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Can Korean digital storytelling platforms captivate North American and European audiences?

Korean storytelling companies want to kindle the popularity of webtoons and web novels in the West on the back of their success in East Asia.

Serialized digital comics, also known as webtoons in South Korea, are optimized for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets or websites, which read top to bottom.

Digital comics gained broad popularity throughout South Korea and Japan in the early 2000s and caught on in the U.S. in the 2010s. In 2014, Amazon acquired Comixology, the largest marketplace for digital comics in the U.S., and last year, the largest bookseller in the world incorporated the Comixology app into Kindle, allowing digital comics to be read on their smartphone or Kindle.

Some comic apps, such as Madefire and the Archie comics app, shut down in 2021, while Comixology was affected by Amazon’s recent layoffs.

Still, some big digital comics firms believe switching the medium from print to digital could enable the revival of web- or app-based serialized storytelling like webtoons and web novels. And some South Korea-based Big Tech companies have ambitions beyond the comics and novels world.

Earlier this month, Kakao Entertainment, which operates storytelling platforms and a music streaming service, announced it received $966 million in funding from sovereign wealth funds, including Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and Singapore’s GIC (Pwarp Investment). The new money will go toward extending its global storytelling content and intellectual properties, around which original series and movies are based, specifically in North America, Kakao pointed out. The funding comes roughly two years after it acquired two U.S.-based storytelling platforms, Tapas and serialized fiction app Radish.

I caught up with industry sources, including Naver-owned WEBTOON global CEO Junkoo Kim, who founded WEBTOON in 2004, and Kakao Entertainment‘s global business director, Jayden Kang, to learn more about the webtoon industry and why they want to bet on the business of storytelling.

Are webtoons the next blockbuster?

Naver and Kakao, the two largest Korean internet firms, believe storytelling platforms could be the next entertainment blockbuster, coming hot on the heels of the global popularity of K-pop boy band BTS and Netflix’s “Squid Game.”

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