When I Woke Up, I Became A Bagel Girl Review

That One TSF Manhwa That Got an Anime Adaptation 5 Years Later for Some Reason

When I Woke Up, I Became A Bagel Girl is a Korean TSF/TG manhwa created by Tank Guy that ran for 35 chapters on Lezhin Comics back in 2014. It is a series I took note of shortly after a scanlation group translated its first chapter into English shortly after its release and subsequently abandoned the series, leaving it to fall into obscurity for years. 

At least until November 2019, when this 5-year-old webcomic suddenly received an anime adaptation from Studio Animal that appeared on various Korean streaming services. I previously took note of this show’s existence, but I could find neither raws nor English subs for the entire series until November 2020, when various anime streaming sites started hosting an English subbed version of the show, and people also started putting it on YouTube, because you can just do that, I guess. So now, after 6 years of sporadically wondering what the heck this series was about, I finally gave watched the anime and it’s… not quite what I expected.

When I Woke Up, I Became A Bagel Girl follows Jeong Bong Gi, a fat 26-year-old otaku working an entry-level job whose life takes a turn for the bizarre when he wakes up one morning as a ‘bagel girl.’ Which is Korean slang for a woman with a baby face and a glamorous body, and not a reference that he becomes a female bagel person, or a girl who sells bagels.  

Being both the friendless and hapless sort, Bong Gi immediately looks to the internet for answers, where he garners the attention of Han Se Mi. A young woman who befriends Bong Gi, despite having no real reason to devote her time to this clumsy loser, but whatever, it makes the plot move forward, and just I assume that she’s unemployed and bored.

Together, they engage in the typical shenanigans you can expect from a guy-turns-into-a-hot-girl story. Clothing store mishaps, lectures about how to be more ladylike and feminine, and seeing the former male forced into a more submissive position by their controlling female companion. It’s nothing I haven’t seen dozens of times during my semi-obsessive semi-lifetime of scrounging for TSF material, but it’s solid, the duo have good chemistry together, and they have a habit of getting into humorous or otherwise silly situations that keep the story engaging.

It all serves as a strong start, establishes these two characters well, and is a good framework for a TSF story to work off of. But rather than devoting the rest of this story to Bong Gi adapting to his new life as a woman and the struggles that come with it, the story takes things in a different direction around episode 5.

After securing a job at a convenience store and adopting a new identity of Ah Reum, Bong Gi happens across Han Sang Woo, Se Mi’s brother. As revealed via a flashback, Bong Gi and Sang Woo were former friends who had a falling out together, causing Bong Gi to view Sang Woo as a rival of sorts for the past decade. And in order to get revenge on Sang Woo, Bong Gi decides to charm his way into his heart only to later cheat on Sang Woo, thus breaking his heart. This is a somewhat roundabout and bizarre use of a situation, but I would be willing to brush this aside… if not for the reason why Bong Gi wants revenge in the first place.

Back before he became a tubby dork who only eats processed food, Bong Gi was a high school track star who drew much ire from his fellow track members due to his dedication and skill. Because of this, the other track members physically assaulted Bong Gi, who was coincidentally saved by Sang Woo, causing the two to develop a type of friendship. However, the following day, Bong Gi was jumped by the same track members again, this time armed with bats. They assaulted him in an alley and while Sang Woo did pass by the scene, he did not intervene due to fully justified personal reasons.

The beating ends with the bullies breaking Bong Gi’s leg, leaving him unable to take part in track going forward and robbing him of his greatest skill. Instead of blaming the track members, the ones who literally broke his leg, Bong Gi blames Sang Woo for this transgression, because he could have prevented it. And, on top of that, Bong Gi also decides to become an obese otaku because… reasons. No, seriously, the show makes zero effort to explain how Bong Gi went from a track star with a broken leg to who he is when the series starts.

I don’t think I need to explain the problems with this plot point, and seeing as how it is the crux of the relationship between two of the main characters, it’s hard to ignore. But what I find more frustrating than the faulty logic behind this decision to hate somebody for not stopping a crime, it’s the fact that there are some fairly simple workarounds to give Bong Gi a reason to hate Sang Woo, without changing the central events that happened. 

What if, due to the trauma and the pain of the assault (and possibly short-term memory loss via a head injury) Bong Gi misremembered the events and believed that Sang Woo was the one who broke his leg a decade ago? If he were to remember things this way, Bong Gi would have completely understandable reasons to fall into a deep depression, to give up on others, his academic goals, and his own physical health. Because he lost his only friend in school, and he no longer feels like he can trust others, so why bother trying to interact with them, or conforming to social norms? Sure, it’s not a perfect solution, but it’s better than what Bagel Girl delivers.

Sadly, this is not the only major branch the story gets snagged on, as things only get worse as the story progresses and… falls apart if you focus on the not-so-minute details.

The final third of Bagel Girl initiates a genre shift from a lighthearted and more comedic story to a straightforward TV drama with its own scattering of steadily revealed minutiae including tightly woven character relationships, hospital politics, and, naturally, medical murder. In theory, I actually like this shift, taking a more serious stance for the story’s ultimate climax and branching out beyond what was a fairly routine TSF story in an interesting way by introducing elements from another genre. But in execution, it just doesn’t work. The shift is incongruous, the story becomes far less interested in Bong Gi dealing with his transformation as it desperately tries explaining everything, and the explanation offered here is full of holes and contrivances.

I could easily create a page-long series of nitpicks about character behavior, actions, or justifications, but I’ll relegate my criticisms to a few that I’ll keep vague enough to avoid explicit spoilers: 

  • A central character does not recognize a coworker they should have had some interactions with, or at least recognized from a missing person poster.
  • A criminal keeps organized evidence of his crimes in his home office in the form of an ostentatious flash drive on the desk of his home office.
  • The entire justification for Bong Gi’s transformation is just straight-up magic. Magic that manipulates time, erases memories and can teleport both people and objects.
  • The ending is built around a theme of self-improvement and Bong Gi turning over a new leaf, but this is not adequately conveyed throughout the rest of the story. 

As I noted these problems and saw the series drive towards its happy ending, I was struck with the feeling that something wasn’t quite right with what I had just seen, and that this adaptation played things far looser and changed a lot from the source material. My curiosity got the better of me, and I bought the comic series for myself. Which, for the record, was a massive pain in the ass.

Despite accepting foreign credit cards, Lezhin’s website does not play nicely with foreign payments in general, and the only way I could initiate my purchase of $8 in their premium currency was to download their app, switch my language to Korean, and then initiate a mobile payment through Apple or Google. It took me a good hour to figure this out, and about three hours to manually rip, rename, and convert all 633 pages from their website (for keepsaking purposes). But I did it. I did it and… I was completely right. The manhwa and the anime are completely different. 

Now, since I’m a dumb monolinguistic American, I was only able to gloss over the comic and I cannot attest to its true quality. Yet when exclusively looking at the baseline sequence of events, what scenes are and aren’t included, it’s clear that this was a loose adaptation that took liberties with the general characters and premise, shifting them around to the liking of the creative team. From minor things like Bong Gi initially wearing a cosplay outfit outside instead of a tracksuit, the removal of Se Mi’s little sister, and tweaking Bong Gi’s design for plot reasons. To more substantive changes, such as the entire final third, which is not even an adaptation. The circumstances, character roles, the pacing of information, and the ending itself, everything!

Based on my own viewing of this comic, I think that the anime is ultimately better. It is better structured, more focused, and a more well-rounded story overall, cutting a lot of the ancillary fluff, such as when Bong Gi is called into the military for a chapter as part of the national draft, and focusing on what it can do in its 3 hour runtime. 

I think the character of Sang Woo works better as a more modest man instead of being a closeted pervert who wants to ditch his current girlfriend for the dummy thicc girl before him. I think the main antagonist, Seong Min works better in the anime than his loosely established manhwa counterpart. And the anime’s conclusion, however TV-like, does work better than the manhwa’s abrupt ending that only kinda-sorta explains things after they happen.

At the same time, the manhwa has a lot of incidental things that are simply absent in the anime that I think would have been neat inclusions. Such as the additional dates between Bong Gi and Sang Woo. Follow-up encounters with Bong Gi’s former co-worker. And a lot of the casual outfit changes seen throughout the story, showing Bong Gi getting more accustomed to his new body as time goes on. Hell, he even got a new hairdo for the last few chapters, which I think looks way better than the look seen consistently throughout the anime.

Still, I understand why the anime staff made most of the changes they did, and if I were to criticize them in their approach, I would begin by saying that they should have changed more. That they should have reworked the story around whatever theme they wanted this story to have and used the existing elements of the manhwa as building blocks for something true to the spirit of the original, yet inarguably its own creation. Because as it is, the anime still feels like a mismatch of new and old ideas with a theme that does not cleanly flow through either of them. As if the creative team was at odds about changing some things, was all for changing others, and could not agree on the best direction for the adaptation.

On that note, this being a Korean anime adaptation, my expectations regarding the animation quality and general cinematography were fairly low going in, and to a certain extent, I was right. There are moments where its low budget shines, such as janky walk cycles, static background characters, panning background shots done to avoid showing characters’ lips move, and a few instances where the only thing being animated is the same frame bobbing up and down to simulate the act of walking. 

However, as the series goes on, the animation quality improves and the creators throw in some fancy stuff like a driving sequence with 3D models and several scenes with roaring rapids. But where I think the anime excels the most is with the expressions and framing, taking a manhwa with fairly basic framing and not-great artwork and giving it far more personality, and loads of grade-A faces. 

Beyond that, there are also lots of little things I enjoyed. Such as the fake League of Legends gameplay in episode 1, the design of Brand X computer interfaces, and the instances of copyright infringement as characters from God Eater and DanMachi appear in the background as figures. As a whole, the presentation is far better than I expected and, considering the humble origins of this series, it’s arguably better than it has any right to be.

To wrap up my thoughts on this series, I think When I Woke Up, I Became A Bagel Girl has a lot of good ideas, some fun characters, and surprised me with its presentation quality. But the execution is spotty, the plot is full of contrivances, and despite having changed a lot from the original work, the anime staff didn’t change quite enough to make the story feel whole and complete. The elements of a good show (and a good TSF story) are there, but it would have needed more time, budget, or a thorough rewrite, in order to meet its narrative goals and properly execute its themes. 

But focusing on what the show is, and not what it could be, I consider Bagel Girl to be okay, and just okay. It’s something that TSF enthusiasts might find enjoyable, if only to see a higher budgeted and more ambitious take on this sort of subject matter. And it’s something that creative-types can easily pilfer for inspiration, as there is definitely something to appreciate and learn from here.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Marotani

    Do you recommend to watch or read it, or it’ll be better, if I just reread Mayonaka?

    1. Natalie Neumann

      The anime is definitely better as a whole. I can tell that without being able to read the untranslated Korean Manhwa. If you like TSF/TG/gender bender, the anime is definitely a watch. The comic is only worth reading if you can read Korean or are super curious as to how the anime wound up being as lopsided as it is.

  2. rando

    Where did she get the necklace she dreams about

    1. Natalie Neumann

      Um, let’s see how well my memory works right after waking up… The person who originally owned the necklace was Seong Min. The real Ah Reum took the necklace and Bong Gi wound up with it because of… magic, basically. It does not make a lot of sense.