What is Manhwa? From Traditional Prints to Digital Webtoons

What is Manhwa

Manhwa is the Korean word for comics and print-cartoons in general. Typically, outside of Korea, the term pertains to South Korean comics. Manhwa is significantly influenced by Manga comics. Modern Manhwa has spread to many additional countries. Webtoons have enabled the expansion of these publications beyond the borders of Korea, resulting in numerous film and television adaptations.

The creator of a manhwa is referred to as a manhwaga. They are tasked with developing a comic that adheres to a particular format. Because Korean is normally written and read horizontally, manhwa is read in the same direction as English literature, horizontally and from left to right. Additionally, it can be written and read vertically from right to left, top to bottom.

Webtoons are often designed for scrolling, whereas manga is designed to be read page by page. Manhwa, unlike its manga counterpart, is frequently published online in color, but in black and white when printed. Manhwa art is distinct from manga and manhua due to its unique characteristics. Characters’ bodies are frequently proportioned genuinely, while their faces remain unrealistic.

Additionally, the apparel of the characters in Manhwas is frequently very intricate, as are the intricate backgrounds. Webtoons make use of vertical scrolling to convey movement or the passage of time. Manhwa webtoons are also known for their abridged dialogue compared to print media.

What Has Manhwa’s History Been Like So Far?

Manhwa History
Manhwa History

During the period from 1910 to 1945 when Korea was a part of the Japanese Empire, elements of Japanese language and culture were integrated into Korean society. During the 1920s, the term manhwa gained popularity in Korea when it was applied to comics. By the middle of the 1920s, the majority of newspapers had ceased publication, and political and social cartoons had been supplanted by humorous illustrations and cartoons aimed at children.

After the establishment of the Republic of Korea (commonly known as South Korea) in 1948, political cartoons steadily reemerged. During the early years of Japanese occupation, newspaper caricatures frequently criticized society. Popular artist Kim Yong-hwan launched Korea’s first comic magazine, Manhwa Haengjin, in 1948, but it was soon shut down because the cover was deemed inappropriate by the authorities.

Manhwa was employed to bolster public morale during the Korean War. During the 1950s and 1960s, the popularity of comics increased, resulting in a variety of styles and subjects that led to the development of new genres such as sunjeong (or soonjung), which are romance-themed stories aimed at young women (equivalent to the Japanese genre shoujo). Also around this time, another humorous genre, myeongnyang or cheerful comics, gained popularity as a counterpoint to grim ones.

Manhwabang (literally, comics room), comics cafés, and stores that charged a set fee for readers to recline and read comics were also introduced to the public, creating a positive atmosphere around comics. In response to the increasing publication of comics as well as social and political changes in South Korea, the government enacted censorship laws and, by the mid-1960s, established a distribution monopoly for comics that further censored manhwa.

In the 1990s, the prohibition on Japanese media was lifted, which influenced contemporary Manhwa art and style. Around this time, Manhwa also became popular in North Korea. The majority of Manhwa was migrated to online sources in the early 2000s as a result of South Korea’s economic collapse at the turn of the century. The transfer to online sources has increased its popularity abroad. This prompted the South Korean search engine to establish LINE Webtoon, an online manga distribution platform.

How Did the Term “Webtoons” Originate?


The word “Webtoon” is a fusion of the Korean words for “web” and “cartoon.” The term was coined by Chollian, one of South Korea’s oldest and now defunct internet search engines, on August 8, 2000. Webtoons are a digital form of manhwa that gained prominence in the early 2000s due to their free availability and internet accessibility.

It was also advantageous for creators because it enabled them to circumvent South Korean censorship laws. Webtoons encourage novice authors to publish their own stories for the enjoyment of others. Since their inception, webtoons have garnered popularity worldwide and have even been adopted outside of Korea as an alternative form of comic book publication. This is due to their unique format and compensation structure.

WEBTOON’s global website and mobile app were introduced in 2014, revolutionizing the way comics are read for entertainment. In addition, around this time, LINE Webtoon’s founder, JunKoo Kim, reported that Webtoon was utilized in 60 countries, had 55 million monthly users, and 100 billion annual views.

Outside of Korea, Manhwa is Gaining Popularity

Manhwa Gaining Popularity
Manhwa Gaining Popularity

Manhwa has now reached every corner of the globe. People can access a broad variety of comics from their phones thanks to websites like TopToon, a webtoon company from Korea that also provides a global service in TopToonPlus. There are also websites like WEBTOON that allow users to not only read but also create original manga, allowing everyone to participate in this aspect of Korean culture.

In spite of this, the relative obscurity of Korean culture in the Western world has caused the term manhwa to remain relatively unknown among English-speakers. English translations of manhwa have found success by targeting the manga and anime community, to the extent that American publisher Tokyopop marketed manhwa as manga.

This concludes all about manhwa that you need to know. Tell us what your favorite manhwa is in the comments! Follow us on Twitter and Instagram to be notified when we publish additional engaging content.