Back in 2011, we looked at several of Korea’s most popular webtoons as fun tools to learn Korean. Of course, the continuously popular webtoons from that list are still around: Wara! Store, Interfering with Everyday Life, Story of Narm, Simple Thinking about Blood Type , and Penguin loves Mev. However, like everything on the internet, there have been some changes in the Korean webtoon scene and it would be worthwhile to introduce you to some of the notable newcomers. There are many webtoons which are equivalent of comic books posted online, with complete narrative stories and all; there are those which as extremely “punny” and full of word play; and then there are those which are quite impossible to understand without a deep understanding of Korean life and culture. The webtoons I mention here are simpler and easier to understand, those which I deem appropriate for learning Korean – mostly dialogue and expressions.
* All webtoons are hyperlinked. Click on their titles to go to their homepage.
역전! 야매요리 – Yame Yori (Turn it around! Nonsense Cooking) by Jung Da Jung
Probably the webtoon of the moment (in the non-dramatic category.) Although it first debuted in 2011, it has only gotten very popular in the past year. It started as an illustrated diary of the artist who was, literally, a dummy at cooking. Her honest and self deprecating portrayal of her disastrous cooking efforts and equally nonchalant style of illustration was quite different to any other food related webtoon out there. Accompanied with actual photos of her cooking process – some are truly mind-boggling due to her “imaginative” style – it is as amusing to see the disasters as it is to see the somewhat rare successful dishes. The artist has inadvertently come up with original and creative dishes, which led her to actually publishing a cookbook. What is interesting is that now she has gotten better at cooking, there are less disasters, somewhat diminishing the LOL factor, but her family provides enough anecdotes to cover for it. And for someone who is as clueless as she about cooking, there should be quite some useful tips to follow.
오므라이스 잼잼 – Omurice JamJam by Cho Kyeong-gyu
It is a foodie world, and we’re just living in it. Doesn’t it feel like that sometimes? Especially in social media, when you’re bombarded by food photos any time of the day. If Yameyori dealt with the trials and errors of the efforts of a cooking dunce, Omurice is about the artist’s foodie family and their ventures. Consisting of the dad, mom, and two children, the webtoon introduces various dishes from the mundane (fast-food) to fine dining through anecdotes which the family has gone through. It isn’t meant to be particularly funny (no convoluted plotlines or puns) nor extremely enlightening, but it is a great webtoon to learn everyday conversational Korean as the use of slang is very rare and there is ample descriptive narrative to cushion the dialogue. The only downside would be that you get very, very hungry after reading an episode. The current season has ended recently and a new season is soon to follow.
아프니까 병원이다 – Sick, so a Hospital by Gorita
Are you terrified of hospitals? Do doctors make you want to run far, far, away? Well, welcome to the club. Apparently there are a lot of us who would like to have nothing to do with the hospital, and the couple in this webtoon is no exception. A story of a hospital from the perspective of the patient, it also gives you a glimpse of what Korean hospitals and medical care are like. Not to mention the additional plus of increasing your health related, medical vocabulary. (And also a look into the dynamics of a Korean married couple when faced with illness and hospitals.)
The drawings are simple and straightforward; the dialogue is also simple and straightforward – true to the style of Gorita, the artist of the popular “Nonpeople” mentioned in the 2011 post.
아이들은 즐겁다 – The Kids are Happy by Heo5Pa6
Once upon a time, you were a little kid. Ah, the age of innocence, when life was simple. But not always. Most likely an autobiographical account of the artist’s childhood; grown-up problems, growing up problems, the happy and the sad of being a kid is depicted in this grey-washed webtoon with the simplest of lines. Family, friends, home and school feature prominently.
Unlike many Korean webtoons which are drawn without frames, this artist draws each scene within one, as if they were photographs to be remembered. The dialogue is kept simple as well, which makes it a great start for Korean learning beginners.
차차차 – Tea Tea Tea by Hanna
I like coffee, I like tea… as do many other people, so it’s not a surprise that this webtoon about a traditional teahouse is popular. No, actually, on the contrary, it is quite surprising. In a country where coffee shops are as numerous as convenience stores, traditional teahouses are growing less and less in number and you’d rarely see the younger generation choose a teahouse over a coffee shop to hang out. Something the artist found unfortunate, too, perhaps. The webtoon is about a teahouse, the owner, her main assistant, and the students working there part-time. You learn quite a lot about tea while reading, as you follow along while the assistant teaches the part-timers how to do their job properly. The applied soft colors look like watercolors and all the characters look so friendly, even when they get angry and go on a tirade. The relationships between all the characters develop like seeping tea, slow and steady, but not in a tedious way. The omnibus format of “one tea per episode” is quite convenient when you want to look up a certain type of tea.
오빠 왔다 – Oppa is here by Mona
Surprise! The oppa here is not your romance-in-the-air, crush-like-mad, heartthrob-of-the-moment oppa, but a real oppa, i.e. your actual older brother. An everyday life webtoon, the main character goes through many trials and tribulations while living with her typically infuriatingly clueless brother. The drawings are extremely simple but the facial expressions are priceless. The dialogue is full of ordinary slang and idioms which are used all the time, especially those of exasperation which are constantly used when dealing with siblings. The relationship between the two is hilarious, and oh, so very familiar. Family: you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.
어제 오늘 그리고 내일 – Yesterday Today and Tomorrow by Baek Dubu
So why is it that oppas take all the glory? Actually, they don’t. Baek tells us about his hilarious family (and many dogs) in a frank manner, but mostly about his nuna (older sister), who would probably put Lucy (sister to Linus in “Peanuts”) to shame in the tyrannical older sister category. Like the title indicates, sometimes he talks about the past, the present, the future, and at times, all of them together in an interesting mélange. The episodes of when the siblings were growing up are particularly funny. The depiction of the brother-sister dynamic that evolves (or doesn’t evolve) during the years is probably something to which everyone can relate. And beneath all the quarrelling involved, you can tell that the family has a deep sense of togetherness which is quite heartwarming. This is my personal favorite on this list.
풍뎅이뎅이 – Beetle Dengi by Junikung
Now for something different. The main character of this webtoon is a young beetle named Dengi. (Pungdengi means beetle in Korean, so it would be like naming the Beetle “Eetle”.) Dengi and his friends introduce us to the micro-world of nature as they go on the adventure of life and survival. Although it isn’t meant to be an educational webtoon about biology or ecology or earth science, I actually learned some things about insects and nature. The way the artist tells the story without it being boring is quite amazing. It also helps that it is very well drawn in a cute and endearing sort of way, without being overwhelmingly detailed. It is one of those rare webtoons which pay as much attention to the background as the actions going on, and meticulously colored as well.
Last but not least, and although this series ended in 2013, I cannot go without mentioning the following:
전설의 고향 2013 – Hometown Legends (Korean Ghost Stories) 2013
A collaboration project from Naver’s webtoon artists, this series is summer specific – the season for telling ghost stories. Spooky legends and tales of horror, both in the olden days and in modern times, are interpreted and invented by this pool of talented artists. This series was always preceded by a warning that the extremely young and elderly, the frail and pregnant should refrain from reading it. This webtoon is optimized for the smartphone – dubbed as “smarttoon” – with literally moving visuals adding to the scary effect. (You lose the effects on PC.)
Horang (호랑) is the artist who is the most notorious, for creating highly probable stories which grab you by the throat in the most unexpected way, so much that he would show up as a news story in the culture section and “scary Korean webtoon” would trend on social media. The finale of the series ended with the English version of one of his most popular.
In conclusion, there is a reason why the long-runners (mentioned at the beginning of this article) are long-running: they are still the most popular after all these years. I’d still recommend them first over anything else, so if you’re not familiar with them, give them a look first and then check out the webtoons mentioned above.