The Growing Influence of Webtoons and Why People Should Read Them

Comics are a visual and a literary art form. According the celebrated American comic artist Will Eisner, comics were “sequential art.” With the advancement of technology, print publications of comics have been taking digital forms. One of the leading form of comics today is webcomics. Within the area of webcomics is a specific type of comic that is growing in popularity: webtoons. Webtoons are generally digital Korean comics (read mostly on smartphones) but in recent years there has been a shift in what this category includes due to the glocalization of webtoons in the American market and culture. (For a more specific read on the term, check out What are “Webtoons”?).

After doing so well in Korea, online English webtoon platforms were launched in the U.S. in the early 2000s, but it was not until recently in the last few years that webtoons really took off and became popular. Similar to the manga boom which occurred years ago and it is still currently ongoing in the U.S., a webtoon boom is likewise happening in the comic industry, and a large part of this is an influence due to innovative technology, specifically smartphones, and the easily accessible internet. Webtoons have large roles at play in the U.S. and most are unaware of webtoons and their influence.

Last year, Netflix produced their first South Korean “Netflix Original” film series called Love Alarm and, unbeknownst to most people, it was an adaptation of a popular webtoon of the same name.

Even on social media, when people share snippets of art from a webtoon, many do not realize that what they had shared was part of a webtoon, not a meme. Figure 1. shows a graph of the Google Trend statistics on the word “webtoon” in the U.S. Interest in webtoons is clearly rising.

Vertical axis: Interest over time
Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means there was not enough data for this term.
© Google

Yet, somehow at the same time, webtoon is a topic many do not even know about. Perhaps “webtoon” is currently only popular under a small niche. Even if that is true, webtoon has permeated into parts of America. When one thinks of comics and America, they immediately think of DC comics and Marvel comics—which is not wrong. America is known for those comics. DC comics and Marvel comics are a huge part of the American comic industry, making up most of the comic sales. Even so, an interesting occurrence happened in 2018.

According to a study done by Jane Yeahin Pyo, Minji Jang, and Tae-Jin Yoon, “Lezhin Comics, a Korean webtoon platform, was reported to be ranked among the highest grossing mobile applications on U.S. Google Play in the first quarter of 2018, outpacing Marvel and DC Comics.” Lezhin Comics is not the only one making money though. WEBTOON, another webtoon platform, pulls in a lot of revenue as well.

Although WEBTOON is not as big as DC or Marvel, its growth has been progressing at a rate similar to popular social media platforms. According to Jeong-yeob Park, WEBTOON’s growth pattern is similar to Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter, which were slow at first—until firmly rooted. Therefore, as it is known with how those social media platforms have turned out, the projected outlook for WEBTOON (and perhaps other webtoon platforms as well) is one full of success and user engagement on par to those platforms. This makes investing in webtoons, on a business level, a good financial choice. However, the benefit of a webtoon investment goes beyond finances, as investing in it also creates cultural awareness and growth.

Many Americans consume English translated Korean webtoons. Those Korean webtoons are, more often than not, comics with Korean culture at its base. Stories will most likely be based on Korean culture, mannerisms, social structures, etc. As Americans with different backgrounds, reading Korean webtoons will build an awareness and connection with the Korean culture present in the webtoons. For example, if the webtoon is a historical one, readers will likely be given context that contain Korean historical facts. Cultural awareness with another culture may create cultural growth in one’s own culture. But this and a financial gain from webtoons are only small reasons as to why more people should be more aware and read webtoons. The biggest reason why webtoons should be read is that they fulfill personal enjoyment.

Webtoon stories are engaging with complex plots, contrary to a few beliefs that comics are inferior to other forms of literary works. There are even studies, critical scholarship, done on several webtoons. But along with a good story, personal enjoyment in webtoons come from the art. Most webtoon are aesthetically pleasing. Webtoon art is different from American comic art. They are stylized and full of color, one of the reasons why people like them.  The aesthetic style of webtoon art, in a way, has influenced American webcomic art. Take for example, Quimchee, the creator of the webtoon I Love Yoo. Despite being from Chicago, influenced by the Korean webtoon Cheese in the Trap, as well as other webtoons, she utilizes a style that is consistent with most Korean webtoons. But the point is that it is aesthetically pleasing to read. There are so many reasons to invest in webtoons. These, the possibility of financial gain, cultural awareness and growth, and personal enjoyment, are merely three. Therefore go further than simply being aware of webtoons—invest in it.

Feature Image © WEBTOON comic covers

Works Cited

Cho, Heekyoung. “The Webtoon: A New Form for Graphic Narrative.” The Comic Journal, 18 July 2016, tcj.com/the-webtoon-a-new-form-for-graphic-narrative. Accessed 3 Dec. 2019.

Google. “webtoons.” Google Trends, trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=today%205-y&geo=US&q=webtoon. Accessed 8 Dec. 2019.

Jang, Wonho and Jung Eun Song. “Webtoon as a New Korean Wave in the Process of Glocalization.” Kritika Kultura, no. 29, 2017, dx.doi.org/10.13185/KK2017.02908. Accessed 5 Dec. 2019.

Park, Jeong-yeob. “Webtoons: The next frontier in global mobile content.” Mirae Asset Daewoo Co., Ltd., 20 Sept. 2019, miraeassetdaewoo.com/bbs/download/2068162.pdf?attachmentId=2068162. Accessed 6 Dec. 2019.

Pyo, Jane Yeahin, Minji Jang, and Tae-Jin Yoon. “Dynamics Between Agents in the New Webtoon Ecosystem in Korea: Responses to Waves of Transmedia and Transnationalism.” International Journal of Communication, vol. 13, 2019, ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/download/10009/2650. Accessed 5 Dec. 2019.

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