Graphic novels have had trouble making the transition to e-reader format. In order to get the text large enough to read, you usually have to zoom in too far to experience the art. Plus, you lose your place on the page and can’t follow the flow of panels.
Korea’s answer to this problem has been webtoons, or digital comics formatted for vertical scrolling on a handheld device. One brand-name company, LINE Webtoon, has an extensive English portfolio of comics available both online and through their app. Reading is free, although you can spend money for perks like advanced access to story chapters. And I’m completely hooked.
Webtoon is also unusual in English in that romances are front and center. In the Western comic industry, inexpensively produced stories are dominated by male authors and male-focused genres like superhero stories, and the prestige books, as in prose literature, skew away from happy-ending love stories. (Use AAR’S Power Search feature, with “book type” as “graphic novel,” for some romantic exceptions!). But in East Asia, women consumers and romantic stories have long been core markets for graphic storytelling. As a result, Webtoons has dozens, if not hundreds, of love stories. Note, though, that I say “love stories” instead of “romances” deliberately. Because Webtoons are ongoing, serial stories released in episodes by their creators, I can’t actually promise HEAs.
If you want to read webtoons on Webtoon, how can you start? Just go to each comic’s link below in your browser! It’s that easy. However, once you’re hooked, you may prefer to download the app, which I think makes reading more convenient. If you create an account, it will keep track of the comics you’re reading, and it will remember which episode you last read so you can start where you left off.
Here are some Webtoons I adore:
Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe: This visually-stunning adaptation of the Persephone and Hades myth is Webtoon’s top series, and for good reason. The characters are great – a shy, voluptuous Persephone and a socially inept, sweet, but susceptible Hades, surrounded by a strong modern update of Greek figures including douche-bro Apollo, scheming nymphs, and a Zeus who texts nudes. No wonder it’s already been optioned by the Jim Henson company for an animated version.
SubZero by JunePurr: Clove, the last surviving princess of the Azure Dragon clan, agrees to an arranged marriage with the Crimson Dragon Kyro to bring an end to war between their people, but palace plots and Clove’s struggles with her magic complicate this plan. The art is stunning in a more traditional manga style. If you like intrigue and epic fantasy, this one is for you.
Cursed Princess Club by LambCat: Riotously funny, but also heartfelt. Until her potential fiance reacts with horror at their first meeting, Princess Gwendolyn of the Pastel Kingdom has no idea that she’s… well, pretty gruesome-looking. Fortunately, the forest behind the castle has a band of outcast princesses ready to help. This weekly update is the highlight of my Mondays, when it makes me laugh so hard I wake up my poor spouse. I mean… misogynist princes called Princels? I die.
Let’s Play by Mongie: An awkward game designer’s first release is ruined when her neighbor, a popular live-streamer, gives her a terrible review – but this awful experience may be the kick she needs to change her stagnant life. The author’s personifications of different emotional stresses, like anxiety and depression, are truly relatable, and the visual storytelling around video game sequences is a hoot.
Miss Abbott and the Doctor by Maripaz Villar: Uptight Dr. Andreas Marino is the orderly physician in a small town when Cati Abbott blows into his life. Like Lore Olympus, this one strays from manga art, instead using gorgeous, spare purple linework. The mutton-sleeved gowns and coastal sets will transport you right to Green Gables. There is a little weirdness about Cati’s tribal upbringing, but this comic also has a wonderfully diverse cast, in terms of both race and sexuality.
UnOrdinary by uru-chan: This one is action, not romance, but HOOBOY. Buckle in for a dystopian setting in which people all have powers, but those with stronger powers don’t hesitate to use them to dominate everyone below them. This is a character-driven alternate reality series which just wrapped up its first season with one of the most intense cliffhangers I’ve ever read. I cannot wait to see where it goes next.
Lookism by Taejoon Park: A bullied, short, fat high schooler acquires a second body which is aesthetically flawless, talented, and fit, and experiences the world both ways. This is an amazing and thoughtful examination of beauty bias in Korea from a male perspective. Romance is late to the story but seems to be starting. The supporting cast, especially homely but passionate rapper Duke, are marvelous.
Some other solid performers I enjoy but don’t binge:
Siren’s Lament (a visually beautiful romance comic about cursed mermaids)
Gourmet Hound (a woman taste-testing the works of chefs from her now-closed favorite restaurant)
Tower of God (a gripping alternate reality adventure/dystopia tale, but one that is so long I’ve stopped keeping up)
Age Matters (a nice workplace romance about a thirty-year-old heroine and her younger tech mogul boss)
And comedy comics without narratives:
The Pigeon Gazette by JaneyJane (not original to Webtoons; she publishes elsewhere as well)
Do you read Webtoons, and if so, do you read any of these? What am I missing that I should try?
I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.
I saw this posted today: The Top 30 comics on Webtoons for the year. Lore Olympus was #1 and UnOrdinary was close behind at #2.
Isn’t it marvelous??!! It’s a great stick-in-the-mud hero and free-spirit heroine that manages not to to have the hero be humorless or the heroine be annoying. And her art is simply amazing. I’m delighted that you’re enjoying it.
I am trying out a few new ones and I will report back if I like them!
Just reporting back quickly to say how completely hooked I am now on Maripaz VIllar’s Miss Abbott and the Doctor. It’s such a charming and addictive Victorian romance, and I think readers of historical romances would really enjoy it.
I don’t do well spreading myself too thin and so I tend to focus on just one at a time, but once I’m caught up with Miss Abbott, I’m definitely returning to Cursed Princess Club, as that one had me laughing out loud from just a few of the chapters.
This was such a fun blog and I hope it continues. The stories on this site are wonderful and I hope more romance readers find their way to Webtoons.
Ooh so lovely!
I have taken your enthusiasm as a springboard and jumped in.
I love the convenience, the medium is so easy and reading this way works so well.
All Recs above are so helpful, the amount of content would overwhelm me otherwise.I at least looked into each, lost a couple hours where I needed to read on, subscribed them and have a wonderful new medium to enjoy.
I find interesting how this is such a different pacing than a novel or a film, and how I can enjoy all those little “gasp” moments, or looks exchanged, or walking off in a huff. In a novel, giving this so much space would be boring. In a film, you can just have a few such moments sprinkled in. Here, they make up the core of the story and can become really important – like they often are in life.
In all, a different way of looking at romance, and a wonderful one!
Thanks for the nudge, and the Recs, to all
Wow, thanks so much for taking the time to leave this comment! I’m thrilled that you’re finding new things to read and love and that I was able to play a part in it. Notes like this make it feel good to be a reviewer!
FYI, I keep seeing great reviews for the new romance Suitor Armor on Webtoons. Rachel Smythe recommended it too, It’s up now on the site with only a handful of episodes.
Since I submitted this, I found and hardcore-binged Freaking Romance, which can be found here: https://www.webtoons.com/en/romance/freaking-romance/list?title_no=1467&page=1
I laughed out loud 4 times in episode 1. Certainly a great start.
Episode 13 of Freaking Romance was utterly hilarious then achingly beautiful.
I’ve just caught up to date on the wonderful Miss Abbot and the Doctor, and have been looking for a new webtoon to fill in daily spare moments, so this is good timing for me.
Thanks! Completely hooked on Lore Olympus!
SPIRIT FINGERS! 10/10
Oh, a new rec! I’ll check it out! For others, here it is: https://www.webtoons.com/en/drama/spirit-fingers/list?title_no=1577
Thank you for this post, I had a webtoons kick 9 months ago then drifted away. This is a nice incentive to go back and find some stories that fit me, and I always appreciate recs.
I asked my teen for recs, as she avidly follows Webtoons, and she says _Midnight Poppy Land_ and _Castle Swimmer_ (gay romance) are her favorites, along with _Lore Olympus_.
But omg, _Lore Olympus_ is so incredibly wonderful and one of my obsessions this year. I tell everyone I know about it!! The watercolor-like artwork is visually stunning, and the sexy romance between Persephone and Hades has me hooked every week. I grew up reading Greek mythologies and love that an author has created a modernized soap opera for all of these fabulous and complex characters and without losing their ties to the ancient world. I adore the modern take on technology with laptops, cellphones, texting, and social media like Fatesbook. Because this is serialized, once a month I start from the beginning and reread until a new episode is out. I’m not a graphic novels reader either and do think this is a story that has wide appeal for anyone hesitant to try it out. I am delighted for Rachel Smythe for her upcoming animated TV show deal. I really believe she is a once in a lifetime artist. Obviously, I can rave about this one endlessly. I should expand and try others on Webtoons. I agree with Caroline that Webtoons is a very easy app to use, as well as a very accessible site for reading. Thank you for this blog!!
I remembered you liking Lore Olympus as I was writing this up!