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Popular Korean Webtoons in the US

 

2021.04.05

 

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In Korea and Japan, it is common for one or two writers or illustrators to complete comics from their beginning until the end. However, comics in the US are different in that the publisher owns the copyright of all the characters. Numerous writers and illustrators come together and create stories endlessly centering around the characters based on the copyrights. This is why you can easily find comics of about 32 pages mainly about masculine characters and have limited storylines. Here, Korean webtoons are blowing a new wind of change in the US comics market, appeasing a female readership as well with various characters, subjects, and genres (romance, fantasy, action, martial arts, boy’s love, sports, daily life, comedy, office life, entertainment, etc.) continuing to grow exponentially in the market.

 

Creative, ingenious Korean webtoons are leading the fourth Hallyu (Korean Wave) across the world.

 

From the early 2000s, many of Korea’s comic books, including Priest (Daewon C.I) and Ragnarok, entered the US “comics” market in which the dominance of Marvel Comics and DC Comics accounted for 70%. However, their ambitious American dream perished rapidly when Borders bookstore chains ceased operations in September 2011.
Then, ComiXology began to provide a digital service for comics and graphic novels, and comics publishers in the US also joined forces to launch a mobile application that services digital content in the late 2000s. But they still remained at the level of digitalizing published comics. While Korea’s published comics are serviced on Kindle, those with a pageview feature are provided in the digital-comics format as the device does not support vertical scroll and lacks readability on mobile devices. Regarding Japanese comics, pageview-type digital comics of Shueisha and Shogakukan are mainly distributed through VIZ Media alongside paper comic books. In contrast, Kodansha directly distributes comics mainly made by themselves.

 

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Devil Number 4, A Good Day to be a Dog, Omniscient Reader

 

 

However, things began to change. In 2012, Tapas Media managed to enter into the US market with Korea’s business model for webtoons and launched a mobile platform business using a comics application that supports vertical reading. This has enabled Korea’s platform companies to jump into the US market. Platforms and applications that service webtoons such as Naver Webtoon (Line Webtoon), Lezhin Comics, Tappytoon, Pocket Comics, and Manta began to compete fiercely in the market by providing works to the existing platform companies in the US as a publisher, through a joint company, or establishing a platform of themselves.
For Naver Webtoon, it has settled as the best platform by steadily supplying its exclusive, various content to the Z-generation aged 16 to 24 and securing authors and IPs based on “Canvas,” a channel for discovering amateur authors in the US. Sweet Home (Wisdom House), Devil Number 4 (Daewon C.I), True Beauty (Young Com), The Remarried Empress (Young Com), A Good Day to be a Dog (Wisdom House), and Omniscient Reader (A.Tempo Media) are examples of its popular works in the US.
Kakaopage and Daum Webtoon who are showing a better performance than Naver Webtoon in terms of profit on platform Piccoma, a subsidiary company in Japan, have signed a partnership for business in the US with Tapas Media. Their Love Alarm (Wisdom House) and What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim (YJcomics) are receiving good responses from readers.
Rezhin Comics, who entered the US market in 2015, is servicing 485 Webtoons, 420 of which support an English translation. Beginning as a platform specialized in Boy’s Love (BL) genre, the platform is attracting more readers from various age groups by diversifying the genre into drama, action, fantasy, and sci-fi. Among the top 9 trending comics in real time, 5 are BL, and 4 are romance comics. Along with romance fantasy The Maid and the Vampire (Ecomix Media) of ECOMIX that ranked first in 2020, BL webtoons Angel Buddy, Secret Alliance, Head Over Heels, Back to School, False Memories, and Painter of the Night are being loved by readers as well.

 

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List of popular comics on Lezhin (as of 2020)

 

Tappytoon started its service in 2016 and has been mainly providing translations of popular Korean webtoons. Serialized works include Solo Leveling (D&C Media), Light and Shadow (Shinyoung Media), Daughter of the Emperor (D&C Media), Bloody Sweet (C&C Revolution), What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim, and Cherry Blossoms After Winter. The primarily serviced webtoons are romance and fantasy to target female readership. Its number of net users per month (MUA) exceeds 5 million, and there’s a total of more than 80 thousand webtoons, including web-novels.
Last year, NHN Comico launched “Pocket Comics” in July, and Ridi, an e-book platform, started “Manta” in the US, which provides a monthly subscription service of webtoons, serializing Under the Oak Tree (Ridibooks) and Lady Devil (Orange D).
Independent publishers or Korea’s small- and medium-sized platform companies such as Redice, C&C Media, ECOMIX, and C&C Revolution are expanding their influence in the market by servicing webtoons through each platform service provider in the US.

 

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Daughter of the Emperor, Bloody Sweet, Under the Oak Tree

 

 

Meanwhile, Tower of God (Young Com), which was already famous before its official translation was provided, is now serviced in English, Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese, Spanish, and French through WEBTOON (Line Webtoon), an official translation service of Naver Webtoon. The response is tremendous. There are more than 20 unofficial fan translations of the work, and the accumulated views worldwide have passed 4.5 billion. Its RPG mobile game was released in 2016, and an animation series was aired on TV in April 2020, attracting more fans from across the world.
The God of High School (Image Frame) serialized on Naver Webtoon and Line Webtoon was made into a 13-episode TV animation and a game by MAPPA with a joint investment from Crunchyroll, a US streaming business, Naver Webtoon, and Warner Bros. Pictures Japan.
A modern fantasy fiction Solo Leveling by Chugong has turned into an action-fantasy webtoon by Jang Seong-Nak, the head of Redice, which produces and distributes comics, webtoons, and videos. It has generated a frenzy across the world among fantasy webtoons on all platforms. All its chapters from 1 to 110 were officially uploaded on "Webnovel" at once, a platform for web-novels, webtoons, and comics headquartered in the US and UK, which then drew 55 million subscribers. Right after that, it was uploaded on Tappytoon, a webtoon platform serviced in the US and UK that provides English translations of popular webtoons serialized in Korea in the changed title “Solo Leveling” in June 2020, and soon became the most popular work.
On top of these, works that succeeded as a “novel-comics (webtoons that base on web-novels)” are gaining more popularity worldwide such as a “novel-comics (webtoons that base on web-novels)” are gaining more popularity worldwide such as Daughter of the Emperor, The Remarried Empress, Omniscient Reader, Empress of Another World (D&C Media), Doctor Elise: The Royal Lady with the Lamp (KW Books), and First Night with the Duke (Maru Books).

 

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Tower of God, The God of High School, Solo Leveling

 

 

There’s also another webtoon that is drawing massive popularity. It is Omniscient Reader, a modern fantasy that triggered the beginning of apocalypse comics in Korea. It was originally written as a web-novel on Moonpia, which recorded more than 100 million views, and has two volumes of books already published. It has already signed a contract for TV drama and film production late last year while being serialized on Naver Webtoon. The filmmaker for the movie is Realies Pictures, the same producer of the movie “Along with the Gods.”
Meanwhile, 2.6 million people subscribe to Sweet Home on Tappytoon, which has recorded more than 1.2 billion views worldwide. Its drama on Netflix ranked third in December 2020. Such performance has led the author’s other work Bastard (Sodam Books) that has 1.4 million subscribers on Tappytoon to sign more contracts to publish it in comic books. Other similar cases where the success on TV or Netflix boosts the webtoon’s popularity are Love Alarm, The Uncanny Counter, Itaewon Class (Young Com), and True Beauty.
The Maid and the Vampire (Ecomics Media) is a romance fantasy webtoon serialized on the Lezhin Comics application of ECOMIX, a representative BL story ranking 1st in its category in 2020. It is a hot webtoon among paid subscribers on Tappytoon (where it recorded 1.8 million views), Manta, and Pocket Comics (mobile application).

 

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Netflix posters of “Sweet Home” and “Love Alarm”

 

 

Korean webtoons are achieving success in a short period of time, leading the spread of the “snack culture” in the US with its platform business model that can expand the stories into spin-off content such as games, movies, and dramas. Also, while adopting the “Freemium (partially paid service),” a stable source of income, they are successfully expanding influence in the market and discovering local authors considering the characteristics and culture of the US market. The background of such a stable business foundation has been greatly supported by the rapid technological development across the world where more people are using mobile devices.
Now, unique and creative Korean webtoons are leading the fourth Hallyu (Korean Wave). The times when webtoons used to be serviced for free relying on PPS advertisements as people were focused on attracting users to newly created portal websites have become history. Now, the webtoon business has transformed into a goose that lays golden eggs.

 

 


Written by Kim Nam-Ho (President of Topaz Agency)

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Kim Nam-Ho (President of Topaz Agency)

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