Korean Webtoons Use Several Tactics To Get International Traction

Korean Webtoons, a dominant force in the new Korean Wave, or Hallyu, are becoming more widely known and are being converted into a range of media, including TV dramas, variety shows, movies, and K-pop.

Smartphone comics that scroll vertically have gained readers’ interest with creative techniques like animation effects, background music, and custom soundtracks.

Korean Webtoon companies started operating internationally in 2014, but it has only been in the last few years that the companies have noticed a significant increase in demand from other countries.

Korean Webtoon “True Beauty” author Yaongyi (third from left) poses for a selfie with fans at Amazing Festival in Paris in July. (Naver Webtoon)
Webtoon “True Beauty” author Yaongyi (third from left) poses for a selfie with fans at Amazing Festival in Paris in July. (Naver Webtoon)

Quality translations and the encouragement of regional webtoon artists, according to industry insiders and experts, are two factors in the webtoon’s successful globalization.

Using cultural awareness when translating: Kakao Entertainment

This year, Kakao Entertainment introduced a Webtoon service in France and is attempting to expand to other European nations. The entry into Europe comes after Kakao Piccoma, the company’s online Webtoon platform, was introduced in Japan in 2016.

Successful globalization requires strong IP-based Webtoon series and collaborations with top digital publishers throughout the world.

Kakao Entertainment thinks the best translation is crucial when it comes to its localization strategy.

“The first stage in localization is selecting the title. In the process of translating, onomatopoeia, mimicry, polite words, religion, and other cultural characteristics are all carefully taken into account, according to a Kakao Entertainment representative.

The choice to designate the famed Japanese entertainment district Roppongi as the title of the popular Korean webtoon series “Itaewon Class” in the Japanese market is one such instance, according to the business.

“Webtoon series are distinctive forms of cultural content that are very different from movies, books, and even graphic novels. According to Lee Jae-won, Worldwide Translation Team Chief at Kakao Entertainment, “the translator needs to be fluent in the language used in webtoons to grab readers’ interest.”

Korean Webtoons A panel from “Itaewon Class” is presented in three different languages with nuanced differences in the phrases used. (Kakao Entertainment)
A panel from “Itaewon Class” is presented in three different languages with nuanced differences in the phrases used. (Kakao Entertainment)

“With translations and graphic adaptations that are appropriate for each target country, we want to successfully convey the creator’s messages and intention.” Kakao Entertainment’s localization teams work to make it easy for readers to learn about, indirectly experience, and enjoy many cultures, according to Lee.

Lee also discussed a few of the objectives of translation.

“It’s crucial to understand the significance of the line (or scenario). When translating, it’s important to evaluate how a line connects to the following scene, according to Lee.

Korean Webtoons Kakao Entertainment’s global localization team leaders speak at LTI Korea’s 2nd Cultural Contents Translation Symposium in 2021. (Kakao Entertainment)
Kakao Entertainment’s global localization team leaders speak at LTI Korea’s 2nd Cultural Contents Translation Symposium in 2021. (Kakao Entertainment)

Would you like some Ramen? shouldn’t be translated literally, she noted, as the phrase has just begun to have a new meaning similar to “Netflix and chill?”

Lee aimed to increase the number of Webtoon readers by bridging the cultural divide through careful translations.

“In order for people all over the world to enjoy Korean cultural stuff, high-quality translation is necessary. Literature Translation Institute of Korea manager Park Chan-woo told The Korea Herald that his organization works with a number of partners to produce a diverse group of translators, including two major Korean webtoon companies, Kakao Entertainment and Naver Webtoon.

Park stated that LTI Korea is educating “cultural interpreters” in recognition of the challenges involved in producing high-quality translations.

A webtoon series translation involves a thorough understanding of the history and culture of both the source language country and the target language country, according to Park. According to Park, the institute’s curriculum offers an introduction to Korean pop culture in addition to the Korean language.

LTI Korea intends to expand its existing program in English, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and French as Webtoons acquire more popularity. It also hopes to assist in the publication of Korean web novels in translation.

Finding new webcomic talent: NAVER WEBTOON

French webtoon creators meet fans at Amazing Festival in Paris in July. (Naver Webtoon)
French webtoon creators meet fans at Amazing Festival in Paris in July. (Naver Webtoon)

According to the Korea Creative Content Agency, major South Korean webtoon behemoth Naver  Webtoon produced 2,300 webtoon series (among 5,500 projects) in the worldwide webtoon market in 2020 after launching its first English service in July 2014. NAVER Webtoon has more than 82 million global subscribers.

Although both parties acknowledge the need for accurate translation, Naver Webtoon’s global strategy focuses primarily on identifying new creators to expand the webtoon industry in each nation.

“We had to start out by offering the Korean Webtoon series when the worldwide service first launched. Local webcomic series are essential to the growth of the local webcomic sector, nonetheless. This is comparable to how local movies “Roaring Currents” (2014) and “Extreme Job” (2018) topped the Korean box office charts, defeating the hugely successful “Avengers: Endgame” (2019), according to Cha Hana, director of Naver Webtoon’s Eurasia Service, who spoke to The Korea Herald.

Cha continued, “I think that finding fresh talent and making webtoon series that appeal to the preferences of the local readers will play a significant role in the expansion of the webtoon company.

Southeast Asian nations have embraced the Korean Webtoons “Marry My Husband” and “Teenage Mercenary” with great enthusiasm, but “Dedes” by Indonesian creator Egestigi and “Wanthong” by Thai author Mu have become the most popular series in their respective nations.

Cover images for “Dedes” (left) and “Wanthong” (Naver Webtoon)
Cover images for “Dedes” (left) and “Wanthong” (Naver Webtoon)

According to Naver Webtoon, it gives aspiring authors and illustrators the chance to officially serialize their works via the platforms Indie for Japanese creators and Canvas for Southeast Asian and Western creators.

“With our training and support structure, I’ve noticed a shift in people’s attitudes about the job of a webtoon artist.” According to the director, local artists currently draw more than 50% of webtoon series in several nations.

She said that the success of the romance webcomic “Lore Olympus,” created by New Zealand artist Rachel Smythe and receiving this year’s Eisner Award—often referred to as the Oscars of the comics industry—is a prime illustration of the rising popularity of the webcomic industry.

The goal of Naver Webtoon’s globalization approach, according to Cha, is to provide high-quality series across cultures and countries, much like how “Lore Olympus” was imported to the Korean platform.

“We want to give readers an interesting webtoon experience while also giving creators a chance to reach a larger audience,” said Cha.

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