Manhwa even looks and reads a bit differently from manga, but many of the bigger stories like Tower of God feature similar action / adventure themes.
The manga is more popular than ever, which has led to the release of several niche books in America that would otherwise have been blocked in Japan. This popularity has also seen several other Asian comics hitting international retailers and reading services, but not all of them are of Japanese origin. The most popular of these are manhwa, the Korean equivalent of manga.
Manhwa even looks and reads a little differently from manga, but many of the bigger stories feature similar themes of adventure and intense action. The biggest differences are how and where they are read, but with the Korean wave still going strong, the walls to becoming a manhwa fan are finally falling. In order to reduce confusion as to the exact differences between East Asian comic types, here is an overview of South Korean manhwa.
What is the difference between manga and manhwa?
The most obvious difference between the two is their national origin, with the manga being Japanese and the manhwa being South Korean. Japanese soldiers brought manga, which was already very popular, to South Korea during the occupation, with Korea later adapting the art form to its own culture. Initially, these printed and comic books were primarily used for propaganda, although of course they would develop much more diversity once their political use was abandoned.
Unlike manga, which is read right to left and top to bottom, manhwa is read left to right and top to bottom. Likewise, while manga is almost always black and just beyond the covers, manhwa has embraced color as well as digital platforms in recent years. This means that many manhwa are also webtoons, which are Korean comics online. For this reason, they are generally optimized to be read on a computer or cell phone screen rather than in printed form, with longer, vertically oriented pages and panels. A bit against the use of color is a noticeable lack of detail in the art and backgrounds seen in many manhwa and webtoons.
What is Manhua?
Both manga and manhwa are etymologically derived from the Chinese word manhua, which is also the equivalent of that country’s comic book form. However, there is a notable discrepancy in how they are all formatted, as it depends on whether the comics are produced in China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan.
Some of the best-known examples of manhua include the martial arts adventure story Chinese hero. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the medium as a whole is still esoteric outside of Chinese territories, this manhua and others are still hard to find in the West, especially compared to manga and even manhwa.
Popular Manhwa titles and themes
Some of the biggest manhwa of the moment include titles such as Solo leveling, Tower of God, The high school god and Nobility. Most of them and other popular manhwa would be classified as shonen if they were manga, focusing on action and adventure as well as young male-dominated protagonists. Concepts like traveling through different realms and fighting demons and interdimensional monsters are also common, just as heroes grow stronger and stronger to face these inhuman threats.
In particular, there is much less classification by genre in the manhwa, with books that would be considered shonen, seinen or shojo being independent of such nicknames. This can sometimes make the books seem more experimental than their Japanese counterparts, especially since the art styles of many adventure titles don’t match stereotypical shonen art. The many romantic titles are even brighter in comparison, with artistic styles that match the romantic mobile games targeting more adult women than young girls. MMORPG-based adventures are also common, much like that of the isekai craze in Japanese manga and anime.
Those who have become fond of supernatural manga such as Demon slayer, Jujutsu kaisen and other titles will certainly appreciate Solo leveling and Tower of God, and with the manhwa and Korean media in general becoming more and more popular in the West, even more titles are sure to hit bookstores in the months to come.
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