Many of you that are interested in Korean culture may have listened to K-pop, or watched K-dramas. The popularity of these forms of Korean culture in the global stage has been dubbed as “Hallyu,” or the “Korean wave.” Amidst the popularity of these forms of Korean culture, I would like to introduce another noteworthy content prominent in Korea. Webtoons, free-to-view comics distributed online, are quite popular in Korea. These webtoons are serviced by different sources, but most notably by Korean portal websites such as Naver and Daum. It is true that these cartoons are geared towards a younger audience, however, the age range of the viewers of these webtoons do vary. The drawing styles of webtoons also vary cartoonist by cartoonist: webtoons do not have a standard. The only factor that matters is viewers’ popularity. Some attract viewers with high drawing quality, while others do with an intricate story-line, or for the very best, even both. Some Webtoons attract viewers solely based on its absurdity or silliness. Overall webtoons are an interesting cultural content that uniquely differentiates itself from Korean dramas or Korean movies.
Webtoons have many genres. Like movies, webtoons have many genres that appeal to different types of people. Comedy, romance, action or fantasy, webtoons come in diverse forms: there will be a webtoon that will appeal to your interests! There are even extreme genres that require adult verification, which some of them seem to be horror webtoons. Speaking of horror webtoons, if you would like a good scare, I would recommend the Bongcheon-Dong Ghost (english version). I would warn you, however, that it is not for the faint-hearted. It has been infamous in Korea back in 2011 for its scariness, and even gained attention outside of Korea for the same reason. Have your sound on for full viewing pleasure!
Webtoons are published serially. The story lines of Webtoons are developed by publishing episodes, most often in a weekly basis. For example, a cartoonist that publishes an episode each Monday will continuously publish on a Monday. This means that new chapters will always be published on a specific day(s) of the week, unless due to circumstances that prevent the cartoonist from doing so. Some webtoons continuously develop a story through the chapters, while others produce standalone chapters. Most cartoonists develop the story of the webtoon through the episode progression; therefore, it is typical for webtoons to span for years as the cartoonists complete their story-line, which is why following webtoons require dedication and patience. For example, a popular Naver Webtoon, Tower of God, is ongoing for more than 6 years!
Webtoons can be drawn by anyone, well almost. Many webtoon cartoonists are not professionals, but amateurs who have the drawing skills and creativity to produce these comics of high quality. In the case of Naver Webtoons, the website allows anyone with a Naver account to upload their cartoons to be rated by the viewers. These amateur cartoons are then rated by popularity, and if they gain enough following, Naver offers them a spot in their weekly webtoon line-up. They would then be paid by Naver for their webtoons. The rise to being a paid webtoon cartoonist is not easy, and only the best select-few are able to solely rely on webtoon publishing for income. However, popular Webtoon Cartoonists are very popular in Korea, with some even being aired on television.
Webtoons are dependent on popularity. Webtoons are ranked by views, and many popular webtoons have their own loyal fan base. Since webtoons are published in a weekly basis, it is important to have a fan base that will dedicate their time every week for these comics. With popularity also comes financial success. Webtoon cartoonists are paid based on the popularity of their webtoons. Popular webtoon cartoonists receive advertisement contracts as supplementary income. Some of the most popular webtoons sell as hard copies or even air as animated versions, providing additional income for the cartoonists. Many popular cartoonists also receive ad revenue by drawing advertisements as well.
Webtoons still lack the large following and attention other Korean culture such as the likes of K-Pop and K-Drama receive. However, the webtoon market is not only growing in Korea, but also starting to reach abroad. There are many websites, legitimate and illegitimate, that translate Korean webtoons for English viewers. Naver has published a website dedicated to English translations of some of their popular webtoons. Korean webtoons were also showcased in the 2013 Frankfurt Book Fair. Evidence suggests that the Korean Webtoon industry has the potential to grow like K-Pop and K-Drama did.
Interested? Here are some of the websites to check out the most popular webtoons:
Naver Webtoon (English)– This is a dedicated website with numerous other languages (unofficial translations) as well.