South Korea is widely known as being the most wired nation in the world. The majority of Koreans have near-constant access to high-speed Internet. Consequently, the Internet has become a vehicle for new artists to make themselves known to a wide audience. Bestselling novels often originate in online serials, top actors can be discovered through personal blogs—and many of the latest hit manhwa make their start as webcomics.
In Korean, webcomics are called “webtoons” (a portmanteau of “web” and “cartoons”) and are available for free viewing on major portal sites, who pay the manhwa-ga to update once or twice a week until the storyline reaches completion. Some are professional manhwa-ga who have already made their name in the industry, such as Huh Young-man, who published his latest series, Kkol, online. *
Others are unknowns with separate day jobs who create manhwa in their spare time. For example, Shin Eui-cheol’s popular webcomic, Schoolholicwas based on his daily experiences as a teacher.
Korean webcomics have grown immensely popular in recent years. Several series have garnered sequels or spin-off series due to their success with online audiences; others have subsequently been published in print or adapted for the screen as Korean dramas or movies.
•New form creates new function
Korean webcomics cover a diversity of genres—anywhere from science fiction to horror to humor—and push the boundaries of the medium in many ways. Typically, each chapter is published as one long continuous vertical strip, extending beyond the dimensions of a print page. Some series use traditional panelling but others have taken advantage of the scrolling navigation to experiment with different layouts.
For example, as the viewer moves down the page, the blue background in the prologueto Mt. Hyeon Araribegins as an underwater scene with fish and becomes a cloudless sky with birds. **The scrolling allows the manhwa-ga to imitate a camera panning effect as the viewer’s eye descends through the sky to end with a view of a mountainous island, toward which a boat is sailing.
Moreover, since webcomics are usually drawn by tablet and colored with computer graphics software, the range of artistic styles can range from black-and-white line art to photorealistic paintings. Most series are available in full color for every chapter. The online format also permits manhwa-ga to insert multimedia features to accompany their art, such as the background music in the prologueto Monsoon. ***
Popular series gain large fan followings, and the online format allows manhwa-ga to read their viewer’s reactions and even interact with their fans through the forums. Series that are ongoing at the same time will occasionally hold mock competitions for viewer ratings or showcase cameos from characters in other series.
•Where to find webcomics
Webcomics can be viewed for free on almost all the major Korean portal sites. The two largest portals boast the widest collection:
*. Naver Ongoing Webtoons, Naver Finished Webtoons
*. Daum Ongoing Webtoons, Daum Finished Webtoons
Webcomics are also available at these portals:
*. Nate Manhwa Toon City
*. Paran Cartoon
*. Daewon CI Webtoon
*. Yahoo! Korea Cartoon World
*. MSN Korea Manhwaholic
However, not many webcomics have been translated into English yet. Among the English-language manhwa publishers, only NETCOMICS has published webcomics:
*. The Great Catsby(originally serialized at Daum under the Korean title위대한 캣츠비)
*. X Diary(originally serialized at Paran under the Korean title남자친9)
*. Almost Highly Classified(originally serialized at Ecomix under the Korean title2급비밀)
The start-up company iSeeToonplans on releasing Korean webcomics in English as iPhone/iPod apps. (They are also on Twitter at @iSeeToon.) The first series they’ve licensed will be made available in late August.