Manhwa Collection Development: Korean Webtoons On the Rise

Manhwa is quite simply the Korean word for comics, but it is a format that is steadily on the rise. It’s quite easy for outsiders to simply consider manhwa to be “colorized manga” but to do so really misses that there are marked differences in the two formats. It also disrespects the cultural differences between South Korea and Japan, and their complex and strained relationship.

I’ve talked about manhwa before, but honestly, things are rapidly shifting and growing. The day after I turned in my Knowledge Quest blog post on manhwa, Yen Press announced they were kicking off an entire imprint for Korean content, Ize Press. On the launch of the imprint, Yen Press’s Editor-in-Chief JuYoun Lee said, “Yen has always believed in the power of Korean content, and we couldn’t be more excited to get a chance to really open up the doors to put these beautiful books in the hands of English-language readers. With the launch of Ize Press, we hope to be just a small part of helping to connect these immensely talented artists with their fans.”

It’s no coincidence that Yen Press is the leader of importing manhwa, but they aren’t the only ones. Seven Seas Entertainment is also moving into this sphere, and Drawn & Quarterly has a few more traditionally drawn manhwa on their roster. First, though, let’s explain a bit of what manhwa is.

Manhwa 101

Manhwa (만화), as stated above, are Korean comics. The method by which most people both in the West and in South Korea consume popular manhwa is through apps. Manhwaga (만화가), or comics creators, have to take into account the format by which they plan to publish- when publishing in print, manhwa is typically in black and white, but when published digitally, it is in color. Digital manhwa is optimized for that format and is intended to be read by scrolling downward, rather than turning pages.

An important distinction with manhwa is that it is read from left to right, because of the way Korean is read. This can make it actually easier for people who are not manga readers to pick up. There are also readers who find the use of color adds to the ease of reading for new entrants to the medium.

A page from Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke’s Mansion, from Yen Press, demonstrates the style and reading order of manhwa.

Notably, comics creation in South Korea has often been heavily censored, so digital manhwa has boomed primarily because it was a method of avoiding censorship. This has been helped quite a bit by the prevalence of smartphone culture in South Korea. It’s very common to consume media digitally in South Korea, with web novels being incredibly popular. In fact, most manhwa starts as a web novel before the author eventually collaborates with an artist (or a writer and artist team) who is interested in adapting their work. This trend also is why manhwa has a tendency to be more popular among feminine groups and is also why manhwa is not generally marketed toward children. In fact, a lot of manhwa is marketed toward teen and adult women.

Manhwa Applications

Although print imports of manhwa are on the rise, the main way you can currently read manhwa is through applications on your phone. There is a fairly wide range of them, and the general method of use is to read by either waiting for episodes to be free or by paying for in-app currency, through which you can then access chapters. The costs and availability of opportunities to get free chapters vary from app to app. Personally, I spend about $30 a month on manhwa, and I would be considered a moderate consumer.

A screenshot of my phone, showing a variety of current manhwa applications.

WEBTOON has some big hits from not just South Korea, but also the world, and is free as long as you’re willing to be patient (it’s also the home to Lore Olympus and one of my favorite manhwa of all time Whale Star: The Gyeongseong Mermaid). The big appeal of WEBTOON is that it features a wide range of comics from all over the world alongside manhwa.

A panel from Whale Star.

Tapas will ultimately cost some money, but it has probably the most popular selection. This is where Solo Leveling, The Beginning After the End, Heartstopper, and A Business Proposal are all hosted. All of these are popular series, two of which have series on Netflix. Solo Leveling and The Beginning After the End are both released in print from Yen Press, and Solo Leveling recently had an anime adaptation announced. The range and variety of manhwa on offer make it an incredibly popular application.

A sampling of Tapas’s offerings, some of which may look familiar.

Manta is the last app I’ll talk about for now, but it’s interesting because it’s the only one with a flat monthly rate of $3.99. It’s by far the best bargain. Currently, they don’t have any manhwa that has made it to print, but if you’re looking to get into the format and want to be conservative in what you spend, this is a good way to binge read without spending too much.

But How Do I Get It In My Library?

Right now, there simply isn’t a large amount of manhwa in print, but it’s progressively growing. I have compiled a list of manhwa that is either in print or is coming to print HERE. Because of the high cost involved with consuming manhwa, I would really prioritize getting these titles in your library. You might be the only way patrons can access these texts! I will say, most of them will not be relevant to children, and I don’t see any Korean content for children making the jump any time soon. To be quite honest, children just aren’t the audience for the manhwa that is getting licensed or that is even on the apps. That said, many of them are relevant to middle school students.

The good thing is that you’re not looking at buying a huge collection- you’re adding just a few books to your order at this point. But adding some of these titles will really get you ahead of the curve!

In terms of shelving, I shelve manhwa with manga because that seems to be where they best find their readers. The art styles are somewhat similar, and there are some crossover tropes and themes.

If you wish to read any reviews I have of manhwa for purchasing purposes, I keep them logged HERE.

By the way, my personal favorite manhwa that’s been licensed? The romance mystery Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke’s Mansion. It has romance, mystery, and intrigue, and will be getting an anime! If you can’t wait for the print releases, it’s available on Tappytoon.

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