Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Bad Friends

Rate this book
Starred review from Publishers Weekly:

Told with arresting honesty and strength, this graphic novel conjures a grim vision of growing up in late-1990s South Korea. Rebelling against her abusive father and teachers who routinely beat her, 16-year-old Pearl smokes, slacks off at school, and runs with the bad-girls crowd. Yet her situation is well-adjusted compared to her fellow delinquents, especially her best friend, Jeong-Ae, who survives in chaotic poverty and is already dabbling in sex work. Pearl and Jeong-Ae run away together, try to get work in a hostess bar, and share a seedy motel room. When they’re finally forced to give up, only Pearl has a home, however unhappy, left to go back to. Reflecting as a comfortable, mostly happy adult, she can barely believe she escaped her hometown: “Even now I feel relieved when I realize I don’t have to get a beating,” Pearl marvels. Yet for all its bleak moments, the book has a tender warmth. Ancco evokes the confused excitement of adolescence: realizing adults can’t be relied on, standing up for yourself, trusting in friendship. In sharp, kinetic charcoal lines that seem in constant danger of toppling off the page, she renders a hostile world of monotone classrooms shadowy alleys, Oppa lovers, and the defiant girls who stand out from the crowd. Stunning in its stark look at child abuse, and empathy for its characters, Ancco’s artfully told story grabs the reader’s attention and never lets go.

176 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2012

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author


6 books28 followers
Graphic novel artist from South Korea.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
125 (15%)
4 stars
336 (40%)
3 stars
281 (33%)
2 stars
75 (9%)
1 star
13 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 110 reviews
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
January 12, 2019
After reading a memoir at least partly about cruel physical abuse, I now read Korean-born artist Ancco's autobiographical fiction of two girls. The main character is Pearl, who looks back on her chaotic adolescence, where she was wild, stayed out late, and was beaten constantly and brutally by her father, who she admits didn't know how to help her as she became, for several years, "bad." She was beaten by teachers, by school bullies, and when she leaves home with a woman she becomes friends with, Jeong-Ae, a teenager already doing sex work, who invites her to leave home and join her in a world that is also brutal.

Pearl tells the story as an adult, having (somewhat) escaped her teen years. Interesting that it is called Bad Friends in that the sole source of warmth in the story is the friendship of all the girls together. It's a story of teen girl friendship in the midst of one of the rawest stories of brutality I have read. What is it with the human propensity to beat up children? Some of the warmth is conveyed, too, in the delicate pen and ink artwork. It's not fun, but it is a very good work of realism about growing up with poverty and alienation.
Profile Image for David.
659 reviews315 followers
October 5, 2020
Pearl is beaten at home, at school, and even by the neighbours and yet still somehow considers herself lucky given the distance of time. Looking back she harbours no ill-will to her father despite the horrific beatings. There is a graphically recounted event involving her father repeatedly smashing her with a broken badminton racket's aluminum frame, ripping open her head and hands and covering Pearl in enough blood that her sister passed out simply looking at her. Another incident where she was left near immobile on the ground, her hands suddenly gripped in a palsy from her father's unrelenting blows. Horrible and yet recalled with blunt stoicism - punishments justified as being borne out of parental love and concern. That somehow that was what was missing from her friend Jeong-Ae's life. That was what could have pulled her back from the decisions she made that pulled her down a different path that started when they decided to run away at 15 and find themselves quickly swept up into a world of brothels.

A precise work told at a ten year remove, we see Pearl as an adult recounting these events as she pieces together her own graphic novel. Ancco/Pearl imbues her remembered friendship with warmth and confidently nails the young voices that can be both brash and bullying as well as scared and naive. There is a quiet hope here amidst the violence - small, vague and entirely human. Beautifully done.
Profile Image for Anita.
1,045 reviews
January 27, 2020

Oof. This black and white graphic about some pivotal years of young South Korean girls - mc Pearl, her "bad" friends: Jeong-Ae and the rest of the crowd, will take you into dark places. Pearl is now a cartoonist, and this book is her reflecting on her troubled youth in shadowed back alleys, deserted door stoops, shitty schools, and messy homes where girls like Pearl are beaten by seemingly every adult for all of their deviant behaviour.

Jeong-Ae's house, where her mother is never home and her father is always wasted is a haven in which the bad friends to gather to smoke, drink, and watch t.v. The lady down the street sells alcohol and smokes to the kids because she needs money, too. Her husband doesn't earn any but he only beats her sometimes. When he's drunk.

Jeong-Ae and Pearl run away for a while and try to take care of each other. But eventually their harsh reality sends them home. Pearls parents stop beating her so much, but Jeong-Ae's life doesn't seem to get any better or worse.

This story is about friends and how "bad" can be a label, or actions, or choices. One can have bad friends and one can be a bad friend, but even bad, still a friend.
Profile Image for Rod Brown.
5,293 reviews174 followers
January 5, 2019
Told from the perspective of an adult South Korean cartoonist reflecting upon her adolescence, this story by an adult South Korean cartoonist gives the impression of autobiography but is apparently fiction.

Pearl and Jeong-ae are two teenage girls who have been deemed juvenile delinquents by family, classmates and teachers. In a culture steeped in domestic violence and corporal punishment, the authority figures and men in their lives either believe frequent and severe beatings will fix the girls or just plain enjoy the powerful feeling it gives them. It's horrible either way and hard to view.

Early on the friends run away from home and find themselves in the world of lounge hostesses and prostitution. Though they return home, things remain a violent muddle as their lives diverge and the book wallows in Pearl's emotional misery in the past and her melancholy in the present.

I could see other readers connecting powerfully with this material, but the storytelling is too disjointed and depressing for me, and the art sometimes made it difficult for me to distinguish characters.
Profile Image for Laurent De Maertelaer.
714 reviews107 followers
October 30, 2018
Sterk comic-dagboek over de delinquente jeugd van de auteur. Bijzondere grafiek, aangrijpend verhaal, mooie opbouw. Prix Révélation in Angoulême in 2016.
Profile Image for K.W. Colyard.
Author 1 book17 followers
November 24, 2018

Han Kang, Min Jin Lee, and Crystal Hana Kim have given us their own unique glimpses into the Korean peninsula's history and present, but few novels of South Korea have gone to so dark a place as Ancco's semi-autobiographical work, Bad Friends. This brief, striking vision of South Korea's early Sixth Republic presents a side of the country rarely seen in the West, one driven by alcohol, drugs, and prostitution.

K-pop fans, beware. Bad Friends will shatter your illusions of a bubbly, happy South Korea. Ancco's depiction of her badly behaved, teenage heroines, Pearl and Jeong-ae, is as much a reflection on their society as on the girls themselves. Coming from abusive homes headed by incompetent and cruel adults, and spending their days in schools run by the same, the titular friends live in a society very much marked by its military dictatorship past. Previous Korean Republics haunt the margins of Bad Friends, and are to blame, at least in part, for how completely the adults in Pearl and Jeong-ae's lives fail them.

Ultimately, no one among Bad Friends' cast emerges blameless. The girls who plan to run away in one instant abandon one another in the next. Parents remain abusive and distant. School officials feel justified in their beratement of students. Somewhere in the midst of all this constant disappointment in our fellow man, however, Ancco has managed to tell a compelling, universal story of doing the best you can and still failing to be good enough.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 12 books228 followers
September 5, 2021
I’m calling it a fictional memoir because the main character is a cartoonist. A gruelling story of violence and abuse which made me wonder about life in Korea — is domestic violence (parents, teachers, friends) really so commonplace?

The narrative thrust here was more of a gritty mosaic than an arc — the story wanders and jumps around. Almost everyone is horrible to each other. There is a pot in the tree. Smoking gets you beaten. Friends disappear.
Profile Image for Danielle.
2,228 reviews1 follower
December 12, 2018
The story was alright, but I found it a little difficult to follow at times. It kind of jumped around, which I wasn't a fan of. I did like that it focused on female friendship over time, but this didn't really stick with me.
Profile Image for E.
73 reviews4 followers
March 17, 2019
After first seeing Ancco’s book featured on display at Drawn & Quarterly’s store front in Montreal, I read it in a single sitting while perusing a small indie comic shop in Vancouver.

Ancco’s sparse language is paired with fine pencil drawing in this graphic novel. Both of these have heavy and weighted effects. Ancco doesn’t filter her work through humour or rose coloured glasses, offering readers a stark glimpse of a childhood/teenager years filled with physical abuse, transformative friendship, and survival in the mid-90’s in S Korea. This is a story that is not commonly talked about.

The normalization of physical abuse in the home and school settings was very jarring to me. It left me feeling tender and raw. At the end of the book, I was left reflecting on historical trauma, heteropatriarchy, and other imperial legacies of wars past in Korea. I was left curious to know what the wider context is of this individual story, the commonality of stories like these in South Korea, and what it means for a western audience to read and engage with a story like this.
Profile Image for Sharlene.
366 reviews110 followers
May 17, 2019
Wow this book was really brutal and, to be honest, quite depressing.

Why read it then?

What made me borrow this book was because it’s a translated comic, and one from Korea. I haven’t read many Korean comics, and this was a rare one on the library shelves.

The story is told from the perspective of 16-year-old Pearl, growing up in the 1990s in a poor neighbourhood in Seoul, South Korea. Her father is abusive, but then so is nearly every relative in the building she lives in, who treat her like a punching bag.

“But in all the times Dad beat me, I never once hated him.

Any parent would have done the same.”

Those lines just made me ache with anger and sadness.

Pearl has a group of close friends at school. Her best friend is Jeong-Ae and the two of them run away for a while, staying at a motel and trying to get work as hostesses. But they both eventually return home. While Pearl has an abusive father, she realizes that her family is more ‘normal’ than the other girls’ families, especially Jeong-Ae’s. That while her father beats her, there is still someone who cares for her and wants better for her. One day, Jeong-Ae doesn’t turn up at school and no one knows where she is, although rumors are rampant. Pearl, ten years later, wonders what happened to her best friend.

“Why did it take me so long to figure out that being beaten didn’t have to be part of life?”

I came away from this book wondering if Korean culture was still like that – this acceptance of physical abuse. Parents, usually fathers, hitting, kicking, punching their children. Students physically hurting each other in school. Even teachers abuse their students.

It’s not uncommon to have canes in households in Singapore, even today. I don’t know about schools now but when I was in primary school, I remember that some teachers had canes. Is it something that’s just more accepted in Asian societies?

A harsh but honest look at the lives of these young women. One of the most disturbing books I’ve read.
Profile Image for Shayna Ross.
527 reviews
December 26, 2018
What makes a friend good or bad? When you make a bad decision due to the influence of your friend, is it solely on the friend for being a bad influence? Bad Friends analyzes these questions with a story that is a little painful and a little raw, but very telling.

Sixteen-year-old Pearl lives in South Korea during the late-1990s in a relatively privileged life with a family and roof over her head until she became friends with Jeong-ae, who lives in poverty. Now running with the "bad girls," Pearl decides to rebel against her father and teachers (who all are physically abusive), slacks off in school, and ultimately runs away with Jeong-ae to try a hand at hostess work. Following this, we watch as Pearl makes a number of decisions, good and bad, as she tries to learn what living in the real world is like. Additionally, in between sections, we also read about modern Pearl many years later working as an artist and reflecting back on her decisions in being Jeong-ae's friend.

As a graphic novel, it shows more clearly how Pearl lives her life down to the dark and gritty parts. It is not a pretty book, as it is not meant to be, and the scratchiness of the art really reflects on the struggles Pearl and Jeong-ae go through, even when they do not realize it themselves. If you are interested in getting an experience of South Korea during the 1990s as a high schooler, this might give you a little insight. Due to the darker nature of the story, it requires a patience and understanding because as a reader, you will likely get frustrated at Pearl's decisions with some empathy. Bad Friends is best suited for adult readers due to the content.
Profile Image for Francis Thibeault.
1,056 reviews25 followers
April 20, 2017
En Corée, une jeune fille pris à fumer une cigarette est très mal vu par son entourage. Cette mauvaise perception hantera le personnage principal, Jin-joo, dans ce flash-back jeunesse qui confrontera l'auteure à ses cicatrices du passé. Avec violence (qui ne resteront jamais impunies), Ancco nous montre ici un pays rongé par la pauvreté, au système d'éducation très conservateur hébergeant des bordels partout à la ronde. L'on se prend rapidement à l'intrigue, mais l'on sent des fois qu'un détail mous a échappé entre deux cases. Malgré cela, l'on s'éprend facilement des personnage, et on leur souhaiterait un meilleur sort à chaque page. Bref, une bonne lecture pour ceux et celles qui s'intéresse aux conditions des femmes, à la maltraitance conjugale et familiale et au récit d'émancipation de l'enfance à l'âge adulte.
Profile Image for kerrycat.
1,848 reviews
October 16, 2018
absolutely unbelievable - the acceptance of abuse in this culture (for whatever reason) is unbelievable. the beatings at home are one thing, but the teachers, authorities, and the men (complete strangers) beating on girls as if they have every right to do so, and no one offers to help? I seriously just shook my head as I read this. the expressiveness of the girls' faces is really exceptional and conveys exactly their fears, sorrow, and ultimately acceptance, which is so sad.
Profile Image for Pres.
95 reviews
November 23, 2018
This graphic novel made me a little depressed because of the subject matter but the art is superb. The inkiness reflects the dark times that Pearl goes through in her adolescence. There’s a lot of self-introspection that goes on, and a lot of it has to do with Pearl’s childhood friend, with whom she had dreams. The adults in this book are awful, thinking that violence will rehabilitate a child’s bad behaviour. Personally, I think that Pearl just needed someone to be kind to her.
Profile Image for Karl .
459 reviews11 followers
February 13, 2019
I read this in one sitting. A harrowing tale of violence, abuse, pain, and turmoil. Not sure I could really find a silver lining other than the resilience of Pearl to overcome these multitude levels of abuse. Be prepared for brutal and stark cartooning mixed with haunting, almost distant artwork. The kind of portrayal that makes child abuse common. Powerful
Profile Image for tinaathena.
336 reviews6 followers
January 26, 2019
Seemingly flawless translation. The foreground details were so well done that they felt like my own memories. The crude faces really added to the horror of some of the people's actions. The plain storytelling made this all the more bleak.
January 9, 2022
randomly checked this out from the library because the art looked cool so I was not expecting the Difficult Things it deals with! Read it in one sitting! I think I need to go for a walk!
Profile Image for Annie L.
507 reviews
January 10, 2023
Ouf! J'ai trouvé difficile de nombreux passages de cette bd. Beaucoup de violence. J'aurais pris les filles pour les mettre à l'abri à de nombreuses reprises.
Profile Image for Carrian.
85 reviews
May 5, 2019
I didnt really like it. Maybe something's were lost in translation? Not for me.
Profile Image for More Bedside Books.
211 reviews4 followers
February 7, 2019
Friendships formed for specific points of our lives, whether dissolving as easily as they arose or, ending in regrettable ways always add something to our lives, sometimes lingering well beyond our last encounter. The Korean comic Bad Friends by Ancco charts a circuitous path from the forged friendship of two teenagers Pearl and Jeong-Ae together as classmates, delinquents, runaways and hostesses, to eventual sudden separation.

Pearl grows up in an environment where abuse is around every corner, in relationships, at school and home, affected as well by the Asian financial crisis hitting South Korea in the late 90s. She smokes, drinks, stays out late and has a group of friends from questionable backgrounds, so called bad friends. In this context things like having an intact nuclear family can be thought of as fortune or, a source of shame and beatings must mean there is at least some sort of consideration given to you. In such a situation you can wildly rebel, or you can get smart. Pearl survives and gets out. Her closest friend more experienced, pragmatic and seemingly adaptable Jeong-Ae does not escape. Painfully, Pearl still more than a decade removed tries to find the reasons why and if anything might have changed the outcome.

Ancco is an artist that has already received acclaim in her native South Korea as well as overseas, the Prix Révélation only one award in recognition of her talent. Bad Friends translated to English by Janet Hong published in the fall of 2018 introduces her work to new readers, the critical reception appearing to be similar. It’s easy to see why in the nonchalant yet brutal manner of this graphic novel. I do not choose to say brutal lightly with content warnings for domestic violence, verbal and physical abuse by teachers and students, sex work, sexual abuse and assault. Yet, there is something despite the horror on page after page and dark ink filling pages that threatens to swell and swallow its characters that is instead buoyant like Pearl herself. One reviewer on the back-cover states “You’ll find a piece of yourself in this book.” Indeed. The reader could find themselves in the same quiet moments at night, having much to think on. Hopefully, with similar distance and perspective as its adult protagonist looking back.
Profile Image for Jeanette Paak.
22 reviews
January 16, 2019
I went to the bookstore just to browse and found this one. I didn’t know what to expect but man I left there with feeling...a lot of feelings.

The story takes place in Korea and the narrator/main character (Pearl) mainly focuses and talks about her best friend (Jeong-ae) from high school.
Jeong-ae has an abusive alcoholic father and a mother who is never home. She has seen and dealt with the worse kind of abuse.
She introduces Pearl to her messy world and they run away together for one night. Andddd so and so happens. I’m not gunna ruin it.

It’s just so sad. Pearl is naive and pure, and she constantly worries about Jeong-ae’s well being. Jeong-ae is tough and she convinces herself that she knows how to take care of herself. She also looks after Pearl in the best way she knows how to. She has good intentions but goes about it in a terrible way. I feel like when they’re together they are in their own world trying to tune everything out. Omg I’m going to cry now.

The illustrations in this book really set the mood for this dark story. But I do have to admit the characters look too similar (which is so annoying cuz they’re Korean and I don’t want this to feed into people’s mind that all Asians look alike because bitch no we dont!). If you don’t focus too much on whose who at first and focus on the story, it eventually falls into place. I feel weird saying I love this graphic novel cuz it’s so depressing but hey I thrive on sad things. It really did make me feel something.
Profile Image for Hollowspine.
1,422 reviews31 followers
April 30, 2019
The stark, often monotone, drawings reflect the brutal realities faced by main character, Pearl, in this graphic novel depicting life in 1990's South Korea. Pearl seems at first a typical child, but after she endures abuse at home and at school she turns to the one place she feels welcomed and normal, the 'bad girls' crowd at school. Soon she and her best friend are running away and trying to make a life for themselves, though they are still only teenagers with no real options.

The story is told by an older Pearl, now in relative safety and security, reflecting on her past and thinking about her friends from that time. She wonders what became of them, are they, like her now secure in a life of their own making, or are they still stuck in that world where brutal beatings, and bare survival is the only choice.

I took the title to mean that her friends may have been labelled bad, but unlike the adults in the world, the 'bad' friends watched out for Pearl and cared about what was happening with her, even if, in the end they are unable to do anything about it.
Profile Image for Shelby Criswell.
Author 13 books23 followers
February 24, 2021
*Big time trigger warning for depictions of violence and s*xual abuse!!

The storytelling is a bit all over the place, but that's how it feels when you're in the thick of a traumatic phase in your life so I can't totally blame the author. All of the characters feel incredibly real to me. Well worth a read if you can stomach dark and hard imagery of real life shittiness.
Profile Image for Romany.
673 reviews
December 16, 2018
I don’t think I’ve read anything like this before. Growing up in Korea, two girls have terrible early lives. They find solace in each other sometimes. At other times... not so much.
11 reviews
November 5, 2020
An emotional coming to age story of remembering the good times in an otherwise grimey and blemished past. Sometimes, life brings us to strange and unexpected places and we lose those who we never imagined we would. Moody, bleak, but stylistic because of it. Decent read.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 110 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.