*Updated in August 2021
Reading webtoons has to be one of my favourite ways to study Korean, and I mostly use them for light reading alongside heavier, more advanced novels. The vocabulary you get out of them is very different from that you would expect from a novel, though, since they don’t rely on lengthy descriptions to establish settings and describe actions. It’s also more dialogue-driven. As such, you’ll end up learning words and phrases that people actually use in daily conversations. You’ll probably pick up some slangs, too.
There are several sites you can go to for webtoons, but my favourite so far is Naver Webtoon. The interface is easy to navigate, and you can download the comics for offline viewing!
Why I Chose These Webtoons
Before we get into the list, though, I’d like to briefly mention the criteria by which I chose these webtoons. Language, of course, is my first consideration – specifically, whether or not it is suitable for lower and upper intermediate learners, and what the reader, as someone who’s learning Korean, stands to gain from it in terms of language skills. As such, I will not be including webtoons that I find very slang-y (which probably applies to 90% of YA genre) – especially since a lot of slangs can’t even be found in naver dictionary, which would make reading comprehension very difficult, unless you have a Korean friend that you can consult whenever you find yourself stuck.
Secondly, there is the question of supplementary resources – whether or not there is an English translation that the reader can refer to, in case they find themselves struggling to understand what’s being said. Most of the webtoons listed in this article have been translated to English, which should make them more accessible, even though the translations aren’t always exact.
Lastly, there’s the issue of diversity – not in terms of content, but in terms of language. The language we use changes depending on the situation we are in, and Korean is no different – perhaps even more so, since it relies so heavily on morphology to provide contexts (the seemingly infinite number of sentence endings, anyone?). I wanted to create a more balanced selection that will showcase different styles and ways of talking in Korean, so that everyone can find something that suits their current Korean-learning needs.
The webtoons are ranked in terms of difficulty, from the easiest to the hardest.
#1: Feelings That Are Mine and Mine Alone
An episodic webtoon where the author shares memorable moments from her day-to-day life, there are times where it feels like I’m reading a (very beautifully illustrated) blog or someone’s diary, rather than a webtoon in the conventional sense. There is no plot, only the musings of a young twenty-something trying to make it as an artist in Seoul.
I like the art style, as well as how she writes, but what I love the most about this webtoon – and why I decided to include it on this list – is that you get to learn all these expressions and ways to talk about what you think and how you feel. Personally, I think it’s a very important skill that few, if any, language textbooks out there try to equip their readers with. Because at the end of the day, language is about communication and self-expression, and I think most of us can agree that the latter is generally a lot harder in our target language(s).
While learning to express yourself in your target language is a process that takes years, this webtoon can be a good place to start. It’s not that difficult to understand, either. When I first started reading it, I had only just finished Level 5 of Talk to Me In Korean and Unit 3 of How to Study Korean, and I didn’t have much trouble understanding it. The grammar was quite manageable, and while the vocabulary was a bit challenging in some parts, it was not to the point where I would have found it overwhelming, which made up for the fact that there wasn’t an English translation (‘Feelings That Are Mine and Mine Alone‘ is my own personal attempt at translating the title), because for the most part, I didn’t really need one.
#2: Save Me
An open-ended webtoon with only 15 chapters, Save Me is part of the fictional universe that was featured in several of BTS’ music videos. It tells the story of seven friends who grew apart, each caught up in traumas and problems of their own. As their lives fell apart, one boy was made the offer that will let him go back in time and right all wrongs – and to save his friends.
You’d probably have to be a fan of the universe already to fully enjoy this, but if you want to get into webtoons and find most of them a bit too overwhelming (whether in terms of length or complexity), this short story could be a good place to start. The plot is simple – so is the vocabulary – and there’s barely any slang. The grammar is pretty manageable, too, as far as webtoons go.
Note that Naver is currently offering free access to one chapter of this webtoon everyday, but it only works on the app (and not on the desktop version), so if you want to read this, you’ll have to download the app on your phone.
#3: See You in My 19th Life
The story follows a girl who, unlike the rest of us on this planet, can remember everything from her previous lives (all eighteen of them, to be precise). After her previous life was tragically cut short by an accident, she’s now on a mission to reconnect with a very special person from her old life, which turns out to be a lot more complicated than she thought because you can’t exactly march up to them and just say, “Hi, remember that dead friend you lost to a tragic accident all those years ago? Well, about that…”
The language is surprisingly simple for a story that takes place mostly in the corporate world, although that means you’ll encounter a lot of business-related vocab – not a bad thing if you intend to work in Korea at some point. It doesn’t contain a lot of slangs either, since the characters are all working adults. There’s also an English translation available, although you probably won’t need it that much.
I enjoyed this webtoon a lot more than I’d thought I would. I’m usually not very into webtoons of the romance genre, but I feel like this one has just enough mystery to keep me hooked, not to mention really good pacing that just keeps you craving for more. It’s also really funny sometimes, mostly due to how cool and blunt the protagonist is. But then again, if you’ve lived through all eighteen lifetimes and remember all of them, things like social etiquettes will probably feel quite meaningless to you.
#4: Essays from the Corner of My Room
This one is actually more like a series of illustrated essays than a regular webtoon, and I really like the way the author writes. One of my favourite episodes was ‘할머니 집‘, in which he shared memories of his grandmother, whom he lived with for a period of time when he was young. I still think about it a lot.
The vocabulary isn’t too difficult – I currently use it in class for one of my students, who I would say is at B1. The only tricky part is that some of the characters (mostly his parents and grandparents) speak in 사투리, but you still have the narrator bits to help you out, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
There are some episodes that are more dialogue-heavy with very little narration going on, so those could be tricky, especially if the dialogue gets a bit too slang-y. I know I said I wouldn’t include slang-heavy webtoons, but those kind of episodes are far from the majority, and since there’s no continuity between episodes you can always just skip those.
In my opinion, it’s in these narration-heavy episodes (아팠던 흔적들, 엄마의 엄마, 큰 코 내 친구) that his writing truly shines. His style is plain – there’s no fluff, no fancy big words – but there’s a sincerity and a tenderness in his words that really move me. I think overall, his essays make for good reading comprehension practice, especially if you’re trying to get used to the 서술체 (the form we use for writing).
The only downside to this webtoon is that there is no English translation available at the moment. But it’s such a gem I had to include it anyway.
#5: Tales of the Unusual
Despite being labelled ‘thriller’ and having a scary-looking cover, the actual content isn’t that scary (in my opinion). It’s a series that features short stories with supernatural themes or mild horror elements, with each of them being around 5-6 chapters long. The stories range from mildly disturbing to downright heart-warming (I actually cried over one of them).
The main reason why I decided to include it on this list is that it features a nice mix of vocabulary, which changes depending on where the stories take place. The ones that take place in schools contain more slangs, naturally, though not too much that it becomes hard to understand. The ones that take place in the workplace feature business and work-related vocab, and the family-centric ones offer good practice for informal language (반말) – something you don’t really get from studying with a textbook. You get to choose based on what you want to study at the moment.
#6: Omniscient Reader
Labelled as an ‘Action’ genre webtoon, Omniscient Reader follows the story of a protagonist who was the textbook definition of an everyman (except for his name – poor kid is actually named ‘Reader’) until he finds himself in the world of his favourite novel, Three Ways to Survive the Apocalypse. As the only person who knows how the story will end, he tries to survive using his knowledge of the world, and, in the process, ends up changing the course of the plot as he knows it.
I think the grammar should be manageable for someone who’s finished Unit 3 or 4 of How to Study Korean. The vocabulary can get quite difficult in some parts, though there’s always the English translation to help you out. It also doesn’t contain a lot of slangs, so you should still be able to make it through with the help of naver dictionary, if you’re patient.
#7: The Remarried Empress
A romance webtoon with fantasy elements, the Remarried Empress opens with the protagonist, Empress Navier publicly consenting to a divorce requested by her husband, Emperor Sovieshu, and demanding for the right to remarry a suitor of her choice. The story then goes back in time to show us how this came to be, starting from the beginning, when the Emperor met the mistress for whom he would eventually forsake Navier. The premise is a bit ridiculous and the story gets a little bit silly sometimes, but hey, it’s fantasy.
The reason why it’s placed this low on the list is because the way the characters talk. It appears the author is trying to emulate how royals talk in period drama, since the story takes place in a palace. It’s fun, but it might not be the most practical choice for learners since people rarely talk like this in real life. That being said, the vocabulary is not that difficult and the grammar is surprisingly simple (perfectly manageable for someone who, again, has finished Unit 3 to 4 from How to Study Korean).
The reason why I included it is because I feel like it showcases a variety of politeness levels that we rarely see outside of period drama. Most of the dialogue is still written in 해요체 and 합쇼체, which I’m sure you’re all very familiar with, with bits of 하오체 and 하게체 thrown in here and there. It’ll take some time to get used to those endings, but there’s always the English translation to serve as a reference!
It isn’t always easy to find webtoons that are both fun and suitable for the purpose of studying. There are so many that I had to omit due to the complexity of the language used or the choice of vocabulary, despite their entertaining storylines and great characters. I hope my recommendations can help provide a good starting point if you’re just getting into webtoons, and that in time, you will be able to grow your reading skills to a point where you will no longer be held back by things like grammar and vocabulary. That you will one day be able to fully dive into the vast, colourful world of Korean webtoons, and enjoy all that it has to offer.
In the meantime, I wish you best of luck in your Korean studies! Good luck, and happy learning/reading!