Reading webtoons has to be one of my favourite ways to study Korean. 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, because unlike novels, comics do not 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.
The pictures also provide contextual clues, which will help you decipher at least half of what is being said, even when you’re met with a string of words you don’t know. So if you’re looking for something fun (and lighter than a novel) to practice reading comprehension with, webtoons would be perfect for you.
There are several sites you can go to for webtoons, but my favourite so far is Naver Webtoon. The interface is easy to navigate, you can download the comics for offline viewing, and it’s 100% free!
The webtoons I’ll be recommending are best suited for intermediate and upper intermediate learners. I had just finished the Level 5 lessons on Talk to Me in Korean and Unit 3 on How to Study Korean when I first started reading these, and while I did find some parts challenging (mostly the vocabulary), I managed to understand most of the content with relative ease. I hope that gives you an idea of the level of proficiency you’ll need to be at in order to make the most out of this.
If you’re a beginner, I highly recommend Penguin Loves Mev, which you can find here on Talk to Me in Korean’s online bookstore. It comes with English translations!
Without further ado, let’s jump right to the list!
#1: Tales of the Unusual
Click here to check it out.
While it says on the homepage that it is a thriller webtoon, the actual content is not that scary. It’s a series that features short stories with supernatural or mild horror elements, each of them no more than 5-6 chapters long. The stories range from mildly disturbing to downright heart-warming (I actually cried at one of them).
The main reason why I decided to name it the #1 is this: there’s a nice balance of vocabulary in the dialogues. It does contain some slang-y words, but not to the point that it’s teeming with them. The characters are also very diverse in the way they speak and their choices of words – you have characters that prefer to keep things simple and straightforward, and you have those who like to pepper their sentences with slightly fancier, more bombastic words. Some of those words you will even come across in news articles or novels.
On top of that, there are English and Chinese versions of the comics, which can be found here and here respectively. I’m a strong advocate for the bilingual reading method, which you can read more about here. It is essentially reading two versions of the same book simultaneously – one in your target language, and one in your native language. It is, in my opinion, one of the most effective methods when it comes to intensive reading as it helps build up your vocabulary quickly over a relatively short period of time.
#2: Feelings that Are Mine and Mine Alone
Click here to check it out.
A simple, slice-of-life comic strip through which the author shows us glimpses of her daily life. Topics range from troubles at work to her thoughts on interpersonal relationships, and she delivers them in this internal monologue that has a calm and pensive quality to it. The art style is absolutely gorgeous, and I find most of her stories extremely relatable as a twenty-something trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life.
The chapters are pretty short and each takes no more than 2-3 minutes to read (this might vary slightly depending on your level of proficiency). Due to the monologue format of the webtoon, a lot of the words I ended up picking up are of a more reflective nature – the kind of words you would use when you’re talking to yourself, or writing in a diary, both of which are things most language learners do on a regular basis to practice their writing or speaking skills.
#3: University Diary
Click here to check it out.
Like ‘Feelings that Are Mine and Mine Alone’, University Diary is a slice-of-life comic strip where the author shares stories from his everyday life. As the title of the webtoon suggests, most of it revolves around his life at university. If you’re looking for something simple with light-hearted humour, you should definitely give this a go.
The dialogues are very casual and written almost entirely in 반말 (informal speech). You’ll get to see how young adults (mostly guys) talk among their peers and close friends, which is not something you get to see a lot of in Korean drama or variety shows.
You might have noticed that I stuck to webtoons with a more episodic format. That’s because when it comes to reading comprehension practice, I prefer short stories over long ones (especially those that are still unfinished). With the short ones, I don’t have to read for days and weeks to get a complete story. It also makes it easier for me to split the exercise up and spread it across days – I can just read one short story per day/week. And if I decide to stop, I can do so any time without feeling as if I’ve wasted all that time on an unfinished story that I might never get to see the ending of.
I hope you found my recommendations helpful. Happy learning!