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A scene from Noblesse, an example of manhwa or Korean comics
Revised Romanizationmanhwa

Manhwa (Korean만화; Hanja漫畵; Korean pronunciation: [manhwa]) is the general Korean term for comics and print cartoons (common usage also includes animated cartoons). Outside Korea, the term usually refers to South Korean comics,[1] although the comics industry is emerging in North Korea as well.[2] Manhwa is a notable part of South Korean culture.

History of the term[edit]

The first woodcut manhwa, published in 1908

Linguistically, manhwa, manga (漫画) and manhua (漫画) all mean 'comics' in Korean, Japanese and Chinese respectively. The Korean manhwa and the Japanese manga are cognates of the Chinese phrase manhua (transl. "impromptu sketches").[3] The current usage of the terms manhwa and manhua in English is largely explained by the international success of the Japanese manga. Although in a traditional sense, in these languages the terms manga/manhua/manhwa had a similar meaning of comical drawing in a broad way, in English the terms manhwa and manhua generally designate the manga-inspired comic strips.

The term manhwa came into popular use in Korea during the 1920s,[4] when it was applied to cartoons. Korea was under Japanese occupation from 1910 to 1945 and during this time elements of Japanese language and culture were incorporated into Korean society.[5] By the mid 1920s, most political newspapers were shut down,[6] and political and social cartoons were abandoned in favor of children’s and humorous illustrations.

Political cartoons slowly reemerged following the establishment of the Republic of Korea (commonly known as South Korea) in 1948.[7] During the early years of Japanese occupation, newspaper comics featured a great deal of social criticism. Popular artist Kim Yong-hwan started Korea’s first comic magazine, Manhwa Haengjin, in 1948,[8] but it was quickly shut down because the authorities disapproved of the cover.

The popularity of comics rose during the 1950s and 1960s,[9] and the diversity of styles and subject matter led to the creation of new genres such as sunjeong (or soonjung),[10] romantic stories aimed at young women (equivalent to the Japanese genre Shoujo). Manhwabang, comics cafés and stores that allowed readers to pay a set rate to sit and read comics, were also introduced to the public.[11] In response to the increasing publication of comics, as well as social and political changes within South Korea, the government began to enforce censorship laws and, by the mid-1960s, created a comics distribution monopoly that further censored manhwa.[12]

Manga influenced manhwa from the medium’s beginnings during the Japanese occupation of Korea and continued to exert a powerful influence as the manga industry became a major force within Japanese culture and began to export comics abroad. The author or artist of a manhwa is called a manhwaga (만화가; 漫畵家). Manhwaga were not culturally isolated, and the influx of manga into the Korean comics market had a strong effect on the art and content of many artists’ manhwa.[13]

Adaptation of term[edit]

The relative obscurity of Korean culture in the Western world has caused the word manhwa to remain somewhat unknown in the English-speaking world.[citation needed] English translations of manhwa have achieved success by targeting the manga and anime community, to the extent that manhwa were marketed as manga by the American publisher Tokyopop.[citation needed]


Webtoons first came into popularity in the early 2000s due to their free access and availability on the internet.[14] Since their creation, webtoons have gained popularity around the globe and have even been adopted outside of Korea as another form of comic publication.[15] This is credited to their unique format and pay model.

Korean manhwa publishers[edit]

Note: select publishers only

Manhwa in the United States[edit]

Sanho Kim was the first manhwa artist working in the States. During the 1960s and 70s, he worked for publishers Charlton Comics, Warren Publishing, Iron Horse Publishing, Skywald Publications and Marvel Comics.[16]

According to journalist Paul Gravett, in 1987 Eastern Comics published the first original manhwas in the United States.[17]

Due to the explosion of manga's popularity in the Americas, many of the licensed titles acquired for the American market seek to emulate the popular elements of other successful series.[18] Recently, long-running webtoons serialized via Internet portal sites (e.g. by Daum Media),[19] like Lehzin Comics[20][circular reference], and personal homepages have become both the creative and popular destination among the younger generation in Korea.[citation needed] With manga proving to be both popular and commercially successful in Europe and the United States, a number of publishers imported and translated manhwa titles in the hope of reaching the same audience. The readability and left-to-right orientation of manhwa contributed to its growing popularity, as did the realism of the characters and the combination of Eastern and Western styles and mythologies. Popular manhwa in the U.S. and European markets include Ragnarok, Priest, Island, and The Tarot Café.[21]

Direction of text[edit]

Manhwa is read in the same direction as English books, horizontally and from left to right, because hangul is normally written and read horizontally, although it can also be written and read vertically from right to left, top to bottom.[citation needed]

North American manhwa imprints[edit]

Animation and live-action adaptations[edit]

Animation based on Korean comics are still relatively rare (though there were several major hits in the late 1980s and early 90s with titles such as Dooly the Little Dinosaur and Fly! Superboard). However, live-action drama series and movie adaptations of manhwa have occurred more frequently in recent years. Full House in 2004 and Goong ("Palace" or "Princess Hours") in 2006 are prominent examples, as both have been counted as the best dramas of their respective years.[citation needed]

In 2004, Blade of the Phantom Master was adapted into an animated film by a joint Korean-Japanese animation team.

SamBakZa produced There she is!! in 2004, which is about the developing relationship between a rabbit and a cat.

The Great Catsby, ran as an onstage musical in 2006. In 2007, the award-winning Korean webtoon was adapted into a live-action drama. The title was also planned to be adapted into a feature film in late 2007.[22]

War of Money, a dramatized (adapted version) manhwa that aired in 2007, garnered much attention for its soundtrack and actors.

Priest, a manhwa by Hyung Min-woo that has been translated to English, was adapted into the 2011 American sci-fi action horror film of the same name by Screen Gems. Released in 2011,[23] it was produced by Michael DeLuca, directed by Scott Stewart, and stars Paul Bettany as the title character.[24][25]

Secretly, Greatly, a film based on a manhwa webtoon, became a top-grossing film in 2013.[26][27][28]

In 2020, Tower of God, The God of High School, and Noblesse received Japanese adaptations via Crunchyroll.[29]

In 2020 Sweet Home has be adapted to a live action series by Netflix.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mangaka". Archived from the original on 2011-05-05. Retrieved 2009-03-02.
  2. ^ Stahler, Kevin (September 29, 2013). "Comics in North Korea". Peterson Institute for International Economics. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  3. ^ Petersen, Robert S. (2011). Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels: A History of Graphic Narratives. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313363306.
  4. ^ Qui, Shelley. "Manhwa". Professor LatinX. Retrieved 2019-12-09.
  5. ^ Blakemore, Erin. "How Japan Took Control of Korea". HISTORY. Retrieved 2019-12-09.
  6. ^ "Cal Poly Web Login Service - Stale Request". Retrieved 2019-12-09.
  7. ^ "South Korea - History". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-12-09.
  8. ^ Russell, Mark James (2012-10-20). Pop Goes Korea: Behind the Revolution in Movies, Music, and Internet Culture. Stone Bridge Press. ISBN 978-1-61172-542-1.
  9. ^ Qui, Shelley. "Manhwa". Professor LatinX. Retrieved 2019-12-09.
  10. ^ Russell, Mark James (2012-10-20). Pop Goes Korea: Behind the Revolution in Movies, Music, and Internet Culture. Stone Bridge Press. ISBN 978-1-61172-542-1.
  11. ^ Yadao, Jason S. (2009-10-01). The Rough Guide to Manga. Penguin. ISBN 978-1-4053-8423-0.
  12. ^ Kim, Kyung Hyun; Choe, Youngmin (2014-03-07). The Korean Popular Culture Reader. Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-7756-6.
  13. ^ Sugiyama, Rika. Comic Artists—Asia: Manga, Manhwa, Manhua. New York: Harper, 2004. Introduces the work of comics artists in Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong through artist profiles and interviews that provide insight into their processes.
  14. ^ Acuna, Kirsten. "Millions in Korea are obsessed with these revolutionary comics — now they're going global". Business Insider. Retrieved 2019-12-09.
  15. ^ "Webtoon, Why So Popular?". Retrieved 2014-09-15.
  16. ^ Kim entry, Lambiek's Comiclopedia. Accessed June 9, 2011.
  17. ^ Paul Gravett. Make Mine Manhwa!: Exporting Korean Comics
  18. ^ Arnold, Andrew D. (2006-01-25). "Life and Literature Without Robots". Time. Retrieved 2010-05-12.
  19. ^ "Daum 웹툰". Daum 웹툰.
  20. ^ Lezhin Comics
  21. ^ Johnson-Woods, Toni. Manga: An Anthology of Global and Cultural Perspectives. New York: Continuum, 2010. Discusses manhwa cultural context as well as the influence of manga on the Korean cartooning industry, focusing in particular on the 1980s and 1990s.
  22. ^ "The Great Catsby: Hit Korean Internet Comic Drama-tized into TV form debuts in 4 days". Archived from the original on 2017-09-23. Retrieved 2007-07-01.
  23. ^ "Corrosion: Cold Winter Waiting Available for Digital Download - Dread Central".
  24. ^ Olsen, Kevin Noel (January 25, 2007). "Amityville Director Set to Direct Priest Film Based on Tokypop Graphic Novel" Archived 2007-10-12 at the Wayback Machine. Silver Bullet Comics.
  25. ^ Fischer, Martha (June 26, 2006). "Butler to Priest".
  26. ^ "Celebrity - Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore".
  27. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2013-06-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  28. ^ "'Secretly Greatly' Blazes Trail at Box Office by Tapping Teen Audience".
  29. ^ Hodgkins, Crystalyn (February 25, 2020). "Crunchyroll Unveils 7 'Crunchyroll Originals' Works Including Tower of God, Noblesse, God of High School". Anime News Network. Retrieved February 25, 2020.

External links[edit]

Popular manhwa artists[edit]


Manhwa on mobiles[edit]


Information and studies[edit]