While direct market comics, such as those that release from the Big Two publishers DC and Marvel, are dear to my heart, I can’t deny that they tend to be quite limited in scope and readership. As a whole, a large chunk of that market is composed of superhero series. Even for other series, most of their readership will be composed of superhero fans due to the simple fact that those are the ones who pay attention to direct market books.
One of the main alternatives to direct market series is webcomics. Over the past few years, Webtoon (https://www.webtoons.com/en/) has been a platform that has cultivated a large slate of books of diverse genres and geared towards diverse interests. While I had read the odd series off of Webtoon previously, in the past couple of months I’ve really made an effort to get to know many of the most popular series and the platform as a whole.
Here’s what I found.
How does Webtoon work?
Series on Webtoon tend to release once a week, though some series, especially those that have been translated from other languages (usually Korean), can release more often. The most frequently-releasing series is Denma, releasing five times a week.
While the majority of the series being discussed in this article are Webtoon Originals, which are series edited by Webtoon itself whose creators are directly paid by the company, there is also a self-publishing section of the site called Webtoon Canvas. These series are not paid for or endorsed by Webtoon itself; however, many Originals started out as Canvas series which were then licensed by Webtoon due to their popularity.
Webtoon series can be read on either an app, available on both iOS and Android, or in a web browser. Individual episodes take around half as long as the average standard comic issue to read, and are released at approximately 9PM Eastern every night. While series have specific dates listed on which they release, the episodes actually release the night before. So, for example, if a series is listed as releasing on Sunday it will release on Saturday night in North America.
Most Webtoon series are released in seasons, between which the creator will go on hiatus. These seasons can last as long as the creator wishes them to, with some lasting only a dozen episodes while others can be hundreds of episodes long.
All Webtoon series are free to read. However, there are paid options. For the currently releasing series, you can pay using Coins (an in-app currency) to use a Fast Pass. This lets you read three to seven episodes beyond what is posted for free. Some completed series also use a system called Daily Pass, in which only one episode can be unlocked to be read every 24 hours unless you, again, pay using Coins. It’s worth noting that neither Fast Pass nor Daily Pass works on browser; in order to even read the daily episodes for Daily Pass, you must be using the app.
Instead of using the standard proportions of a physical page, a Webtoon episode uses an infinite canvas; it extends for as long as the creator requires vertically, with no breaks in the artwork. This format is optimized for scrolling on a smartphone and allows episodes to be quite short or long, with no real standard size.
Most Webtoon series also have thriving communities throughout their comment sections. The more popular series get thousands of comments per episode and the top three comments as rated by users gain a Top Comment marker. These comments are listed first no matter how the comments section is sorted.
As of April 2020, Webtoon had 15 million global daily readers. Of this audience, 75% is under the age of 24 and 64% of it is female. This demographic split is quite different from that of the direct market, which skews older and towards male readers. This shows in the type of series that are most popular; as of this writing, four out of the ten most popular Webtoons are romance series, a genre that for the most part died out in the Western comics tradition back in the Silver Age, over fifty years ago.
Webtoon is also well-known for its LGBTQ+ content. While most series translated from Korean will not feature much LGBTQ+ representation, those originally written in English will usually feature at least one or two LGBTQ+ characters. There are also a few series that go above and beyond with their representation, showing thoughtful portrayals of characters of all sexualities and genders. It’s a good platform if you want to seek out LGBTQ+ series.
Which Webtoons do you recommend?
Mage & Demon Queen
Number of Episodes: 127
Current Status: Hiatus
Summary: A young mage named Malori growing up in a fantasy setting is in love with the Demon Queen Velverosa and wants to marry her instead of killing her, as she has been trained to do.
Why You Should Read It: It’s legitimately both funny and heartfelt. As Velverosa learns to overcome her prejudices and Malori tries to protect her from the humans trying to kill her, they both constantly grow and change in realistic and interesting ways. It may exaggerate its characters for comedic purposes, but when it does it’s always grounded in the characters’ very real emotions.
Creator: Dan Schkade
Number of Episodes: 92
Current Status: Hiatus
Summary: In the early 1900s, Gallery City is faced with a vigilante dressed all in purple who targets the upper class of the city. Two detectives must team up to attempt to bring Lavender Jack to justice, regardless of their own feelings about the vigilante.
Why You Should Read It: It has a great cast of characters who each feel like natural fits into the world of Gallery City. As this fictional city has no discrimination based upon gender, race, sexual orientation, or gender orientation, there’s a ton of LGBTQ+ representation of all types, too. The status quo shifts multiple times a season, creating a story that always feels like it has a sense of momentum.
Number of Episodes: 96
Current Status: Ongoing
Summary: Stars are sentient, humanoid creatures living inside of the balls of gas we see in space. One of them, Txeru, crashes on Earth and is found by a young woman named Maria. The series chronicles the adventures of these two and their friends.
Why You Should Read It: Alright, I’m just going to say it: I’m a sucker for this art. It uses colour and line in such a unique fashion that I can’t stop looking at it. It’s gorgeous, and it’s unbelievable that this Canvas series hasn’t been brought over to Originals yet. This series isn’t afraid to go small, either. That may be unexpected for a series about sentient stars, but most of the series takes place within one house and the town around it, allowing for the series to spend the required time to develop its characters’ relationships.
Creator: han kyoung chal
Number of Episodes: 167
Current Status: Complete
Summary: A shy and insecure girl named Amy Song ends up joining a drawing club called Spirit Fingers, in which she finds love, friendship, and confidence.
Why You Should Read It: It has a ton of style and confidence in its craft. Its creator clearly loves to draw just as much as their characters, and it shows. It’s also unapologetically earnest, and it genuinely feels great to see Amy grow and come to terms with herself over the course of the series. Plus the other members of Spirit Fingers could each have easily carried their own series; each has their own well-realized lives.
Number of Episodes: 83
Current Status: Complete
Summary: Zylith moves into an apartment that seems to have an apparition of a young man that only she can see and interact with. As she and her best friend start to investigate, she starts to fall for the man.
Why You Should Read It: Each of its three leads are grounded enough that even when this series leaps into the supernatural, it’s easy to follow. From a creator who has admitted to disliking romance as a genre, this is a master class in building investment into the relationships between its main characters.
Cursed Princess Club
Number of Episodes: 104
Current Status: Ongoing
Summary: The three princes of the Plaid Kingdom are set to marry the three princesses of the Pastel Kingdom. However, the youngest princess of the Pastel Kingdom, Gwen, is rejected by her prince due to her appearance. Devastated, she runs into the forest where she meets a group of princesses who help her regain her confidence.
Why You Should Read It: It walks a delicate line by making even the worst characters have understandable motivations behind their actions. It isn’t afraid to delve into difficult topics and knows when to pull back on its comedy in order to treat them with the severity they deserve. That being said, this is a funny series that plays on misunderstandings between characters to mine jokes to their fullest potential. That one series can do both is a great accomplishment.
I’ve really enjoyed my time reading Webtoon series, and there are many more series that I wish I could cover in this article. No matter your preferences, there will be a Webtoon series for you. I almost never see Webtoon discussion in comics spaces, and I think that’s a shame because, despite the differences between the two, there’s a lot of overlap between what makes a great comic series and what makes a great Webtoon series.