Webtoons are a type of digital comic that originated in South Korea usually meant to be read on smartphones. Webtoons may be referred to as manhwa — a term used to characterize Korean comics. While webtoons were mostly unknown outside of South Korea for the first 10 years of their inception since 2004, there has been a surge in popularity internationally thanks in great part to most manhwa being read on smartphones. As digital manhwa has emerged as a popular medium, print publication of manhwa has decreased, and the amount of material published in webtoon form has now reached an equal amount as that published offline. Webtoons usually feature a couple of common traits: each episode is published on one long, vertical strip (making use of an infinite canvas rather than multiple pages so that it is easier to read on a smartphone or computer); unlike manhwa in general, they will most likely be in color rather than black-and-white since they are rarely published in physical form; and some will feature music and animations that play during each chapter. In the case of South Korea, there are also different censorship laws for materials published online than in print which has led to manhwa that are more controversial in nature being produced and published as webtoons.
The Korean web portal Daum created a webtoon service known as Daum Webtoon in 2003, which was later followed by the company Naver launching Naver Webtoon in 2004. These services regularly release webtoons that are available for free. According to David Welsh of Bloomberg, comics account for a quarter of all book sales in South Korea, while more than 3 million Korean users pay to access online manhwa and 10 million users read free webtoons. As of July 2014, Naver has published 520 webtoons on its site, while Daum has published 434. Since the early 2010s, services such as TappyToon and Spottoon have begun to officially translate webtoons into English while some Korean publishers like Lezhin, Toomics, and TopToon have begun to self translate their works. Examples of popular webtoons that have been translated into English are Lookism, Untouchable, Yumi’s Cells, The Sound of Heart, Tales of the Unusual, The Gamer, The God of High School, Girls of the Wild’s, Noblesse, and Tower of God. In recent years, these webtoons have been gaining popularity in Western markets, rivaling Japanese manga.
The webtoon format has also expanded to other countries with many different distributors offering original and translated webtoons for users to read as well as offering platforms for anyone to upload their own webtoons. In mainland China and Taiwan, webtoons along with web manhua (Chinese comics) have seen an increase in production and popularity since they are rarely physically published, and just like in South Korea, they have resulted in a resurgence and interest in the manhwa industry as more content is consumed digitally. Almost all of the big webtoon portals in China are offered by the big internet companies in the country while in Taiwan the bigger webtoon publishers outside of the country like Comico, Toomics, and WEBTOON are more popular since their services are available there.