In recent years, South Korea has become a major cultural exporter to the world. The explosion of style bands K-POP, manhwas and dramas are some examples of South Korean productions that have won a captive and passionate audience, both in the East and in the West. Recently, another product has become a darling among manga readers: webtoons.
Although it is still a comic book style, webtoons are very different from other oriental graphic materials. Unlike manga, for example, webtoons are colorful and produced exclusively for online media. Likewise, they are not the webcomics traditionally published on websites, applications and social networks. The most coherent thing would be to understand them as a subcategory among webcomics, given their unique characteristics.
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But what is so different about a webtoon?
To answer this question, it is essential to understand the South Korean publishing market. During the 1980s and 1990s, comic books suffered harsh repression from the Korean military governments, who perceived them as a negative influence on children and young people and, consequently, many publishers ended up going bankrupt. In 1997, the Ministry of Culture even classified cartoons as “harmful substances” for young people, as well as cigarettes and alcoholic beverages.
A report published on the Korea Times website on the subject also revealed that it was common to burn comic books in schoolyards until the late 1990s. The conduct was encouraged by government officials, who, at the same time, prohibited shopkeepers from market this type of product. Cartoon readers and the publishing market in this segment could only return to their activities later, in the 2000s, when content began to be made available for free on the internet.
That's how, in mid-2003, webtoons emerged: the perfect junction between the web and cartoons. Fans contributed to the worldwide popularization of the genre with editions translated into English and even Portuguese. However, the native configuration for mobile, ideal for reading on smartphones and tablets, was an advantage that captivated the public. In addition, there are already versions for devices such as Encender. Precisely because it was born for digital, in addition to other singularities, webtoons pages are more extensive. Thus, allowing readers to follow the story easily by “scrolling” the screen.
Main narrative and graphics differentials
Because they have unlimited space, webtoons usually have larger chapters, with different narrative styles (drama, sci-fi, action, adventure, among others). The reading, unlike other Asian comics, is done in a Western manner (from left to right). The graphics are also outstanding, with their vibrant colors, illustrations with plenty of depth and shading, vertical animations and, especially, gutters that dialogue with the context of the plot. Gutters are the gaps that exist between one frame (panel) and another in a comic book.
In manga and webcomics, the gutters are narrow, and serve only to conduct reading. In webtoons, however, they no longer have a purely aesthetic appeal and receive a new meaning. They can be long, to convey the notion of the passage of time or graphically demonstrate the atmosphere of a scene that makes an impact, or they can be short/non-existent, to express dynamic times, such as those of a fight.
What is certain is that reading a webtoon provides a different experience, especially when compared to other products in the same niche. Just as an example, some creators add features such as flash animations and soundtracks to their edits to make the reading experience more immersive, dynamic and original. In some cases, the songs are made by the author of the story, which makes the moment of reading even more special. Currently, there are authors of different nationalities, including Brazilians, producing content for free webtoons platforms.
Stories that won adaptations
The fandom, which, at first, contributed to the popularization of webtoons by translating them into other languages, remains engaged. This time, it has huge communities of fans around the world to ensure the growth of this product, which promises to be the future of the publishing market. This is because, in addition to consuming the comics, they contribute funding to writers/illustrators and make the stories known.
The success of the webtoons Right Now in Our School and Hell led to adaptations of animated series on Netflix, titled All Of Us Are Dead and Hellbound, respectively. But it is with the dramas (Korean k-drama series) that the versions gain greater visibility. After all, the consumption of dramas grows worldwide, and only in Brazil the views increased by 53%, according to information from the Kocowa platform, making the country the third largest consumer of Korean dramas during the pandemic, behind only Malaysia and Thailand. .
Among the most popular k-dramas that have adapted webtoon stories are: Sweet Home, which chronicles the inner struggle of teenagers to keep humanity in a universe of monsters; The Tale of Nokdu, which mixes mystery and romance in the fun journey of a young man who needs to disguise his real identity; and the anime Tower of God, full of mysteries and challenges along the path of protagonist Bam.
Most of the audience that consumes webtoons and derivative products is made up of young people, who often find in these stories the opportunity to forget a little about their problems, create a certain identification with the characters and even help to collect references to take university entrance exams. , thus being able to finish the school period.
All these stories are found for free on the internet through the Naver Webtoon platform, which is available via browser or mobile applications (IOS and Android). Meanwhile, adaptations made in the form of films and series can be watched on various streams such as Netflix, Crunchyroll, Viki, Kocowa and many others.