Returned as the Duke

Alt title: Hoegwihaetdeoni Gongjak

Ch: 60+
2022 - ?
3.476 out of 5 from 418 votes
Rank #24,502
Returned as the Duke

Consumed by the flames of a burning castle, an aged butler is reincarnated as the younger version of his incompetent master, Duke Aaron of Brahn. Suddenly finding himself in a position of real power, equipped with his past expertise in estate management, the “new” duke sets out to rule Brahn the “right” way. Will the young Duke Aaron be able to save Brahn and its people from destruction at the hands of his uncle, the evil Emperor Zeron? How will he balance being an effective leader with the ruthlessness required to survive? Only time will tell!

Source: Tapas

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The butler of Duke Aaron has watched for years as the people of the territory starved because of the inactivity of their banished duke. When the King betrays a promise to leave that territory alone, the butler ends up in the body of the years younger duke and is determined to rule better. My review of this is going to be really harsh because I was very much not a fan of this manhwa. Despite some of the things I've heard that the MC is clever, or there's no other stories that do territory building like this (not true, it's been a while since I've read them, but I'd say that "The Greatest Estate Developer," "Max Level Hero Returns," and "Solo Bug Player" are all better than this,) it still doesn't mean that the story is executed well. *Vague spoilers* The story may have had potential, but the actual pacing of the story removes all suspense. There is no explanation of why the body change or time change happens, which might not be necessary, but the MC never even questions it. Every time the MC encounters a problem, the plot hands over a perfect solution. Need muscle? Here. Need health? Here. Need a fairy godmother? More people? Here. There's no sense of tension or concern that anything could go wrong. The only thing keeping the story going is that they introduce new information right at the end of some chapters, which makes people curious of how that will play out. There may be curiosity, but there is a complete lack of suspense. The butler-duke. Maybe twice the "clever" MC makes a decision of his own, but much of the time, the plot or "godmother" (there isn't one, I just feel like that's the purpose of that character) conveniently brings him what he needs. When the MC does make a decision, it feels very cruel because the story doesn't put any emotional or moral weight on it. MC will blatantly extort or enslave people with tricks or traps, and someone could say he's doing it for "the good of his people," but because we never see him struggle over the moral implications of his choices, it feels less like he's doing it "for his people" and more like he doesn't care at all or have any moral compass guiding him. I don't care if slavery "used to be a thing so it's more realistic." We've moved past that, and if you're gonne bring up slavery, at least make it a discussion point for the characters or readers. Instead, nobody brings it up, and the MC never even mentions that he's doing this "for the people." He mentions starvation in passing and wonders at the inactivity of Duke Aaron, but because he has no personality and never shows emotions, I find it hard to believe that he actually cares about these people specifically. I've been told he cares, but I don't see it. Even with people who are not called slaves and are benefitting off of their deal with the MC, his attitude towards them is still that he's going to juice them for all they're worth. He doesn't treat them like equals in an agreement, he only gives them the minimun of what they want to the point that he can take from them everything he wants. He cares for the people he's using only in the capacity of how useful they are, and I barely see him do a good turn for his citizens aside from "spend all the money to feed them and keep the city clean." He never personally interacts with them or shows that he cares about the life of more than one person.  The story spends no time developing any of the other characters, either. Everyone accepts the duke's abrupt personality change without batting an eyelash or questioning it. The story doesn't even acknowledge a personality change happened. MC never has to consider how he should be acting to avoid suspicion, and there's no gaps in MC's knowledge of the duke's inner life because he read the duke's perfectly detailed diary (aside from one detail that wasn't even wrong, just old.) The characters are so flat, they have no personality, and are basically only there as entities to be moved as the plot needs. Every one of them could be easily identified by a starter pack of fantasy stereotypes: the grumpy greedy one, the schemeing one, the reckless firepower. 20 chapters may be a short amount of time to establish personality, but I don't even get the sense that they're trying to. Strong characters are the most important thing for me to become emotionally invested in a story, and I couldn't care less about these people. The art is probably the best part of this manhwa. The backgrounds don't distract from what's going on, the characters are clean and consistant, and it has really nice shading. (Except for the really fancy armor. Zero practicality or room for shoulder mobility.) Overall decent, but not nearly pretty enough to carry the story. Yes, some of my problems with this manhwa are because I dislike the actions taken, and some of the other problems also occur in the stories I mentioned in the beginning, but I feel like those other ones have stronger development in other areas, so the things I pointed out become less of a problem for overall story cohesion. Feel free to discuss with me, I could have missed something.

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