[Journalism Internship] Korea webtoons go global with rise of translations

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[Journalism Internship] Korea webtoons go global with rise of translations

Bhavika Punjabi, a junior studying directed interactive marketing in the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) at SUNY Korea in Songdo, Incheon, has long been in love with Korean webtoons, or online comics.
A 20-year-old American who was raised in Korea and is no stranger to Korean language and culture, Punjabi initially thought that Korean webtoons would not have any English translations, making it more difficult for her to read them. However, she noticed that English translations did, in fact, exist.  
Before she knew it, she was a full-fledged fan of Korean webtoons, spending at least an hour every day reading them.  
Korean culture has recently been expanding rapidly on a global scale, especially K-pop and Korean films. Although not as popular as the two, K-comics, and especially K-webtoons, are also starting to find their place on the international stage.
According to The Japan Times in 2019, “Japan has long prided itself on being a manga powerhouse, but intense competition from overseas has left the industry at a crossroads. Emerging as a threat is the growing popularity in Asia of the South Korea-born web comics collectively known as ‘webtoons’ [...] overshadowing the global presence of manga. The past several years have seen these South Korean web comics [...] quickly carved out a fan base among ‘digital natives’ youth who are increasingly shunning the traditional print formats in favor of titles read on apps.”
Yoon Tae-ho, a famed Korean cartoonist whose works include “Misaeng” (2012), stated that “As Japan is the powerhouse in the field of classic, traditional paperback comics and Korea is the inventor of webtoons, a difference between them is inevitable. It is due to the highly advanced IT infrastructure of Korea that has allowed the un- precedented growth of webtoons. Currently, even the biggest webtoon platform that is in Japan is owned by Korea.”
Punjabi praised the accessibility of Korean webtoons, saying, “It is a really nice way to pass your time when you are on the subway. It is easy to access reading comics.” When she had to stay home because of Covid-19, she read webtoons six hours a day.
Chynthia Chen, a 20-year-old student from Taiwan currently studying political science and international relations at Yonsei University in Seoul, said she was intrigued by the plots and drawing styles.
“Korean comics tend to really focus on aesthetics and look more like graphic design,” said Chen.  


Korean webtoons were first domestically launched by Naver in 2004, and launched globally in 2014. According to an article published by Aju Business Daily in May, webtoons boasted about 180 million monthly active users worldwide in March 2022, provided in eight foreign languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Spanish, and Thai.  
“The agency I am associated with is making huge efforts to expand overseas, especially focusing on translations,” said Yoon. “The abilities of the translators are very respectable. The quality of their work is highly commendable. It is imperative that the emergence of webtoonists and the number of translators continue to grow.”
The existence of applications for webtoons and the skilled translators are truly great news for webtoonists who aim to show their product of passion and talent to readers around the world.
Lee Jong-hui is one such webtoonist. His webtoon “Tower of God” (2010) was nominated for the best character design for the Crunchyroll Anime Awards of the year 2021. Crunchyroll is a U.S.-based streaming platform for animations  and comics, with over 100 million registered us- ers and more than 5 million subscribers. Due to the size of the content available on their platform as well as the high number of users, it is widely regarded as the biggest streaming platform in the world of animations and comics.
In addition, according to an article published by Crunchyroll in 2020, “Tower of God” has been translated into 28 languages, and has garnered 4.5 billion views worldwide.
Aside from the pure talent and passion of the webtoonists, translators, and the ever growing popularity of the digital comic services such as Naver’s Webtoon, the Bucheon International Comic Festival must also be given credit for its role in raising awareness of webtoons in foreign countries.
The beginning of the Bucheon International Comics Festival, or BICOF, dates back to 1998, when it was held as a side event for the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival. Today, programs include cartoon fairs, cosplays, events and academic symposiums, as well as special exhibitions featuring works of well-known artists.

BY HWANG HYEON-HA, KIM JOON-HO AND LEE TAE-RIN [Hyeonha.Hwang@stonybrook.edu, Joonho.Kim.1@stonybrook.edu, Taerin.Lee@stonybrook.edu]
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