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December 8, 2013

S. Korea aims to cut into international comics market

SEOUL, South Korea — Look out manga, South Korea is stepping up efforts to spread “manhwa” comics to the rest of the world.

South Korea’s government is promoting manhwa exports by supporting companies distributing comics online and subsidizing translation of the works into English.

“We want to develop South Korea’s manhwa into a global brand and take the place of Japanese manga,” a South Korean government official said.

The South Korean government is encouraging domestic publishers with aspirations of selling comics globally to take part in overseas book fairs. The government set up a program to subsidize exhibition costs and even travel expenses for participants in such events.

At an October book fair in Frankfurt, one of the largest in Europe, South Korean publishers and agencies set up a booth among exhibitors of manga and anime from various countries. In addition, South Korea’s leading search engine Naver, which also distributes comics online, organized an autograph session with a South Korean cartoonist and introduced “Noblesse,” a popular cartoon chronicling a battle among vampires living in the modern world.

“I read manhwa for the first time, and it was better than I expected. As long as it’s interesting, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Japanese or South Korean,” said Kathika Neuhaus, 15, a high school girl who attended the fair wearing a costume of a character in “One Piece,” a popular Japanese manga.

Many manwha are distributed free, and it’s common in South Korea to read them on mobile phones or tablets. Manwha that become popular are often published as books, while some start charging to read them online.

The fantasy manga “Kami to Issho ni” (Together with God), which started online, became a big hit in South Korea, and has since been published in Japan.

Kim Na Jung, manager of Naver’s “webtoon” business division, said the firm hopes to penetrate the European market. The firm prepared English editions of 30 manhwa titles, which are distributed online in South Korea, and gave away 3,600 copies at the fair.

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