Encyclopedia

What are webtoons?

Webtoons are online South Korean digital comics. The majority of webtoons are free and written by independent authors. Unlike conventional comics, panels in webtoons scroll from top to bottom. All pages of a single chapter are displayed on the same webpage. There are little to no title covers in webtoons, which tend to be less text-heavy and focus more on imagery. Users can access their Webtoon account through their personal computers or mobile devices. They can opt to subscribe to premium features, such as early chapter access or unlimited chapter reading. Webtoon authors use modern technology to draw efficiently, add interactive features, and publish stories easily. Some of the popular webtoons from the past years include Marine Blues, Love Story, The Great Catsby, The God of High School, Noblesse, Dr. Frost, Cheese in the Trap, and Tower of God.

 

Etymology

Webtoon (웹툰) is a portmanteau of 웹 (web) and 카툰 (cartoon). The term “webtoon” was coined on August 8, 2000, by Chollian (천리안),  one of South Korea’s earliest – and now-defunct – Internet service engines.

 

A Brief History

Manhwa has a very long history and tremendous significance in South Korea. It started during the 1910s as part of South Korean print media when subjects evolved from political cartoons to pure entertainment. Manhwa genres then diversified to accommodate different kinds of readers. Authorities would scrutinize manhwa for its contents. However, manhwa remained popular due to its entertainment value—some of the significant influences of manhwa art include western comics and Japanese manga.

Manhwa became digital at the advent of the global Internet. They were uploaded for free in the early 2000s. The South Korean economic collapse and stigma against manhwa resulted in authors trying a new publishing platform.

One of the first web services that provided webtoons was Chollian. They released their first webtoons through Chollian Webtoons. Most webtoons from that era have horizontal or landscape layout since they were displayed on personal computers. Early webtoon stories were only slice-of-life.

The availability of webtoons on the Internet propelled its popularity. Other South Korean portals such as Daum (currently named Kakao) and Naver followed suit by launching their very own webtoon portals. It increased their profits and web traffic as fans read their webtoons. At the same time, authors began to expand into typical comic or manga genres.

South Korean authors like Kang Full launched personal webtoons. Before, he had difficulty finding publishers to approve his manhwa. He later received a deal with Daum after the success of his webtoons site.

In the 2010s, smartphones became popular worldwide. It also became affordable for consumers. According to the Pew Research Center in 2019, about 95% of adults are current smartphone users. Smartphones are capable of processing complex applications, as well as displaying webtoons.

Webtoons represent one of modern South Korean subcultures, called “snack culture” (스낵컬처). Snack culture is the quick gratifying consumption of mobile media on the go. It takes between 30 seconds to 15 minutes for consumers to read webtoons, watch K-Drama, listen to music, or check news updates. Webtoons became symbolic of snack culture in South Korea.

 

Modern Usage

Western authors eventually began to produce webtoons too. The expansion of webtoons to the Western market opened opportunities for collaboration between artists and authors. Webtoons also encourage amateur writers to self-publish original stories. Technology is also a factor that contributed to the improvement of the production of webtoons. Production costs, salary, and publishing rights are alleviated thanks to the accommodating business plan of webtoons. South Korean webtoons became a global phenomenon as well due to the prevalence of mobile devices.

 

References:

Acuna, Kirsten. “Millions in Korea are obsessed with these revolutionary comics — now they’re going global”. Business Insider,https://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-webtoons-2016-2, 12 February 2016, Retrieved 18 April 2020.

Chan-Hwi Seo, 키워드 오덕학. Seoul: Thought Flight. P. 19. ISBN 9791187708117., 2017.

Ji Hyeon Yun, “What is Webtoon?” Medium, https://medium.com/mrcomics/what-is-webtoon-4926929b20d8, 30 August, 2019, Retrieved 18 April 2020.

Petersen, Robert S., Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels: A History of Graphic Narratives. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313363306., 2011.

Qui, Shelley. “Manhwa”. Professor LatinX. https://professorlatinx.osu.edu/comics/manhwa/, Retrieved 18 April 2020.

Russell, Mark James. Pop Goes Korea: Behind the Revolution in Movies, Music, and Internet Culture. Stone Bridge Press. ISBN 978-1-61172-542-1., 20 October 2012.

Wiggers, Kyle, “Pew: Smartphone penetration ranges from 24% in India to 95% in South Korea” VentureBeat, https://venturebeat.com/2019/02/05/pew-south-korea-has-the-worlds-highest-smartphone-ownership-rate/, 05 Febuary 2019, Retrieved 18 April 2020.

 

About Manga Planet: Read manga, support artists

In 2012, Manga Planet started as a joint project between Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. and FANTASISTA, INC. to research and explore the ways manga is read throughout the world. Aiming to bring new manga to fans from all over the world and support artists and the industry, Manga Planet pushes for affordability and access to manga through a subscription-based service.

Readers who subscribe to Manga Planet and pay a flat monthly fee of $6.99 will have access to our expanding library of English-language manga. To subscribe, please go to read.mangaplanet.com and create an account. More information is in our guide.

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