The world has all but ended, and the only way to escape the continual pain and misery of surviving while still connecting with others is a virtual reality called L.i.F.e. But sometimes L.i.F.e can be a pretty crazy, well, life. And with so many virtual expenses and so much desperation to stay in touch and live well, it’s hard for programming genius Kleya (also known as “Kat”) to keep herself from slipping into the forbiddon realm of hacking.

That’s where creator-owned web comic “Not A Villain” finds us, in a world where the virtual world has replaced the real one. The dangers are complex. There are the expected frustrations of living online, but also the very real danger of wasting away behind the keyboard while losing yourself in L.i.F.e.

The comic has a rough start, and at times it can get really hard to tell which level of reality the action takes place in. Over all, though “Not A Villain” has lately been gaining a surprising amount of traction for an independent web comic, and it’s no wonder. Author Aneeka’s characters are complex and vivid, the plot is both amusing and suspenseful, and the details are well thought out. The world is much more believable than I was expecting when I first started reading it. The characters all have recognizable strengths and weaknesses that show in even the most minute of details–Kleya, the main character, comes out with a laughably ridiculous self-designed avatar because she is a believably bad artist, and her struggles with hacking throughout the comic are very believable and in line with her character.

More than that, though, is how well kept the side details are. Even minor characters have rounded and distinct personalities, and the whole system of life in L.i.F.e. is completely thought out.

Here’s how it all works: it’s free to join L.i.F.e., but if you want to be a full-fledged citizen you’ll have to pay. L.i.F.e. has its own currency and charges for just about everything, from changing your Avatar’s outfit to deciding where to “nap,” or log out. If you’re a good enough artist, you can draw and submit your own Avatar, but it must be anatomically correct enough to work with the system. In addition to getting an avatar, users can also sign up to “watch” others’ avatars. Popularity matters also–the more popular you are and the more people are “watching” you, the higher status you can receive in L.i.F.e. and the more of L.i.F.e.’s currency you can earn to do more things.

And then there’s the Game. The Game is the most popular source of entertainment around, and contestants must enter a series of fights in order to qualify. Super-hero style “specials” are allowed in these fights and that combined with popularity determine the winners of the fights.

The first book of Not A Villain is now in the process of getting printed, but the webcomic version is available online here, and gets updated every Tuesday and Friday. Even though it’s been growing for a while and there is a bit of catching up to do, Not a Villain is an addicting story definitely worth a read.