Villains Are Destined to Die Volume 1 is one of my favorite manga this year. Created by Suol with original story by Gwon Gyeoeul with translation by David Odell and lettering by Chiho Christie, the story made me laugh, sympathize with Penelope, and angry at her unfortunate circumstances. Gaming can be fun and frustrating, especially those with life-or-death choices and horrid endings—looking at you Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly

Sure the stakes feel high, but you are not in the game, right? This Yen Press manga with breathtaking colored illustrations plunges our protagonist into a dating sims game as the villain in the game, Penelope, and combines it with deadly consequences. If that wasn’t enough, the protagonist holds your attention, as does the familiar gender dynamics and the strain women experience existing. 

Villains Are Destined To Die Volume 1 Goes From Trapped To Freedom To Trapped Again

The illustrations, hues of magenta, pink and turquoise fit given most dating sim games are about the visual aesthetics and animations as much as the story. And our protagonist is in a game, complete with specific game mechanics. How did she wind up there? Well, she was playing a game recommended by someone in school. She beat “Normal” mode with the character Ivonne, the long-lost daughter to a duke returning after six years. But when she switches to “Hard” mode, she plays as Penelope, the duke’s adopted daughter, and dies. A lot. She dozes off playing and wakes up in the game.

Quickly, our protagonist sees parallels between Penelope and herself. Both arrived at a wealthy home from a poor but happy life. Both of their older brothers mistreat them, so she feels sympathy and anger for Penelope’s life. But as Penelope, she must get one of the five men’s affections to a hundred percent. If it drops below zero, the odds that she dies via accident or murder go up. Imagine getting free from one cage to wind up in another.

Stuck Pandering To Men…Again

The story balances humor with some heavier moments. Plus, the surreal quality when she first wakes up in the game. After all, you do not have dialogue until a multiple-choice dialogue box pops up for you to choose from. So, in the beginning, she cannot talk without the dialogue box appearing. Hell, she can’t even move how she wants. Fortunately, that does not last. Even once she can say and do what she wants, Penelope proceeds with caution. After all, no guarantee dying in the game will send her back to her world. 

Villains Are Destined to Die Volume 1 cover art of Penelope lying in flowers holding a rose.
Villains Are Destined to Die Volume 1 cover art

Despite the fear, Penelope is no pushover. After realizing the staff abused Penelope, she stands up for them both. At once, the story seems fantastical, but there is a grounding in reality. Often, women have to tread carefully at work, outside, and sometimes even at home. That’s why she gets over the shock of her surroundings quickly. This world shows the toll and frustration women experience being around men. 

Penelope’s Personality Hooks You

One of her best qualities is Penelope’s determination and refusal to let anything sidetrack her. She values herself and focuses on her survival. She even made a list of the love interests in the game whose affection she needs to win, and she is moving according to her survival. I’m sure romance will occur, but I hope Penelope does not fall for someone who killed her, like the Crown Prince. That is The Vampire Diaries level clownery. A man mistreats everyone you care about, abuses them, and kills them, but somehow you fall in love with them? Yeah, pass. 

There is comedy when she has multiple-choice options or removes sharp objects, but I love her attitude most. She is not trying to build affection for a relationship. She does not forget how all these people treated Penelope, staying focused on getting out and going home. The laughs usually stem from her inner thoughts compared to what she says aloud. Her irritation, inner thoughts, and use of the word “shitty” are funny and familiar. 

Villains Are Destine to Die Volume 1 hints at more unfolding in future volumes regarding her current situation and her relationship with her half-brothers in the real world. So I cannot wait to read more. This reverse harem manga could be one of the best series in the genre. She does not fit the typical mold; her circumstances are anything but ordinary, so Villains Are Destined to Die is a page-turner and a re-read. 

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