Comics Industry Trends in Korea in 2020
The popularity of comics rose during the 1950s and 1960s in South Korea during a time of political and social development. As the country began to industrialize in the wake of the Korean War (1950–1953), the traction for manhwa grew fast. Diversity of styles and subject matters led to the creation of new genres, like romance, children, and humor during this time period.
Japanese manga originally influenced the development of “manhwa,” which is a term used for Korean comics, print cartoons, and animated cartoons. Print comics continued to be popular well into the ‘80s and ‘90s, especially with the creation of “manhwabangs,” a type of café where people can go to read comic books. These stores were perpetually full, mostly with young students, usually borrowing armfuls of volumes at a time.
The advent of the Internet and smartphones have helped to modernize manhwa by making it into a digital comics, where people can read them from phones and laptops. In the 2000s, “webtoons,” or online comic strips, became popular. Today, the Korean digital comics industry is the third largest in the world, at a value of $1.4 billion, behind the US ($1.6 billion) and Japan ($3.8 billion). Print comics continue to be used, usually by an older age group and by loyal fans who prefer a paper copy over a digital one.
Keep reading this article for some interesting facts about comic users in Korea, and what kind of trends we can expect for the coming years!
The following data was taken from a national survey of Koreans (ages 10–59) who have used or read some kind of comics within the past year.
1. Status of Comics Readers
The frequency of reading comics was highest at 23.0% for “1-2 times a week,” followed by “almost every day” at 19.9% and “2-3 times a month” at 16.4%. 58.1% of all respondents read comics “at least once a week.”
Compared to 2019, the percentage of using print and digital comics more than once a week has increased. Looking at the frequency of manga use by respondent characteristics, the ratio of “almost daily” use was seen to be relatively higher in women (21.5%) compared to men (18.4%).
(Data for the ‘Once every 4–6 months’ has only started to be asked beginning in 2019.)
2. Digital Comics User Habits
The frequency of use of 2,868 respondents who have used digital comics for the last year was the highest at 26.1% for “1-2 times a week.”
When asked if these respondents have ever paid to read digital comics in the past year, 56.4% responded “yes” and 43.6% said “no.”
In Korea, there are plenty of free platforms to read digital comics, such as Naver’s LINE Webtoon, KaKao’s Piccoma and NHN’s Comico.
Platforms like these have paved the way for other K-webtoon sites to offer a new drawing technique and storytelling method that was specifically customized for mobile viewing. Paid platforms for comics offer users exclusive stories, easy accessibility, and convenience.
For this reason, more than half of surveyed users have responded to paying money for a platform, even though there are many free options available.
When users were asked how much they spend on purchasing digital comics, the majority (51.4%) said that they spend less than 5,000 KRW.
About a quarter of people spent between 5,000–10,000 KRW per month, and 0.6% of people responded to spending more than 100,000 KRW per month. Many users are regular subscribers and pay the same amount each month to use a mobile platform for reading comics.
3. Criteria for Choosing Print Comics
When asking print comics users how they choose a series to read, the five most popular criteria observed were: storyline/plot, popularity, genre, quality/artistry and pictures/illustrations.
Respondents were allowed to choose more than one criteria, but the storyline/plot was the most important one, accounting for 51.5% of users.
The top 5 genres in South Korea for print comics were comedy/humor, action/martial arts, fantasy/science fiction, romance and mystery/thriller. Comedy/humor was the most favored out of the five, with 50.6% of users saying that they enjoy this genre. Respondents were allowed to choose more than one genre.
4. Print Comics User Habits
When asked if these respondents have ever paid to read print comics in the past year, 56.4% responded “yes” and 43.6% said “no.”
The popularity of print comics has been on the decline, as people shift towards digital forms more and more. The 42.5% of respondents who said “yes” were revealed to be men and women above the age 35, and are likely to be veteran readers of print comics who continued their habits despite the rise of K-webtoons and mobile comics.
For print comic readers, most people (40.9%) spent an average of 10,000-30,000 KRW per month. Only 1.5% of respondents responded to spending more than 100,000 KRW per month.
5. Comics and COVID-19
After the COVID-19 outbreak, digital comics users’ usage time increased at 37.4%, compared to the 23.9% increase of print comics users.
While 25.0% of print comic readers responded that they read less comics because of COVID-19, only 8.9% of digital comics readers said the same.
More than half of the respondents for both digital and print comics users said that their reading habits stayed about the same as before.
Additionally, digital comics users’ usage time was observed to increase in women by 38.6% compared to men by 36.3%. The decrease in the time used by print comics users was relatively high among the younger generation, specifically the people aged 20–24 years.
To gain an insight on how comic readers’ habits may change after the “COVID” era, respondents were asked if they were likely to continue their current comics usage habits after the pandemic ends.
For 69.9% of digital comics users and 60.8% of print comics users, they believed that their future usage will be similar to how it is now. In contrast, 30.1% of digital comics users and 39.2% of print comics users responded that they would read less comics and their usage will “go back to how it was before COVID-19.”
Comics has a rich history in South Korea, from its early days inspiration from Japanese manga, to becoming its own form called manhwa, then eventually developing into the modern webtoon. Though the rise of digital comics have overshadowed the original print novel and magazine form of comics, both platforms offer fans a way to enjoy this decades-old form of entertainment.
The average maximum amount that people seem to pay for comics (both print and digital) seem to be no more than 30,000 KRW. While many platforms are free, paid comics usually offer more exclusive, explicit and in-demand content.
The popularity of manhwa and K-webtoons is prevalent around the globe now. Many publishers have recognized this global demand and now offer their comics in English to cater to fans around the world.
With the COVID-19 outbreak, usage of digital comics increased in correlation to more time spent using smartphones.
If you are interested in learning more about Korea’s industry trends, check out the AJ Marketing Blog.