Webtoons and Webcomics Keep Scrolling into Print

From Publishers Weekly:

Forget swiping right. Online comics are racking up readers, and the test of success is how far readers will scroll on down.

As demand for graphic novels remains strong, especially in middle grade and YA categories, publishers are turning to popular digital platforms to scout for turn-key titles.

Much of the webcomics buzz is driven by the success of South Korean–based global comics platform Webtoon, which bills itself as the world’s largest webcomics community. Launched in 2005, Webtoon has dominated the scene to such a degree that it’s become common to refer to all comics presented in the platform’s smartphone-friendly vertical-scrolling format as webtoons.

In 2022, Webtoon launched Webtoon Unscrolled, a U.S.-based imprint designed to bring many of the site’s most popular English-language series into print for the North American market. The trio of launch titles (True BeautyTower of God, and Cursed Princess Club) together sold-in more than 200,000 copies in the imprint’s first six months, according to the publisher.

Unscrolled plans to publish 20 ongoing series by the end of 2024, including Lumine by Emma Krogell, a fantasy about the adventures of a runaway werewolf and a witch boy, and the Eisner-Award nominated Third Shift Society by Meredith Moriarty, in which a psychically gifted but broke young woman finds work as a paranormal detective.

“As someone who did superhero comics for 35 years of my career, it’s wonderful to be on the creator-owned side,” says Bobbie Chase, executive editor of Webtoon Unscrolled, referring to the fact that the Webtoon platform allows the writers and cartoonists behind series to retain their intellectual property. The phenomenon of webtoons has, she adds, driven new voices to publish with “first-time creators producing smash hits out of the gate.”

Webtoon’s readership skews young and female. Almost half of the site’s creators are women, and many of the top series are by female or nonbinary creators. Chase notes that while romance comics rose to the top in the early years of the original Korean platform, the English-language version of Webtoon boasts a broader mix of genres, including fantasy, science fiction, and horror. (For more on the enduring popularity of romance comics, see “Readers Swoon for Webtoons,”).

Because Webtoon comics are creator owned, authors and artists are free to sign with other publishers, as well. Rachel Smythe’s mythological fantasy romance Lore Olympus, one of the biggest English-language properties on Webtoon, was first published by Del Rey at Penguin Random House. PRH recently made the bestselling series the flagship title of its new Inklore imprint.

Though Inklore isn’t exclusively focused on webcomics, it plans to publish several web-to-print titles, including series from South Korea and Japan, such as My Love Story with Yamada-kun at Lv999 by Mashiro (Apr. 2024) and Cherry Blossoms After Winter by Bamwoo (Nov. 2024).

Doing it for the fans

Inklore editorial director Rebecca “Tay” Taylor describes the imprint’s audience as in the 18–35 age range and largely female, and often seeking LGBTQ content. “They’re reading romantasy, they’re reading BL [boys’ love], they’re reading horror,” she says. “Basically, anyone who’s reading or writing fan fiction on AO3 [the fanfiction megasite Archive of Our Own]—that’s our audience.”

Taylor observes that these readers “haven’t been catered to by traditional publishing… so they’ve created the content they wanted to see in webcomics, fan fiction, and fan art. And they are legion.”

Online comics are “one of the fastest-growing categories out there,” according to Michael Petranek, editorial director at Scholastic’s Graphix imprint. Graphix’s web-to-print titles include the Prism Award–winning Magical Boy by The Kao (out now), about a trans boy who fights evil Sailor Moon–style, and Rainbow! by Angel and Sunny Gloom (Mar. 2024), in which a neurodivergent teenager tries to find love. Both first ran on Tapas, one of Webtoon’s biggest rivals.

Emilia Rhodes, HarperCollins Children’s Books editorial director, says the decision to publish UnOrdinary by uru-chan, a superhero series from Webtoon, arose from “organic enthusiasm” she picked up from colleagues. (Volume two will be released in July 2024 from HarperAlley.) “A bunch of younger editors at the office were obsessing,” she adds, “and they totally turned me on to it.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly