Korea’s new best friends are Kakao emoticons

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Korea’s new best friends are Kakao emoticons


Koreans selected the Kakao Friends as their favorite animated character in 2016. [KAKAO FRIENDS]

For much of the past six years, Korea’s most popular cartoon character was an anthropomorphic penguin in an oversized aviator helmet.

Since 2011, the amiable bird known here as Pororo has topped an annual survey of beloved Korean animated characters, only falling to second once in 2012. The penguin, which debuted in 2003, is so beloved that children call him “Potongnyeong,” or “President Pororo.”

But there’s a new sheriff in town, according to the latest survey from the Korea Creative Content Agency, the government agency that runs the annual poll. The Kakao Friends, the ubiquitous emoticon characters on Korea’s most widely used messaging app, KakaoTalk, were the most popular animated characters in 2016.

In a survey of 1,200 consumers, 14.3 percent said their favorite characters were the Kakao Friends. Pororo retreated to second with 8.9 percent.

Among the characters mentioned in the survey, the Kakao Friends are the only ones based on an IT service. The Friends, consisting of eight anthropomorphic characters ranging from a lion named Ryan to a dancing peach, were initially developed in 2012 as emoticons for KakaoTalk and became so popular that Kakao, the app’s operator, started selling dolls and sundries featuring the characters. They are now a profitable source of income for Kakao Friends, the intellectual property arm of the tech company. Last year, the subsidiary made 70.5 billion won ($61.8 million) in revenue and operating profit of 23.7 billion won.

“Unlike Pororo, which mostly appeals to children, Kakao Friends have obtained fans from a wide demographic,” the Korea Creative Content Agency said in a report, “since they are able to express users’ gloomy feelings and difficulties in the workplace with their cute and adorable expressions.”

In third place on the agency’s survey was Shin-chan, a 5-year-old schoolboy from the Japanese animation “Crayon Shin-chan,” with 6 percent of votes, followed by characters from another Japanese animation series “One Piece” with 4.9 percent.

Dooley from the 1983 Korean animation “The Dinosaur Dooley” was fifth, and the magical cat Doraemon from the eponymous Japanese animation came in sixth. Other favorites like Larva, Pokemon, Hello Kitty and Disney’s “Frozen” rounded out the list.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]

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