Webtoons can be defined as a kind of digital comic designed to be read online. They are characterized by long vertical strip chapters, which makes them easier for online reading than traditional page-by-page comics. Likewise, they are often fully colored rather than black and white and can sometimes feature sound effects or background music.
As a whole, webtoons have long been a largely overlooked part of the anime and manga industry. It's only recently that major companies like Crunchyroll have begun to look into the treasure trove of stories and sources from webtoons. This has led to an explosion of Korean webtoon adaptations, much to the delight of longtime fans. Here's a look at some of the most popular animated titles that have gotten adaptations apart from an original webtoon.
Tower of God: What If Any Wish Could Be Granted?
What lengths would someone be willing to go to achieve their greatest desire? In the Tower of God, those who reach the very top floor can obtain whatever their heart desires. For Bam, there is only one goal motivating him to scale the tower: a girl by the name of Rachel, who was his only companion amid the darkness that was his whole world. This is the story of a girl on a quest to see the stars and a boy who needs nothing but her.
First published in 2010, Tower of God has been running for almost 12 years now. Its popularity hasn’t waned in the slightest and it's still heralded as one of the most successful and popular action webtoons on the platform. Tower of God has even been adapted into a cross-webtoon RPG game called Hero’s Cantare in 2019, and the anime adaptation became available to international audiences via Crunchyroll in 2020.
The God Of High School: Fantastical Meets Modern Action
Around the same time an island is practically erased from existence, a mysterious organization sends out invitations to all the top martial artists around the world to compete in a competition. The winner can wish for anything they want and will receive the title of the God of High School. Jin Mori is one such recipient of this invitation and, on account of losing his first-ever fight, he agrees to join.
Still critically acclaimed in the webtoon community, The God of High School draws references from classic Korean and Chinese mythology to weave together a mesmerizing mix of fantastical action. Along with Tower of God, The God Of High School was incorporated into the mobile game Hero’s Cantare and received an anime adaptation produced by the animation powerhouse Studio Mappa in 2020.
Noblesse: Supernatural Creatures Can Be Badass Too
After 820 years, Cadis Etrama Di Raizel awakens from his slumber to a modern world he knows nothing about. He happens to stumble upon his loyal servant, Frankenstein, who is currently the principal of a Korean high school. Seeing an opportunity to immerse himself in this new environment, he enrolls and becomes affectionately known as Rai by his classmates. But trouble is always lurking around the corner.
Noblesse has been the cornerstone of action fantasy webtoons for a long time -- even after the release of its final chapter in 2019 -- and continues to be viewed as one of the most iconic webtoons alongside Tower of God and The God of High School. Noblesse fans had long called for an anime adaptation of the much-beloved webtoon and finally got their wish in 2020, with the release of a proper Noblesse anime by Crunchyroll.
Sweet Home: Horror But Elevated
Cha Hyunsoo lives alone in an apartment complex planning his own death after an unexpected tragedy wipes out the rest of his family. Considered a shut-in by society, he is mainly reclusive until a need for food pushes him outside the boundaries of his apartment. Unfortunately, he has to face a much scarier reality than the judgemental gazes he’s been so afraid of; his fellow humans are slowly turning into monsters. Forced to band together with a group of survivors in his apartment complex, they must figure out how to survive in a world where their companions can turn against them in an instant.
Sweet Home is one of those webtoons that hits all the right notes of its genre. Defined as a horror and suspense webtoon, it certainly achieves that through the artist's masterful storyboards and structures, and its placement of panels. The complex characters and their development throughout the story sets Sweet Home apart from other similar webtoons. It was later adapted into a Korean drama released on Netflix in 2020.
True Beauty: The True Power And Significance of Makeup
After being bullied for her nerdy appearance, shy comic book fan Ju Gyeoung binge-watched beauty videos and mastered the art of makeup throughout her break. When she goes back to school next semester, she finds her social standing has skyrocketed overnight as she immediately becomes the most popular girl in school. But that popularity comes at a cost when it is held in place by the power of makeup. Will she be able to keep this secret from her classmates?
First impressions may suggest True Beauty is a typical romance webtoon where the pretty girl gets the guys. Beneath the surface, however, it addresses much deeper issues of self-esteem and the shallowness of society through the medium of makeup. Despite being one of the more recent webtoons so far, it has garnered so much popularity in such a short time that it was recently adapted into a Korean drama of the same name in 2020.
Even those not particularly active in the webtoon community will likely know some of these series, either through their adaptations or sheer popularity. It's nice to see great webtoons finally getting the recognition they deserve in the wider community, and these series certainly prove it is possible to break into the mainstream.