If you’re a manga or light novel lover, you’re surely aware that the vast majority of content we otaku enjoy comes from Japan, and has a distinctive Japanese flair. But Japan isn’t the only country producing amazing illustrated content—in recent years, South Korean manhwa has been getting increasingly popular.
In 2022, we’ve seen Western publishers shift into publishing more content from South Korean creators, both physically and digitally. If you’re a newcomer to manhwa, then fear not—Honey’s Anime has you covered!
Join us today for this friendly beginner’s guide to manhwa in 2022!
How Is Manhwa Different from Manga?
Before we dive into the world of manhwa, it might be useful to talk about its differences from our more familiar world of manga.
Manhwa is the South Korean term for illustrated comic-style works and the equivalent to Japanese manga and Chinese manhua. There are, however, some major differences between manga and manhwa.
Firstly, manhwa are read left-to-right, like a Western comic, compared to the right-to-left Japanese format. If you’ve been reading manga for a while, this can take some adjustment, particularly since the action will flow differently in the panel layouts.
Secondly, manhwa are almost always presented in full color, compared to the traditional black-and-white style of manga. Although some Japanese creators will create color illustrations for opening chapters or special events, manhwa are available in glorious color all the time!
Lastly, the modern era of manhwa proliferated online, and adopted a vertical presentation optimized for smartphones; there’s some crossover here with what we know in the West as “webtoons,” although calling manhwa webtoons isn’t strictly correct. This isn’t the place for a historical dive into manhwa, but for now, let’s just think of manhwa as being colorful vertical-styled comics!
There is a whole roster of cultural differences, too—South Korea uses a different system of suffixes for addressing family members or seniors, which requires some re-wiring if you’re used to Japanese honorifics. South Korean creators also have different standards for censorship, and although many of the literary tropes will be familiar to manga readers, there are also cultural references—such as mandatory military service for Korean men—that may be foreign.
Now that we’ve discussed the differences, let’s discuss how you can start reading manhwa!
From the Screen…
As we mentioned earlier, manhwa’s popularity surged with the prevalence of smartphones in South Korea, combined with user-generated content platforms where anyone could create and upload artwork.
As with the manga industry, there are far more native titles available than we see in the West, but we’ll have to make do (unless you fancy learning a new language!). Thankfully, it seems like publishers in the West are noticing the increased demand for manhwa and are hiring more translators and editors to bring the best content to English (and other languages, too).
As always, Honey’s Anime supports official channels for translation, since proceeds go back to the creators and help the industry grow. So here are our top recommendations for reading manhwa online in 2022!
One of our favorite official manhwa websites is Tappytoon (https://www.tappytoon.com/), where you can read fantastic series like The Villainess Turns the Hourglass, I’m The Max-Level Newbie, and The Broken Ring: This Marriage Will Fail Anyway.
Tappytoon lets you read the first few chapters of most works for free, and you can unlock more chapters via a token system. Alternatively, you can wait 24 hours for the next chapter to unlock—so if you’re stretching your purse strings, or you don’t mind waiting, it’s pretty fair.
You can read Tappytoon’s manhwa on a browser, or via their official iOS or Android app. Tappytoon hosts mature content, and also prominently supports Boy’s Love and Girl’s Love titles!
One of the best-known webtoon and manhwa providers is Tapas (https://tapas.io), where you can read the highly-acclaimed action series Solo Leveling, or romance dramas like Lysia Tries the Quiet Life.
Tapas lets you read chapters for free to get a small taste of the series, and then allows you to buy more chapters via tokens. Creators can choose how many episodes/chapters are available for free, so sometimes you’ll find series that are quite generous in their allowance.
Tapas is also home to Western-made comics such as Alice Oseman’s bestseller, Heartstopper, and features a wide variety of official and fan-made web novels. This is great for variety, but it can make finding manhwa specifically a bit difficult, as Tapas labels everything as “comics.”
As expected, you can read Tapas comics online or via their iOS/Android apps. Tapas supports a wide range of content, including specific LGBT+ comics; there are also mature-rated comics, but the range is smaller than on other sites.
Another popular place for reading manhwa is Lezhin Comics (https://www.lezhinus.com/), home to series like Unknown Code and Light and Shadow.
As with its competitors, Lezhin offers free chapters to read, and requires that you spend coins to unlock future chapters. Series frequently go on “sale”, where their chapters are significantly cheaper to read, so keep an eye out for a good deal!
Lezhin only supports manhwa and has a huge range of mature-rated comics—if you’re looking for some spicier content, then Lezhin is probably going to be the pick of the bunch. Unfortunately, Lezhin’s genre system could use some love—finding what you want to read can be more difficult than on other websites.
There are iOS and Android apps available, and of course, you can always read the comics in your browser.
…to the Pages!
What if you don’t want to read manhwa on your phone or computer?
Until recently, this digital-only nature of manhwa was one of the largest impediments for manga readers. After years of reading physically, the transition to digital isn’t natural for everyone, and if you enjoy the “logging off” feeling that reading gives you, then reading online is problematic.
Thankfully, 2022 has seen a huge surge in the number of physically-printed manhwa, chiefly spear-headed by Yen Press, with other publishers such as Seven Seas and Lezhin Comics entering the competition too.
As you can imagine, physical manhwa differ a little from their digital counterparts, so let’s check out what’ll be different.
The first difference between digital and physical lies with the visual “flow.” The graphic designers and editorial departments at the publishing houses have a difficult problem at hand: How do you take a vertical comic and convert it to a paneled page?
To solve the issue, the designers have cut, trimmed, moved, and re-arranged the vertical panels into the familiar panel-based layout. We think publishers—particularly Yen Press, via their Ize Press manhwa house—have done a terrific job converting vertical content into a traditional style!
The next difference is a more difficult one to figure out—the price. Compared to manga, physical manhwa are more expensive, somewhere in the range of USD$7 more than manga. This makes sense when you consider that manhwa are full-color (which uses more ink, and requires thicker pages) and that the editors have done all the rearrangements we mentioned above.
Unfortunately, trying to compare physical manhwa to digital manhwa prices is an exercise in frustration and futility. Depending on what website you use and the coin/token cost, there are far too many variables to definitively say what’s cheaper. Reading episodically isn’t always the most cost-effective solution, but coins/tokens can be spent on multiple serials, and websites with free chapters can help plenty.
We encourage you to explore the pricing yourself to figure out what makes sense for your own budget!
What’s Next for Manhwa and Manga?!
It’s certainly been an exciting year for manhwa readers. Even if you prefer reading manhwa digitally, the fact that Western publishing houses are entering the market indicates their confidence that manhwa will only continue to grow.
For readers, this means more access to manhwa, especially as online retailers begin translating more and more South Korean content. For creators, it’s an exciting time to have their hard work recognized, and even an opportunity to have their series adapted into an animated format.
We’ll be watching the manga industry with interest, too. Since manhwa previously existed in an isolated bubble, there hasn’t been much competition on the shelves. But with publishers now printing physical manhwa, we’re curious to see if Japanese creators innovate to keep ahead of their rivals, or whether the two mediums will coexist in separate lanes.
No matter what, now’s the best time to be getting into manhwa—and here at Honey’s Anime, we’ll be reviewing and discussing all the lovely new content getting picked up by our publishing friends.
Whether you choose to read online or grab a glossy, full-color book from the shelves, the world of manhwa is exciting and uniquely different from manga. Time will tell just how big of a market manhwa can find in the West, but we’re confident it’ll be just as successful given the time and room to grow.
We hope this article helped you get started with reading manhwa in 2022! Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below, and as always, thanks for reading!