Tag Archives: Kim Kang Won

Why is Manhwa not as popular as Manga?

Today I spent a good deal of time reading some manhwa, or Korean comics., and began pondering why the form is not quite as popular as manga.

I.N.V.U. Vol. 1

I.N.V.U. by Kim Kang Won, one of the first manhwa published in the U.S.

I have to admit, I don’t read much manhwa. There’s something about it that doesn’t connect with me as much as manga does,  although there are certainly some series that I really really enjoy. I decided to think about it some more and realized that the source of my lack of interest was really childish.

Basically, I was kind of a purist when U.S. publishers began releasing manhwa. I read manga and only manga. I didn’t really get introduced to American comics other than Archie and Friends until a few years later and manga was what it was all about for me. Manhwa was, in my eyes, a cheap imitation.

I can imagine how a similar mindset amongst manga fans would prevent a fairly good number of people from purchasing manhwa, but U.S. publishers have still had fairly successful manhwa releases with titles like I.N.V.U. and Demon Diary.

I thought more about why I’m not as fond as manhwa. I decided that a lot of manhwa come off as a little shallow to me. I can honestly say that I wish the series I’ve read just went a little bit deeper, even though I’m a huge fan of most of them. I sort of feel like I’m generalizing here, so I hope in the future I can read more manhwa to prove myself wrong, but…

Manga can get pretty deep, even if the reader is not expecting it or does not realize it at the time. Manhwa, I’ve found, pretty much focuses on rather petty dramatic issues.

For example, in a typical high school romance manga, a girl will try to find a deeper connection with the boy she likes by spending time with him and going through various trials and tribulations together. We get to really know both of them in this way and it creates an atmosphere of closeness between the readers and the characters so that our emotions ride along with their’s as the story progresses.

The same high school romance in manhwa won’t really show you all those high and low points, but will extensively cover the lengths at which the girl pursues a guy. This includes all the craziness that goes on inside a girl’s head (admittedly, that part is spot on,) the drama being boy-crazy creates and the wacky hijinks that ensue. I’ve found, more often than not, that this results in the potential couple fighting.  If there’s anything I REALLY don’t like, it’s two people arguing with each other over very silly things.

Which actually leads me to a strange conclusion here that may have to do with my own personal issues than actual fact. I don’t like to deal with couples arguing extensively with each other because my parents do it all the time.  Their’s is pretty much my stereotype of a bad relationship.

I imagine that, in a country with such a high divorce rate, other American manga fans have also been subjected to parents fighting over stupid things.  Why would American kids want to relate to people who constantly fight like their parents do? They probably don’t, so they probably don’t spend their money on manhwa. (Divorce in Korea is still pretty taboo. I wouldn’t find it too surprising if husbands and wives put up with fighting with each other because getting divorced would make them lose face. Thus, Korean kids are probably less likely to associate such fighting with something as traumatic as divorce.)

That being said, it’s really just a theory. I don’ t really have a way to prove it, but it’s an interesting thought.

Also, I don’t want to discourage any one from reading manhwa. I personally like The Queen’s Knight, I.N.V.U. and Tarot Cafe quite a bit and I would love it if Tokyopop continued to publish them. The manhwa I was reading today, Please, Please Me was hilarious and reminded me of wacky josei manga aimed at young professional women. (I am a HUGE fan of josei manga.)  I do wish good manhwa would get more love…

But I also wish they’d stop fighting…

ETA: There’s been some internet discussion about this post, so if you’d like to continue the discussion about manhwa, here’s the next post!

Related Links:

An article about manhwa that was probably written by one of my old bosses at Tokyopop

Wikipedia article about manhwa and its origins

Please, Please Me by Kisun (There’s a free preview of the first chapter!)


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