Killing Stalking — Mental Illness [Updated]

“Yoon Bum, a scrawny quiet boy, has a crush on one of the most popular and handsome guys in school, Sangwoo. One day, with Yoonbum’s obsession towards Sangwoo reaching its peak, Yoon Bum decides to enter Sangwoo’s home. But what he saw inside was not the Sangwoo he had dreamed of.”

We are introduced to stalker Yoon Bum with the first words: “I follow his social media updates religiously”, before rationalizing his behavior. For Bum, a romantic relationship nor remaining friends after a teary confession are not an option because Bum is a male and his love interest (and obsession) Sangwoo is male.

I was introduced to Koogi’s Killing Stalking when someone shared the link to the manhwa in /r/ yaoi. I expected one of Harada’s doujins, but I came across to a suspenseful psychological horror. Of course, the relationship between the two main characters is unhealthy and disturbing, and as “romantic” Sangwoo’s (pronounced Sangwoo 오상우: O Sah-ng Oo, courtesy of idontfuckrobots)  gestures may be perceived by few readers, these gestures should be taken with a grain of salt when it comes to a consideration of this type of relationship.

At first, we are treated to our pitiful protagonist, Yoon Bum (pronounced Yoon Bum 윤범: yoonbuh-m, courtesy of idontfuckrobots). It is very telling that Bum escapes responsibility and shame for his arguably disturbing behavior (stalking, attempted trespassing, obsessive fixation, etc) by explaining that the readers that Yoon does not have a chance with Sangwoo accepting a confession and that this behavior is “Because of love…”.

Borderline Disorder and Bum?

Interestingly, the author leaves panels with white background and gray text, including the interesting phrase, “Borderline Personality Disorder” (BPD) in the first chapter. As we read along, we assume that Bum suffers from this mental disorder, and it is not without justification. Before we reach the first half of the chapter, we see that Bum’s present live revolves around Sangwoo who is virtually unaware of his existence, and this may be explained by a symptom of BPD: “Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment”. Bum’s life is measured in moments of rejection, hostility, and emptiness, with Sangwoo as the only constant ironically providing him a sense of connection.

The National Institute of Mental Health associate people with borderline personality disorder with experiences of “extreme mood swings” and “uncertainty about how they are”, accompanied by few of these symptoms:

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  • A pattern of intense and unstable relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, often swinging from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation)
  • Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self
  • Impulsive and often dangerous behaviors, such as spending sprees, unsafe sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, and binge eating
  • Recurring suicidal behaviors or threats or self-harming behavior, such as cutting
  • Intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few days
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Inappropriate, intense anger or problems controlling anger
  • Having stress-related paranoid thoughts
  • Having severe dissociative symptoms, such as feeling cut off from oneself, observing oneself from outside the body, or losing touch with reality

Together, we will explore how Bum fits within this frame of the mental illness. Bum, as I previously described, does frantically avoid his abandonment, settling for the imagined connection with Sangwoo over connecting with others. Though we see that he has experienced rejection in the first chapter, with Koogi juxtaposing Bum’s frantic explanations of his behavior as love-induced with snapshots of his withdrawn life, Bum has little to no contact with the world outside Sangwoo; it is no surprise that we have heard little of his grandparents (who I presume are dead), his uncle (hinted to be abusive), or any acquaintances.

“I Feel Good”- Bum’s Self-Image

t050Whether the following is directly linked to mental illness or an unlucky lifetime, Bum has a poor self-image and a known lack of self-care, shown both explicitly and implicitly. He not only has previously engaged in self-harm, but lives with a hinted abusive uncle, does not wash his clothing (at least not enough to be noticed by Sangwoo), and views himself downheartedly (for example, emphasizing his late entry into college when introducing his love interest to the audience). Upon Sangwoo’s attempts of humiliation, Bum surprisingly shares his sense of victory over death before shocked by a kiss from Sangwoo, and we view that in spite of the terrifying circumstances, Bum feels himself overjoyed to be receiving an act usually reserved for romantic relationships despite being “disgusting” (though this can be due to the porridge spilled on him).

In the ninth chapter, this may be induced by the necessity of being “special” in his survival or the traumatic experiences throughout his imprisonment, but this may be an indicator of Bum’s need to feel “special”, to be “different from that man”. A man who is “disgusting”, an old homosexual who would use card tricks in his regular pickup of men, someone who Sangwoo does not care about. If not the need to be “special”, Bum does have fluctuations in sense of self-worth and identity, all now tied to Sangwoo.

Impulsive, Dangerous Behavior?

However, Bum does not engage in impulsive, dangerous behavior. One may argue that trying to break into your stalker/crush’s house may seem impulsive and dangerous, but carefully examining the length and extent of this effort, this is everything but impulsive. For me, impulsive behavior means relaxing reason and relying on instinct and emotion, but this is planned, based on Sangwoo’s schedule over a number of months.  Bum also considers the consequences of what he is doing and ignores them, best exemplified in the first chapter. Moreover, Bum does not appear to engage in other behaviors such as binge eating or substance abusive, practices associated with poor self-control. However,occasional impulsive behavior is not necessarily indicative of a diagnosis of BPD.

The Corpses in the Washing Machine – Losing Touch on Reality?

tumblr_inline_oje509jfjc1r1cde5_500Taking anecdotal evidence from Tumblr user xlackrequiemx, people can often confuse schizophrenia and BPD because of the shared severe disassociative symptoms, including losing touch with reality. And this is present once in Chapter 6 and twice in Chapter 7.

v014In chapter 6, Bum frequently zones out, or “blanking” out as Sangwoo points out, though this may be the combination of confusion and inactivity due to the shift in mood. However, this goes from 0 to 100 in chapter 7 when Bum decides to change clothing as he realizes that he has still one hour to escape (though this was an experiment to test his compliance/loyalty to Sangwoo). Inside the washing machine, he pulls what appears to be an arm, and before him, bloody bodies pour out but as he refocuses, he sees a mess of clothes.

v039Later, as he begins to approach and then cross the “line”, he imagines a knife slicing below his jaw, but manages to reach the door without a downright panic attack, surprising as he is sweating bullets and now pondering whether leaving would be to his benefit. His thoughts take the form of a mocking Sangwoo, taunting him about his uncle’s ‘loving’ home and whether he’s deciding to stay with him. This is reasonable as Bum alternates between idealization and devaluation when it comes to Sangwoo, but this is not extraordinary outside the frame of BPD. In fact, the latter has drastically grown, given the conditions of Bum’s imprisonment. Bum reasonably fears for his life and has taken measures to escape outside the household, including attempted murder, goading himself to abandon his fears of Sangwoo’s threats, and attempting to run away when Sangwoo was allegedly away. For the first twelve chapters of the manhwa, he has either fulfilled his Sangwoo’s expectations or plead with his life when he felt threatened, all necessary for survival.

Because of this, I believe Bum fits well with the symptoms of borderline personality disorder, adding a new layer of intensity to the psychological horror; from the thirteen chapters released in English, we clearly know Sangwoo is almost unpredictable and his character has yet been fully inspected but now our own victim, and protagonist, may become an unreliable narrator. On the other hand, few readers believe that the label of “Borderline personality disorder” may be referring to our charming serial killer and kidnapper, Sangwoo.

Sangwoo and Oedipal Themes

screenshot_230Koogi flirts with Oedipal themes in Killing Stanger in its characterization of our charming antagonist, Sangwoo. He is initially introduced by Bum as “beloved by all”, but his strongest impact on Bum was when he protected him from an attempted rape during their military experience. However, this perspective is quickly flipped when we approach the character from officer Seungbae’s first meeting with Sangwoo whose instincts immediately alarm him. Sangwoo remains charismatic with the two police officers, but a more skeptical audience member now knows Sangwoo is mentally unbalanced, or at best hiding a menacing personality behind a cheery facade.

Sangwoo appears to have no relatives, and we are then told that his immediate family were murdered and he was found crying upon ‘discovery’; this is blurred when Seungbae questions the authenticity of the evidence and doubts Sangwoo’s innocence, and later we learn that Sangwoo is responsible for at least one of his parent’s death: his father.

As much as both Sangwoo and Bum share a history of broken homes, Sangwoo notes that he does not feel lonely, and may show a history of possible psychosis, including delusions of his perceived angry or endangered mother (hearing him call out for him or angry at him). Sangwoo is evidently haunted by the abusive treatment of his mother, and found a “purpose” to escape (perhaps a search for a substitute?) and now feels relief with Bum’s company as it perhaps makes him needed, or “strong” as he states. He goes on to share this feeling with Bum, offering his company as a similar form of escape.

Sangwoo’s Motives

Without a doubt, Sangwoo is clever and charismatic, making it possible to fool a veteran police officer and escape notice for kidnapping someone as important as the daughter of a CEO. He continues a routine pattern of kidnapping and murder with exception of Bum; upon meeting him, Sangwoo half-enjoys Bum’s struggle to accept a grisly death and only decides to spare him when Bum confesses his love and their shared history and begins to mumble and tear up. What attracted Sangwoo to Bum is Bum’s immediate obedience and submission, while his possible victims may have been always resistant and brazenly took initiatives to escape. For example, blonde victim of the first chapter is described as “stupid” and persistently screaming for help from Bum despite his unconsciousness.

t051Sangwoo also leaves no opportunities to berate Bum, initially perceiving him as the “class loser” and looking down on his homosexuality. This becomes blurred with sexual desire when he makes notice of Bum’s “thin, pretty” legs and further emasculates him when he spills porridge on him, again insults him, and then kisses him. A recurring hint to Sangwoo’s motive is that Sangwoo is reminded of his mother through Bum’s obedient, submissive behavior; in fact, in chapter three, Sangwoo correctly notes that Bum is overall obedient, and wishes to “confirm” something.

Interestingly, when Bum has defied Sangwoo’s expectations, he is punished but never killed; for the first phase of his imprisonment, he was beaten and humiliated by Sangwoo whenever he failed to comply with chores or broke his rules. After attempting to escape the first time through attempted poisoning (or taking advantage of rat poison that may have been planted with the intentions of gauging Bum’s rebellious attitude), he induces vomiting and treats Bum with minimal care, something that strays from Sangwoo’s initial plans to return him to the basement (somewhere usually associated with Sangwoo’s devaluation and subsequent murder of his victims). The closest to intentions of murder were at the beginning of the imprisonment when Bum is discovered in the basement and when  Sangwoo perceives him as willing to abandon him in Chapter 8 under engineered circumstances; the latter is only avoided when Bum refers to Sangwoo without the honorific as he hangs from a noose and Sangwoo responds with amusement and surprise before ejaculating on his dangling feet. qfb_img_1483549378053Again, disobedience is associated with Sangwoo’s devaluation, shown by his description of prior victims as “disobedient idiots”. To my knowledge, the most intense sexual interactions throughout the comic is inspired when Bum demonstrates the extremes, either obedience or betrayal: admitting in an orgasm-induced haze that he wants to be “one” as he demonstrates in joining two soiled hands and calling Sangwoo’s name without honorific as he is hanging from a noose (link between strangulation of Sangwoo’s mother and the near hanging of Bum?) or the perceived betrayal by Bum and perhaps his mother.


Because of this compiled history and traits, Bum seems to be an adequate representation of borderline personality disorder though Sangwoo’s own mental health is far more impactful, given the fates of those he meets: either blissfully ignorant, a victim, or dead. Not only does Sangwoo react violently to the perceived abandonment by Bum, almost feeling entitled and betrayed,  he has perhaps demonstrated ‘splitting’, alternating between the idealization of Bum as a substitute of a submissive, obedient’pseudo-momwife’ (thanks for the interesting word, y00nbum) and devaluation. Moreover, these swings are spliced with playfulness, malicious or not, such as teasing Bum for reaching his hands out to him in bed or when he manipulates Bum into losing a game of cards and thinking he would die.

qfb_img_1483549387734This makes for a more unsettling experience for Bum, given the intense anger he demonstrates in the beginning of his imprisonment. Interactions between Sangwoo and Bum in the manhwa also demonstrates an intense, unstable relationship with his mother that has culminated in searches for victims who exemplify the submissive, obedient behavior of his mother. In fact, his perceived abandonment by Bum not only has memories of their most intimate interactions flooding in his mind but culminates in a paradoxical feeling of betrayal and arousal associated with his mother. On the other hand, Sangwoo does not engage in the typical impulsive and often dangerous behavior such as substance abuse (aside from what’s used to lure victims inside the home), recurring suicidal behavior or threats or self-harming behavior, nor chronic feelings of emptiness.


I have found Koogi’s Killing Stalking to be one of my favorite horror works of this year so far, intriguing me with Sangwoo’s characterization as a serial kidnapper and the subversion of the Stockholm Syndrome cliches. As all of this was speculated from the first thirteen chapters and is inspired by other’s fan theories as well, I am sure that not everything is right and I hope to be surprised by future translations of the ongoing manhwa 🙂

Read Killing Stalking at MangaFox, and follow Koogi at Twitter handle @kooo_gi (link).

Last updated on January 12, 2016, 10:00 PM.


2 thoughts on “Killing Stalking — Mental Illness [Updated]

  1. An intriguing review on an equally intriguing manga. This review has definitely piqued my interest enough to look into this darker story that’s for sure. Thankyou very much for writing this and making me aware of this


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