You’ve probably already heard of webcomics — but have you heard of the Korean ones? Chances are you haven’t. Webtoons are the Korean versions of webcomics, which are digitally drawn and published cartoons/comic strips. Webcomics are taking over the world in the form of short comics strips like Lunarbaboon and Cyanide & Happiness. You’ve probably seen them floating around as memes; they look a lot like newspaper funnies. Korean Webtoons, on the other hand, take inspiration from manga, manhwa, and comic books.

Webcomic Lunarbaboon
Recognize these characters?

Korean Webtoons tell a coherent, chronological story instead of using the episodic format of webcomics. Webtoons are drawn in full color in a long-strip format, ideal for reading on smartphones. Like webcomics, they are drawn digitally, producing bright colors, soft lines, and minimalist backdrops. Unlike webcomics, they aren’t usually one-offs with a punchline.

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Essential Korean Webtoons for New Readers

Korea’s Webtoons have taken notable influences from other Asian comics like manga, manhwa, and manhua. This means they usually spend a lot more time in the realms of fantasy, action, and adventure. Most pursue long story arcs and continuity. This seems to be preferred over the usual Western trend of episodic installments.

Here is my top five list of recommended Korean Webtoons. It contains a mix of both mainstream and lesser-known comics. It’s easy to look up the most read comics on the internet, so I included a few that deserve some time in the spotlight.

KUBERA is Action/Fantasy on an Epic Scale

The Great Calamity has isolated all the planets in the universe from each other. The Gods no longer interfere with human affairs. The world has settled into some semblance of peace. That is, until, the Red Sky incident obliterates an entire village, leaving only one survivor: Leez Haias. Her birth name is Kubera Leez; she is a girl with the name of a god.

Leez Haias Kubera Webtoons
Leez’s character progression.

KUBERA has some pretty epic world building going on. The magic system is well developed and the lore is layered with depth. The character development is a bit weak at first, but author and artist, Currygom, makes up for it later in the series. About halfway through is where the character growth really takes off with dark plot twists that tear apart character’s hearts and minds. That character growth is well presented through the change in character designs, as seen above.

The character designs in KUBERA are exceptional. On top of being attractive, they grow to reflect character’s states of mind and their internal changes. Leez, for example, begins as a cheerful girl dressed in bright yellows and innocent greens. Darker colors eventually accompany her growth into a troubled woman who dresses in mature formals and combat gear. Currygom uses gradual changes in fashion and color scheme which represents character growth, both in personality and in power, really well.

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TAMEN DE GUSHI: A Heartwarming Slice of Life/Shoujo Ai

This Webtoon is literally the cutest thing ever. That could be my entire summary and analysis of it and it would be 100% accurate. TAMEN DE GUSHI is the story of two closeted high school girls and their highly entertaining friendship. Sun Jing is a tall, athletic, and confident girl who recklessly charges through life. Except, when she is trying to talk to Qiu Tong, a pretty girl from another school. Sun Jing bravely pushes forward, with the support of her best friend, and does her best to light a spark of romance with her crush.

Tamen De Gushi Webtoons Comforter
A day in the life of Qiu Tong and Sun Jing.

TAMEN DE GUSHI focuses more on characters than the lesbian relationship itself. The two main characters, along with the various side characters, develops through slice-of-life style arcs. Because of that, none of the characters feel one-dimensional or stale. And the art is literally the cutest thing ever, too.

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The Supernatural Mystery of CITY OF THE DEAD SORCERER

A dogged detective is determined to solve a string of mysterious murders. This may sound boring at first, but CITY OF THE DEAD SORCERER is set in 2030. It is set 16 years after the discovery of Mana. Mana is a substance that allows people to tap into magic, with the help of technology. The use of that technology has been heavily regulated and it costs money to cast magic. In the shadows of this mysterious world are traces of strange people who appear to be able to use Mana in ways that should be impossible without the help of technology.

Webtoon City of the Dead Sorcerer
The Sorcerer, ‘Crimson Robe.’

CITY OF THE DEAD SORCERER uses a rare combination of magic and sleuth work. That may sound a bit like The Dresden Files, but it’s way different. The story follows two main characters: The mysterious murderer, ‘Red Hood,’ and the detective who finds himself following a string of inexplicable cases that all seem linked to ‘Red Hood.’ The Webtoon explores the character’s ideals and the morality of their motivations for what they do. They both believe that they are working towards justice.; however, neither realizes that they are a part of an age old war between Sorcerers.

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The Haunting Fantasy Dream World of KISSWOOD

KISSWOOD is an abstract and atmospheric tale. In a not so distant future, plant life has all but disappeared from cities. The main character, Sul, tends to a garden enclave in the middle of a lifeless city. A mysterious arson fire leaves his body in a coma and transports his mind to a vast world of plants. At first, the gardener is in heaven — that is, until he encounters some of the cruel inhabitants of the land and learns that something sinister lurks in this world of trees.

Kisswood Webtoons Sul and Ro
The monsters and magic of KISSWOOD.

KISSWOOD explores the abusive relationship between humans and plants. The Webtoon approaches this exploration with ethereal, contrasting art. Most humans in the Webtoon are depicted as ugly and malicious, while the plants are painted with vibrant watercolors. Even in a paradise for plants, people still find a way to wreck destruction on them. KISSWOOD is a Webtoon with a powerful message, and an engaging plot to deliver it.

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Intense Action/Fantasy in the TOWER OF GOD

What do you desire? Money and wealth? Honor and pride? Authority and power? Revenge? Or something that transcends them all? Whatever you desire—it is here.

If you thought ONE PIECE had great world building, TOWER OF GOD will knock your socks off. The Tower is a monolith structure with hundreds of floors. Each floor is a unique biosphere that spans miles. At the top lies your heart’s desires. Thousands of ‘Regulars’ seek to climb their way to the top. These contestants claw their way through the trials of each floor. They form tenuous teams to survive and betray each other for the slightest advantage. The Tower is treacherous, and the path to the top is paved with bodies.

Tower of God Webtoons
One of the many fights you’ll see in TOWER OF GOD.

The story follows Baam, a boy who enters the Tower under irregular circumstances while chasing after his only friend. What begins for him as a desperate search for a friend slowly evolves into a quest for answers. The power of the Tower proves more alluring than Baam could have imagined… and corrupts everything that he blindly believed in.

TOWER OF GOD’s world building is intricate and each floor has its own unique climate. A caste system loosely divides the inhabitants and a community of Regulars live on each floor. They are either stuck or have given up on climbing. ‘Rankers,’ people who have successfully reached the top floor, also populate the Tower. ‘Irregulars’ are the people born outside of the Tower who do not abide by its rules. Irregulars bring chaos to the Tower wherever they appear. TOWER OF GOD is infinitely more complex with each new arc adding more depth. It is hands down one of the best Webtoons out there.

So, Where do you Start?

Alright, so I’ve convinced you that you should have already started reading Webtoons by now.  But, you might be asking yourself, where can you start? The Korean company, LINE, publishes translated Webtoons on their Webtoons app. It’s totally free, as are the comics. Yeah, you read that right. All those awesome Webtoons I just told you about are totally, and legally, free to read. There is no excuse for not checking out some of Korea’s best comics, Webtoons.

There is so much more to see out there than the average webcomic, and whether you’re a fan of those or a fan of manga you should give these new hits a try. While they aren’t as popularized as the comical Western one-offs, you will end up finding hours of entertainment in any of the Webtoons you choose!

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