Korean storytelling companies want to revive the popularity of webtoons and web novels in the West through their success in East Asia.
Serialized digital comics, also known as webtoons in South Korea, are optimized for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets or websites, which read top-down.
Digital comics gained popularity throughout South Korea and Japan in the early 2000s and spread to the United States in the 2010s. In 2014, Amazon acquired Comixology, the largest comics marketplace in the United States, and last year the world’s largest bookseller integrated the Comixology app into Kindle, allowing digital comics to be read on their smartphone or Kindle.
Some comics apps, such as Madefire and the Archie comics app, were shut down in 2021, while Comixology was impacted by recent Amazon layoffs.
Still, some major digital comics companies believe that the shift from print to digital media could enable the revival of web-based or app-based serialized storytelling, such as webtoons and web novels. And some South Korea-based Big Tech companies have ambitions beyond the world of comics and novels.
Earlier this month, Kakao Entertainment, which operates storytelling platforms and a music streaming service, announced that it had received $966 million in funding from sovereign wealth funds, including the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia and Singapore’s GIC (Pwarp Investment). The new money will be used to expand its global storytelling content and intellectual properties, around which original series and movies are based, especially in North America, Kakao pointed out. The funding comes about two years after it acquired two US-based storytelling platforms, Tapas and serialized fiction app Radish.
I caught up with industry sources, including Naver-owned WEBTOON Global CEO Junkoo Kim, who founded WEBTOON in 2004, and Kakao Entertainment Global Chief Commercial Officer Jayden Kang to learn more about the webtoon industry and why they want to bet on the storytelling business.
Are webtoons the next blockbuster?
Naver and Kakao, Korea’s two biggest internet companies, believe storytelling platforms could be the next entertainment blockbuster, on the heels of the global popularity of K-pop boy group BTS and Netflix’s “Squid Game.”