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09/24/2016 Special > Special


Korean Cartoons Online, the Webtoon

Gaining Popularity Abroad


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First driven by the spread of K-pop and K-drama, the Korean Wave is flourishing with growing popularity on the global stage. Amidst these forms of Korean culture, another emerging content prominent in Korea is entering the stage, the Webtoon: South Korean webcomics or manhwa that are published online. Originally beginning as a domestic wave, it has now ripened to be a global phenomenon, carried by the Internet and the social media. What could have otherwise been a simple means of entertainment functions not only as a time killer but also as a lesson giver and cultural promoter of South Korea.


From Paper to Screen


Countless cartoonists have been writing and publishing comic books since several decades ago, so the idea of comics is not new. However, a new idea of comics has been on the rise since its advent. Adjusting to the contemporary circumstances, where computers and smartphones are easy to find, webtoons are made accessible online.


Webtoon was first introduced in Korea by the Korean web portal Daum in 2003 and in the following year by Naver. Released regularly on a weekly basis on each portal, most webtoon serials are available for free. In 2014, Naver and Daum published more than 520 and 430 webtoons, respectively. While it is true that webtoons are geared towards and are mostly fueled by an army of a younger audience, they often appeal to a wider range of age.


Each webtoon has its own genre, plot, drawing style, and length depending on the cartoonist, meaning that there are no standards to the ideals of a webtoon. This makes it even more appealing to different types of people. Even more interestingly, webtoons are not produced by professionals but by laypersons who have outstanding drawing skills and creativity to capture people’s attention. Thus, webtoons are rated by the viewers, and the rank is determined by their popularity.


With the predominance of smartphones, webtoons, on top of being free of charge, became even more easily accessible to people with the help of the gadget. Anyone with a smartphone has free access to hundreds of webtoons with just a few touches on their screen. The convenience brought about by technology elevated the popularity of webtoons even reaching out abroad. Ironically, some of the most popular webtoons are printed into hard copies for sale.


Webtoons on each portal are organized in weekly arrangements and ranked by popularity. Photo courtesy of
▲Webtoons on each portal are organized in weekly arrangements and ranked by popularity. (Photo courtesy of Naver)


There are several websites, either legitimate or illegitimate, that translate webtoons into English for non-Korean readers abroad. Naver has published a website dedicated to offering some of their top-rated webtoons in English. Some of the top-rated webtoons in English are “Siren’s Lament,” “Tower of God,” “Orange Marmalade,” and “Noblesse,” each recording a rating of 9.73, 9.63, 9.51, and 9.66 out of 10, respectively.


Webtoons as Message Conveyers


Instead of merely being an entertaining time killer, some webtoons have inspiring lessons and messages to be grasped by the audience. For instance, the webtoons “SangJoongHa” by Han and “Golden Spoon” by HD3 have similar plots: the main characters become troubled by the life-changing dilemma that compel them to choose between family and money. Although the two webtoons still have not reached their ends yet, the point the authors are trying to get across is this: money is not the most important thing in life and happiness is not only derived from wealth.


This picture is featuring main characters of some of the top-rated webtoons published by Naver.Photo courtesy of
▲This picture is featuring main characters of some of the top-rated webtoons published by Naver (Photo courtesy of Naver)


In the former webtoon “SangJoongHa”, triplet brothers betray, fight, and eventually kill one another over matters of money, specifically to take over the place of the billionaire’s son. On a similar note, the latter story, “Golden Spoon,” features a young boy who intentionally chose to switch his and his friend’s parents because he was born into a poor family, while his friend was enjoying an affluent life under a prosperous father. In both webtoons, the authors intend to allow the readers to sense that the main characters’ actions and choices were not advisable. As these two exemplary works show, a lot of webtoons have morals and messages to convey, which could also be another attraction for more readers.


With its popularity soaring through the roof, webtoons clearly show the potential of expanding the size of its industry as big as that of K-pop and K-drama. They are so prevalent and popular that it became not only a part of Korean culture but also the cultural promoter of the country that attracts more and more viewers as time goes by.


The graph shows the increasing value of webtoonmarket each year. Photo courtesty of
▲The graph shows the increasing value of webtoon market each year.  (Photo courtesty of Joongang Daily)



Jeon Chae-yun

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