The Korean Comic Book Misaeng (“Misaeng” (未生 “The one who has not lived yet”) : War of attrition in the corporate office

Korean comic books (“Manhwa” as opposed to the Japanese “Manga”) have increased their sophistication with incredible speed over the last five years. I do not read comic books as a rule, and my exposure is limited to the educational manhwa my children read at home. But when I saw an article about the new manhwa series “Misaeng” (未生 “The one who has not lived yet”) I had to have a copy. It is a remarkable work of art that deserves to be widely read and analyzed.

Misaeng, the work of Yoon Taeho (윤태호), describes the claustrophobic interpersonal relations between employees of Korean corporations, focusing on the banality of everyday life and the little struggles and tiny victories of survival in a corporate culture. The analogy that dominates the book is between life in modern society and the game of baduk   or “go” as it is known in Japanese.

The cover of Misaeng features the relentless grid which suggests the gameboard of baduk, the unrelenting banality of office design (or the exteriors of office buildings) and the ruthless game of office politics that dominates the lives of individuals. Note the office chairs placed on a baduk board. Each chapter of the multi-volume series features a particular scenario from baduk, reinforcing the analogy between the slow war of attrition based on positioning in baduk and office life.

The protagonist of Misaeng is Jang Gurae, a young man who starts out as an apprentice to the national baduk Association. After his father’s sudden death, Jang Gurae finds his family in serious financial straits. When he fails to qualify as a baduk player, he enters the corporate world. Quiet and introspective, baduk is the underlying formula for his survival.

The protagonist of Misaeng Jang Gurae.

Meeting with other business men interrupted by a text message from the office.

Endless work at the office.

The drawing is exceptional, suggesting an odd mixture of animation, passion and despair.

6 responses to “The Korean Comic Book Misaeng (“Misaeng” (未生 “The one who has not lived yet”) : War of attrition in the corporate office

  1. Go Game Guru January 16, 2013 at 6:33 am

    When first I came across this, I thought for a moment that ‘Circles and Squares’ referred to the baduk board. Then I read your about page 🙂

    Thanks for the interesting article.

  2. Caroline July 24, 2013 at 6:29 am

    Hi Emanuel,

    I just found out about Misaeng entirely by accident (though thank you for writing a nice piece introducing the books). Did you read an English version? I can’t read Korean and am quite anxious to know where I can get my hands on an English version of the books. Any idea if they are planning on publishing something like that?

  3. agentsawse November 12, 2014 at 2:53 am

    Do you know of anywhere an American could acquire a copy of the box set? I know Daum has (at least some) available online, but I’m hoping for a hard copy. I’ve been passively learning Korean through entertainment for over a year, but just starting to actively teach myself. The drama adaptation of Misaeng has been excellent so far and reading the webtoon is a huge motivator for learning!

  4. Pingback: Review of “Misaeng”: An Incomplete Life | PubWages

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: