New Emissary

Will Manhwa Catch Manga?

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New Emissary

Will Manhwa Catch Manga?

Comics are getting a boost thanks to the iPad. Does this mean Korean comics will now get a share of the spotlight too?

The manga (or comic) business in Japan is BIG business. It’s worth billions yearly (an estimated $3.6 billion in 2007) and its wide appeal has also gone global, attracting considerable fan followings in the West in particular.

And now global accessibility to comics, not just to Japanese manga but to all sorts, is being further boosted by electronic reading devices such as the Kindle and the iPad. In fact, according to a recent article at Comic Book Resources online, 2010 was the year in which comics totally ‘owned’ the iPad.

Citing Apple’s own data, it’s noted that this year, not only were three of the highest five grossing book apps for the iPad comic readers, they were also all apps made by comiXology, a company that claims that since 2007 has been developing ‘the technological infrastructure to bring comics into the digital mainstream and expose new audiences to the rich history and culture of the industry.’

According to Apple, the comic reader aptly called ‘Comics’ by comiXology is also the top-grossing book app on the iPhone and the company has also just released a beta version of Comics for Android smart phone users, just in time for the holiday season.

Jung-sun Park, a professor at California State University at Dominguez Hills, who’s currently based in South Korea doing research for an upcoming book on the country’s culture, mentioned this trend to me when we recently met and touched on topics of Korean culture more generally.

Park, who also commented on the topic of Korean pop music in Japan for a previous post of mine, told me that she believes that thanks to the Internet and devices such as the iPad, Korean comics too might now stand a better chance at gaining international recognition. Though they’ve been consistently popular domestically up to now, she said, Korean comics, or manhwa (a term that can also include print and animated cartoons when used locally), have yet to really take off outside of the country.

She added that one thing she can see is why despite having a lot of home grown, talented animators (there are many Koreans who work as top animators overseas such as in Japan and the US), Korea’s animation hasn’t yet found huge popularity inside or outside the country. Park thinks in this case, bad storylines and no narratives are at fault. However, she notes, ‘Korean comics have not met the same fate and are becoming increasingly popular thanks to the influence of the Internet, and there's a lot of potential.’

Manhwa to Catch-up to Manga?

In her opinion, it’s also got the added boost from the iPad, which will allow readers to keep the ‘experience’ of enjoying comics, that has always been flipping, not scrolling—a key for the future success of manhwa, she says.


Images: Jens Ohlig (top), bm.iphone/ Flickr (bottom).