So, You Want To Get Into MO DAO ZU SHI (MDZS)/The Untamed…

Hello and welcome back to an episode of Silvia Gets Everyone Into Her Latest Obsessions.

First of all, an introduction, because I don’t want to assume that everyone who finds this post has even heard of this. Or maybe they have but they’re still as confused as I was when I saw my friends on twitter get into it.

So, what is MDZS?

Mo Dao Zu Shi is the title of a Chinese novel by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, and it translates to “Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation”, and it’s also the title of some of its adaptations (except for the live action, which I’m going to talk about later).

Here’s the synopsis from goodreads:

As the grandmaster who founded the Demonic Sect, Wei WuXian roamed the world in his wanton ways, hated by millions for the chaos he created. In the end, he was backstabbed by his dearest shidi and killed by powerful clans that combined to overpower him. He incarnates into the body of a lunatic who was abandoned by his clan and is later, unwillingly, taken away by a famous cultivator among the clans—Lan WangJi, his archenemy. This marks the start of a thrilling yet hilarious journey of attacking monsters, solving mysteries, and raising children. From the mutual flirtation along the way, Wei WuXian slowly realizes that Lan WangJi, a seemingly haughty and indifferent poker-face, holds more feelings for Wei WuXian than he is letting on.

I would say this description is not 100% spot-on, but it does mention a lot of its strong points.

Before we talk about the different adaptations, I’m going to tell you…

Why I love this series so much

(in bunny-points)

🐇 canon gay happy ending

🐰 non-linear storyline taking place over many (20) years

🐇 so many different plotlines and they all come together beautifully by the end (while realistically leaving a few things unsolved or bitter-sweetly solved)

🐰 music magic!!

🐇 great cast of characters

🐰 beautiful relationships & found families

🐇 fascinating world and magic

🐰 bunnies!!

🐇 it’s dark but it’s balanced by a lot of funny and cute moments

🐰 good balance of shallow + deep villains

🐇 strictly-followed typical villain arc but SUBVERTED

🐰 zombies and ghosts (psst, they’re not all bad!)

🐇 blurred line between right and wrong, does the end justify the means, etc

🐰 adopting children along the way

🐇 lots of beautiful heartbreak

🐰 investigating a mystery while falling in love

🐇 oblivious bisexual main character

🐰 …and so much more!

If everything I mentioned above sounds like something you’d also like, read on to learn about the different adaptations!

The basics

There are a few rules I feel are best to follow if you want to get into this fandom and enjoy each adaptation at its fullest, but of course this is just my experience with it and you should do what you feel like. In any case, here’s my general advice:

Start with something visual, doesn’t matter if it’s the comic or the animated version or both. I’d advice against starting with the novel because there are a lot of characters and you’ll be able to better tell them apart if you remember how they look (also, the different sects/clans are color-coded, which is nice).

• You can probably binge all the available comic chapters in a couple of hours or less before you start the novel, and to be honest you should. However, I don’t think it matters how far you’ve reached into the animated version, but by now it’s pretty far and you will be spoiled for a lot of things that happen in the novel if you watch the full two seasons. This is up to you, my personal advice would be to either stop watching at a point you feel right for you, or stop after episode 15 (where the first season —and a huge flashback— ends).

• If you’re planning to read the novel, absolutely leave the live action for last. It is an adaptation I absolutely adore and it is in some aspects an improvement from the novel, but it does get pretty canon divergent. So if you don’t want to get confused about some plot points, read the novel first, and preferably finish watching the animated version too, so that the canon plot gets solidified in your head before you get to enjoy the more canon-divergent version.

Again, this is just based on my experience and how I got to enjoy this series of adaptations, but if you’re like, “You know, I really only care about the live action”, then go for it and watch it first! And it won’t come in the way of your enjoyment of the novel if you end up wanting to read it anyway.

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The novel

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The novel is the original version written by MXTX and it’s unfortunately not yet officially translated in English (although, as you can imagine, there are fan translations on the internet). You might be able to purchase it if you can read Chinese, but I’m not sure if that’s possible because I heard of issues with censorship due to the M/M content. I know the author has had to write many different versions to appease Chinese censorship before but I’m quite honestly lost as to where it stands now and can’t find the information I want. But chances are, if you can read Chinese you can find this information better than I can (and if you do or you know about it already, please let me know!).

Anyway, the novel is very long and very beautiful. If you want to know more about it you can DM me on twitter @ verelaurent and I’ll try to answer your questions.

The manhua

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The manhua (Chinese manga) is structured like a webtoon and there are currently around 80 chapters, as far as I know. It’s also not yet officially translated in English, but of course there are fan translations.

I think as far as I know this is the second-closest adaptation that follows the novel, only second to the audio drama (which is the only adaptation the author herself has any supervision on, afaik, but I’m not covering it in this post because I haven’t listened to it -but I know it’s beautifully acted from snippets I’ve heard online).

Explanation time: the novel has many flashbacks (I told you, non-linear storyline), alternated with chapters in the present. The past timeline follows Wei Wuxian’s life before his death, and the present chapters follow him after his resurrection (this is not a spoiler since it tells you in the literal prologue of any adaptation, and it’s also in the synopsis!) Because some things work differently in different formats, the flashbacks don’t always interrupt the present story at the same time throughout all adaptations, but the manhua is more or less closer to the novel in this regard.

Here’s some fun screencaps from it:

manhua 1
Wei Wuxian getting flustered
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drunk!Lan Wangji

The donghua | watch here!

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The donghua (Chinese anime) is one of two adaptations you can consume legally because it’s been officially translated!

It currently has two seasons (or, one 23-episodes-long season) and it will be a while before the next one comes out, but now is a good point to start it. Since it’s literally on YouTube, you really have no excuse not to start watching it (…unless you don’t want to, but then why did you get so far into this post? eheh), and if you don’t like it you can always close the tab and no harm done!

I think this adaptation is very well done, it keeps things a little more superficial compared to the novel or the live action, but that’s to be expected. It changes some things slightly, too, but less than the live action does. And the animation itself is so good, you can clearly see how much thought the creators put into each scene.

The live action | watch here!

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The live action is called Chén Qíng Lìng – The Untamed (usually people in the fandom just refer to it as cql), and sees Xiao Zhan as Wei Wuxian and Wang Yibo as Lan Wangji. The fandom loves them both and with good reason. I think they did their roles perfectly and truly became their characters and did them justice. Especially Yibo, who had the difficult task of portraying Lan Wangji, did such a masterful job (and keep in mind this was his first time acting!). The other actors were all amazing as well, and I love them all so much. I now see their faces when I reread the book or read fanfiction!

I like to see this adaptation as its own canon divergent universe. It did some things I preferred compared to the novel, especially how it gives more space to a few characters that in the novel have a smaller role, especially the female characters. Then there are things that I personally didn’t care about but I can sort of understand why they changed (especially in the past timeline, giving more scenes to the Wen clan, the yin iron…), and then there’s stuff I’m neutral about (the present plotline and what they did with the investigation plot).

There’s also the fact that because of Chinese censorship they had to formally no-homo the main relationship, but if you know me a bit you should at least trust me, lover of making things GAY, when I tell you that they did everything they could to convey how much the two main characters deeply love each other. Especially if you’ve read the novel, you’ll be able to tell exactly what’s going through their minds (especially Lan Wangji) at any given scene. I truly appreciate them giving them some of the most romantic, cheesy scenes I’ve ever seen in any live action ever (and, minor spoiler alert, they might not be able to show them as a couple, but the word “soulmate” might or might not have canonically used, so…)

I could honestly wax poetics about this adaptation for hours, but I promised myself this post wouldn’t be a review so I’m keeping this short(ish).

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The warnings

I would love to give y’all a full trigger warning list, but the fact is the novel is very very long and I wasn’t taking notes when I read it, so my list is going to be lacking. And as always, you should never count on only one person to spot all the triggers in any given work anyway.

This is a very dark story that sees major character deaths (although the most important one you know from the start, and you know he gets resurrected), grief, war, and so much more. If this was a western novel we’d label it Adult, and if you don’t normally read dark, adult fantasy, I would recommend you procede with caution.

A most definitely not complete list of content warnings (note: not all warnings may apply to all the adaptations, and not all warnings apply to the main characters/relationships and have the same importance throughout the story):

(highlight the paragraph to read): multiple major character deaths, loss of parents, grief, effects of trauma, self-sacrificing for others in more than one way, eye horror, betrayal, gore, walking corpses, monsters etc, war, mention of incest, murder, mention of torture, portrayal of work/death camp-like setting, mention of rape, mentions of extreme poverty and homelessness, dubious consent, child death, presumed child death, corporal punishment, mutilation, dismemberment, explicit sex scenes, alcohol consumption, mention of parental abuse.

Another no-context warning from the bottom of my heart: if you read the novel and you finish it, you will see there are extra chapters. They’re mostly good to very good, but don’t read the one that’s called Incense Burner (you will thank me).

The disclaimer

Like every piece of fiction, this is not perfect. If I were to review it like I do other books or shows, I would give it five stars because my ratings tend to focus more on my emotional response than anything, but that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of its flaws. But the fact is that this story has consumed my time and thoughts for more than a month, thanks to the different adaptations (and fanfiction), so much that I’ve been in a reading slump ever since and I don’t even care about forcing myself to get back to reading until I get it out of my system.

It’s a fantasy story set in a world and a culture I knew nothing about (and still can’t claim to understand beyond what MDZS showed me), but I couldn’t keep my eyes off the page although the novel is 113 chapters long (and something that would probably be around 1k+ pages of a print book), and I honestly can’t say that many of the books I read were able to do the same.

Also, all my friends who have spontaneously (after seeing me talk about it all day on twitter…….) started to watch/read it are now in hell and can’t stop talking and thinking about it, so I guess it’s one of those things that once you start you kind of get obsessed with. I take no responsibility for your book slumps, y’all.

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I hope this post was useful to those of you who have been wanting to get in on this fandom because I know it can be hard to understand where to start with. And if you didn’t know about it before, I really hope I have piqued your interest! If you need more information / links just shoot me a DM on twitter @ verelaurent (please mention you came from this post if I don’t know you, so I know why you’re writing me).

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ARC Mini-Review: The Avant-Guards by Carly Usdin & Noah Hayes // F/F basketball comic? F/F basketball comic!

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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When Charlie transfers to the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics, she struggles to find her feet, but winds up exactly where she belongs…in the school’s (terrible) basketball team.

As a transfer student to the Georgia O’Keeffe College for Arts and Subtle Dramatics, former sports star Charlie is struggling to find her classes, her dorm, and her place amongst a student body full of artists who seem to know exactly where they’re going. When the school’s barely-a-basketball-team unexpectedly attempts to recruit her, Charlie’s adamant that she’s left that life behind…until she’s won over by the charming team captain, Liv, and the ragtag crew she’s managed to assemble. And while Charlie may have left cut-throat competition in in the dust, sinking these hoops may be exactly what she needs to see the person she truly wants to be.

From Carly Usdin (Heavy Vinyl) and artist Noah Hayes (Wet Hot American Summer, Goldie Vance) comes an ensemble comedy series that understands that it’s the person you are off the court that matters most.

Release date: September 3rd

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★★✩

This was a nice comic about a newly formed and diverse basketball team with a cute developing f/f romance. I really like the art and it made the story easy and relaxing to follow. There’s also not a lot of basketball talk and the focus is more on the characters and friendships, at least so far, which I personally really liked (confession: I kind of…don’t like basketball lmao).

If I have the chance I’m going to read the next volume whenever it comes out and if you like light-hearted queer comics that display a variety of genders, races and sexualities (and if you like sport comics) this is definitely something you need to check out!

ARC Review: The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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Rinn has grown up with the Tea Dragons that inhabit their village, but stumbling across a real dragon turns out to be a different matter entirely! Aedhan is a young dragon who was appointed to protect the village but fell asleep in the forest eighty years ago. With the aid of Rinn’s adventuring uncle Erik and his partner Hesekiel, they investigate the mystery of his enchanted sleep, but Rinn’s real challenge is to help Aedhan come to terms with feeling that he cannot get back the time he has lost.

Release date: September 17th

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★★

What an utterly delightful story, and what a gift to the world is Katie O’Neill!

The Tea Dragon Festival is a companion-prequel to The Tea Dragon Society and it follows Rinn (they/them), who is an aspiring cook, and a Dragon (not a small tea dragon!) who’s been asleep for too long. We also see a young Erik and Hesekiel in their bounty hunters days and they’re just as cute as you might imagine if you’ve read TTDS. There’s also a side character who uses Sign Language and the whole village has learned SL because of her and it’s like, no big deal to them and it was so endearing to see.

As always the author has created a rich and inclusive world that radiates the positivity we so desperately need sometimes with escapism nowadays. This is both great for a younger audience and for everyone else who’s just looking to read a wonderful diverse story and look at seriously cute art. I can’t recommend it enough!

ARC Mini-review: Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman // western f/f + trans heist comic

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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Summary: In this rollicking queer western adventure, acclaimed cartoonist Melanie Gillman (Stonewall Award Honor Book As the Crow Flies) puts readers in the saddle alongside Flor and Grace, a Latinx outlaw and a trans runaway, as they team up to thwart a Confederate plot in the New Mexico Territory. When Flor–also known as the notorious Ghost Hawk–robs the stagecoach that Grace has used to escape her Georgia home, the first thing on her mind is ransom. But when the two get to talking about Flor’s plan to crash a Confederate gala and steal some crucial documents, Grace convinces Flor to let her join the heist.

Release date: September 3rd

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review new

★★★

This comic is set in the Wild West and it’s a fun, heisty story about a trans woman who gets kidnapped and ends up working together with her kidnapper, who is a queer Latinx.

The style of the comic is cute although maybe not a personal favorite, but I love the color scheme and how it fits the scenery, and the facial expressions are so good!

This first volume is divided in a few chapters and I assume it’s going to be the first in a series, because the story is by no means done. There’s no cliffhanger though, and it’s satisfying as a standalone too, until the next one comes out.

So! Heist, Wild West, badass women falling in love while having adventures! Get on it!

LGBTQIAP+ Webcomic Recs #2

It’s my favorite time of the year, AKA time to post my recommendations for my favorite queer webcomics. And folks, I’ve read so many since my first rec post (which you definitely need to check out) that I couldn’t even fit them all in this post and I’ve already started a draft for a 3rd post.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of webcomics, they’re completely free comics that creators put online, usually posting one page or one chapter at the time, and they can be found on the creators’ websites or on sites like tapas or webtoons.

🌈🏳️‍🌈🌈🏳️‍🌈🌈🏳️‍🌈🌈🏳️‍🌈🌈🏳️‍🌈🌈🏳️‍🌈🌈🏳️‍🌈🌈🏳️‍🌈

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🏳️‍🌈 Always Human by Ari Walkingnorth

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Status: complete

Audience: everyone

Content warnings: eating disorder, body image issues

Goodreads | Read here | My review

I can’t believe after ONE YEAR I finally get to recommend this on my blog too! This has one of the sweetest and softest f/f relationships, also the art, colors and music are so soothing and reading it feels like a warm hug.

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🌈 Long Exposure by Kam “Mars” Heyward

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Status: ongoing

Audience: YA

Content warnings: bullying, homophobia, violence, mention of pedophilia, abuse

Goodreads | Read here | My review

I love this webcomic so much. It definitely has heavy themes as you can see from my content warnings, but it also has a really nice and atypical m/m relationship and paranormal elements. 

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🏳️‍🌈Heir’s Game by Suspu  

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Status: ongoing

Audience: everyone

Content warnings: mild violence

Goodreads | Read here

This is by the same creator of Shootaround so I immediately started it after finishing that one. It’s still in its early chapters and I anticipate it’s going to be very long, so it’s kind of hard to talk about it so far. But it has duels, court intrigues and disaster gays.

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🌈 No End by Erli & Kromi

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Status: ongoing

Audience: YA

Content warnings: violence, mild gore, past abusive relationships,

Goodreads | Read here | My review

I’ve said this before but I would nominate this in my top 3 favorite webcomics without a doubt. I love the characters and the art, and how everyone is queer. There’s something in this for everyone: zombies, characters that will capture your heart, relationship drama, soft romances, found family.

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🏳️‍🌈 The Prince and the Swan by April Pierce

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Status: ongoing

Audience: everyone

Content warnings: captivity, abuse

Goodreads | Read here

This is a loose retelling of Swan Lake with a m/m romance. I really like the subdued humor in it and the fairy tale setting, and I appreciate the slightly slower pace that allows to get to know the characters better.

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🌈 Sonnet by Emily Cheeseman & Lindsey Rodgers

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Status: complete

Audience: everyone

Content warnings: fights/duels, injury

Goodreads | Read here | My review

This is a webcomic entirely written in sonnets and if that scares you let me tell you that once you get a little used to it it’s really easy to read. It could even be read without the text as a children book or something and it’d still be 100% understandable. It’s a story about two knights falling in love and it doesn’t hurt that they remind me a lot of Damen and Laurent.

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🏳️‍🌈 Shootaround by Suspu

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Status: complete

Audience: YA

Content warnings:

Goodreads | Read here

This was such a pleasure to read! I wanted more queer zombie webcomics after No End and this had a very different tone from it and just what I needed. This made me laugh so much and at the same time it has its serious moments, but it’s very hopeful and it has tons of rep (trans, bi, polyam, POC, etc). Also, found family! Who doesn’t love that.

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🌈 On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

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Status: complete

Audience: YA

Content warnings: bullying, misgendering

Goodreads | Read here

This is a story about a girl who is trying to find her high school girlfriend in space. It’s told in both the present and in flashbacks where we get to see the two girls a few years ago and how they got together. It is really diverse and the art, while not my personal favorite, is by all means beautiful.

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And that’s it for today, but I’m sure I’ll be back with more webcomic recs in a few months because I’m always looking for more to read, and when I do I can’t contain my excitement for them and I need everyone to read them.

Please let me know if you’ve read any of these or if you’re planning to read them, and if you have any recommendations definitely drop them in the comments!

 

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ARC Review: Cretaceous by Tadd Galusha 🦖

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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Summary: When a Tyrannosaurus Rex is separated from its family unit, it embarks on a harrowing journey to reunite with them before the raw, real dangers of the Cretaceous Era separate them for good. This heart-wrenching story takes to the skies and dives into the sea—and explores everywhere in between—in this research-based, fictional account written and illustrated by Tadd Galusha (TMNT/Ghostbusters 2).

Release date: March 26th

Add on Goodreads

book review - pink

★★★

If this review was a flow chart, and I asked you, “Do you like dinosaurs?” and your answer was Yes, then there’d be a handy arrow that would point you to the option “read this graphic novel”.

If you’ve ever seen illustrations of a dinosaur and the first word out of your mouth was “COOL!!!!”, then this book is for you.

Maybe I’m a little dramatic or maybe my whole childhood and consequently my whole life has been heavily influenced by Littlefoot’s mom’s death in The Land Before Time, but when I saw how stunning the title page was (not the cover, which is kind of…not good, compared to the art inside) I didn’t even care what the story would be about, I just knew I would love it if the whole book had art Like That in it. And I was not disappointed.

The fact that this book has no dialogue in it might make you think it’s a children book about cute dinos running about their lives, but I wouldn’t say this is for kids. Teens, maybe, if they can handle the gore. But basically, you should only go into this if you’re prepared to be the powerless witness to the brutality of a nature without finality or purpose, and leave your own human ideals in the Anthropocene where you belong. This is the Cretaceous, baby.

Webcomic Review: No End by Erli and Kromi /// the zombie apocalypse has never been gayer

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Summary: No End is a webcomic about a group of people struggling to survive in a post apocalyptic country ravaged by an unyielding winter and hordes of undead. Living amid a world of horror doesn’t erase the cast’s day-to-day worries about identity, family, friendship and betrayal, as they seek people they can trust, as well a legendary place called “Haven” rumored to be free of the cold and horror.

Just as none of them are sure that it even exists, they aren’t sure what their place in their world is. But each step forward leads towards who they are, who they should become, and where they belong.

Due to it’s initial inspiration from an RP shared by the creators, No End has always strongly focused on its characters – their growth, their motivations, and the bonds woven between them. The post-apocalyptic setting is used to add suspense, and to put emphasis on the character’s internal struggles. This webcomic also features LGBTQA+ themes and characters – all the characters in the main cast are queer.

The comic updates every Sunday and Wednesday!

Add on Goodreads | Start reading

book review - pink

★★★★

Ever watched The Walking Dead and then got fucking bored of it but you’re sort of missing those zombie vibes?

Look no further, this extremely queer webcomic is just the right thing for you.

The story follows a main cast of five: Modra, Benny, Wight, Jenn and Cotton, as they team up and travel to search for the mythical town of Haven.

It’s been decades since the zombies appeared so things are somewhat static (as opposed to those “the zombie apocalypse just started” plots), with towns run by the military and towns run by civilians, and spread out between them a wasteland that not many like to venture.

Of course, all of the main characters have some secrets, things they are running from and things they can’t outrun, and things that catch up with them as they visit new towns and meet old and new people.

The main squad that I mentioned above is supported by an amazing cast of secondary characters. There’s honestly not one that you won’t fall in love with, and best of all, they’re all diverse and the allocishet have never been heard of in that world ever. Yes, everybody is queer and there’s both sweet and endearing romances and frustratingly (in the best sense) angsty romances that will make you yell at your screen quite literally.

This is very much a character-based webcomic (just how I like my webcomics tbh), but it has some truly heart-stopping moments and some seriously scary characters and plot lines. I wouldn’t say this is horror but there is some gore sometimes and personally one storyline creeped the hell out of me.

Meet the characters:

prof_modra

 

Modra, actual cinnamon roll, blue aesthetic gay, comes from a privileged family and needed a change of air. Wouldn’t know how to survive on his own but is trying to learn.

prof_benny

 

 

Benny, angry bisexual, biracial white/Korean, a disaster at romance, needs to work on communication.

prof_wight

 

Wight, tragic gay, will make you want to kill everyone in the room and then yourself if something happens to him, doesn’t always smile or laugh but when he does you can see it in his eyes, actually makes you want to cry.

 

prof_jenn

 

Jenn, asexual queen of not trusting anybody, actually a mom friend, level-headed, Cotton’s best friend, relatable because of her love for her brother Wight.

 
prof_cotton

Cotton, fingergun bisexual, Iranian, bad puns and double-entendres, can read people except when it directly affects him, I actually yelled at him?? needs to learn coping mechanisms, always puts the others first.

 

prof_ramona

 

Ramona, Black lesbian, accidentally adopted a son at 15, backbone of our society really, looks like a cinnamon roll but might kill you.

 

prof_mav

 

Maverick, puts the “foul language” in “pansexuality”, looks like he might watch you die without raising a finger but is actually always ready to help, loves his mom and cats.

prof_jerry

 

 

Jerry, charming pansexual, steals the scene whenever he’s there, smoothest flirting game, needs to quit smoking tbh.

 

 

The comic is already really long with 9 full chapters but it’s also ongoing and I know there’s still a lot of characters we’re gonna meet and I can’t wait, but this is already in my top 3 “webcomics with the best characters” list. Seriously, it’s been weeks and I can’t stop thinking about them, and while I was reading it and had to pause to like, go to uni or shower I kept finding myself thinking about them as if they were real people.

Also, I love the art so much?? I don’t know how to describe art but I love the colors used and how the artist draws expressions. Even in Wight it’s always so clear when he smiles (please make him smile more) or his expression changes because it’s all in the eyes.

GSHGSHSGHSLGSLHLFSHG I just love this so much, please don’t even waste time adding it to your TBR and go read it immediately (and then come back and talk to me about my children).