Annarasumanara: An Analysis of Ha Il-Kwon's Dark Manhwa
If you are contemplating whether or not to read Ha Il-Kwon's Annarasumanara, let me tell you this: you should! This page contains spoilers, so come back after you read the comic. It will be amazing, so enjoy the ride!
If, on the other hand, you ended up on this page because you're under the magician’s spell, don't panic! I’m right there with you. This is one of those manhwas that really makes you think about life. It makes you stare into the void and wonder, what just happened? Annarasumanara is a wonderfully mysterious ride. Are you here to find answers?
Author: Ha II-Kwon
Plot Summary: Yoon Ah-ee is a parentless high school student who struggles to support both herself and her sister. After an encounter with a magician in an abandoned theme park, Yoon Ah-ee realizes that she desperately wants to follow her childhood dream.
The Meaning of the Title
At first, I was confused about the title. What does it mean? Is it a random word that the author came up with? After some research and a little time spent on Google Translator, I finally found an answer. Annarasumanara is similar to the word “abracadabra” but in Korean. Given the magician in the story, I think this explanation makes sense.
Even though it’s a manhwa, the bulk of Annarasumanara is illustrated in black and white. As you may know, manhwa are usually colored, so it is interesting that Annarasumanara is not.
In my opinion, the comic is better off without color. The black, white, and gray tones accentuate the miserableness of the main character’s life and give the piece a surreal and dreary feeling. There are a few moments in the comic when the scenes are illustrated in color, likely to emphasize important scenes or mark turning points.
In any case, the comic is illustrated beautifully and its unique colorization adds to its overall effect. Annarasumanara is a true masterpiece that will definitely leave you speechless.
This section includes brief explanations of the three main characters in Annarasumanara: Yoon Ah-ee, the magician, and Na Il-Dung.
Yoon Ah-ee is spelled "Yun Ai" in the LINE official version, but the pronunciation is the same. She is the main character and protagonist of the manhwa. She is a high school student who struggles to support herself and her sister. Her parents left them, so Yoon Ah-ee works part-time jobs so the pair can get by.
At the beginning of the comic, Ah-ee wants to grow up fast, get a scholarship, and become a normal adult with a decent salary. When she bumps into a magician in an abandoned amusement park, however, she begins to remember her old childhood dream.
The magician is a mysterious, surreal figure that lives in the abandoned theme park. There are rumors circulating in town that he is violent and insane. One day, the magician runs into Yoon Ah-ee, and the mysteries surrounding him begin to slowly unravel. Before performing a magic trick, the magician uses the catchphrase "Do you believe in magic?"
Na II-Deung will certainly leave a deep impression on you because of his abnormally long face. He sits next to Yoon Ah-ee in class. Because he is the top student and Yoon Ah-ee is number two in the class, Na Il-Deung considers Yoon Ah-ee to be his rival.
Interestingly, "Il-Deung" means number one, or first-class. It is stated several times in the comic that Na Il-Deung is handsome. He comes from a wealthy family and his parents have high expectations for him. Later on in the story, he becomes interested in Ah-ee, and that causes him to cross paths with the magician as well.
Interpretation and Symbolism
After reading a comic like this, there are likely many things that you’re confused about. What happened at the end? Do Ah-ee and the magician reunite? The ending feels bittersweet and leaves us longing for answers. Reading this manhwa was a magical journey for me, so I wanted to take a look at the symbolism it contains and try my hand at interpreting some of it. This section contains many spoilers, so skip it if you haven't read the story.
Yoon Ah-ee's Name
"Ah-ee" is a Korean word that means child. What are the characteristics of a child? Most of us think of children as pure and innocent. Ah-ee’s appearance looks pure and innocent, and she reminds us of a kind-hearted, honest girl from a fairy tale who faces hardships but remains compassionate no matter what.
Contrary to her appearance, however, she isn’t always the pure, sweet girl she appears to be. She repeatedly steals (e.g. the burger and the money on the floor), claiming that she is dirty. But who can blame her, really? Hunger and poverty bring out the worst in us. She needs it to go on living—it’s her reality. As it turns out, there’s no sweet, kind-hearted fairy tale girl in this story. Are we disappointed that Ah-ee is not the innocent girl she appeared to be? This is the author’s way of telling us that that's the reality, and we need to deal with it.
I also believe she is named after the word "child" because it’s such a stark contrast to who she is. Reality is often ironic. She is a child who was forced to grow up prematurely because of her circumstances. She has to abandon her childhood dream because of irresponsible adults. She strives to one day become a responsible adult with a decent salary so she can live a normal life. As a child, I remember wanting to grow up fast and do all of the things I wasn’t yet able to do. I think this is similar to what Ah-ee feels in the manhwa.
Na Il-Deung’s Elongated Head
Na Il-Deung is instantly noticeable due to his long head. Throughout the manhwa, it is mentioned several times that he is handsome—even Yoon Ah-ee says so. Is this a joke? It is not only Il-Deung’s head that is elongated but his parents’ heads as well. Why is this?
There are several possible explanations for the size and shape of Il-Deung's head, but the most likely is his arrogance. As we know, Il-Deung is vain, often boasting about his achievements and wealth. "Big-headed" is a common term used to describe individuals who are cocky or arrogant, and in this case, it seems like the author translated this metaphor into a visual concept. Other explanations for Il-Deung’s long head are mentioned in my analysis of the asphalt road below.
Yoon Ah-ee's Daddy Issues
This might be an odd approach to the manhwa, but it is my interpretation—feel free to disagree. Ah-ee states several times that she hates irresponsible adults like her father who never grew up. She also states that she hates the magician—who continues to live in his own fantasies—and calls him pathetic.
The magician is the kind of adult she’d like to avoid. She can’t, however, and she keeps coming back to him time after time. It is hinted at one point that she develops a crush on him. This is evidenced by her disappointment after seeing a pregnant woman enter the magician's tent. She can’t imagine dating him, but the feeling is there.
Perhaps, even though her conscious mind is denying it, she subconsciously wants to understand her father. Her issues with her father are unresolved, and that’s why she keeps coming back to them. Another thing to note is the fact that the magician is older than her. According to research, we are attracted to individuals who resemble our parents.
As mentioned earlier, the magician is a mysterious, magical figure. He is otherworldly, and throughout the story, we wonder whether he is a real person or simply a fantasy being. We also wonder whether the magician can do real magic as he claims. We want him to be a real magician; we want to believe him.
At first, we believe him because his magic seems real. As the story progresses, however, we begin to see the lies behind his magic—is it all a trick? We start feeling disappointed because Ah-ee has been right all along about him being a pathetic man and not a magical being. He is just a person with problems of his own. The line between reality and fantasy is unclear to him. Perhaps the author is telling us to suck it up and realize that our ideas of people are often different from who those people actually are.
Within the story, the magician functions as a character that helps make other characters better people by breathing magic into their lives. In this story, everyone becomes a better person except for the magician. He is the only character who doesn’t change. In the end, we know what happens to everyone except for him. He just disappears, much like in the magic trick Ah-ee performs at the story's close. Unlike the others, he doesn’t need to change. He is a pure existence with childlike innocence who is happy with his life. He is the only "real" person in a corrupted society. Once his job is done, he is gone.
Il-Kwon’s artwork is amazing. The avant-garde black-and-white style is well-suited to the story. The use of 3D drawings in the story creates emphasis. For example, the use of real money (dollar or won, depending on which version you read) in the story makes us realize how much we rely on it and chase it. It also shows us how much we respect people who are in possession of large amounts of money like Il-Deung’s family.
The magic in the story is separate from the black-and-white style. When the magician performs a magic trick, the scenes turn colorful and magical. In the end, however, the magic is no more than an illusion that the magician sets up. At first, we believe it because the magic looks so real, but as the story moves forward, we realize that it’s all just a trick. The colors help us distinguish fantasy from reality.
The Asphalt Road
The asphalt road metaphor is used several times through the manhwa, and it’s a simple metaphor to figure out. It turns out to be Il-Deung’s deepest thought that he's never told anybody. Yet somehow, the magician knows about it. The asphalt road is cold, but Il-Deung will keep rushing towards the end—if there is an end at all—because, at the end of the road, he’ll be happy like the adults claim to be. He will be rich and have a bright future ahead of him.
Il-Deung's head is long like the asphalt road. He doesn’t have a sense of identity—he just does what others tell him to do. The magician breaks this idea by saying that the asphalt road is cold and lonely. Il-Deung’s breakaway from society’s expectations is signified by him smashing a chair into a window. His face stops appearing long after this point in the story.
The flowers on the side of the road tell us to enjoy life instead of chasing its non-existent destination. It seems that the magician has had the same thoughts as Il-Deung and is helping him because Il-Deung reminds him of himself. As a result of the magician's aid, Il-Deung doesn’t go insane like the magician did.
The Abandoned Theme Park
The abandoned theme park is the place where the magician resides. Like the theme-park, the magician doesn’t fit into society and has been abandoned. Perhaps the theme park symbolizes a refuge for abandoned things.
Butterflies appear in the manhwa on several occasions. Butterflies are often used to symbolize rebirth or transformation due to the fact that they undergo a metamorphosis as part of their life cycle. Perhaps their use in Annarasumanara symbolizes the transformation of Ah-ee’s outlook as she begins to refocus on her childhood dream. There are two types of butterflies shown in the manhwa: pink ones and yellow ones. The pink ones tell us not to take life too seriously and to be ourselves. The magician tells Ah-ee several times to embrace herself and do things she likes instead of things society expects of her. Another thing to take into consideration is that the pink butterflies only appear when Ah-ee is present. The yellow butterflies will be discussed in more detail below.
The Color Yellow
Toward the end of Annarasumanara, we see lots of yellow adorning the manga. To be specific, this barrage of color begins during the tale of the magician’s past. There is a yellow panel in this section, and the magician is seen chasing yellow butterflies. Why is that? The color yellow is associated with insanity. Van Gogh, the famous painter, painted with lots of yellows before he committed suicide. Perhaps you've seen his famous Sunflowers paintings, which are dominated by the color yellow. Moreover, Albert Einstein’s favorite color was yellow. Since yellow signifies insanity, and butterflies symbolize rebirth, the yellow butterflies hint at the magician’s descent into madness.
The Falling Snow
At the end of the manhwa, snow falls in the city even though it’s summer. Is this another trick or is this magic? Perhaps it’s supposed to indicate that the magic is real after all. Maybe magic does exist, though in different forms than those displayed by the magician. Could the oddly timed snowfall imply that magic resides in the simplest of things? Alternatively, the snow may signify the disappearance of the magician. In the story, Ah-ee states that the snow is unexplained. One thing is for sure—the magician will live on in the other characters' hearts forever.
Annarasumanara's central message is that we must stay true to ourselves and embrace who we are. We must break free from the expectations that others place upon us. The manhwa depicts the struggles of life. Ultimately, Ah-hee and Il-Deung enter college, just like they originally intended to. However, Ah-hee follows her dream instead of abandoning it. As for Il-Deung, I think the fact that his face stops being long is proof that he manages to become his own person.
Annarasumanara's ending is bittersweet. It isn’t exactly a "happily ever after," but it's not particularly sad either. It’s life. We don’t know for sure if Ah-ee and the magician will ever reunite. At the story's close, however, there is an invitation card in the red mailbox, so perhaps they are to come together again. The manhwa's open ending has a unique charm.
So, do you believe in magic?