Cartoons on Computer Screens: South Korea’s webtoons fuse cartoons with Internet

Photo courtesy of South Korea’s online cartoon management system has gained numerous fans in the nation in just over a decade.

Esther Kim, Opinion Editor

The term “webtoon” is still a rather unknown vocabulary in the United States, but it has become an iconic online culture of South Korea, where many cartoons are uploaded everyday on the nation’s most popular websites and receive instant feedback from fans who wait patiently for their release every night. After debuting in early 2000’s, the online cartoon management system of webtoons have transformed the traditional comic book culture of the early Korean generation, establishing itself as a key identity in South Korean modern life.

Out of many webtoon managing venues, Naver, one of South Korea’s largest websites, boasts the most diverse collection of cartoons. Named as “LINE Webtoons,” its initiation was widely supported by artists, who found a new method for presenting their works, and also by consumers, who found a new leisure activity to enjoy. As of 2014, Naver reported that a daily average of 6.2 million clicks were recorded on the website’s webtoon section.

With a faster, easier and simpler method for reading cartoons, LINE Webtoon announced in July 2014 that it would begin to distribute its strictly South Korean-run management internationally, launching the first official foreign website last year.

I am also an avid fan of webtoons, fascinated by their diversity in content–which range from mystery and romance to recordings of daily life–and especially the fast upload of new episodes. As a frequent user of the South Korean service, I decided to try out the English version and give my personal recommendations for first-time Webtoon-users.

1. “Annarasumanara” by Ilkwon Ha

The title is long and quite undecipherable, most probably because it is not even mentioned once in the story. Yet, the strange enumeration of letters seems to evoke the general mysterious and surreal tone that transmits to the cartoon—the black-and-white imagery topped by a magical story of an ordinary high-school girl meeting a strange magician in the streets of Seoul is certainly to catch one’s attention immediately. On the surface, the beautiful art and unique characters seem to captivate the eyes, but the saddening truth of a hyper-competitive and education-obsessed society seem to be the core of this bittersweet story of melancholia and magic.

2. “Cheese in the Trap” by Soonkki

This popular webtoon is nicknamed as a “romance-thriller” by South Korean fans due to the author’s expert depiction of a fragile and risky relationship between the main protagonists of the story. The webtoon describes the everyday life of an ordinary college student, Seol Hong, as she deals with different complications and struggles she faces after she meets a rather strange senior college student, Jung Yu.

3. “The Stories of Those around Me” by Omyo

This light-hearted read involves the story of three best friends, Summer, Mira and Jung-A as each of them go through a redefined phase of their lives and relationships. More than the story, though, it is the adorable art and bright colors that stand out the webtoon from the others; it is an easy leisure read for anyone who wants to relish the joy of youth, love and friendships.