Traditionally, the only exported entertainment mediums that rode the Hallyu wave were simply Korean Pop (K-Pop) and Korean Dramas (K-Drama). However, in recent years, another form of an entertainment medium is seen to be on the rise: webtoons. With its meteor popularity, it’s not surprising to see webtoons becoming part of the glocalisation of Korean cultural contents.
If you’re wondering how digitalised comics became the popularised webtoons we’ve come to know and love, let’s take a peek.
The Predecessor: Manhwa
Before one can start talking about digitalised comics, one needs to talk about its printed predecessor: manhwa. Manhwas are simply Korean comics published typically on print. Mostly printed in black and white, they were the counterpart to Japanese manga that is a cultural mover in its own right.
However, unlike their Japanese equivalent, manhwas are undervalued for several reasons. In hopes to emulate the success of Japanese mangas and products, Korean comic artists imitated their styles and stories. Instead of garnering attention and support, the audience didn’t look too fondly at the industry as they deemed it lacked originality and diverse stories.
The Catalyst: The Internet And Portal Sites
Webtoons changed this entire perception a few decades later, with the arrival of the Internet. Back when the World Wide Web had first emerged, few skilled amateur comic-enthusiasts began publishing their works as pictorial diaries or visual diaries. Published online for free, the Internet provided a platform for anybody to upload their content.
With the rapid increase in digital content consumption worldwide, the popularity of digital content naturally increased. Naturally, so did the demand for webtoons. Professional comic artists joined the bandwagon and contributed to the pool of content. At the beginning of its production, published content often revolves around depicting common social issues, such as bullying, suicide and youth unemployment. This genre gave rise to il-sang-toon, and this localised narration and stories contributed to the improved negative prejudices against their printed counterparts.
What truly pushed the consumption of such comics were portal sites that offer a regulated one-stop platform where artists can publish their works and readers can consume webtoons. In addition, they also offer a platform for artists to make a profit. It’s not a far stretch to say that portal sites such as Daum, Naver and Kakopage brought about the most significant transformation.
The Unique Characteristics Of Webtoons
As with any other digitalised comics, webtoons consist of a long-strip format that makes reading easier, especially on the webpage or mobile application. This format allows for better linear flow, and readers are able to understand the storyline quicker. To make the reading experience even more immersive, many creators implement several digital techniques such as video and sound effects, and interactive motion as part of their stories.
In addition to these technical elements, webtoons also feature interactive creation amongst both the producers and consumers. The emergence of a global network society gives way to collective intelligence and two-way communications in which individuals can freely share, create, collaborate and review. Viewers can actively participate in the content creation via their comments, and creators can develop their ideas based on the said comments. This is a unique characteristic that is not present in the production of printed media.
Webtoons: The Emerging Glocal Culture Of The Hallyu Wave
As with the other popular Korean entertainment media, popular Korean webtoons are not only offered online, but they have also been exported to foreign comic markets, such as Japan, Southeast Asia and France. Big portal sites have also included translations to push for its global proliferation. Naver, for instance, provides webtoons in English, Chinese, Taiwanese, Indonesian and Thai. As such, these webtoons are consumed both locally and transnationally, following the steps of both K-Pop and K-Drama.
With the characteristics of webtoons, along with the dynamics of the Korean wave and increased consumption of digital content, it’s only a matter of time that webtoons propelled in terms of popularity. Whether it’s local or transnational, it seems that webtoon consumption will not die out anytime soon.
Whilst there are many popular webtoons that are picked up for translations, there are many that aren’t. Don’t miss out on such amazing content and skip the wait altogether by equipping yourself with the Korean language! Sign up for a Korean language course to give yourself the foundation you need to consume the most popular and obscure webtoons on the net. Let us help you take your first step into the webtoon world.