[TOONING IN] Knowledge is power in this trending genre of webtoons
From simple and humorous cartoons to works that deal with sensitive issues, webtoons and the discussion surrounding them provide an insightful look into contemporary Korea. With its new Tooning In series, the Korea JoongAng Daily will examine popular webtoons and what they can reveal about society.
“This damned reincarnation, I'm living the dull life of a noble lady where nothing special ever happens.”
The Daum Webtoon series “A common story of a lady's new life” starts with main character Valerie lamenting her mundane life — except for the fact that it isn’t quite mundane. Valerie dies after a car accident and is then reborn as the daughter of a noble family in a fantastical world where monsters and magic exist. Realizing that she has been reincarnated into a new world, Valerie takes full advantage of her situation and tries to start a special life by using the knowledge she has from her previous life.
Webtoons and web novels alike are all about reincarnation these days. We’ve all thought about going back in time to relive certain moments in our lives to do better or avoid them completely, and these works are the result of that “if I could go back” mentality. In almost all reincarnation stories, characters are not only aware of their situation and carry the full knowledge from their past life, but also readily use that power to gain an upper hand to conquer their challenges.
Reincarnation usually takes the form of three categories: Reborn as the same character, but a younger version, reborn into a character within a story or reborn as a character within a video game. With the exception of Naver Webtoon’s “See You in My 19th Life” or “Mom, I’m Sorry,” which are both set in contemporary Korea, stories are usually set in fantasy worlds or a fictional time in history.
In Kakao Page’s webtoon “The Rebirth of a Tyrannical Empress,” the main character is reborn as an empress named Julia, who was killed in a coup. With this information, she must do all she can to avoid her own death. “The Definition of a Villainess,” also on Kakao Page, begins with the main character waking up as the daughter of Duke Kylon, a notorious villainess. These characters are faced with the challenges of mending their reputations for the better and their newfound upper-class status provides them with the power they have never experienced before.
“The First Night With the Duke” on Naver Webtoon, begins with the main character waking up as Ripley, a lesser-popular character within the story who’s not supposed to have any important parts. Ripley is a count’s daughter and thus has the hierarchical power to change things around. She accidentally spends the night with Duke Zeronis, who’s supposed to fall in love with Etoile, but ends up falling in love with Ripley instead. As Ripley, she must make up her mind on whether to stick to the story she knows, or accept her new fate and see how it unfolds.
While the social class theme in reincarnation stories serves as a means for characters to thrive, in stories based on games, it's the individuals’ knowledge that gives them the upper hand. In Daum Webtoon’s “Concubine Walkthrough,” high school student Yona is trapped in the body of a royal concubine of the emperor within the video game “Concubine Walkthrough,” who is destined to die in all scenarios. She uses all her brainpower to get through the situation and beat the game. In “Glitch Master,” the main character is a master of the game Paradiso. When he is reborn into an overweight and useless feudal lord character within the game, he uses the knowledge he has accumulated over the past 10 years of playing Paradiso to change not only his own fate but the fate of the game.
Why are there so many reincarnation stories and why do people read them? Although the main character isn't reincarnated, Naver Webtoon’s ongoing series “Omniscient Reader” best explains why readers find such pieces amusing: The knowledge of what will happen, which is used to turn things around and ensures a certain level of happy ending and a sense of relief that the main character will be able to handle the situation.
“I became the only person who knew how the world was going to end,” says Dokja in the first episode of the webtoon. When the world Dokja lives in is suddenly transformed into a world he read about in a novel, only he has the knowledge, and therefor the power, to save the people around him.
In all cases, the story unfolds in a way that the characters never see coming. If it wasn’t the case, then there wouldn’t be a narrative. Take care to read through each page in detail, just in case you find yourself waking up in the life of one of these characters.
BY YOON SO-YEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]