Promotional image for 'Solo Leveling' features two characters with sharp weapons on top of different creatures surrounding by destroyed buildings. A blue portal is above them in the sky.

‘Solo Leveling’ Episode 1 Recap & Review: A Video Game Brought To Life

What chance does a low rank hunter have against an army of creatures?

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Solo Leveling Episode 1.

Solo Leveling starts the new year with a graphic, action-packed fantasy series in the ever-evolving landscape of anime content. Since its official announcement at Crunchyroll’s Anime Expo 2022 Industry Panel, the adaptation has been highly anticipated by fans of the 2018 manhwa (Korean comic book) from writer Chugong and artist Dubu.

A-1 Pictures, the animation studio behind series like Fairy Tail, Sword Art Online, and Your Lie in April, continues to deliver stunning visuals in Solo Leveling, mixing 2D frames of human characters with CGI monsters. Popular K-pop group Tomorrow X Together (TXT) collaborated with composer Hiroyuki Sawano on the theme song for the series, “LEveL,” which isn’t the first time a K-pop band worked on music for an anime series. Now that we’ve highlighted the notable talent involved in the project, let’s dive into the Solo Leveling Episode 1 recap.

Monster Hunting Is a Matter of Life and Death in ‘Solo Leveling’ Episode 1

Baek Yoonho pulling a giant ant creature apart in Solo Leveling Episode 1 | Agents of Fandom
Solo Leveling opens the episode with an epic fight scene, showcasing just how brutal the action will be this season. Image Credit: A-1 Pictures.

The opening scene, set three years before the present day, sees Navy officers watching an island from a distance. The captain commands his team to stand down as the situation will be best dealt with by “hunters.” The hunters — made up of armored soldiers with swords and cloaked mages conjuring spells — are battling against an army of giant red ants.

The ants are overpowering this team, gruesomely killing them off one by one, but a trio of S-rank hunters, Min Byung-gu (Junya Enoki), Baek Yoonho (Hiroki Tōchi), and Eunseok (Takuma Terashima), arrive to the rescue. As they easily fend off the red ants, even bigger white ants appear to challenge them. With their unique abilities and swift teamwork, the powerful hunters subdue their foes. The scene cuts to a city where another group of hunters, led by Guildmaster Choi Jong-In (Daisuke Hirakawa), are having their battle with a horde of red and white ants.

What Led to the Events of ‘Solo Leveling’?

Joohee and Jinwoo talking to one another before they embark on a quest in Solo Leveling Episode 1 | Agents of Fandom
Joohee doesn’t seem to understand why Jinwoo continues to put his life at risk fighting high-level creatures. Image Credit: A-1 Pictures.

Chairman of the Korean Hunters Association Go Gunhee (Banjou Ginga) provides context to the world of Solo Leveling. Over 10 years ago, different gates to an alternate dimension opened up around the world. Each gate has aggressive creatures referred to as “magic beasts” that are immune to human weapons.

Hunters are humans with awakened abilities that can combat these beasts. Once these powers are unlocked, the hunters are ranked in specific tiers as high as S to as low as E. Chairman Go adds that no amount of individual effort can lead hunters to achieve greater strength and ascend through the ranks.

In the present day, we are introduced to our anime protagonist, Sung Jinwoo (Taito Ban), who is considered the weakest hunter. He is questioned by another hunter, Lee Joohee (Rina Honizumi), about why he’s bandaged up. Jinwoo explains that since he was joined by S-rank hunters on a quest through an E-rank dungeon, they didn’t bring a healer along. Joohee is frustrated that other hunters view Jinwoo so poorly because of his rank and lack of skill, but Jinwoo doesn’t think it’s a big deal. They prepare to embark on a raid together with a team of higher-class hunters.

Jinwoo Can Barely Catch a Break in ‘Solo Leveling’ Episode 1

A team of hunters embark on a new quest in Solo Leveling Episode 1 | Agents of Fandom
Jinwoo, Joohee, and their team of hunters had no idea what they were walking into on their latest raid. Image Credit: A-1 Pictures.

Elsewhere, Chairman Go is speaking to an employee about his meeting with “the administration.” The organization is worried about “dungeon breaks,” but justifies that the resources — “essence stones” and “mana crystals” — that the hunters collect during a gate raid are highly valued as they can be turned into powerful weapons and gear, or exchanged for money. The government also sees it as a potential clean energy source to power the world.

Shifting back to Jinwoo’s raid, he finds an essence stone for the first time but is struggling against fighting a goblin. His only weapon, a small knife, breaks, leading to him getting fatally stabbed, but Joohee uses her healing abilities to mend his wounds. The rest of the hunters clear the dungeon boss and find a cave that they believe contains more stones and crystals.

The team is split in choosing whether to continue further or not, with Jinwoo being the deciding vote. He reflects that since his father has been missing for quite some time, his motivation for monster hunting is to pay for his mother’s hospital care and his sister’s college tuition. With this driving him, he chooses to continue, despite barely recovering from his wounds.

‘Solo Leveling’ Episode 1 Ends On a Gruesome Cliffhanger

Jinwoo is terrified at the end of Solo Leveling Episode 1 | Agents of Fandom
Jinwoo faces his toughest challenge yet in the final moments of Solo Leveling Episode 1. Image Credit: A-1 Pictures.

The team of hunters cautiously enter a door that doesn’t look like the dungeon they were just in. They see tall stone statues surrounding them, one of which has a tablet with scriptures known as “The Commandments of the Cartenon Temple.” As a hunter finishes reading it out loud, the door closes and one statue comes to life and kills another hunter.

Through his past dungeon experiences, Jinwoo has become more observant of his surroundings. Sensing danger, he tells the team to get down as the tallest statue in the room shoots lasers from its eyes, instantly annihilating some hunters. Jinwoo reflects on the instances when he thought he would die in a dungeon, but nothing compares to his current situation as the episode ends.

It would be a bold move for the main protagonist to die early on in the series, so it’ll be interesting to see how Jinwoo makes it out of this dungeon alive. Without any magical abilities or weapons, Jinwoo has the fight of his life ahead of him. This ending should be enough to have viewers check out Solo Leveling Episode 2.

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'Solo Leveling' Episode 1 "I'm Used to It" Review

'Solo Leveling' Episode 1 "I'm Used to It" Review
4 5 0 1
4.0 rating
Total Score

The Good

  • Stunning visuals and action scenes.
  • Jinwoo's motivations are well-established.
  • Excellent worldbuilding.

The Bad

  • Cutaways to side characters are short and jarring.
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