Publishers want you to know: Manhwa is not manga
Dark Horse Comics' "Bride of the Water God."
February 17th, 2012
01:57 PM ET

Publishers want you to know: Manhwa is not manga

Editor's note: Danica Davidson is a writer whose articles have appeared on MTV.com, Publishers Weekly and the Los Angeles Times. She also writes English adaptations of Japanese graphic novels. She has recently finished her first young adult novel and is seeking a publisher.

In recent years, the licensing and distribution of Korean comics — called manhwa — have increased in the United States, but retailers don't provide much of a distinction between it and its Japanese counterpart, manga.

Manhwa is sold right beside manga in bookstores, which some industry insiders view as inevitable (because manga is better known, and such a close association could help manhwa sales).  But others think that manhwa should be recognized for its own merits in America.

Manga and manhwa read in different directions (manga is read from right to left, and manhwa is read in the traditional Western style of left to right), and the art style is different, though not overwhelmingly so.  They often delve into similar subjects in their stories: action, romance (opposite- and same-sex) and Asian mythology.

Whereas manga often turns to Japanese mythology for background and stories, manhwa naturally turns to Korean mythology.  There are definite similarities, and modern manhwa has had some influence from manga, but it’s certainly inaccurate to say that manhwa only exists because of manga, as some people have come to believe.

“Korea didn’t open its doors to Japanese culture until the late '90s,” said JuYoun Lee, senior editor at Yen Press, a company where about 30% of its graphic novels are manhwa. “Because of that, manhwa had more of a chance to grow," she said, giving the stories in manhwa a distinct rhythm and flavor.

"In the '70-'80s, kids’ comics got very popular (in Korea), and the magazine market started to emerge as well, which helped growing the market," she said. "In particular, comics for girls – soonjung manhwa – became wildly popular in the '80s and early '90s. It was really after the door opened to Japanese material, though, that the manga/manhwa market reached its peak.”

Eventually, these books began to make their way to the United States. “Tokyopop was probably the first publisher to make a significant push with manhwa in the American market, although I have mixed feelings about the approach they took,” Lee said.

“It was very much a situation where the mentality was ‘everything will sell if we call it manga,’ rather than giving individual works their due. Nothing sells just because you apply a particular label to it; it’s the actual books themselves that matter. I never felt the books were given the individualized attention they needed, and a blanket conclusion was reached that manhwa doesn’t sell as well as manga.”

“If the goal is to place similar content in a single location to make it easier for readers to find and to purchase, then I think the current system makes sense,” Lee said. But even if manhwa is shelved with manga, publishers struggle to make it clear that manhwa and manga aren’t synonymous.

“As we find increasingly more people delve into specific cultural categories, such as Japanese anime, Korean pop, etc., I feel differentiating manhwa from manga would help readers appreciate the cultural similarities and differences in these books from two different origins,” said Soyoung Jung, vice president of NETCOMICS, which sells about 50 series and 250 volumes of manhwa.

Michael Gombos, director of Dark Horse Comics licensing in Asia, said that his publishing company was the first to sell manhwa as, well, manhwa.  “We were the one publisher (and the only major one, at that) to properly acknowledge that manhwa is manhwa,” he said. Dark Horse sells six manhwa series.

“Manhwa being shelved with manga wasn’t our choice, but the ‘market imperative.’ Given the average size of manga and manhwa, it makes sense to sell them next to each other, but it does not make sense to Dark Horse to sell them as one and the same.”

“Besides their opposite reading directions, manhwa and manga books share more or less the same ‘language’ or ‘grammar’ - the way scenes are presented,” Jung said.  “But I think manhwa’s smaller market share (compared with manga) has been the key reason why the distributors and sellers found no reason to categorize these books separately.”

How well manhwa sells is based on the title and sometimes on the genre.  Lee said "Jack Frost" is the best-selling manhwa at Yen Press, and Gombos said that "Bride of the Water God" sells better than a large portion of Dark Horse's trade paperbacks and graphic novels.  Jung named "Totally Captivated" and "100% Perfect Girl" as best-sellers.

But the specific genre of manhwa that sells the best, Jung said, is "yaoi." It's a genre that is popular with female readers and features young men as each other's love interests.

“Boys Love, A.K.A. ‘yaoi,’ is the only genre that has a solid number of followers, just about everywhere in the world manhwa and manga are sold. Excluding this genre, it all depends on the popularity of the individual title and the name value of its author.” "Totally Captivated," for example, is a Boys Love title.

When Dark Horse first began licensing manhwa, “there wasn’t a lot of education about what made manhwa different, at least in the mechanical sense; one person wrote to us once and asked, ‘Is manhwa what Dark Horse calls flopped (left-to-right-reading) manga?’ " Gombos said.

"Dark Horse did what we could to educate both the consumer and book market (we had several consumer- and distributor-level campaigns), but the focus was just on the word 'manga' at the time, so the response was, ‘Oh, so Koreans are trying to do manga,’ when we’d hoped for more of an understanding of something along the lines of ‘Korean comics.’ "

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soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Kiwi

    They're just creating confusion in the marketplace, with all the stuff about manhwa vs. manga. Just call them Korean Comics.

    March 8, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  2. Leonel

    The problem with oibcmeng better is that you could be so dazzling that you can no longer have any contact with reality and to live in a world of your own. The risk of a crazy diamond is to not be able to accomplish simple things and to forget about feelings. I have seen brilliant people that have forgotten to smile, to eat, they had no practical skill.The only thing they knew was to study. Shine, but do not forget that you still live on Earth! Everybody has a special shine because we are unique.

    March 7, 2012 at 1:13 am |
    • Cemont

      you could go to GoDaddy and use codes to get discount but you more likley at least to start should use a blog maybe like livejournal there are blog places that blog freethis is what Charles A Tan does with blogspotSince you will be posting your stories you might also want to check out the creative commons lenience godaddy does also host they host my website but you are most likley better of with a blog at least when you start

      July 1, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  3. Hyemin

    and...i love seeing little korean culture things going on in the manhwa:D

    February 22, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • Mahala

      That's a slick answer to a cahllenngig question

      March 5, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  4. Hyemin

    I love MANHWA!!!!!! :D they arent that bad...i actually like them better than manga...Chocolat, President Dad, and Moon Boy werent bad..:)

    February 22, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  5. macphile

    What the hell is this about? If Korea released illustrated work that was written very differently, like not even a comic, fine. But to say that it's a totally different thing because it's Korean and is read the other way around? Are you ****ing me? By that logic, we can't put anything with anything else. They have different authors, different main characters, different national origins...good god, man, Ngaio Marsh and Agatha Christie aren't from the same countries! Marsh's books are set in New Zealand! How can we compare them to books set in the UK? WHAT IS THIS WITCHCRAFT?!

    Thanks, I'm done.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  6. sam

    manga is like a kindle and manhwa is like a nook. ok, so a kindle is not a nook, but they are still the same thing.

    February 20, 2012 at 2:58 am |
  7. tcat

    the only people who care are pre-teens, or people who never mentally developed past that point in life.

    February 20, 2012 at 12:46 am |
    • Mahesh

      Argersi / Hi FTH may i ask when the next chapter of WATASHI NI XX SHINASAI! will be relseead, i was wondering because it has been a long time since the last release.thank you and keep up the good work. :)

      September 15, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  8. SCDad

    No Korean version of lolicon?

    February 19, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  9. James

    And what will the Chinese version be called? And the Indian version? Basically the same, only the names change.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  10. Mashi

    The article presents more of the similarities than information stating why they are different. Wow, that was really annoying.

    February 19, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  11. Rick Hunter

    And I'm willing to bet that the only people who care about the difference have never had a date and still live in their parents basement. I'm just saying...

    February 18, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • ...

      Then you should probably put on a sweater.

      February 18, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      My friend is a university professor who studies this stuff and writes books about it; he's tall and striking and has women all over him at conventions and conferences. It's a cultural resource that tells you what people are thinking and dreaming about. The CIA has analysts following the stories and reading tweets, etc. Snap out of it; it's 2012.

      February 20, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  12. PM

    Cultural differences, different mythologies, differences in slang, honorifcs, dress, and so on show up readily.

    It's amazing how many of these posts show that the posters didn't read the article or aren't bright enough to pay careful attention to what was written.

    February 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  13. MeGusta

    It's not a really big deal that they're being sold side by side in stores. In all of the bookstores in my area, manga, manhwa, and graphic novels are all in the same section. I'm not complaining, it means that I can find what I'm looking for in the same area.

    February 18, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  14. Just as ignorant as ever I see...

    Glad to see the immature portion of manga fandom has found this post. Yes, please show the world how stupid you are. I'd rather you be here than stealing manga online or cluttering the aisles of the local bookstore NOT buy manga. I welcome comments so you can further prove my point.

    February 18, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  15. tbird

    THis story doesn't convince me that there's any difference between the two except country of origin & market share.

    February 18, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Arch

      That's pretty much all I got out of it as well.

      February 20, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  16. pleeehh

    the copycat want copyright huh

    February 18, 2012 at 7:21 am |
  17. dai

    Manhwa is a copy of the Manga.

    February 18, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • asdasd

      Manga is the copy of Comics.

      April 21, 2013 at 3:51 am |
  18. Pocket Monster

    Pokemon!

    February 17, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • outawork

      Pocket Monsterfail!

      February 17, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • Cesare

      for me, i just like the story plot of the anime and the good-looking guys. but some is because of the cluture and things. i like anime with love/hate relationships between a guy and a girl too.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  19. sleeestax

    haven't read either. Are there cultural differences apparent when reading these? The cultures have similarities, but also glaring differences if you are familiar with both

    February 17, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • Flora

      There are a few, but none that are really obvious. Cultural references are different (calling somebody -oppa in manhwa instead of -kun like in manga); also, for the really observant, Korean comics like to draw their figures & faces way more angled than manga artists.

      Other than that, it's really no different – yes, manhwa is different from manga & deserves it's own recognition, but it's an issue really not worth raising a fuss over.

      February 18, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  20. lulz

    wow, plz crawl out of the rock you guys have been living in... my mom's first job interning during college back in the 70's was drawing manhwa.

    February 17, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • smarter

      Wow, plz, if you mom was really ahead of the game, she would've interned in computing. At least that industry went somewhere in 40 years. I'll bet you're as smart as your mom, huh. Still living with her?

      February 18, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • Ines

      gunsmith is stupid. It's all about big boeobd idiots with loads of panty shots, and I'm not the type to rate down for that kind of stuff (Elfen Lied was great even with the loads of naked chicks) but the plot just sucked!

      November 16, 2012 at 1:39 am |
  21. In other words

    the real difference is.....you read them left to right. Wow, shouldn't even be in the same store, let alone aisle ...

    February 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Esraa

      miscatonic: There will be a leaderboard septod pretty soon I suspect either tomorrow or Friday.IndieRockLance: You are correct, rewritten synopses do not count. Otherwise it would be quite simple to rewrite the same synopsis over and over, getting credit each time. This contest is for new synopses only.

      March 5, 2012 at 1:47 pm |