WEBTOONS are finally getting their shine this year with a slew of anime and live-action adaptations with more planned beyond 2020. The latest of these is the Netflix Original Sweet Home. Based on the hit WEBTOON series of the same name written by Carnby Kim and illustrated by Youngchan Hwang, the Sweet Home TV series offers up horror, mystery, and thrilling twists grounded in emotional attachment to the large cast of characters.
In Sweet Home, we meet a Hyun Soo (Song Kang), a 19-year-old loner who was forced to leave his home and his school after an unexpected family tragedy. His new home is the Green Home apartment complex. Dilapidated and filled with unique, mysterious, and questionable tenants Green Home is supposed to be an escape but it quickly becomes much scarier as the tenants start to become monsters, leaving them all to band together and fight for their lives. But cooperation and survival are hard-won. Some of the tenants step up, others step to the side, and a few decide to make things harder for the rest of them.
Sweet Home, as a TV series, is a horrific creature feature that uses body horror, creature design, and most importantly, interpersonal relationships to fuel a suspenseful narrative that uses horror tropes to the extreme in the best ways. The series as whole works on two fronts. The first is that it brings to life graphic and unique monsters through a blend of practical and computer-generated effects work. While the CG work isn’t as smooth as one would expect in 2020, the monsters and what they represent offer up enough horror to balance out the small moments of imperfection. Additionally, the amazing amount of practical effects is executed well, from noses that gush blood, missing limbs, and interactions between the humans and the monsters.
The monsters themselves are terrifying, not just because of the danger they bring but because of the uncanny valley they live in and the absurdity that somehow translates well into live-action. From an eyeball monster to a muscle monster the size of the Hulk, the designs on Hwang’s illustrations should be commended especially when it comes to one of the earliest monsters in the series, the Blind Monster. Missing half of its head and resembling a goblin in some ways, this monster is a blend of practical and CGI work that is genuinely stunning.
But the strongest part of Sweet Home is its expansive cast. While larger ensemble stories often fall prey to an overextended narrative, this one actively works to build depth behind every character while somehow managing to keep a singular narrative at the forefront. While Hyun-soo is our lead character and offers up an exploration of humanity, trauma, and the way that monsters play into it, each and every member of the extended cast also has a place in the story. The showrunners are able to create character nuance and depth through interpersonal relationships and flashbacks that never feel like exposition or like they’re out of place.
Next to Hyun-soo, we also have the visually imposing Sang-wook (Lee Jin-wook), a mysterious man who punishes evil with evil and whom everyone misunderstands for a gangster. With Sang-wook, we get the chance to see a narrative that showcases that appearances and assumptions don’t define a person. But this isn’t done through monologues of morality. Rather, it is shown through Sang-wook’s heart and dedication via his actions. Then there is Eun-hyuk (Lee Do-hyun), a medical school dropout and older brother who rolls into being the group’s leader through his logical thinking which those around him dismiss as cold. The weight of their survival rests on Eun-hyuk’s shoulders and through it all, we also get to see his sibling relationship and how that complicates his story.
Looking for something to watch after the Sweet Home TV series? Check out our list.
Rounding out some of the smaller male character narratives are Jae-heon (Kim Nam-hee), Gil-seop (Kim Kap-su), and Han Du-sik (Kim Sang-ho). The first is a Korean language teacher and a devout Christian with a keepsake katana that he uses as God’s calling to protect those around him. The second is the wise elder who brings humor and helps navigate the complex landscape and emotions that come with it. And finally, Mr. Han is a wheelchair user who has a phenomenal talent for making weapons and fixing things. Each character has a role to play in the narrative, tropes they fit into and exceed, and ultimately work well as a whole instead of just on their own.
But while this large male cast would get the center of the narrative in other horror survival stories, Sweet Home also offers up brilliant female characters that showcase the diversity of both feminine power and struggle. First, there is Yi-kyeong (Lee Si-young), a former firefighter and special forces soldier whose fiancé disappeared two days before the wedding. She’s the strongest of the group, and not just of the women. Her skills and physicality ensure the survival of the group and while her emotional story falls slightly short because of the wide-open ending, her importance and strength is one of the reasons why she’s one of the best characters.
While Yi-kyeong offers physical power and survival know-how, Eun-yoo (Go Min-Si), Eun-hyuk’s younger sister, is a former ballerina who is just trying to process her emotions. Then there is Ji-soo (Park Kyu-young), a bass guitarist who moved into Green Home after her boyfriend’s suicide. She’s steadfast, reliable, and works in tandem with Jae-heon in the first half of the series. In the latter half, she offers up a vulnerability and softness that rounds out her character.
The shocking thing about this series is even with the many characters listed here, there are more that make up the background of the series and are integral to the group’s strife and survival. But more importantly, in just one 10-episode season Sweet Home quickly built emotional attachments between the characters and the audience that pays off in tears upon the deaths of multiple characters.
In fact, the way the series is able to make each episode, which run less than an hour, feel like a full feature film reflects the power of the story, the actors, and ultimately the ability to execute on pacing. In truth, when it comes to adapting WEBTOONS, it’s not easy. It’s fairly difficult to adapt webcomics due in large part to how their episodic format runs shorter than chapters of other mediums. For example, in a 10-episode season, Sweet Home encompasses 140 episodes of the original source material.
On the anime front, this type of adaptation has produced pacing issues in series like the God of High School. With that said, the showrunners behind Sweet Home drastically changed some elements of the source material. While these changes may not be liked by fans, they do work to create a cohesive narrative that stays on-pace. At the same time, the changes with this adaptation also open up the door for a possible season two, even with the WEBTOON completed.
Sweet Home is able to deliver on big horror elements while also driving forward a dramatic plot with twists, turns, and character reveals that Korean dramas are known for. When all is said and done, the Sweet Home TV series is not just another successful Netflix-backed Korean production, but also another jewel in the crown of 2020 WEBTOONS adaptations. This series is a must-watch for horror fans. The series’ tight narrative makes it perfect for pressing play and binging until the end.
Sweet Home is available exclusively on Netflix now, with Season 2 streaming in 2023.
Sweet Home is able to deliver on big horror elements while also driving forward a dramatic plot with twists, turns, and character reveals that Korean dramas are known for. When all is said and done, Sweet Home is not just another successful Netflix-backed Korean production, but also another jewel in the crown of 2020 WEBTOONS adaptations. This series is a must-watch for horror fans. The series’ tight narrative makes it perfect for pressing play and binging until the end.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.