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History of Manhwa Comics


Manhwa is the common korean terminology for comics in general. However, when the term is used in English; it specifically refers to "manga-like" comics and general comic publications of korean origin. And while manhwa readership and distribution is nowhere near the levels seen for the more popular Japanese "manga" comics; korean manhwa are becoming one of the fastest growing segments in the comic universe. For the remainder of this hub, allow me to explore the peculiarities that make this genre truly unique. Meanwhile, I will track it's development from humble beginnings to present-day hype.

By the end of this article, I hope to give you an appreciation if not some basic knowledge for what manhwa is and isn't (hint* it is not manga). Now....let's begin.

Heroism and Propaganda: 1940s and 50's

The first instances of korean manhwa and manhwa culture stem from the WWII era and the ongoing conflict between Japan and peoples on the Korean peninsula. After Japan outright annexed Korea in 1910; they imposed a series of strict laws and policies to keep the local populace "in line." Among the most egregious of these policies condoned the persecution of the free press. So how did renowned korean cartoonists and comic artists respond to this kind of autocratic bitch slap. The way all disgruntled artists respond to such matters....biting satire.

Among the most notable cartoonists of this era were Kim Dong-sung; who consistently wrote works criticizing Japan's persecution of the press. Another heroic figure was Ahn Seok-joo who through his popular cartoon series' "A Day of a Dummy" and "Adventure of a Boaster," blasted Japan's treatment of the Korean populace and forcefully called for emancipation of the country. Imbecile's Vain Efforts, a comic strip made by artist Roh Soo-hyun, became popular enough to be made into a movie

As the WWII progressed and prosecution of the press become harsher and harsher; "seditious" works were frequently burned and their creators threatened. Eventually, many Korean cartoonists had no choice but to write/draw for the purposes of Japanese propaganda.

The Korean War

After WWII, the Americans would be the next usurpers of Korea's propaganda machine. Hence a wide series of comic works such as "Koojooboo" and "The Rabbit and The Turtle" emerged to combat the advance of Communism in the north of the peninsula. However, more intriguing developments were starting to take root in the comic industry.

Cartoonists were beginning to experience a little bit artistic freedom after years of agenda-pushing and censorship. It is during this period, and leading into the 60's, that we see the development of "Sun-Jeong manhwa" (sentimental comics) and "Myongrang manhwa" (funny comics).

Of course, by 1961 this blossoming of creative expression was suddenly stopped in its tracks. Park Chung-hee, a South Korean general, staged a coup of the South Korean government and imposed a whole new world of ultra-censorship on korean society. In one of the most ridiculous instances of censorship during this era; the Chung-hee regime prohibited girls and boys from being depicted together in a single comic strip.

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Manhwa of the Modern Age

After Park Chuang-hee's assassination and the rise of another, more liberal, regime; press regulations were relaxed and creative expression was brought into a new golden era. For the first time in a long while manhwa artists were able to create comics about the various flunkies, drunkards, floosies and pranksters that inhabit korean society. Moreover, manhwa began to better reflect the unique qualities of korean society with their references to competitiveness, "bballi, bballi," and education fervor. Modern manhwa had finally arrived.


Now here's where I try to distinguish manhwa from all the other asian comic styles. Now let's say you go to your local comic book store or you simply buy a manhwa comic online; what can you expect? Well to start you will notice that manhwa is read from left to right unlike manga, which is read from right to left. Also, even though manhwa and manga themes appear to be very similar, manhwa does have a distinctively korean flavor. There is is a reason for this.

For geopolitical and historical reasons, many Japanese cultural exports were barred from entering Korea up until the 1990s. The unintended consequence of this policy was that Korean "artistic culture" was able to develop in a virtual bubble, separate and apart from the Japanese comic industry. As a consequence, you can see the minute differences in how mahnwa chooses to use Korean folklore or Korean legends to illustrate their manhwa. Moreover, manhwa art and art figures are said to more expressive and personality driven (not so much emphasis on big eyes) than Japanese manga art. Lastly, you can notice mahnwa artists have mastered the "yaoi" section of the comic market by appealing to female readers.

Of course, manhwa has never been fully shake off the association with Japanese manga. A large part of this has to do with marketing. Large publishers such as TokyoPop and Darkhorse Comics purposely clump together both manga and manhwa in foreign markets such as the U.S. As JuYoun Lee, a Yen Press senior editor, once put it: "[The publisher's goal] is to place similar content in a simgle location to make it easier for reader's to find and purchase." This of course makes distinguishing manhwa from manga and very difficult task.



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Sylvie on January 24, 2015:

Can you tell me in which manwha you toke the "cheating on me already" picture on this page? Thanks

Susan from India on December 11, 2012:

Informative hub, i like it

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