Webtoon, a new tool for the cultural proliferation of South Korea

Korea’s digital economy sketched the meteoric rise of the webtoon industry along with Korean films and drama. Webtoons are comics published on the online web and mobile platforms, and they form a new social phenomenon in the digital era: “webtooniverse”.

The global k-webtoon community is quickly expanding, making webtoon a “syndrome” in the current generation. For years, webtoon has been enhanced with vibrant colors, visual effects, as well as music and sound effects, and it has been adapted into many worldwide hit Korean dramas. If you’re familiar with K-dramas (Korean dramas), you have to know that webtoons are the inspiration behind many of these. Gripping plots, interesting characters, and exquisite art make millions of fans obsessed with these revolutionary comics.

According to the statistics of Korea Creative Contents Agency, the overall value of the local webtoon market jumped from 52.9 billion won in 2010 to over 880 billion won in 2018, 900 billion won in 2019 and, as expected, the value exceeded 1 trillion won in 2020. The change drivers, promoting the market growth, were flourishing small and medium-sized webcomic publishers mainly targeting adults.

The market size of webtoons itself is about nine trillion won. While in consideration of the fact that all K-dramas and movies are adaptations based on highly popular webtoon series, the total market size reaches a hundred trillion won.

The development of revolutionary Korean comics has given a boost to online and mobile reading platforms.

K-webtoon market platform giants

The dominant roles of Naver and Daum

Though Google is the number one search engine platform worldwide, there are only three countries – Russia, Korea, China – where the default search engines are different.

There are two biggest portals in South Korea – Daum and Naver. They launched their own webtoon platforms and have been leading the market for a long period.

Naver, the most-used search portal in Korea, ranks the fifth-largest in the world. For its millions of users, Naver offers high-rated user-generated content in the form of email, blog, Q&A, shop, TV, and newspapers.

Furthermore, Naver is the leading, most convenient, and optimized portal for reading webtoon. Naver Webtoon is a webtoon publishing portal launched in 2004. After ten years, it launched LINE Webtoon, later renamed WEBTOON, for global webtoon readers.

When it comes to global expansion, Naver faces growing competition from its crosstown rival Daum merged with Kakao, South Korea’s second-largest portal.

“Our goal is to establish our webtoon platform around the world, in every country in every language. We are at about ten percent of that goal,” Kakao Entertainment Chief Executive Lee Jinsoo said.

Kakao plans to dominate over Naver Webtoon. Meanwhile, Naver concentrates on strengthening its platform competitiveness worldwide. This is a continuous fight for dominance in the K-webtoon market not only in South Korea but also in Japan, the world’s largest comics market, the US, France, and other foreign countries.

Both of these are among the largest companies and the internet giants in the country. They also endeavor to get international storytelling platforms to expand their user base.

The digital comics platform operators up investment to tap into overseas markets. Hence, they have their webtoons translated into many languages: French, Japanese, Spanish, Indonesian, Dutch, and more.

Webtoon outside South Korea

Korean web novels and webcomics have a global readership, and day by day that number increases drastically. Digital manhwa has emerged as a popular medium not only in homeland Korea but also in Europe, America, Japan, China, and other Asian countries.

Webtoon in the US

With the popularity of manga in the US since the 60s and 70s, k-webtoon also found its way to spread on the opposite side of the world. Many webtoon publishers have been greatly successful in the United States and other English-speaking countries. Next to many American hero cartoons such as Marvel Comics and DC Comics, Korean webtoon has gained popularity among the American readership. The most interesting part is that this year in the US webtoon market, the number of monthly users of LINE Webtoon surpassed eleven million, with sixty-five percent increased sales in comparison with last year. Hence the US webtoon sales reach more than ten billion Korean Won. Ultimately, Korean webtoon translation to English has gained popularity in both the U.S. and Korea.

Webtoon in Japan

Japan is considered to be one of the greatest bastions and birthplaces of comics. Domestic content creators contextualize and localize Japanese manga and comics for the Korean market. As a result, they succeeded in keeping comic culture alive in terms of readership and artistic practices. In turn, Korean youth has maintained its interest i