The 4 Best Korean Webtoons [+ Study Guide for Korean Learners]
Korean webtoons, a form of manhwa, are colored comics in digital format. Instead of reading a comic book, you’re holding a phone or a laptop and using an app or going through a website to get your fix.
As it turns out, webtoons are also an excellent way to sharpen your Korean skills.
In this guide, I’ll talk about how to read them in such a way that you can learn Korean while going through the exciting twists and turns of a story.
I’ll also tell you the best places to find Korean webtoons, as well as some recommendations to get you started.
So buckle up, this is going to be an exhilarating ride!
- Naver Webtoon
- Kakao Webtoon
- How to Really Get the Most Out of Korean Webtoons
- And One More Thing...
Naver Webtoon is a digital comics platform launched by Korea’s Naver Corporation—the internet company who owns Naver, the search engine, and Line Messenger, the communication giant with around 220 million monthly active users.
It was launched in 2005 by Jun Koo Kim, who’s a fan of comics himself. Today, it’s the leading source of Korean webtoons, covering a whole range of genres, which includes romance, comedy, sci-fi, horror, fantasy, drama, slice-of-life, historical and sports.
If you’re new to webtoons, your first stop should be Naver. Why? Because it contains a robust cross section of the different stories the world of webtoons currently offers. Plus, it has a whole different outfit (Line Webtoon) that translates Naver’s stories into English. And if you like, you can download the app (Android/iOS).
Don’t know where to start? Here are a couple of gems in Naver’s large stable of titles
1. “노블레스” (Noblesse)
Noblesse is a fantasy story about Rai, a noble who has been sleeping for the past 820 years. He has no idea how different things have been since the last time he was awake. Follow his adventures and that of his newfound high school friends in this Line Webtoon favorite.
2. “신의 탑” (Tower of God)
Tower of God is about a mysterious, otherworldly tower that’s a universe unto itself. The tower is one big hierarchic climb, and the higher you go, the better life is. But there’s a catch. You can only go higher by passing increasingly difficult challenges that test your strength, stamina and brilliance.
Originally called Daum Webtoon, this webtoon platform is owned by the same company who runs KakaoTalk.
With its slew of original stories and interesting characters, the portal has also become a leading name in Korean digital comics, amassing millions of Korean followers and even forging partnerships with Disney’s Marvel Entertainment.
Intermediate and advanced language learners will enjoy the more complex storylines and dialogues. You can also learn more slang and idiomatic expressions here.
There are plenty of stories on Kakao that are totally free. For others, later episodes require payment for instant access. If you don’t want to fork over any money, then it’s really just a waiting game. There’s a set number of days before the episodes are automatically unlocked for non-paying readers. Kakao also has an app you can download (Android/iOS).
Here are some Kakao favorites to check out:
3. “다정한 겨울“ (The Friendly Winter)
The Friendly Winter is a melodrama about a 19-year-old girl who has a growth condition that’s left her body frail and small. She becomes a friend to a 17-year-old boy with a mental disorder. Theirs is an endearing tale of daily trials and challenges. If you don’t mind shedding a tear or two while learning Korean, then this might be up your alley.
4. “레드스톰” (Red Storm)
Red Storm is an action-packed tale of a man who dreams of becoming the strongest warrior in the Red Desert. He meets a character from another dimension who trains him in a different form of martial arts. This webtoon is set to get your adrenaline pumping.
How to Really Get the Most Out of Korean Webtoons
1. Don’t rush getting the English versions.
You could be reading dozens of webtoons, but if you’re reading and digesting them in English, then they won’t bring you any nearer your goal than reading about swimming teaches you the butterfly stroke.
Fight the temptation to look for the English versions of webtoons. That should be the last, culminating step—not your go-to strategy for dealing with them.
And like we said earlier, there’s not much text presented in webtoons, so you can actually take the time to wrestle with the text. The general rule with authentic content like this is that the harder you work with it, the more of the language you absorb.
You can make the most of this by supplementing what you learn with a program like FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
This can help you improve your comprehension skills in both listening and reading, which will in turn help you better understand your favorite Korean webtoons.
Below, we’ll go through what you should do. Doing these things will help imprint vocabulary, phrases and sentences in your head. Because you’ll have undergone a specific process, wrestled with the text, your memory of it will be stronger. The connections in your mind will be clearer, and you won’t forget them as easily as you would vocabulary you memorized from a long, dry list of words.
2. Guess and let the pictures be your guide.
Guess. This is one of the very first things you need to do when you approach a Korean webtoon. Of course, it’s going to be in Korean, and if you’re not very advanced in your studies, you may not know exactly what it’s all about.
Let the pictures be your guide. Who’s the main character? What are their goals? What’s happening in this scene over here? Before you get to nuances and shades of meaning, you need to be able to hit broader categories like this.
You’ll really have to get comfortable with the idea that your speculations might be wrong. It’s part of learning any new language. When you were a child, you didn’t have any problems guessing what words meant, and it didn’t bother you that you were making assumptions. And when later you found out that you were wrong, you simply adjusted your thinking.
Engage in that child-like approach again when you deal with Korean webtoons. Remember that you’re processing them in the context of learning the language (as opposed to pure entertainment). Guessing will hone your ability to read context, which is crucial in learning language.
So have at it! Who cares if you turn out to be wrong? What’s important is that you’ve gone through the act of reading itself.
3. Say the lines out loud.
As you read a webtoon, practice reading Hangul.
If you’re not aware of it yet, Hangul can be learned in an afternoon. This really is true. This is not an exaggeration! It can be mastered in a week, or much less if you like.
Some people who haven’t learned an East Asian language may not realize that written Korean is different from written Chinese or Japanese. Hangul was created to be learned very easily! In fact, it was created as a response to Chinese characters being so gosh darn hard.
So don’t be turned off by Hangul’s boxy combinations. They’re there to help you read. Just memorize the sounds the characters make, combine them together and there you go!
With webtoons, you’ll seriously be reading Korean even before understanding what the words actually mean! Just like you learned to read words like “data,” “flint” and “tarmac” before really understanding what they were all about.
4. Write down the lines.
The next thing you need to do is to write the lines in webtoons down yourself.
Transfer what you see on your phone or computer onto a piece of paper. On this piece of paper, you’ll be writing three things:
- First you’ll write the Hangul seen in the webtoons.
- Then, below the Korean characters, if you haven’t quite learned Hangul yet, you can practice writing a “Romanized” version to tell you how to read them.
- Finally, place an “=” sign beside the Korean Hangul characters and write their English translation.
Now, you might think this is a little bit more involved than just looking up the ready-made English translation and being on your way. But that’s exactly the point! You’re going through the process of working through the text, struggling with the text and manually writing stuff by yourself.
As it turns out, writing by hand is an extremely powerful learning strategy. Getting your fingers and hands to go through the motions helps with retention and comprehension. So even though this technique drastically slows you down, I urge you to practice it.
Imagine what you’ll learn by the end of a single episode, not even to mention a single webtoon!
5. Take it one chapter/episode at a time.
As mentioned, the tips and techniques mentioned here will drastically slow your pace. You have to be comfortable with slowing things down. Again, you’re digesting webtoons with a particular agenda in mind—learning the language. So you can’t read just like a kid looking to be entertained. There are thousands who read Korean webtoons (in English) but don’t learn the language because they’re in it for the story.
Sure, you can look up the English version and enjoy the story a few episodes ahead. But this can kill your ability to work with the text—gradually discovering what it’s all about, negotiating meaning, finding out you were off base and self-correcting.
Webtoons are a practically infinite source of language lessons that are just waiting for the discerning Korean learner.
So give webtoons a place among all the other authentic Korean content you’ve been enjoying.
Start a story today. You simply can’t go wrong!
And One More Thing...
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