Webtoons, the digital comics that have been the source material for scores of Korean films and TV series, are to receive a major boost from the South Korean government.
Yu In-chon, minister for culture, sports and tourism, on Tuesday said that the government will foster webtoon platform development, launch a major webtoon festival in the autumn of this year and by 2027 open a school dedicated to the emerging genre.
More from Variety
Webtoons emerged in the early years of the 21st century shortly after the mass market a acceptance of smart phones – a technology sector where Korea’s Samsung Electronics is a major manufacturer – and are vertically-scrolling comics designed for consumption on a small screen.
As a relatively new medium webtoons have escaped some of the strictures of Japan’s manga business or the cartoon industry in other countries. Instead, they have diverse story genres, are cheap to produce, which allows creators from non-professional backgrounds to participate, and have been quickly internationalized through multi-lingual translations and overseas platforms. Additionally, business models vary widely.
Yu said that he wants to foster Korean webtoon platforms with the kind of global influence of video streamer Netflix. It was not immediately clear whether he intends to support the existing corporate participants or also to establish another platform. Korean companies Naver and Kakao are already market leaders, have attracted international financial backing, and have established several overseas operations with different business models catering to local markets and audiences. Other companies are investing in the sector.
More clearly, Yu said he aims to increase the size of the industry and the scale of exports. These were estimated at KRW2.6 trillion ($1.89 billion) and $107 million in 2022, the last year for which figures are available. Yu said that the sector could grow to KRW4 billion ($2.9 billion) with exports of $250 million by 2027.
The strategy is part of a wider soft power push by Korea, which has seen its film, TV and pop music industries enjoy global success due to the influence of Oscar-winning “Parasite,” Netflix hit “Squid Game” and music acts including Psy, BTS and Blackpink. These have in turn fueled the success of other Korean cultural goods and services including cosmetics, language-learning and foods. Korea’s exports of kimchi (fermented spicy cabbage) are reported to have reached a record in 2023.
“Supporting webtoons is very important for bolstering the intellectual property rights of the South Korean content industry as a whole,” Yu said during a press briefing in Seoul to announce the plans, according to the Yonhap news agency. “It’s high time to provide effective support to the industry so it can continue to produce webtoons with the potential to become blockbuster IPs.”
Webtoons have been behind TV shows “Moving,” “Hellbound” and “Itaewon Class.” Films derived from webtoons include the “Tazza” crime comedy titles, action thriller “Steel Rain,” fantasy adventure “Along With the Gods” and crime actioner “Inside Men.”
The plans unveiled on Tuesday include the launch of a comic and webtoon festival this year. It will include awards for global industry players and aim to eventually have the prestige of the prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, the ministry said.
Other strands of the initiative include support for smaller platforms to reach export markets, (through market information, consulting services and translation) and other moves to help develop creators, industry executives and specialist translators.
These will be further strengthened by the webtoon college, when it opens in a couple of years. Yu said that the highly regarded Korean Academy of Film Arts and the country’s Game Institute were benchmarks for the college.
Best of Variety