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South Korean Webtoon Companies Emerging as Major Players within Global Contents Markets

Once considered as the empire of cartoons, Japan has been facing intense competition from South Korea to secure the top place.

Web cartoons, widely known as webtoons or webcomics, used to be a subculture enjoyed by the young community, however with the solid infrastructure of the Internet and increase of digital cultural consumption, webtoons have now fully entered mainstream entertainment. The burgeoning popularity not only amplifies its core business, but also benefit to be recreated into successful dramas that are made based on webtoon IPs.

In recent years, Korean platform giants like Kakao, the biggest mobile messaging app operator, and Naver, the biggest portal services in Korea, have continuously disrupted the digital comics market with their original webtoons and became leading suppliers of global digital content.

While, Naver Webtoon set up its subsidiary Studio N to make and produce video contents on its own. Ryu Jung-hye, vice president of marketing at Kakao Page, who also made the webtoon original drama “Itaewon Class", said “Over the course of next three years, we’re aiming to convert(adapt) 65 webtoons into dramas and movies… I would like to promote the essence of K-story.”

As the concept ‘One Source, Multi-use(OSMU), the marketability of Original Webtoon IP has become even more prominent during pandemic. You will be surprised by the numbers of film and drama adaptations of web contents. Since the success of 2014 tvN drama “Misaeng,”

JTBC’s adaptation of webtoon “Itaewon Class” has garnered explosive popularity. On the feature domain, "Along with the Gods," a webtoon series by Joo Ho-min, that depicted the world of the afterlife, was recreated into two blockbuster films in 2017 and 2018.

Posters for the JTBC show "Itaewon Class"/ Courtesy of JTBC

Upcoming Netflix drama series “The Hellbound” is also an adaptation of a webtoon by star film director Yeon Sang-ho. "D.P Dog's Day," a South Korean webtoon written and drawn by Kim Botong, will be recreated as a drama series to be distributed also by Netflix. It is reported that at least five other webtoons are on its way to be made into television dramas this year.

<Netflix’s drama ‘Love Alarm’ based on a webtoon>

<Naver Webtoon’s Hell Is Other People (right) and OCN’s drama Hell Is Other People>

Korea Comics Promotion Agency held the '2020 World Webtoon Forum' on the 23rd

to analyze the global market trend of comic webtoons. It is safe to say that Webtoon industry is rapidly growing as Korean Webtoon representation is expanding internationally.

As many exciting webtoons are announced to be created into various content, Webtoons are proving to be fertile sources of intellectual property for many OTT players to adapt into original series.