Trying to learn Korean on your own? There are many resources out there to enable your studies but you’ve got to admit, not all of them are interesting and fun. If you’re trying to learn casual conversational Korean more than the serious business formal Korean and don’t want to learn from a textbook, or if you feel like watching those educational video lessons just isn’t enough, or if listening to K-pop or watching K-dramas gets tedious, try webtoons!
Webtoons are basically online comics and cartoons. They’re great resources because not only do you get a grasp of everyday conversation, you also get to hone your reading skills at the same time. Not to mention that webtoons contain a lot of internet-speak and slang, which are pretty useful in real life. Plus, there’s no need for purchase, although popular webtoon artists have published books of their work so if you really like a certain ‘toon, it’s not a bad investment. (Supporting artists is good!)
Here are some of my personal favorites that offer good examples of everyday Korean situations and conversation.
* All webtoons are hyperlinked, click on their titles.
Probably one of the most successful webtoons in Korea, Wara! Store portrays the happenings that occur in a regular convenience store. The interaction between the young “alba” (알바, part-time temps) employees, the customers, the manager and even the products, this webtoon manages to capture a slice of life that is prevalent in any city around the world but with a very Korean touch. The webtoon has been a major success with many licensed products, short animations and such.
The title of this webtoon is a play on the familiar phrase “생활의 발견” which means “discovery of (everyday) life” or loosely translated, “importance of living”. The artist simply changed one syllable to create the word “참견” which means interfere, meddle – so the title is basically trying to say “sticking your nose in other peoples’ everyday life”, which happens quite a lot here in Korea because the line between public and personal life is rather blurry.
As expected, the webtoon deals with everyday life anecdotes, from the funny to the heartwarming. The artist is a husband and dad so the webtoon also provides good insight to the everyday life of a “regular” middle class Korean family. The artist recently released a new book specifically about his daughter and her antics.
This artist has several webtoons available in Naver’s webtoon section. The hyperlink above (click title) goes to her completed work which is mostly a webtoon personal diary. I have to admit it’s mostly her cute and simple drawing style that draws me to read her work more than the content. Not that the content is boring, on the contrary, she is a 20-something webtoon artist who lives with her funny parents (and older brother who has gotten married since then) and the spoiled family dog, which provides more than enough material to laugh about.
This is the artist that got me into reading webtoons. She is currently updating the above webtoon which is another online diary sort, but the one I started reading was about her trip to Nepal, where she backpacked alone. The webtoon was appropriately called “나는 어디에 있는 거니” (Where am I) and was a brilliant piece of illustrated travel writing. Her drawing style relies a lot on simple lines and soft colors, which I find very soothing on the eyes while looking at a computer screen.
As her friends and family are quite a funny bunch (I think it’s a common trait in webtoon artists to have an interesting entourage), her current toon is a good read as well.
Have you ever wondered why Koreans ask you about your blood type? It’s not because they want to know what to do in case you happen to be in an accident (although it really is vital information), but it’s because there is a underlying belief that blood types affect personalities and character in the way an astrological sign may.
Another hugely successful webtoon, it has packed all the existing stereotypes of each blood type and more into a hilarious series. Strangely enough, there are many which are so darn true it’s kind of uncanny. Much funnier when you know your own blood type.
The artist has never revealed her real name; she simply goes by the pseudonym Penguin. Penguin is a Korean woman and Mev is an Englishman; the webtoon portrays their romance, the cultural differences they encounter, and everything in between. If you’re an international couple or want to be one, there’s probably a lot of things to which you can relate. The webtoon just recently started adding English “subtitles” on the side so it’s a great starter webtoon, too.
That title doesn’t translate well into English. But it pertains to the bird in the nest; the first flight. This webtoon is about a single mom – the artist herself – raising her young son, the one who is learning to fly. The series is completed and those who are interested in what happens afterwards can keep up at the artist’s blog.
It’s enlightening (and educating) to see the trials of a single mom in Korea and because her son is immensely bright, it offers a lot of hilarious incidents. There’s a fair amount of “kid speak” so if you happen to be an English teacher for young kids this webtoon might be pretty informative.
Ever been blown away by someone’s imagination? This artist’s work made me anticipate every new episode with curiosity and has never disappointed. A variety of animal characters live in this delightfully bizarre jungle which is, ironically, full of humanity and warmth. The characters all have distinct personalities and a particular point of view about life, which makes you look back on your own to reflect and ponder.
Not that it’s a philosophical masterpiece, but it certainly makes you think more than any other webtoon I’ve encountered. All through simple drawings about light situations.
If webtoons about people and animals aren’t imaginative enough, here comes a webtoon about inanimate objects, i.e. “non” people (like Miss Spoon above). I’ve only discovered this webtoon recently but its perspective is unusual and funny, and makes you look at things from a very different light. It has more adult themes that you won’t find in the other webtoons I’ve mentioned (but compared to what is being played on TV nowadays it’s nothing) which is why the cutesy style of drawing makes it even funnier.
Since these are my personal selections based on the criteria for learning everyday Korean, I went without mentioning a lot of fabulous webtoons that deal with the controversial, the truly bizarre, or other complex storylines. I also omitted the narrative style continuous webtoons. The major Korean portals, notably Naver and Daum, have separate webtoon sections on their sites so go check out the diversity.
Most of the above webtoons have also been published, so if you prefer the analogue version, they are available at the large bookstore chain, online and off.
by Suzy Chung on June 30th, 2011