The comic book industry doesn’t seem to settle down for very long at a time. The business has discovered new media to embrace while both new and established publishers look for upcoming hits. It is for this reason that manga has overtaken other comic book genres as the world’s top seller, and it appears that South Korean webtoons are the next to go. The webtoons produced in South Korea have been dubbed “the next big thing in the worldwide K-culture takeover” by reputable entertainment outlets like Variety. Webtoons have even received notice from The Hollywood Reporter, who referred to them as “hot properties” that had attracted the interest of China’s sizable film industry and the more than 18 million overseas users of Korean platform Naver’s webtoon services.
The expansion of the webtoon sector was recently highlighted by a report by Europe Comics, and with good cause. The article breaks out the revenue of the worldwide comics industry. The industry, with an estimated value of $20 billion USD, does have some large companies that represent more than 50% of that profitability. These are the companies to keep an eye on going forward, and ironically, several of the top-ranking publishers are only focused on webtoons.
The top ten list is led by manga juggernauts like Shueisha and Kodansha, but Kakao and Naver are impossible to miss. On the list, the two South Korean publishers came in fifth and sixth, respectively. This elevated them above well-known publishers like Marvel Comics and DC Comics, so it is clear why webtoons are generating discussion in the business.
According to estimates from 2020, the US comics business is worth $1.3 billion, and the Francophone sector is worth 600 million euros. Webtoon revenues, which increased from $577 million in 2019 to $950 million in 2020, have already surpassed the size of the American market. That’s all there is to it, but just to put things in perspective, the Korean webtoon industry has only existed for a decade, compared to the more than a century-old US comics industry.
It is obvious that webtoons are expanding quickly, and multimedia deals are helping to spread their appeal. The webtoon sector is already an international force to be reckoned with, with everything from live-action Korean dramas to anime shows and even comic tie-ins. You can see why this report has narrowed its attention on the medium when you consider the industry’s plethora of apps and translation tools along with webtoon commerce. Although it is growing exponentially, it is still unclear whether webtoons can continue to expand.
Undoubtedly, the medium is supported by outside forces. Webtoons have only benefited from the explosion of hallyu entertainment, like K-pop and K-dramas, outside of Korea. Despite certain paywalls, companies like Naver and Kakao offer material for free to draw people in. These companies are directly marketing their comics to readers throughout the world.
Webtoons are widely available to read, and it has never been simpler to do so. Such examples include True Beauty, Tower of God, and I Love Yoo. The medium has created a business that can outperform titans like Marvel in barely a decade. Korean webtoons may start to generate the same amount of money as manga if allowed the room to expand.