What is a Webtoon? The Ultimate Starter Kit

Let's get vertical!

Not so long ago, vertical comics (also known as webtoons) were having a moment. Now, they are having an imperial phase. BTS and Batman have their own webtoon series. Lore Olympus and Heartstopper have been published as print volumes. Solo Leveling received a hugely successful anime adaptation this year. Even manga juggernaut Shonen Jump has announced its own vertical comic imprint. Webtoons, journalists breathlessly insist, are the future.

The problem is that there are so many of them, and the majority look indistinguishable from each other. Should a prospective reader start with The Remarried Empress or Your Throne? unOrdinary or Omniscent Reader’s Viewpoint? Here for your perusal are a range of webtoon titles across multiple genres, including slice of life, pulp adventure and romance.

Before We Begin: A Crash Course on Vocabulary

Creator: The writer or artist credited for a webtoon. They often make comics in concert with a team of assistants, who may or may not be credited. This has become an increasingly automated process in recent years.

Daily Pass: After a webtoon finishes its serialization, it is often (but not always) relegated to the Daily Pass section. The reader may access a chapter a day for free, or speed up the process by buying in-app “coins” with their money. Other vertical comics platforms have their own equivalent Daily Pass programs with their own specifications.

Episode: Webtoons are released weekly by episodes. These episodes form seasons; there may or may not be a hiatus between seasons.

Naver: A South Korean search platform founded in 1999. Owns the vertical comics platform WEBTOON.

Platform: While WEBTOON is the most popular vertical comics platform in the United States, there are many others including Manta, Tapas and Toomics. In Korea, Daum Webtoon (now part of Kakao Webtoon) was the first big success.

WEBTOON: Naver’s vertical comics platform. Other vertical comics, including those not on WEBTOON, are often referred to as “webtoons” in lower-case letters.

in your letter, a wide-eyed young girl with pig tails in a white school uniform looks at a yellow letter and envelope she is holding in her hands. behind her is a chain link fence.

Your Letter

Creator: Hyeon A. Cho
Genre: Life-Affirming Drama
Platform: WEBTOON (Complete)

Sori Lee defended her classmate from bullies and was bullied as a result. She’s hesitant to make friends after transferring to a new school. But then she finds a mysterious letter taped under her desk. Its contents set her on the path to unravel a mystery involving a fellow student, the local janitor and a past act of generosity. Who is the letter writer, and what do they want? Will Sori and her friends find happiness at last?

Your Letter is a genuine WEBTOON classic. It’s also unusually short at just ten episodes. The series was adapted into a print edition that is set to be published in the United States in July. As usual, though, I would recommend reading Your Letter on your phone or personal computer instead. Hyeon A. Cho’s art makes great use of the vertical scroll, going well and beyond the panel stacks typical on the platform.

Some folks think of webtoons as “snack culture,” quick and disposable entertainment meant to be consumed en masse. The craftsmanship and finite nature of Your Letter complicate that reading. This is not a story delivery vehicle designed for replication at scale across mediums. It is first and foremost a great stand-alone comic you can read on WEBTOON. That’s a full meal in my book.

in lavender jack, a man in a purple suit wearing a beaked mask (lavender jack) runs through a corridor. his monstrous black shadow is projected on the wall to his right by light emanating from slats on his left. due to the lighting, his face and the left side of his body cannot be fully seen.

Lavender Jack

Creator: Dan Schkade
Genre: Action and Derring-do
Platform: WEBTOON (Complete)

At the start of another 20th century, a vigilante named Lavender Jack haunts the city-state of Gallery. His mission: to bring the decadent and corrupt to justice. The government hires the services of a legend, detective Madame Theresa Ferrier, to contain this threat. But Ferrier is no mere hired hand. Her efforts to uncover Jack and his motivations reveal an old and powerful conspiracy entwined with the government of Gallery. A conspiracy that Jack is determined to crush once and for all.

Writer and artist Dan Schkade unites The Scarlet Pimpernel’s vigilante justice with the mechanical mystery-solving of Hercule Poirot. There’s a fair amount of P.G. Wodehouse’s silly high society humor here too. The characters, though, are what really make Lavender Jack. Ferrier is the rare Great Detective with the presence to hold her own against the likes of Sherlock Holmes. Jack, on the other hand, has a fascinating relationship with his assistant Ducky. That’s not to mention Ferrier’s police escort Honoria Crabb, or the cold and cunning Lady Hawthorne…

These are larger-than-life heroes and villains capable of exaggerated feats of strength and deduction. Schkade, though, ensures that they also grow and change like real human beings. They also embody a wider range of human experience (bi, ace, trans) than was common in the pulps. Lavender Jack doesn’t always hit the mark–I’d say its third season is a bit rushed. Pound for pound, though, it’s tough to think of a better action comic on WEBTOON.

in whale star, a woman wearing a loose white dress stands on a beach, looking at the giant bloody corpse of a whale resting on the sands. the blue ocean washes up over the corpse, submerging the tip of the whale's tail in water.

Whale Star: The Gyeongsong Mermaid

Creator: Na Yoonhee
Genre: Historical Romance
Platform: WEBTOON (Complete, Daily Pass)

It is 1926 in Japan-occupied Korea. A teenage servant named Suah finds a dying man on the beach. This man is a resistance fighter willing to bomb civilians in the fight for Korea’s independence. Suah risks her safety in order to save his life. She receives a message from him in turn to deliver to his allies. But those allies force Suah to drink lye, rendering her mute so that they might keep their cover. So begins a series of events leading to tragedy, revenge and heartbreak.

Whale Star is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid,” in which a young woman sacrifices her voice to walk among the world of humans. Unlike many other fairy tale retellings, though, it has no fantastic elements at all. Instead it depicts real life history. The brutal realities of Japanese imperialism; the crushing weight of familial patriarchy; the reasons for (and costs of) revolutionary violence. Manga and anime fans may be shocked to read a series that engages so readily with Japan’s past history of brutality in Asia.

That said, Whale Star is hardly a history lesson. It’s a sweeping young adult romance featuring gorgeous art and character designs. Drama comes in waves, carrying the reader along from one chapter to the next. Be careful of the undertow, though. Yoonhee Na makes choices that other artists, terrified of alienating their readers, avoid. That’s exactly what makes Whale Star worth reading.

in four leaf, a teenager with long orange hair in two big pigtails (lupe) eats a chocolate bar under a pink umbrella. lupe has an intent expression on their face. they are wearing a purple and grey shirt and red pants.

Four Leaf

Creator: Lumaga
Genre: Fantasy
Platform: WEBTOON (Complete)

Guadalupe “Lupe” Jara lives an unfulfilling life with her cruel mother. Their only solace is Carolina, their imaginary friend. One day, though, Lina takes Lupe away to another world. Where magic is real, a terrifying Wolf lurks in the shadows, and bell-adorned witches feud over a substance called gloom. Everything Lupe has been longing for is there. So are all of their worst fears.

Four Leaf is a webcomic of the old school, which is to say that it is a mess. Its first season feints at being a dark magical girl story in the vein of Madoka Magica. The second season puts this aside to instead follow Lupe as they make friends and find family in their new home. From that point forwards, the series alternates every few chapters between heartfelt conversations and head-spinning metaphysical plot twists. Sprinkled throughout, as a treat, is some of the most frenetic action I’ve seen in a webtoon.

Lumaga began Four Leaf as a talented artist and character designer. Over the course of the comic, though, they develop into a great storyteller. The rushed exposition of earlier chapters gives way to confident, unhurried character development. Four Leaf never stops changing over its serialization. Yet it is always, unmistakably, itself. That alone distinguishes the series from nearly every other “isekai” comic on the internet.

in blades of furry, a confused deer holding a rainbow-colored object is staring at a taller crying animal with a snout. the deer is wearing a pastel top with transparent sparkly film on his left shoulder, and black tights. his fur is brown and he has a small tail, as he is a deer. the other animal is wearing a black top with speckled shoulders, a red collar and golden buttons and string at the chest. there are orange "bat wings" under the arms. his fur is dark brown. the deer is slim, while the other animal is taller and muscular.

Blades of Furry

Creator: Deya Muniz, Emily Erdos
Genre: Sports Romance
Platform: WEBTOON (Ongoing)

The premise of Blades of Furry is simple: what if Yuri and Victor from YURI!!! on Ice were anthropomorphic animals? Also, what if they lived in a world where ice skating was a martial arts competition as well as a test of skill? Add that one of them is a vampire hiding their true nature from the press, and that the other is both terrified and oddly fascinated by the notion of being preyed upon. Now you have a stew cooking.

Blades of Furry isn’t quite YURI!!! on Ice meets Beastars. It’s far less concerned with the workings of its animal world. The characters, like pastel deer Emile Fia and the confident Radu Basanko, aren’t quite as nuanced as Yuri, Victor or their friends either. That said, Deya Muniz and Emily Erdos’s art gives Paru Itagaki a run for her money. Their animals are funny, athletic and always readable in motion. It’s an impressive feat considering the strict deadlines under which webtoons are made.

Blades of Furry has been running intermittently for four years and over seventy episodes, give or take a few hiatuses. Muniz and Erdos have made good use of that space to follow Emile and Radu on their respective journeys. In the process they’ve built a larger world in which other characters and their dramas exist alongside the main couple. Here’s hoping that the team is granted the time they need to keep the series at its high standard of quality.

in duty after school, a blonde-haired girl is looking into space while brushing her teeth. a superdeformed teenage boy with a blobby face, who is wearing glasses, is staring at her. the sky is orange and there are violet blobs with an inner blue dot hanging in the sky.

Duty After School

Creator: Ilkwon Ha
Genre: Science Fiction
Platform: WEBTOON (Complete, Daily Pass)

Humanity is fighting a war against blue alien globules from space–and losing. The Korean military conscripts all high school and college students into their reserve forces. Look on the bright side, though: high school students that complete a year of reserve force training, they say, will receive bonus points on their college entrance exams. So it happens that the students of the third squadron, second platoon are sent to fight entities that they (as well as the adults in their lives) will never understand.

Duty After School is drawn by Ilkwon Ha, an artist best known for the maximalist coming of age comic Annarasumanara: The Sound of Magic. The series utilizes a faux-documentary aesthetic featuring interviews recorded in first person. Individual panels swim with diagetic camera details imposed over the faces of bored, frustrated and occasionally terrified students. Their world is dour and gray save for the vibrant blue of the aliens.

Ha is distinctly uninterested in explaining what the aliens are or where they come from. He instead uses them as a device to put the students under extreme pressure. How do teenagers react to crushing institutional unfairness? What’s worse, the moment of impact or the anticipation leading up to it? Duty After School is about the kind of violence that sticks with you.

in after school lessons for unripe apples, a teenage girl (mi-ae) with short black hair, bushy eyebrows, and a uniform consisting of a green jacket, yellow vest, checkered purple skirt and white shoes and socks is running forward. sweat emanates from her forehead and the words "rush rush" are behind her. from the right, a speech bubble says "no running."

Afterschool Lessons for Unripe Apples

Creator: Soonkki
Genre: Slice of Life Comedy
Platform: WEBTOON (Ongoing)

Mi-ae and Cheol were childhood friends. By the time they met again in middle school, 1998, they’d changed a lot. Now Cheol is tall, brooding and looked down upon as a troublemaker. Mi-ae’s too busy reading comics and chasing her favorite boy band, the Fire Boys, to figure him out. But then her parents bust her for failing her classes, and send her away to a distant cram school in order to study with Cheol. Could Mi-ae and Cheol one day renew their bonds of friendship after all?

Afterschool Lessons for Unripe Apples is the newest comic by soonkki, the artist behind the sprawling romantic thriller Cheese in the Trap. Readers might be thrown initially by the slow pace of the story. Mi-ae and Cheol don’t have a real conversation for dozens of chapters. Those who stick with it, though, will be rewarded by a story that roots its soap-operatic twists and turns in real-life experience. I haven’t seen another WEBTOON heroine quite like Mi-ae, who responds to her parents finding her (bad) report card by sprinting out the door and leading them on a desperate chase around her neighborhood.

The comic also represents an artistic evolution for soonkki. While Cheese in the Trap never looked bad exactly, the character designs in Afterschool Lessons are on another level. Mi-ae moves with the squash and stretch of a Yoshinari character. Cheol conveys a lot with just a limited set of expressions. Despite certain compromises, it’s a full package worthy of one of the medium’s best-known storytellers.

from because i love you, a pensive woman with long black hair and a hoodie looks to the right. her hair is swept behind her left ear. half of the page, on a diagonal vector, is in shadow. the word "rattle" is in the upper left and lower right corners.

Because I Love You

Creator: Tansae
Genre: Realistic Drama
Platform: Manta (Complete, Daily Pass)

It began when Hayoung moved back to her mother’s apartment in order to save money. She thought it was a good idea at the time. Sure, they argued a lot when she was younger. But now that she’s an adult, the two of them should be able to build an equitable relationship. Right? Unfortunately life isn’t that simple.

Webtoons that touch on dark topics often venture to extremes. Because I Love You, though, is harrowing precisely because its subject matter is so banal. Hayoung’s mother is an abuser. She projects her own insecurities upon her children, extorts money from them and (in the worst case) threatens to kill them. Yet her cruelty comes from loneliness and pettiness rather than cosmic evil. She believes that she is doing the right thing for her children. Which, if anything, just makes the situation worse.

Escaping her mother is just the first half of Hayoung’s story. The second follows her struggle to become independent after a lifetime of going with the flow. At times the series resembles an instruction manual to trauma recovery rather than a narrative. Still, the author Tansae keeps a tight focus on Hayoung’s developing inner life. Because I Love You is a quietly radical text that has remained with me since a friend recommended it. There is almost certainly somebody you know that needs to read it.

What about Tapas, toonimics, and pocket comics? How about WEBTOON’s massive CANVAS section, which features hundreds of titles by independent artists? The eight titles above are just a sliver of what’s available. I recommend reading as widely as you can; you might just get lucky and find a new favorite.

Big thank you to our supporters

From their continous support, we are able to pay our team for their time and hard work on the site.

We have a Thank-You page dedicated to those who help us continue the work that we’ve been doing.

See our thank you page

Join our Patreon

With your support, you help keep the lights on & give back to our team!

Check out our Patreon!