Updated: Nov 20, 2021
The first season of Yumi's Cells is a 14-episode slice-of-life romantic drama/comedy that narrates the daily life of Kim Yu-mi (Kim Go-eun) through the cute “cells” in her brain looking after her. The first k-drama to combine live action and 3D animation, it is adapted from the eponymous webtoon written and drawn by Lee Dong-gun. Yumi’s Cells boasts of 3.2 billion cumulative views on Naver’s WEBTOON.
A lonely 32-year-old Kim Yu-mi (Kim Go-eun, Goblin, The King: Eternal Monarch) devotes so much of her time and talent at work that she gets promoted to Assistant Accounting Manager at Daehan Noodles. She reluctantly goes on a date for the first time in three years. Certain “frog-related” incidents bring her closer to Goo Woong (Ahn Bo-hyun, Itaewon Class, My Name), a game developer who has set up his own studio with his friends. Yu-mi and Woong’s relationship strengthens over time, but is constantly threatened by work demands, an obnoxious ex, and a manipulative friend, among others.
How Yu-mi arrives at decisions or why she behaves a certain way is shown through her adorable cells, mostly dressed in blue hooded onesies. Living in her brain, a cell may oversee emotions (ex. Love, Emotion, and Lust Cells), life aspects (ex. Reason and Hunger Cells), or skills (ex. Writing and Housekeeping Cells). Ultimately, all the cells work together or debate against each other to care for Yu-mi's well-being.
“Exaggeratedly realistic,” “traumatic flashbacks,” and “hard relate”—these are some of the common viewer reactions to the plot, which focuses on the ordinary and the specific. In fact, dating life scenes are flipped open like the pages of Yumi’s Encyclopedia that many can read and relate to—the awkwardness of the first meeting, struggles with income inequality between partners, and micro-cracks within the relationship that grow unnoticed over time.
A "cell" in Yumi's Cells is not exactly the smallest functional unit of a living thing (flashback to biology class!), as personified by Red Blood Cell in the 2018 anime Cells at Work!. He or she is also not limited to the five emotions in the 2015 animated film Inside Out. As mentioned above in the plot, there is also a dedicated cell for an aspect of life or a skill set. Together, the cells offer a multi-dimensional glimpse into one's inner complexities. For example, how do cells arrive at a decision? Like a programmer, Reason Cell collects input from other relevant cells and uses an algorithm to decide Woong’s next action. Sometimes, a single cell overpowers the rest, such as when Emotion Cell takes over Yumi's speech function. The allegory is frighteningly spot on—and endearing at the same time—such as Woong's Love Cell's clever but sincere attempt to enter Yumi's brain (or is it her heart?) despite the tight security.
While no relationship could ever be perfect, the main leads both grow as their love flourishes. Yu-mi's journey as she learns to receive love and confidently stand up for herself and Woong is a remarkable healing process, fittingly explained by her cells. The usual "bear-mode" Woong manages to call out his female friend and co-worker, whose micro-aggressions directed toward Yu-mi could have continued under the guise of deniability.
There are many funny moments between Yu-mi and Woong, but the animation provides even greater comedic relief. The voice actors, especially those of Hunger (Lee Jang-woon) and Lust (Ahn Young-mi) Cells, have good comedic timing. This, blended with Locus Corporation's high-quality animation and the seamless animation-live-action transition, make the k-drama a delightful watch.
Yumi’s Cells is proof that extreme plot twists and evil villains are not needed to make a compelling story. It shows that the real drama happens inside as one grapples with life’s daily challenges—from dealing with late-night cravings to ultimately choosing to love oneself.
—With inputs from Tteokbokki Fairy
Skip if: You do not want to be triggered by such realism. Some scenes are too risqué to watch with family members (The content is for viewers 13 years old and above).