Do you know WEBTOON? They publish digital comics through a phone app and the web. The company would certainly love it if you have. They are the most-read digital publisher in the world. They are the most-read comics publisher on the planet.
WEBTOON originally launched in South Korea in 2004 and launched in the US in 2014. The comics are free to read on the phone app or a web browser.
78% of readers read WEBTOON on their phones. 12% read on their computers. They get 15 million readers per day worldwide. That totals up to 55 million readers a month, the majority reading via their phones. They got a total of 100,000,000,000 views in 2018.
Think about that.
This makes WEBTOON the most successful comics publisher in the world. They've surpassed Marvel, DC, European comics publishers and Japanese manga publishers. It's also notable that 65% of the creators on WEBTOON are women. This puts the gender disparity at US comics publishers to shame. Yet not many people in the mainstream are aware of WEBTOON's existence. They're still below the radar of mainstream culture in the US. The company would like to change that this year and become a lot more known. They have plans to expand their public profile with ads on TV and a greater push at visibility.
A Different Way to Read Comics
Originally called LINE WEBTOON, the platform began in South Korea in 2004 where people are totally used to reading on their phones. In Asia, people have been reading comics and serialized novels on their phones far longer than people in the West have. WEBTOON is a pioneer of this new type of comic. This is a comic where you scroll down in a continuous single page. You don't turn the page, you just use your finger to swipe up to see the next speech bubble, the next image, the next panel.
The readers are clearly people who grew up on anime and manga and are used to the decompressed storytelling where action and emotion unfold gradually for maximum impact. They are also used to the art style of manga and now Korean manhwa. WEBTOON is the flashpoint where Asian pop culture, social media awareness and the K-Pop sensibility merge.
To enter WEBTOON via your computer or phone app is not unlike signing into Netflix. There's an almost unfathomable number of series on it. The sheer volume of material on the service is breathtaking. Far beyond any US comics publisher, beyond even Comixology, virtually every genre is included on WEBTOON. It can be intimidating to figure out what you want to read, but like Netflix, you just click on the first thing that looks good to you. Then another. Then another. Before long, you're following three, then six, then twelve series in different styles and genres. There's Romance, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Humour, Slice of Life, LGBTQ, Comedy, Action, Drama.
A Different Publishing Infrastructure
WEBTOON currently publishes 2,600 exclusive titles on WEBTOON, with the daily or weekly installments totaling more than a million comics to date.
Creators own the rights to their comics and use WEBTOON as a site to self-publish. A WEBTOON spokesperson says that many creators make a living through their work on the platform. They get paid through ad sharing and from the Fast Pass that readers might buy to unlock advance installments of their favourite comics. The most popular Originals comics earn their creators easily more than $10,000 per month, enough to make it a full-time job.
The WEBTOON community has become a different ecosystem from the one we're used to in the US comics industry. There's actually a thin line dividing the creators and the fans. Creators were fans themselves and many fans will become creators. They came out of the Deviant Art and other communities and that vibe still runs strong. They're online but live all over the world, from South Korea to the Philippines to the US. The creators also offer commissions and have Patreon pages for their fans to support them financially.
WEBTOON has also worked with comics creators like Warren Ellis, Colleen Doran and Dean Haspiel, who all have a series on the platform. They're currently working with Amazon Publishing, HarperCollins, Macmillan/Tor Books, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster to adapt Young Adult novels into comics.
How to Start Reading WEBTOON
Everyone's tastes are different, so we're not going to tell you what to read. When you get on WEBTOON for the first time, there are plenty of lists of the most popular series in different genres. Just get started by picking one that looks good to you. If you don't like it, just move on to another. Think of it as the digital comics version of Netflix, except it's all free to read! You have nothing to lose.
WEBTOON is available as an iOS and Android app and on web browsers on computers. It's free to read unless you want to buy Fast Pass to unlock advance chapters.