The world of Korean manhwa is a massive and exciting one. If you want to start reading webtoons, here is the Korean manga name for your reading pleasure.
Manhwa is the Korean word for manga. Thus, manhwa is an umbrella term for Korean comics, though it is sometimes used exclusively for printed comics. What you should know about this genre and how to get started are outlined below.
What are Korean Manhwa Webtoons?
When discussing Korean comics, fans will use both or either of the terms manhwa and webtoons interchangeably.
So, if you’re wondering what the difference is between manhwa and webtoons, the answer is that there isn’t one. They are simply two names for Korean comics, similar to how manga is the name for Japanese comics.
The History of Manhwa
Manhwa Haengjin, the first Korean comics magazine, debuted in 1945 but was quickly shut down by the government. Censorship continued, with ethics committees removing offensive content or even public burnings.
This became more pronounced as sex and violence were depicted in the manhwa. In 1967, manhwa was even declared one of the “six evils of society.” Obscenity laws are still in effect in the twenty-first century.
A manhwaga is a manhwa creator. While the rise of webtoons, social media, and direct payment platforms like Patreon has brought readers and creators closer than ever before, webtoons have arguably diminished the comic auteur culture. Many webtoon creators are only known by their usernames, and the methods for making money can be confusing.
In Korea, there is still some overlap between digital and printed comics, with webtoons occasionally inspiring printed magazines or books. Webtoons’ popularity is influencing manga and digital comic markets in other countries.
To distinguish them from the often breezier manhwa, graphic epics have been dubbed geukhwa. Manhwa is more commonly associated with critical satire in North Korea.
According to Paul Gravett’s comprehensive book Mangasia, an underground comics scene does not exist in North Korea due to the repression of ideological dissonance. Despite North Korea’s collectivist society, some North Korean war comics include elements of the individualistic hero-worship common in American superhero comics.
A manhwabang is a manhwa cafe in South Korea. Comic books are frequently sold at portable book stalls in North Korea.
Some manga characters appear in popular manhwa genres. There’s BL (boys love), which are homoerotic stories about men that are frequently aimed at women. Soonjeong (like Japanese shojo) is also aimed at young women and often features romance stories.
There are also a lot of horrors, fantasy, supernatural, and thriller manhwa. Many works are set in schools, which is not surprising given the often voracious young audience for manhwa.
How and Where to Read Manhwa and Webtoons
Manhwa is made in South and North Korea, though the former is more prevalent. Manhwa, unlike manga, is read from left to right, and print editions of Manhwa series are becoming increasingly rare.
With the rise of smartphones, online comics (webtoons) have replaced mainly manhwa. Webtoons are read in long vertical segments, so scrolling is your best friend. The web/app format has also given rise to a common webtoon style of uncluttered images and plenty of white (or occasionally black) space between panels in the gutter.
The active community of webtoon commenters and volunteer translators has become an important part of the reading experience. For example, the comments section of the online comic Rodong Simmun (Labor Interrogation), which depicts North Korean defectors adjusting to life in South Korea, provides a forum for the two groups to interact and learn about one another.
Unfortunately, websites with pirated versions may be the only places to find English versions of certain webtoons (scanlations or scanned translations). To avoid contributing to piracy and read webtoons like the majority of Korean readers, download an app such as Tapas, WEBTOON, or Lezhin Comics.
These usually include both free content and in-app purchases. Tapas provides free access to the first few installments of many webtoons, with the option of purchasing virtual coins to unlock more.
WEBTOON is a hugely popular webcomics platform. WEBTOON’s webtoons are primarily free, but you can purchase coins to gain early access to new episodes.
The Best Manhwa to Start with
We have compiled a list of the most appealing Manhwa for your reading pleasure. Check them:
Uncomfortably Happily by Hong Yeon Sik
Uncomfortably Happily by Hong Yeon Sik follows an urban manhwaga and his wife and pets as they relocate to the countryside.
The memoir demonstrates how difficult but also rewarding the lifestyle transition is, with headaches caused by deadlines, isolation, and other factors. The art is clean and straightforward, with occasional moments of pastoral beauty.
Chocolat by Shin Sang and Geo
Chocolat is a charmingly zany series by Shin Ji Sang and Geo, about a mega-fan of a boy band who schemes her way into a rival band’s fan club in order to be closer to her loves.
It’s full of affection and understanding of fandom’s obsessiveness and community building.
The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa
Kim Dong Hwa’s The Color of Earth is the first in a trilogy following a girl coming of age in rural Korea, where her widowed mother runs a bar.
The story and the artwork are lush and romantic. But some critics are uncomfortable with the (male) author’s obsession with developing female sexuality.
Here are Webtoon recommendations:
True Beauty by Yaongyi
True Beauty, an ongoing WEBTOON hit by Yaongyi, explores the transformative power of makeup and the significance of physical attractiveness in appearance-obsessed South Korea.
Without makeup, a schoolgirl feels like an ugly duckling, but with it, she feels like a goddess. Beautiful All Along is like an extreme version of that teen movie trope.
Bastard by Youngchan Hwang and Carnby Kim
Bastard by Youngchan Hwang and Carnby Kim is another WEBTOON series. Bastard is the dark and brooding story of a boy forced to be an accomplice by his serial killer father. You know, that old familiar situation.
Oh! My Assistant by Mila and Yalgae
Tapas evenings Oh! My Assistant, written by MILA and YALGAE, is about the slow-burning romance between an overworked cartoonist and his hot new assistant. It’s amusing and sexy in a light-hearted way.