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An Introduction to Korean Webtoons

Webtoons, also known as Korean “webcomics,” have gained global popularity. With the major accomplishment of high-speed Internet in South Korea, it has given artists and storytellers an avenue to share their creativity. Here is an introduction to Korean webtoons. 

What are Korean Webtoons?

 

Webtoon is the conjunction of “web” and “cartoon.” As the name suggests, webtoons live online. These digital comics range in genres and drawing styles. In short, webtoons are colored comics formatted in a vertical layout and scroll designed specifically for smartphones and tablets. While these webcomics are originally in Korean, the authors can translate these digital comics into other languages if the Korean webtoon is popular enough globally. 

How did Webtoons Get so Popular?

The soaring popularity of Korean webtoons wouldn’t have been possible without the advancement of the Internet and technology in South Korea. With everything at your fingertip, reading should be at a click of a button. “Snack culture” can also explain the phenomenon. “Snack culture” is described to be a phase that South Korea, and many parts of the developing world, have moved into. People are looking for quick bites of entertainment. Throughout the course of a busy day, people often don’t have time to sit down and watch a movie or read a book. But they might have time to scroll through a chapter of a webtoon while they’re waiting for the bus or subway.

Another positive attribute of webtoon is the convenient accessibility between content creators and the audience. Similar to streaming services like Youtube, webtoon platforms generate interactions by having a comment section at the end of every chapter. It’s an easy way for artists to read feedback and support.  

The popularity of webtoons has made it possible for those stories to come to life in other forms of media. Korean drama adaptations of popular webtoons have become a trending genre in South Korean entertainment. Oftentimes, the audience discovers webtoons because of these adaptations. 

The Webtoon Industry

Artists published stories in print before the advent of the Internet. However, as South Korea made tremendous progress in technology and the world wide web, the shift to online reading consumption was necessary. The switch also eliminated the time and cost of paper-printing and it was an effective way to bring in international readers. The first official webtoon came out in 2000. At the beginning of its development, webtoons were published by artists rather than major publications. However, as the demand for webtoons increased, companies jumped on the bandwagon to endorse webtoons to gain more traffic to their websites. While webtoons are available for free on major viewing sites like LINE Webtoon, companies pay the artists/authors to update the stories once or twice a week. Webtoon artists, also known in Korean as manhwa-ga, can reach the level of fame of celebrities. 

To give you an idea of how big the webtoon industry is, LINE Webtoon, owned by Naver, has a daily readership of 10 million people. The stories on LINE Webtoon are free to users. However, many users pay a subscription to read chapters the day artists update the chapter. LINE offers a monthly payment of $2,000 for their starting artists with the potential of earning more through readerships and ad revenue. Some artists can earn $80,000 a month due to the popularity of their comics. According to a study done by Ji Hyeon Kim, the webtoon industry is worth $368 million USD in 2019 and is expected to exponentially increase over the next few years.

Webtoons vs. Manga vs. American Comics

As mentioned above, webtoons have a vertical layout and they are often colorful. Artists can include multimedia like a soundtrack to the chapters to build the atmosphere. 

Manga is the umbrella term for Japanese graphic novels and comic books. These comics are almost entirely in black and white. Traditional printed manga is read from right to left on the page. It is the same way if you read manga on your phone or tablet. Similar to webtoons, manga are released on a weekly basis in magazines or online. However, manga artists compile their chapters to be published in volumes. This happens typically with popular manga. Dedicated fans will collect all the volumes of their favorite manga. Also similar to webtoons, there are many adaptations of manga, like anime, live-action TV shows, and movies. Some manga have a long lifespan. The wildly popular series One Piece currently has 1000 chapters and is expected to continue for a few more years. 

Manga PanelAmerican comics are similar to webtoons in that they have color. Readers can read the comic from left to right on the page. They are published in paperback. Advent fans also like to collect physical copies, which is a normal practice in the fandom. In comparison to both webtoons and manga, American comics are dialogue-heavy with very detailed illustrations. The chapters and storylines of American comics are usually shorter than webtoons and manga. However, popular series can have a long lifespan. For example, stories from Marvel and DC can have several hundred chapters. Many adaptations of American comics are related to superheroes, like Captain America or Batman. 

Comic PanelThe Future of Korean Webtoons

Let's PlayWhat fans most enjoy about Korean webcomics is the simplicity of the stories and the beautiful artwork each chapter presents. With an array of genres and storylines, fans can relate to almost every webtoon that’s out there. In 2020, the most popular webtoon was “Let’s Play,” a modern-day love story between two gamers. As more fans from around the world discover the Korean culture and Korean webtoons, we can expect more artists to take advantage and create compelling stories. And with the rise in Korean drama adaptations, the webtoon industry will only continue to expand.

This has been an introduction to Korean webtoons. Be on the lookout for more webtoon content. 

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