Webtoons are a part of pop culture and they are, more often than not, simply read for enjoyment. But one thing people don’t realize is that webtoons cross into fields that are not usually thought to be crossable. And in this case, it’s the academic field.
Although in recent years comics have come to be acknowledged as literary, there are still many who view them as non-literary. However, even without such a perception webcomics (much less webtoons) are already not often associated as literary (at least based on an American outlook)—and the literary is frequently connected to being academic or scholarly. Yet, I recently found that the stated case was not true, at least in certain situations.
When I was working on a scholarly research paper for one of my English literature classes, I came across a CFP on the topic of webcomics. A CFP is a “call for proposal” which solicits for scholars to submit short summaries on their research papers that follow certain requirements, such as word count and topic, for the chance to be accepted and published by the organizations/institutions whom had put forth the CFP.
You see, I myself had never thought webcomics, much less webtoons, could be academic before this encounter. Maybe it was because my university lacked an East Asian Studies department, but different from my university, back in 2015 Columbia University had an informational panel discussion on Korean comics for their East Asian Language and Cultures Department. Although it focused primarily on manhwas, the discussion also touched on webtoons. This goes to show how webtoons and its expansion into the academic field has been happening, despite my obliviousness to it.
Upon searching, I found that webtoons can be and are academic. I found scholarly articles that people had written, most having been published in the last 2-3 years. Based on my knowledge with literary research, 10 years is still considered fairly new. But that concerns articles on literary text that had been published physically and often ones that are decades old. Webtoons are, as its name states, published on the web. And the web itself, despite present common use, is obviously fairly new as viewed on a historical timeline. It tends to the idea that although there isn’t a current abundant source of academic material over webtoons, it’s just not out there yet. In a mere five years, technology and global influence can advance and spread drastically. The popular LINE Webtoon wasn’t even launched in the U.S. until 2014, which was just barely five years ago.
Webtoons aren’t even as popular in the U.S. as some would realize because it is still currently on the rise. Hence, another reason for the lack of American and English academic material. Referring back to my previous statement, when I say I found scholarly articles on webtoons, it is true, I did find scholarly articles written on and about webtoons—but they were rarely in English, or even by American scholars and writers.
The articles I found were usually by Korean or Indonesian writers or scholars, some articles even in their native languages. This is not a surprise as webtoons originated from South Korea and is highly popular there and similarly as popular in Indonesia. This popularity and interest in webtoons is something that is currently lacking in the U.S. Webtoons are popular to American readers, but only to a small niche. But what is seen in the cross between webtoons and the academic in the articles is something can be accomplished similarly in the American academic field, if not already currently being done.
Among the many articles I found, there was one on the useful application of webtoons to better learn English. There was another (an undergraduate thesis) titled “Onomatopoeic Words in Webtoon Siren’s Lament by Instantmiso” which focuses on the webtoon Siren’s Lament and then there was also a master’s thesis, “Reading Korean Popular Culture: The Webtoon as Form, Translation, and Critique of Everyday Life,” which analyzes the webtoon Annarasumanara. Both of these thesis critically engages with popular webtoons on a level that is done the same with popular classical literary text such as Shakespeare’s.
This all leads to the idea that is emphasized here on my blog: webtoons—they are more than just webcomics. Evident by the CFP and the recent academic articles that are being published, webtoons are traversing into the academic field, albeit mainly in other countries. Although soon enough, I believe, in the U.S. as well. Maybe one day, people will opt to write a scholarly essay over the webtoon Lore Olympus instead of the classic epic the Odyssey. Only time can tell.
Feature Image ©Tappytoon, ©LINE Webtoon, ©Spottoon, ©Tapas
“Korean Comics (Manhwa).” Youtube, uploaded by Columbia University, 4 May 2015, youtube.com/watch?v=L9Q8XTg2Mwc.
“Presentation: Webcomics and/as Digital Culture (2020 MLA Annual Convention).” Modern Language Association of America, 7 Feb. 2019, mla.confex.com/mla/2020/webprogrampreliminary/Paper8598.html.
Anwar, Desi. “Onomatopoeic Words in Webtoon Siren’s Lament by Instantmiso.” Digital Library UIN Sunan Gunang Djati Bandung, 26 Sept. 2018, digilib.uinsgd.ac.id/14343/. Accessed 9 May 2019.
Fatimah, Sitti, and Raulan. “Teaching Writing Narrtive Text By Using Webtoon Digital Comic to Senior High School Student.” Journal of English Language Teaching, vol. 7, no. 4, 2018, ejournal.unp.ac.id/index.php/jelt/article/view/101305/100595. Accessed 30 May 2019.
Jang, Wonho, & Jung Eun Song. “Webtoon as a New Korean Wave in the Process of Glocalization.” Kritika Kultura, vol. 29, 2017, pp. 168-187, journals.ateneo.edu/index.php/kk/article/view/KK2017.02908/2562. Accessed 31 May 2019.
Kim, Woon-Han, and Hyun-Jung Kim. “A Content Analysis of Webtoon Advertising: Focused on Narrative and Expressive Characteristics.” Journal of Digital Contents Society, vol. 18, no. 2, Digital Contents Society, Apr. 2017, pp. 293–301. doi:10.9728/dcs.2017.18.2.293. Accessed 31 May 2019.
Lee, Grayson F. “Reading Korean Popular Culture: The Webtoon as Form, Translation, and Critique of Everyday Life.” University of Toronto, 2017. ProQuest, search.proquest.com/docview/1993468299?accountid=12570. Accessed 30 May 2019.