I first heard of Oh Sangwoo because of my intense love for Haikyu believe it or not. In particular, I’d been watching Atsumu Miya edits on repeat a bit too much. Once you do that enough, you’ll start seeing “He looks like Sangwoo” comments way too often to be able to ignore them. Eventually, I ended up going down the rabbit and before I knew it, a whole day had passed and I was on chapter 67 of Killing Stalking.
One thing that struck me as odd at the moment was its genre description. Along with appropriate tags of horror and tragedy, it had the ever-popular “BL” tag that lowkey horrified me. Regardless, Killing Stalking has become a cult classic amongst the horror and BL readers and we are here to explore their meeting junction.
There’s a lot to unpack here so let’s get right to it. Yoon Bum is a skinny sickly young man with Borderline Personality Disorder. He develops an obsessive infatuation with Oh Sangwoo, a charming young man who once rescued Yoon Bum from being bullied. Yoon Bum does the “Stalking” part of Killing Stalking. After following Sang Woo around for a while, Yoon Bum breaks into his house, as one does. Here, things take a wild turn as Yoon Bum finds a woman chained up in Sangwoo’s basement. As he is about to help her, he gets caught by Sangwoo, who is unfortunately home.
Oh Sangwoo is a psychopathic serial killer! Yoon Bum immediately confesses his love for Sangwoo. In response, Sangwoo of course kidnaps Yoon Bum and keeps him captive in the house. What follows is a terrifying tale of abuse, killings, and a chilling exploration of trauma and mental illnesses.
Is Killing Stalking Romance?
The long and short answer is no. However, let’s still dive into what kind of story Killing Stalking intended to tell. All the fanarts and ships could lead anyone to believe it’s a tragic, intense love story when it’s literally anything but that. Oh Sangwoo is a dangerous, murderous psychopath and Yoon Bum is a depressed, bipolar, unlucky man with a mountain of issues of his own.
Oh Sangoo routinely abuses Yoon Bum physically, mentally, and sexually. Yoon Bum does everything from trying to escape, and trying to kill Sangwoo to killing for Sangwoo as he gets more and more desperate and delusional. As the story progresses, we learn about Yoon Bum’s abusive uncle and his generally shitty life. Out in the world, Yoon Bum was an invisible person with no real connections.
Sangwoo likewise, has had a terrible life growing up. His father was an abusive man. His mother killed his father and tried to kill him. Worst of all, she gaslit Sangwoo into believing it was he who murdered his father. However, no amount of childhood trauma justifies the horrid acts of Oh Sangwoo. Sangwoo is a narcissist. Apart from his usual serial killer psychopath stuff, he is incapable of showing genuine affection to another human being.
In Yoon Bum, Sangwoo saw an image of his mother. This is why he made Yoon Bum wear feminine clothes, do house chores, and showed occasional hints of affection. In a sick way, Oh Sangwoo was recreating his twisted relationship with his mother through Yoon Bum. Nothing about a gross Oedipal complex is remotely romantic. Even Yoon Bum’s feelings weren’t as romantically pure as they were desperate pleas to be acknowledged in any capacity.
Moreover, the aesthetics of the Manhwa allude to it being more dark, gritty, and upsetting than lovey-dovey or even the melancholic kind of romance. Why then, is Killing Stalking often mistaken for BL?
Women and BL
BL is primarily catered to young women. Most BL authors are women, writing for women. Gay men aren’t the target audience for gay stories. It probably points out a flaw of the society that gay love stories are written not for men but for women to emotionally or otherwise fetishize it. Certainly, there is a huge space occupied by wholesome, beautiful (but not entirely unproblematic) stories such as Mo Dao Zu Shi.
However, a vast majority of BL spaces are occupied with stories with dominant, hypermasculine, stoic, possessive, and prone to anger men paired up with submissive, sensitive, feminine, introverted men. The sexual encounters are often framed in a way where the submissive partner is reluctant at best and outright against the whole thing at worst. Even when sex is consensual or not the focus of the story, the power dynamics are way too skewed for the two men to form any sort of genuine romantic connection.
Why are women then drawn to these stories?
It’s a tale as old as time. There exist similar stories across cultures and centuries. Eros and Psyche, The woman who married a snake, and even Beauty and the Beast tell the story of young women unwillingly trapped with monsters. These women learn to love the monster somehow through the course of the story and are rewarded in the end when the monster turns into a handsome, wealthy prince.
These folktales were spun to convince young women to submit themselves to their marriages even if their husbands weren’t good to them. They were told devotion would eventually reward them. The Italian version of the story even has the monster be mean to her in public and nice to her in person.
It was almost like historically, women were convinced to endure manipulation, gaslighting, and abuse at the hands of their spouse and see it as par for the course. This could be a reason women often gravitate to similarly told stories. Moreover, the presence of a homosexual male relationship allows them to dissociate with either character to a degree and enjoy the stories in a safe space.
The Dangers of Killing Stalking
Killing Stalking rightfully belongs in the dark horror or dark thriller genre. However since the story happened to depict two men engaging in (let’s not forget non-consensual) sexual activities, it got marketed as BL to attract female readers. The abundance of fanarts and fan-fictions would tell you that this marketing strategy works. However, the implications of Killing Stalking being not only marketed but accepted as romance is deeply troubling.
This isn't Beauty and the Beast. Sangwoo lives and dies a monster. By the end of the story, Yoon Bum is just as obsessed with Sangwoo as he was in the beginning. However, now he has to live the rest of his miserable life plagued by the traumatic, twisted scars left by Oh Sangwoo. Killing Stalking is not romance. It is a tragic tale of generational abuse and trauma manifesting itself as worse forms of abuse and trauma and it should be read as such. Any other reading is a disservice to the author's intent and one's sanity.