Manhwa: What to Know & Where to Get Started

With the release of Sweet Home and Noblesse on Netflix and the accessibility of apps like Webtoon, Korean comics have seen an increase in popularity. Known as manhwa, they are similar to Japanese manga, with the root word coming from the Chinese manhua. Generally, the term refers to comics from South Korea, though North Korea's own comic industry is also beginning to flourish. While Japanese manga tends to be more popular because of its accompanying anime adaptations, Korean manhwa has been steadily rising as its own powerhouse.

In the US, Tokyopop handled the distribution of not only manga titles but some manhwa as well in the early '00s. The Tarot Cafe, Ragnarok and Priest were just some manhwa titles the publishing house distributed for American audiences. However, the very first person to bring manhwa to the US was Sanho Kim in the '60s and '70s. However, it wouldn't be until the app Webtoon came onto the scene that the genre saw a spike in popularity. The app's scrolling format allows users to read comics made by not only publishing companies but independent artists as well.

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Manhwa, much like its Japanese counterpart, has a wide variety of genres targeted at people of all tastes, from romance to horror and far beyond. Not only this, but digital manhwa tends to be in full color, whereas manga is often published in black and white, even digitally (although manhwa is also printed mostly in black and white). Backgrounds tend to be simple, with the focus more on the characters. Digital manhwa sometimes even include music or sound effects to set the mood for certain scenes. Manhwa titles don't often receive animated adaptations, unlike manga. Instead, they tend to see more live-action adaptations, like in the case of Sweet Home.

When it comes to reading manhwa legally, there's no shortage of options. Webtoon is the most popular platform and home to many of the most popular manhwa out right now. Among them are True Beauty, the story of a comic-loving girl who has to keep her cute guy friend from revealing her secret makeup skills, and Neon Revenge, the story of a young vigilante who streams his crime-fighting exploits on ViewTube. Available on IOS, Android and browser, the app is easily accessible and completely free to use. Artists update their comics frequently, but if you just can't wait, some titles allow you to pay for early access to upcoming chapters. The app also helps creators translate their works into different languages, so if English isn't your native tongue, you can still enjoy the comics.

Tapas is another popular website-app that allows creators to upload their comics. Separated by genre, there are a wide variety of titles available for free and premium. If you go the premium route, the first few chapters are available for free, but after that, you'll have to purchase "ink" to keep reading. Luckily, if you don't feel like paying for ink, then you can always watch some ads to earn some. They even have a mature section for older readers.

KakaoPage is licensed by the makers of KakaoTalk, a popular chatting app in Korea. Their app allows people to not only share their manhwa, but also music, visuals and prose. Unlike the other apps, you'll have to pay to access their service. It's also more difficult to navigate KakaoPage if you don't understand Korean. Tappytoon is another premium service, requiring a set period of time to pass or payment before you can continue your comic binge. Tappytoon is actually home to the massively popular Solo Leveling, the manhwa adaptation of a book about a weak warrior's journey to becoming the strongest in existence.

Similar to Tappytoon, Toomics requires that you either pay for a title or a subscription. They also allow you to see an artist's upload schedule so you'll always know when the next chapter will be posted. One of Toomics' most notable series is Leviathan, a post-apocalyptic story set in a world reclaimed by the ocean and ruled by sea monsters.

Lezhin Comics is the platform where Killing Stalking got its start and became wildly popular. It does, however, limit how many chapters you can read for free like the previous ones. Luckily, some series fall under a "Wait Until Free" category, meaning that you can set it up so that you become notified when a series becomes free to read. Among Lezhin's most popular titles is Murderous Lewellyn's Candlelit Dinner, a thriller about a young man who joins his mysterious new neighbor for dinner when the rash of local murders suddenly becomes a personal problem.

The rise of manhwa means there are a plethora of not only great titles to read, but also places to read them that guarantee the creators are rightly compensated. Many titles are also seeing adaptations on services like Crunchyroll and Netflix, meaning there's no shortage of ways to support the medium and its creatives.

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