potentially damaging consequences for both Hali and Haju! I look forward to the next volume very much!
Comicsonline gives I.N.V.U. Volume 5 4 out of 5 kimchi pastries!