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?