Let’s learn about the unique comic format of WEBTOON series, where titles like 'Tower of God' and more call home!
Many anime fans are familiar with manga, with lots of classic and modern anime being adapted from the medium, such as Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, and many more drawing on their graphic novel counterparts. But this season, a different comic tradition is responsible for starting a new anime trend with the adaptation of Tower of God: Korean manhwa, specifically, WEBTOON series! But what are WEBTOON series and what makes them so unique? Aren’t they just Korean comics? Well, you may be surprised to learn that WEBTOON series are a global phenomenon, with readers and creators all over the globe! And furthermore, they’re a wholly unique digital platform that relies on the screen of your phone to help tell the story. If that’s got you curious, then read on!
First, it’s probably important to specify that WEBTOON series and manhwa aren’t the same word. Much like manga, manhwa just means “comic” when translated from Korean. WEBTOON series are a type of comic, but a very specific digital medium—compared to print comics, there are a lot of differences! WEBTOON series occasionally get printed as paper copies, but these are mostly collectible items rather than the regular way to read them. Instead, WEBTOON series are designed to be read vertically on screens, most specifically smartphone and tablet screens. If Tower of God made you curious enough to go check out the WEBTOON series, you might already be aware of this verticality, but for new readers, WEBTOON’s approach to reading style is very unique and can take a bit of getting used to—but it's certainly rewarding when you dive in!
Unlike manga or American comics, WEBTOON series don’t generally rely on panels and gutter layouts on single pages. Instead, WEBTOON series use an “infinite canvas,” with readers scrolling vertically down as they read chapters. WEBTOON series chapters vary in length, but many of them are pretty long. If you were to try and print out an entire chapter, you’d find yourself printing 30 plus pages or more for most titles, and a lot of those pages would be blank! When I started reading WEBTOON series, this negative space was something that really caught me off guard—at first, I kept thinking my screen wasn’t loading. I realized that titles used this white space (or black or gray!) to space out story beats and big reveals, making tense, dramatic moments even more hair-raising as my own reading speed affects how quickly I’d see what happens next. (This may come as no surprise, but WEBTOON series are really, REALLY easy to binge read!)
In fact, this use of vertical reading space and chapter size makes another aspect of WEBTOON series somewhat shocking in comparison to manga: they’re in color! While many WEBTOON series use negative space to help with that burden, it’s still quite impressive to think about how much work goes into creating weekly chapters with full color, and these vibrant comics really make their unique worlds pop on the screen. In many cases, WEBTOON series will change their background colors from white to black, or some other variation, in order to transition between things like time changes (night and day or even past and present) or to really ram home emotional moments. Watching all of the color drain out of even the page you’re reading can make the gut punches in some WEBTOON series really hit hard!
Similar to manga, WEBTOON series cover almost every possible topic. You’ll find WEBTOON series about school life, professional careers, sports, fantasy, sci-fi, and almost everything in between. On the off chance that you catch up on a long-running series, you’ll find plenty of other titles to take their place. When I first started reading WEBTOON series, I only read about five stories. Now, my subscription page is up to fifty titles! Let’s just say they can be addictive and leave it at that! Perhaps something that fewer people know, though, is that WEBTOON series artists aren’t just Korean. There are many creators from all over the world publishing WEBTOONS series and the variety of art styles and storytelling really make the platform something unique and magical to explore.
In 100 percent honesty, I was actually a pretty late adopter to WEBTOON series, as I always preferred reading physical mediums over digital and never found reading manga on my phone very entertaining. Something about "turning" pages digitally, waiting for them to load, and other things just made the experience less desirable than picking up a volume and reading it. During a layover on a flight earlier this year, I found myself stuck without much to entertain myself with except my phone and remembered that a friend had suggested I check out Tower of God. Five hours and one flight later, I had nearly drained my entire back-up battery and read my way through most of Season 2. Since then, I’ve been hooked. If you’re like me, and skeptical of digital media, I really think you should give WEBTOON series a try. In fact, I’ve got a few personal recommendations ready to get you started! All of these can be found on Naver’s WEBTOON website or app check (here for Apple or here for Google)and you can start reading them right away!
Tower of God
This is the WEBTOON series that got me into WEBTOON series, and from other Tower of God fans I’ve spoken to, that seems to be par for the course. The series has been running for nearly ten years now, so you have a LOT of reading to catch up on if you’re only just getting invested thanks to the anime this season! The adventures of Bam, Khun, and the rest of the Regulars sucked me in with it’s deep, unraveling story and I found myself having to force myself to stop reading “just one more chapter” before bed. Creator SIU has stated he’s had the story planned out from the start and it really does feel that way as you read through it, seeing little details you didn’t think about before suddenly become relevant, or small bits of dialogue or art that you didn’t understand before suddenly rushing back and making you go “HEYYY, wait a minute!” as some new development unfolds. SIU manages to follow a large, diverse cast of characters throughout Tower of God and the series absolutely deserves the attention it’s getting right now. If you’re curious to see what happens to Bam and company after the anime ends, there is plenty of Tower of God waiting for you in the WEBTOON series!
I’ve always been a huge fan of martial arts movies. I fondly remember how I used to watch badly dubbed martial arts flicks with my grandma as a child. GOSU, by Giun Ryu and Mun Jeong Hoo, takes me back to the magic and excitement of martial arts stories. GOSU might be the most gorgeous WEBTOON series I’ve ever read and the authors really know how to let visuals do the storytelling—there are some truly breathtaking moments in GOSU that are conveyed solely through still, almost unchanging landscapes. Protagonist Gang Yong is really quite something and there have been times when I’ve audibly gasped or yelled at big moments in this series. With the wave of WEBTOON series titles getting adapted into anime, I’d absolutely put GOSU on my list of series I’d love to see get an anime. If you like martial arts stories, or just really gorgeous art, GOSU is worth the read!
Rachel Smythe’s Lore Olympus was a series I frankly never expected to read, let alone love. Talking about Greek mythology usually makes me think back to college humanities classes or playing God of War, and while both of those were great, they weren't usually my cup of tea. I’ll admit that I actually ended up reading this one because I kept seeing it so highly ranked on the WEBTOON app—seriously, it’s number one in like, every demographic and overall—and finally gave in to the not so subliminal message that I’m obviously missing out on something here. And boy, was I! Lore Olympus is a simple concept: reimagining mythological Gods and Goddesses in somewhat “human” situations. This story is a bit mature and dramatic, but the romance and suspense in it are really something, and the art is colorful and gorgeous. Persephone and Hades’ story has never been so gripping and I find myself always waiting for the next chapter to drop.
The God of High School
Yongje Park’s The God of High School was an easy sell for me since it evoked memories of classic school battling anime like Tenjho Tenge and a hint of fighting games. Since the anime is about to begin, I won’t spoil anything, but the action in this series is top-notch with gorgeous art to match! Like Tower of God, this WEBTOON series has also been running for quite a while, meaning you’ve got plenty of material to get through. Jin Mo-Ri is a pretty deceptive protagonist, too. At first, I just assumed he’d be the usual battle-crazed fighting style character, like Goku, but he’s got his own unique personality that helps set him apart. A lot of my enjoyment of The God of High School comes from the supporting cast, which Park has really done an amazing job with. The main trio of characters is fun and strong and it always feels exciting to see various martial arts and skills used in this series.
If you like horror or zombie movies, this series might be right up your alley. I got quite a few friends into reading WEBTOON series by getting them to read this relatively new title that features some of the creepiest and imaginative monster designs I’ve seen in a while. Sweet Home’s authors Youngchan Hwang and Carnby Kim really manage to hit that survival horror itch, and in terms of using the WEBTOON series medium, I can’t think of many other titles that take advantage of the vertical scrolling pages like Sweet Home does to deliver some absolutely bone-chilling moments. As a monster horror series, it is only fair to warn you that it can be a bit gruesome at times, so please keep that in mind if you decide to check it out!
WEBTOON series are becoming a global phenomenon. The market for them is estimated to be over 300 million USD a year currently, and with anime adaptations and even larger potential audiences about to learn of them through Tower of God, The God of High School, and Noblesse, I can only see those numbers going way up! If you’ve never tried WEBTOON, then now is absolutely the time. I guarantee you’ll find a series you’ll absolutely want to read, and then another one, and another one, and another one… Uh oh! How did that queue get so huge?! Anyway, happy reading, and I hope this helped get you interested in the wonderful world of WEBTOON series!
Are you a WEBTOON series fanatic? Is this your first time hearing about them? Let us know what titles you like and what you think about WEBTOON in the comments!
Nicole is a frequent wordsmith for Crunchyroll. Known for punching dudes in Yakuza games on her Twitch channel while professing her love for Majima. She also has a blog, Figuratively Speaking. Follow her on Twitter: @ellyberries
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