In the manga memoir Uncomfortably Happily, a young couple moves from Seoul to the countryside, partly to escape the manic trappings of city life, but mostly to save money. They get a run-down house and vow to fix it up, grow vegetables, and make ends meet. But the husband and wife—both cartoonists—struggle to stay above water. Uncomfortably Happily is the rare tale about poverty that feels honest. It’s not about being destitute; it’s about the constant, unending anxiety of barely having enough for groceries and paying bills on time. In a way, it’s an ever-present but banal fear the pervades their lives.
These worries are brilliantly illustrated in black and white, which veers from minimal slices of everyday life to more intricate, elaborate flights of fancy to depict the husband’s angst and existential self-pity. But for the most part, the book is full of levity. Maybe even more unusual than a good portrayal of being poor is one of being in a marriage that’s simply healthy. Uncomfortably Happily’s couple often argues about how to prioritize the little money they have, but there’s always an understanding that both are doing their best. And even through the winter, in their small briquette-fueled home, there is a simplicity and peacefulness in watching two people just try to make it work.