Webtoon (Hangul: 웹툰) is a term used to describe South Korean webcomics or manhwa that are published online. The Korean web portal Daum created a webtoon service in 2003, as did Naver in 2004. These services regularly release webtoons that are available for free. According to David Welsh of Bloomberg, comics account for a quarter of all book sales in South Korea, while more than 3 million Korean users paid to access online manhwa and 10 million users read free webcomics.
As of July 2014, Naver had published 520 webtoons while Daum had published 434. Since the early 2010s, services such as Tapastic, Spottoon and Line Webtoon have begun to officially translate webtoons into English. Examples of popular webtoons that have been translated into English are The Breaker, Girls of the Wild's, The Gamer, Noblesse, and Tower of God. In recent years, these webtoons have been gaining popularity in Western markets, rivalling Japanese manga.
As digital comics have emerged as a popular medium, print publication of manhwa has decreased. The amount of material published in webtoon form has now reached an equal amount as that published offline.
The earliest webtoons were scanned original comics uploaded onto the Internet, usually formatted on a one-page layout.
With the development of technology, authors were able to utilise flash animation effects.
Enhanced preloading enabled later authors to adopt a vertical layout with scrolling. In contrast to comics with a dense panel composition, scrolling brings new panels into view. This makes webtoons suitable for gradual and continuous representation, allowing webtoon reading to become more fluid.
With the advent of the smartphone and tablet, webtoons have also migrated to new platforms such as apps.
Prior to 2014, most webtoons were only available in English through unofficial fan translations. In July 2014, Naver subsidiary Line began publication of translations of popular webtoons to English via the Line Webtoon service.
The market for webtoons and their derivatives is currently valued at around KR₩420 billion (US$368 million).
Although digital comics are increasingly popular, print publication remains the primary means of comic retail. Some publishers offer online content and print content simultaneously.
Webtoons have been taken as source material by a number of different mediums, including film and television; one of the earliest examples of this was Beat, a 1997 film based on the comic by Huh Young-man. Huh's later work, Tazza, was serialized in the Sports Chosun and garnered over 100 million homepage views, later being adapted into two films. Another of Huh's works, Le Grand Chef, was published in the Dong-a Ilbo for five years and sold 540,000 copies in paperback version.
Naver's Line Webtoon service, launched in 2014, is now the biggest webtoon platform in Korea. According to Naver, it reaches over 6.2 million daily users. The free Line Webtoon translation service has allowed webtoons to form part of the global Korean Wave.
The following table lists webtoon portals in Korea: