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In South Korea, the irresistible rise of webtoons

When Bae Jin-soo left his well-paid job moved to one of South Korea's largest conglomerates to write stories, his parents were brought in to write stories. so shocked that they put him away. the door.

Seventeen years later, he is one of the biggest names in South Korea's thriving webtoon industry. As evidenced by the adaptation on YouTube and Netflix of several of his creations.

Specially designed to be read online, these comics have enjoyed tremendous success in South Korea. In 2022, the value of companies in the sector totaled about $1.33 billion, up from $109 million in 2013, according to South Korean government figures.

Symbol of a growing sector, the famous online comics platform Webtoon Entertainment, owned by Korean giant Naver, filed an application at the end of May to be listed on Nasdaq, the American stock exchange for technology companies.

Its valuation could reach $2.6 billion, according to a document in the file.

However, when Bae Jin-soo began his career in webtoons, his parents, like many other people at the time, told him that “comic book artist” was not a way to make a living, he says today.

In South Korea, the irresistible rise of webtoons

South Korean digital comic artist Bae Jin-soo draws in his studio in Seoul, May 24, 2024. © AFP – ANTHONY WALLACE

His friends, too, expressed a certain reluctance because he did not “know how to draw”.

Alongside a part-time job in a convenience store and as a pizza delivery boy, Bae Jin-soo taught himself how to draw by photographing himself and those around him and then copying the photos with paper and pencil.

Unconvinced by his first productions, readers push him to work harder. In 2023, Bae Jin-soo ends up publishing his first success entitled “Friday” on Naver.

– Comics adapted to smartphones –

Appearing around twenty years ago, these comics that can be read by scrolling on your phone were propelled by South Korea's ultra-fast internet and a population addicted to smartphones. They are now becoming the new viral South Korean cultural product around the world.

In South Korea, the irresistible rise of webtoons

South Korean digital comics artist Bae Jin-soo during an interview with AFP in his studio in Seoul, May 24, 2024 © AFP – ANTHONY WALLACE

Now, the Webtoon Entertainment platform has nearly 170 million visitors per month in more than 150 countries. It claims to have paid more than $2.8 billion to authors from 2017 to 2023.

The “average professional creator earns $48,000 per year while the top 100 earn $1 million,” says Webtoon Entertainment CEO Junkoo Kim.

Webtoons have gradually infiltrated other sectors of the entertainment world. They have already inspired a number of K-drama series, including “Misaeng” (2014), “Yumi's Cells” (2021), “Marry My Husband” (2024) and “The 8 Show” (2024) which is inspired by two webtoons written by Bae Jin-soo.

“The actors and actresses know webtoons and are willing to play the roles, which is a strength for the casting,” explains to AFP Park Soon-tae, producer of K-drama series.

In South Korea, the irresistible rise of webtoons

South Korean digital comic artist Bae Jin-soo draws in his studio in Seoul, May 24, 2024 © AFP – ANTHONY WALLACE

While webtoon adaptations into television series are multiplying, many readers remain faithful to the original format.

Reading online allows “stories to develop and evolve in real time as the reader scrolls through the pages,” CEO Junkoo Kim said in his letter filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

– From comics to TV series –

Of the 14 South Korean series launched by Netflix last year, at least seven were inspired by webtoons.

In South Korea, the irresistible rise of webtoons

South Korean digital comic artist Bae Jin-soo, creator of the Naver webtoons “Money Game” and “Pie Game” which inspired the Netflix series “The 8 Show”, holds a “Money Game” webtoons card, during a 'an interview with AFP in Seoul, May 24, 2024 © AFP – ANTHONY WALLACE

“One of our goals is to find shorter, under-explored stories that resonate with webtoon fans and new audiences around the world,” Keo told AFP Lee, director of content for Netflix in South Korea.

Many themes are addressed in these works. But the authors were particularly interested in the “despair of the younger generations”, underlines Dal Yong Jin, author of the book “Understanding Korean Webtoon Culture” published in 2022 by Harvard University Asia Center.< /p>

“Money Game,” one of Bae Jin-soo’s two webtoons that inspired the South Korean series “The 8 Show” broadcast on Netflix, tells the story of a young man riddled with debt after investing in cryptocurrencies .

In South Korea, the irresistible rise of webtoons

Digital comic artist Bae Jin-soo, creator of the Naver webtoons “Money Game” and “Pie Game” that inspired Netflix's “The 8 Show,” stands in front of a framed poster of the series during an interview with the 'AFP in Seoul, May 24, 2024 © AFP – ANTHONY WALLACE

He and seven other people decide to participate in a game in which they must survive 100 days in an enclosed space, which doesn't even have a toilet, to win a prize.

In this game, the cost of living is 1,000 times higher than in the real world, but every penny spent by participants is deducted from the final reward.

For the author, “the most difficult thing is to give up what you have”. “Being from the very bottom, even the smallest gains have always brought me joy,” he says.

All rights of reproduction and representation reserved. © (2024) Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116