You’ve heard your friends buzzing about the titles: “Business Proposal,” “Itaewon Class,” “Navillera: Like a Butterfly,” “Dr. Brain.” That’s right, all of them big recent hits on global streaming platforms. Another one, “Moving,” airs soon and is already much anticipated.
But did you know they all got their start as webtoons?
Let’s start with the basics. Webtoons are serialized comics optimized for smartphones, with each scene unfolding on a vertical pane. Endless stories from action and romance to fantasy are now available in this format. Webtoons originated in Korea, but their impact on the entertainment industry worldwide is nothing short of amazing.
Now step back to 2003, when Kang Full, an aspiring comic book artist was drawing free comic strips to help drive traffic to the news page of one of Korea’s major internet portals, Daum. Kang eventually struck up a deal with Daum to create a feature comic, and his first hit was the world’s first webtoon, “Love Story.” No one was more surprised than Kang when viewership exploded, recording an incredible 32 million views and 250,000 comments.
Webtoons took off and Daum established the world’s first webtoon platform called Daum Webtoon. It quickly flourished, becoming a hub for pros and amateurs alike. In 2008, Yoon Tae-ho published the mystery thriller “Moss.” Yoon was already established but Daum Webtoon took him to a new level. Moss was adapted to film in 2010 and Yoon followed up with “Misaeng: An incomplete life” in 2012. It was another smash that was adapted for TV and still draws global viewership. Daum Webtoon went on to become Kakao Webtoon under Kakao Entertainment years later.
Making the business model work
Besides the webtoon format itself, the industry’s biggest revolution is probably the Wait-or-pay business model. A relatively new webtoon platform at the time called KakaoPage (which later merged with Kakao M to become Kakao Entertainment) set it as its mission to build a thriving ecosystem for webtoon creators. The company’s answer to this, the wait-or-pay business model, changed everything in 2014 because it gave readers a choice: wait for the next episode to drop or pay a small fee to keep reading.
Who wants to wait?!
KakaoPage transactions took off, growing five times from 2014 to 2016, and the pay model was widely adopted. Korea’s webtoon industry had expanded 23 percent from 2007 to 2012 but wait-or-pay pushed growth to 227 percent over the next five years.
Building a sustainable ecosystem
Today we have a healthy ecosystem filled with flourishing creators. Studios and publishers that nearly went under when print comics lost their mojo came roaring back as content producers and are now key cogs in the machine. They help segmentize webtoon production so instead of monthly print runs, new webtoon episodes get uploaded all the time. Kakao Entertainment has invested close to two billion dollars to support their efforts, helping studios grow and spawning new professions along the way, including webtoon editors, translators, producers, and critics.
The magic of original stories – the sky’s the limit
Dreaming of turning your story idea into a blockbuster? Well, here’s a pro-tip: get cracking on the webtoon first. Webtoons are now a vital instrument in Korea’s fast-moving entertainment industry, and executives worldwide are watching, searching for the next big hit.
Your original story might just turn out to be the next superhero mega franchise, and there is no place better to make it big than Kakao Entertainment. The company signed 50 deals in 2021 alone and has the global platform muscle to build success, with Kakao Webtoon in Asia, affiliated platform Piccoma in Japan and Europe, and Tapas in North America. So, what are you waiting for?