When I think of my evolving relationship with Korean pop culture, I think I will remember 2019 fondly as the year I committed myself to Korean webtoons.
Webtoons are online-first original comics optimized for mobile consumption. (There’s an interesting article that came out earlier this year contrasting webtoons to Japan’s print-first manga culture.) A number of content platforms publish webtoons, but I’ve stuck exclusively with Naver, for no good reason except consistency; I’ve been using Naver for all Korean-related things (news, dictionaries, and its online translator, Papago) for years.
In the Naver model, webtoon authors release one chapter a week until the work is complete, sometimes with a more extended hiatus between “seasons.” While the comic is ongoing, past chapters are free to read; readers can spend “cookies” (i.e. money) to read up to 2-3 chapters ahead of that week’s free chapter. Once a work has been completed, it usually stays free for a month or so, after which all except the first few chapters become monetized only. Sometimes, a special event or occasion will unlock older, completed works to be read for free.
I’ve always loved webcomics and manga, but this was the year that I realized I was fluent enough in Korean to fly through these webcomics fast. It was a welcome change of pace from all the Korean literature and academic writing I was reading this year–a fun, albeit mentally straining endeavor.
So, in no particular order, here are all the webtoons that kept my attention in 2019. I’ve linked to the main page of the comic for each of these, but I highly recommend downloading the Naver Webtoon app [Apple | Android] and linking (or creating) your Line or Naver account–you’ll then be able to add stuff to your favorites list, pick up where you’ve left off reading, and even download chapters to read offline.
Author: 김용키| Chapters: 88| Status: Complete
Jongwoo moves to Seoul to intern at his university sunbae‘s startup. He might be broke, but he’s thrilled to finally be getting away from his stifling hometown. To save money, Jongwoo moves into a tiny, dirty little room at Eden Goshiwon. Almost immediately he realizes something is very very off about every one of his new neighbors.
Note: Yes, this is the original webtoon that the drama was based off!
Author: 정서 | Chapters: 48 | Status: Complete
Yeori has always been able to see ghosts, but she goes through life doing her best to pretend she doesn’t. Nothing good has ever come out of her making her ability known to humans or spirits–her ability is nothing but a burden to bear. When she moves into a new house, she discovers it’s inhabited by the ghost of a young man. For the first time since she was a child, Yeori finds herself breaking her own rule and talking to a ghost.
Note: Currently this is on Naver’s list of recommended completed webtoons. After the first several chapters, you can read one chapter for free every 24 hours.
Author: 두부| Chapters: 80| Status: Hiatus
Though she was once a popular web novelist, mild-mannered Yuil has given up writing for good; now she works at a convenience store and spends her free time stanning her favorite idol. When her rooftop apartment becomes the set of a new drama, her brush with stardom turns her life upside down in the best of ways.
방 안의 코끼리
Author: 고요| Chapters: 37| Status: Ongoing
Shy, insecure Yeoreum has had a crush on her childhood friend Sarang for years and years. But she’s content to just be friends–after all, there’s no way handsome, popular Sarang would ever have feelings for her… right? While Yeoreum is trying to move on, another Sarang enters her life–a boy with a generations-old connection to her family. And it’s their families’ wish that the two of them get married immediately.
Note: This webtoon is currently my personal favorite both in story and art style. The art is gorgeous and really lends itself to the author’s dry humor.
Author: 이한솔| Chapters: 63| Status: Ongoing
Jung and Taek have been neighbors and best friends since birth. They’re basically brother and sister. So they’ll never ever ever have feelings for each other. Right?
Note: I’ve been a longtime fan of this webtoon’s artist @solicityboy on Instagram and was super excited when he started posting this. I’ve been a reader since chapter 1.
Author: RAN| Chapters: 20| Status: Ongoing
Hana has been an idol trainee for seven grueling years. Some days, the only thing keeping her going is fangirling after Dogyul–her longtime bias from her favorite idol group–who also happens to be a sunbae at her entertainment agency. Right when she’s about to give up on her dreams to debut, she gets chosen to appear on an idol survival show… with Dogyul as her mentor.
Author: 야옹이 | Chapters: 86 | Status: Ongoing
Jookyung is beautiful, stylish, and sweet. And she has a big secret: she’s hideous without makeup (so she thinks) and she’s a big nerd who loves horror movies and manga. After being teased for being ugly and nerdy, Jookyung perfects the art of makeup. Now she’s has tons of friends–the only problem is, the cute transfer student has just found out her secret.
Note: I make this webtoon sound shallow but it’s actually pretty thoughtful and the main character is really likable. You can read the English translation here.
Author: 장진 / 움비 | Chapters: 74 | Status: Ongoing
Depressed, lonely Hana is at the lowest of low points in her life. That’s when a devil shows up. Saho promises to save her by fulfilling any one wish–the catch is, once that wish is fulfilled, he gets her soul. But Hana doesn’t have a wish. And maybe she doesn’t really want to live either.
Author: 미티/구구| Chapters: 30| Status: Ongoing
Hyochan has been an obnoxious spoiled brat his whole life. But when he finds out his mother only has one month to live, his world comes crashing down. He’ll do anything to save her–even if it means making a deal with a devil (yeah, yeah, I have a thing for the supernatural). And so, Hyochan enters into an infernal contract: his mother gets back her health and youth, in exchange for years off his life. Now Hyochan’s sole purpose to make sure his mother is set up for a happy and comfortable life, before his inevitable death.
Photo by Salman Hossain Saif on Unsplash