Manhwa is a South Korean comic or printed cartoon. It utilizes a Western reading format where page arrangement is from left-to-right. Some of the subcategories are: sunjeong manhwa (romance stories for girls), sonyeon manhwa (for boys), and seongin manhwa (for adults). In the international context, it refers to South Korean comics or manga-inspired comic strips. Some of the popular titles for the past years are Lee Myung-jin’s Lights Out and Ragnarok, Hyung Min-woo’s Priest, Son Jeho and Lee Kwangsu’s Noblesse, Soonkki’s Cheese in the Trap, Koogi’s Killing Stalking, Jeon Geuk-jin and Kamaro’s The Breaker, Sini and Hyeono’s About Death, Lee Jong-hui’s Tower of God, and Yun Mi-kyung’s The Bride of the Water God.
“Manhwa” (만화) is a broad term on comics and even animated cartoons. It has the same linguistic meaning as the Japanese term “manga” (漫画) and the Chinese word “manhua” (漫画). The word originally came from China, which literally means “impromptu sketches.”
A Brief History
The first appearance of manhwa in South Korean print media was in the 1910s during the Japanese Occupation. Japanese language was integrated into South Korean society. South Korean cartoonists meanwhile criticized the Japanese colonizers with manhwa.
The usage of the term “manhwa” began during the 1920s when it shifted from politics to children’s cartoons and humorous illustrations. Its nature in the 1920s was satirical. Ahn Seokju was one of the earliest South Korean cartoonists, and his satire work Manmun Manhwa was printed in the newspaper Chosun Ilbo.
A manhwa-dedicated magazine called “manhwa segye” was produced as the genre developed further. New genres included romance, drama, and sports. Comics and cartoons returned in South Korean print media after its liberation from the Japanese Occupation in 1945. Korean cartoonist Kim Yong-hwan contributed English cartoons for Seoul Times.
Political manhwa re-emerged after the formation of the Republic of Korea in 1948. In that same year, Kim Yong-hwan launched South Korea’s first comic magazine Manhwa Haengjin. The first issue garnered controversy due to its inappropriate cover image. Manhwa Haengjin was immediately shut down by the government.
During the Korean war, manhwa was utilized for political propaganda aimed to boost the morale of the weary citizens. Its popularity and genre expanded after the Korean War from the 1950s up to the 60s. It was also the start of the authoritarian coup by General Park Chung-hee. The surge of manhwa in the 1960s led the government to censor such “harmful materials.” Genres expanded despite the heavy government censorship. Sunjeong manhwa became present at that time to attract female readers. The humorous comic genre myeongnyang or happy comics also gained prominence to counteract gritty ones. Western comics and pirated Japanese manga were the significant influences of South Korean manhwa.
In the 1990s, Korea lifted its boycott against Japanese media, which helped further influencing today’s art and styles of contemporary manhwa. It also eventually emerged in North Korea as well in the 1990s. North Korean counterpart has a strong political tone and superiority complex towards rival countries.
In the early 2000s, most manhwa was transferred online for free, due to the South Korean economic collapse at the end of the millennium, as well as the negative perception against it. Its availability online and the popularity of personal computers propelled its popularity overseas. South Korean search portal Naver launched LINE Webtoon, an online platform for distributing online manhwa.
The popularity of webtoons helped the propagation of manhwa to international readers. It also became a new form of publication for South Korean artists. Its unique pay model system allows authors to earn profits and royalties for their original creations. Successful works received live-action, film, and animated adaptations. Rom-com titles such as Full House and Goong were examples of successful adaptations that reached international popularity. Manhwa is no longer an obscure literary entertainment in South Korea but an entertaining literary media which fans can read them for free.
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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.