The Korean culture and entertainment content market are seeing phenomenal growth. K-Drama, K-Pop, and K-movies are topping the charts, and K-Webtoons or Korean webtoons are more in demand. Korean webtoons companies are becoming mainstream global content providers that disrupt the worldwide comic content market.
The South Korean webtoon industry sales had touched 1 trillion won ($843 million) in 2020, with the webtoon market size reaching $3,673 million in 2021. Korean webtoon apps have seen tremendous growth in their audience in ASEAN countries and even the US and European markets. The K-Webtoon wave gained the highest audiences in Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and India in 2021.
In Japan, famous for its manga (graphic novels), two South Korean webtoon Manhwas (virtual scrolling comics) conquer the market share.
Korean IT giants Naver Corp’s Line Manga and Kakao Corp’s Piccoma have become Japan’s highest-grossing mobile apps outside games. Korean webtoons capture audiences in Indonesia, Thailand, and even China; K-Webtoon companies have been mentioned in the top list of webcomic manufacturing companies in a report ‘global leading online comic platform market 2020’ by LP information, a leading market research company.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought in more surges in the popularity of the online manga platforms. What made Korean webtoons favorably was the free-reading service. Most apps are available for free, with readers getting the option of in-app currency called coins. Readers can enjoy amusing stories from romance, thrillers, sci-fi, comedy, teenage, fantasy, magic, and more created by numerous manhwa artists.
According to a Marketwatch report, webtoon manhwa distributes global content worth about $ 950 million and has gained billions of fan following. KoreaTechDesk checks out some of the top-performing Korean webtoon companies with a worldwide fan following.
Founded in 2013, Lezhin caters to webtoon titles in Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and English. It is a free-read app where fans can download comic titles on topics like love toons, fantasy, school life, action, thriller, horror, and even some adult 18+ content. Lezhin’s model allows manhwa creators to monetize their work with a revenue-sharing model. Lezhin Entertainment, which owns the webtoon platform, partnered with the American online portal Anime-Planet in 2020 to provide content for English-reading audiences. Lezhin Studio, part of the startup, is also producing the first Netflix web series based on its popular webtoon, ‘D.P.’
Naver’s Webtoon and Line Manga
The webtoon manhwas of Naver’s platform are the most read webcomics globally. Its Webtoon platform has surpassed the popularity of comic giants like Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and European comic book publishers for its free reading service. Webtoon has over 80 million readers per month, as per an estimate. It published more than 10,000 exclusive titles and had made over $700 million in revenue in 2019. Webtoon also ranked no. in profits in Google App comic category.
Line Manga is Naver’s international output targeting the Japanese and U.S. market. Line Webtoon is available in English, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indonesian and two European languages – French and Spanish. Naver also recently acquired Canada-based global multi-platform entertainment company Wattpad, marking its entry into the Canadian market. NAVER also has entered the Chinese market as Dongman Manhua. In the 2022 first quarter, the story-tech platform dramatically increased users to 180 million.
For non-Korean comic fans – Naver webtoons can be savoured through Line Webtoon, a website that offers translated versions. The official translation supports only English and Chinese, but for some popular series, languages such as Spanish, German, Thai and Italian are available.
KakaoPage, a digital content marketplace, was launched in 2013 by the Korean internet giant Kakao Corp. The platform allows brands and individuals to create and distribute visual, audio and written content such as webtoons and genre fiction. KakaoPage has provided content through Tencent in China and Piccoma, a manga subscription service in Japan. Piccoma’s readership has surged in Japan threatening the domestic manga developers’ readership.
KakaoPage has 960 webtoons, online novels, movies, and dramas, each of which crossed cumulative sales of over $88,465. KakaoPage also acquired Neobazar, an Indonesian company publishing webtoons and games with a mission to expand and popularise Korean content in the Southeast Asia region. KakaoPage CEO Lee Jin-soo had said in an online media conference that the company has plans to further expand into the US, China, and Southeast Asia through continued investments and M&A deals and become a truly global network by 2022.
Kakao Webtoon officially launched in Indonesia in April 2022, with a rebranded version of the Kakao Page webtoon and web novel platform. Kakao Entertainment first entered the Indonesian web comics market by acquiring local service Neobazar in December 2018.
Ridi Corp’s Manta
Ridi Corp is a leading e-reading platform that expanded its business to digital content including webcomics. Ridi became the first domestic content startup to become a unicorn with record sales in 2021.
Manta is Ridi’s webtoon app that caters to webcomic fans. A subscription-based webcomics launched in 2020, offering a diverse collection of themes including romance, fantasy, horror, mystery, comedy, thriller, and Manta Originals. Readers can get unlimited access to the rich content that has been curated to target each individual’s tastes for $3.99/month. Manta plans on delivering an even more diversified webcomic experience by expanding the production of original content based on films, TV shows, and games. Ridi’s English-service digital comics platform Manta introduced to the American shores achieved app download milestone of 3 million in just eight months of service in November 2021. Manta’s most popular series “Under the Oak Tree,” based on the same name romance fantasy novel, has gained avid fans.
“With Manta, we strive to make reading webcomics a mainstream entertainment culture worldwide,” said Kisik Bae, RIDI CEO, to media during the launch of Manta. “North America is just the beginning — we’re going to expand our service so that people from all over the world can easily access and enjoy webcomic contents in their own language.”
Toomics is another popular portal for webtoons. The Toomics webtoons are all updated weekly on set days, just like other webtoon services, and it has a special VIP subscription for early sneak peek. Toomics features a variety of genres, including fantasy works such as Leviathan and Her Summons horror, like Gorgon and many more. The platform provides webtoons in English, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Latin and of course Korean. Toomics also caters to a variety of genres – romance, horror, thriller, fantasy, sci-fi and has a good fan following in Japan and other ASEAN countries.
Toomics entered the NFT (non-fungible tokens) market in 2022 with ‘TooNFT’, a blockchain-oriented webtoon platform. TooNFT enables webtoon writers to draw in investments through the P2P (Peer To Peer) format.
Tappytoon curates the latest comics and webtoons for its consumers. Users can use their app or website for high-quality content with vetted translations. The first few episodes are free with later episodes charging a small fee. Similar to other webtoons sites, users will need to unlock episodes by purchasing tokens. Alternatively, Tappytoon allows users to wait for 24 hours for another chapter to become available.
Some of the most popular manhwas of recent years from Tappytoon includes titles such as Solo Leveling and The Legend of the Northern Blade.