Webtoons are taking over the world. Is the US next?

The digital comic format may be South Korea’s next big hit in the US.

Webtoons/ YouTube

While superhero movies own pretty much every American box office record, the comic books they’re based on have always been a niche interest in the US.

Webtoons, a digital comic format that originated in South Korea, are starting to make a splash outside of East Asia — and a big push for the American market, per the Financial Times.

Webtoons…

… are digital comics meant to be read on a smartphone or computer. The technology originated circa 2003 as physical comic sales dwindled in South Korea.

The rise of the format has happened in lockstep with the country’s 2 leading platforms:

  • Naver Webtoon, which has 750k creators on its platform and 82m monthly active users
  • Kakao Webtoon, whose Japanese affiliate, Piccoma, was the 2nd highest grossing non-gaming app in the world, behind TikTok, in 2021 ($96m in monthly revenue)

Both platforms allow creators to upload Webtoons for free, leading to a massive range of stories and titles. This variety, along with the ability to consume Webtoons quickly and on-the-go, has led to the format’s growing popularity in South Korea and beyond.

But will Americans bite?

Critics wonder if South Korea’s “digital snack culture” will work with American audiences who have shown mixed feelings about short-form content.

On one hand, TikTok has 50m daily active users in the US.

On the other, Quibi, the short-form streaming platform, raised $1.75B only to shut down 6 months after launch when it struggled to hit subscriber targets.

South Korean creators…

… have already generated massive hits in the US across formats:

  • BTS, the K-Pop group, has had the bestselling song in the US 2 years in a row
  • Parasite, the 2020 Oscar winner, is the 4th highest-grossing foreign film in US box office history
  • Squid Game, the Netflix hit, was the 6th title to reach 3B minutes streamed in a single week since Nielsen started tracking streaming

For its part, Naver Webtoon has 14m subscribers in the US, making up 17% of its total readership — a nice little niche already.

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