The first time you remember noticing the ads, you were early for a movie. It was strange, but you put it out of your mind. Then it started running before your favorite YouTube videos. Suddenly it’s postered all over the city. So your left asking: What the heck is Webtoon?
Webtoon is an online comic database, that pioneered the long, vertical strip format for webcomics. It subsidizes its content but is also a platform that allows individual creators to post. Most content is subsidized by ads, but some content allows you to have a chapter a few weeks early with a payment of 5 coins, which amounts to about 50 cents.
Starting in Korea, Webtoon has continued to grow after moving into Western markets. It has gone about a major advertising campaign, and now some of its content is being adapted into television. Its content can pull over 100,000 views a week. For the time being, it appears Webtoon is here to stay.
For the past few months, I’ve gone through dozens of Webtoons. I have picked out five that I feel represent different genres and would be a perfect way to dip your toe in and explore.
Spanning 155 episodes, “UnOrdinary” follows a young man named John. In a world full of people with unique abilities, John is one of the few with none at all. He’s forced to grapple with the politics of high school, made even more complicated by the hierarchy enforced by those with the strongest abilities and his hidden past. It’s a story that deals with the ethics of power: who should control it, how they should use it and who gets to set the boundaries. It’s a compelling read, with dynamic characters and a plot full of twists and turns. Season 2 is set to release in November, so now is a perfect time to binge and catch up.
“True Beauty” follows Jugyeong, the “prettiest pretty girl.” However, she hides a secret, a formerly- bullied comic book nerd, she binged beauty videos until she could create an entirely new face. Now living a double life, she’ll do anything to hide her secret. However, she quickly gets wrapped into a love triangle and dragged into the world of k-idols, influencers and make-up artists. It’s a compelling story that unpacks Korean beauty norms and explores the world of Korean celebrity. The characters feel human, and the plot rarely drags. With only 62 episodes and an upcoming k-drama, it’s a perfect time to binge.
The 83 chapters of “Let’s Play” follow Sam, an aspiring indie game designer who had her game trashed by popular YouTube Gamer Marshall Law. Sam is insecure and often immature, sheltered by the people around her. While the comic deals with the tension with Marshall Law and the world of influencers, it’s also a coming of age story for Sam. As she falls into various romantic encounters with Link a childhood friend, Charles, her boss, and Marshall Law, Sam begins to come into herself. The comic uses an amazing visual representation of emotion, often personifying things like anxiety or lust to illustrate Sam’s emotions. The comic is well-paced, and each chapter asks and answers questions on what it means to be an adult.
One of the darlings of Webtoon, “Lore Olympus” is a modern re-telling of the myth of Persephone and Hades. Persephone grew up on earth during the times of the Greek but is finally allowed to go into the big city of Olympus, which contains modern conveniences. Forced to remain abstinent to maintain her scholarship, she runs into trouble as she develops feelings for Hades: leader of the Underworld and lonely, avid dog lover. It features a beautiful illustrative style that combines expressive strokes reminiscent of watercolor and bold color choices. “Lore Olympus” is a story about relationships and the pain and joy we inflict in platonic and romantic relationships. At 80 episodes it’s a quick binge, and it’s a great time to get on board before the upcoming Jim Henson show makes it even more mainstream.
The Heir’s Game is a competition held every generation to choose the next bodyguard for the king. Isran, a quiet foreign duelist who has lived his whole life fighting, has come to compete. However, he’s quickly wrapped up in the politics of the country, when he meets Theuden, the future heir. At 55 chapters it’s the shortest Webtoon I’ve included on this list, but the dynamic fight scenes, fun cast of characters and adorable relationship make it a great read.
Webtoon has soared in popularity in the past year. If you’ve become curious, but don’t know where to start, this list should serve as a great guide.
Contact Nik Wesson at swes1024 ‘at’ stanford.edu.