What Novelists Can Learn from Webtoons

I won’t lie, 2020 has been the year of the Webtoon for my reading list. There are a couple reasons for this, the main one being access. When COVID first hit and Kansas City closed down, the library shut its doors completely, and that’s where I get 99% of my books. Granted, I managed to smuggle a pretty big TBR pile home beforehand and they have since opened up curbside service. But I also found myself consistently drained of energy by the end of my workday. A whole novel often felt like too much commitment. I just wanted to read something quick and fun, and be able to put it down at the end of the evening without more pending pages or due dates.

And so, Webtoons entered my life. 

A little background: I’ve always loved graphic novels. I grew up on manga, and I had heard of Webtoons from my reader friends who were enjoying them. The selling point for me was the free app. I downloaded it to my phone and started reading immediately. Which brings me to my first, and perhaps biggest, point: 

Episode Release/Payment Model/Community

This is more relevant to indie authors who have more control over their release dates and payment systems, but I find the Webtoon model really fascinating. Basically, you can read 100% for free—if you are patient. On average, a Webtoon releases one episode a week for free. If you want to read ahead of the free release, you’ll have to pay with coins, which you can purchase in the coin store. Sometimes, you get to spin a wheel and earn free coins. I love this setup a lot more than I thought I would. 

I don’t mind getting cut off and having to wait. It not only gives me something to look forward to throughout my week, but it also frees up some space, where I can read 3-4 Webtoons at the same time without feeling like I have to read the whole thing before my library due date comes up. In many ways, it actually keeps me reading, because my phone sends me a notification every week with updates, whereas an eBook or novel just sits on my device or nightstand, and am in charge of remembering it. (I know how that sounds, trust me, but speaking honestly, there’s something inherently satisfying about getting notifications from something you are looking forward to but don’t have to remind yourself of.) It changes the tone of your day. Even better? If I absolutely can’t stand that cliffhanger and I need to keep reading, I have that option. (Which, if you want a lesson in writing cliffhangers, these Webtoon artists are talented.) This sets it apart from platforms like Wattpad, where you either are paying to read or not. 

A last payment feature I loved? Many of the artists provide their Patreon, where you can further support them. With a few clicks, I was able to follow one of my favorite illustrators, look at their other works, support their Patreon, and check out their Instragram, where they post behind-the-scenes pics. EBooks, by in large, haven’t been as user friendly, let alone physical novels. I think we could be better about analyzing our platforms and asking ourselves how they can be more accessible, fun, and energizing. I mean, did I mention that comments are open to the public on every episode? Not only can you read each episode, but you can interact with the community right then and there, rather than having to finish the whole piece to write a review. (It’s similar to Wattpad in that way, but I definitely see more celebrating and fan theories on Webtoon.) In many ways, you feel like you’re sitting around in a big circle of friends while reading the same scene at the same time. And that’s not the only fun aspect that happens on the platform.

Music & Other Extras

Not only are Webtoons often colorful (Hello, Lore Olympus), but they are also filled with unique extras. Imagine reading a fight scene and hearing gunshots as they go off? Well, guess what. Webtoons do this! At least some of them do, and I love, love, love it. Why? Because it made the text so immersive to me. Plus, if I’m not in the mood to hear the sound effects, I can just turn them off. A great Webtoon that does this is the Purple HyacinthOther Webtoons lean more toward mood music, such as SubZero. I won’t lie, I’ve found some awesome writing music through Webtoons. Authors should consider how they can add such elements to their books. Though it would be harder to add many of these elements to a novel, why not provide a playlist on your website? I still remember reading Twilight back in the day and Stephenie Meyer releasing her music inspiration, and I jammed out to Muse for weeks. I wish more authors did this and/or artists from different mediums were open to collaborating. Maybe one day! 

The other part I loved is the fanfic-style mini episodes. When I was a teen, you went to fanfic websites to get fanfic. Or, if you followed the author, sometimes the author would share posts from artists who had drawn fanart. What I find really interesting about Webtoon is that the artist themselves often create fanart for their own work, like drawing their characters in chibi form and showing everyday scenes that wouldn’t fit into the story. It’s super fun! I also love seeing the behind-the-scenes sketches often included during breaks. Siren’s Lament is a great example of chibi artwork mini-sodes. Basically, as the author, ask yourself what behind-the-scenes sneak peeks can you give? Can you create new material that fits in with your overall material? How is it fresh and fun and unique to you? Where can you offer this to your readers? Newsletters is often a go-to for many, which I think is great, but I think we can take it a step further. Why not provide character sketches in the back of books? I always loved how mangas had character breakdowns in the beginning or fun facts at the end. Or—gasp—a book that starts off in graphic novel format, then converts to prose. W.I.T.C.H. did this when I was a kid and I still miss it! I always thought it was so fun, like slipping into a story.  

In the end, when I started analyzing why I was getting so much joy from Webtoons and not the same from novels, I feel like the modern novel—and what it offers as a product—has become really static. It has its classic appeal, don’t get me wrong. I LOVE LOVE LOVE reading novels, and I read over 100 novels a year. Nothing will replace the traditional paperback for me. It’s still my #1. But I also believe we have room for improvement, for innovation, for fun. And that includes the novel community as a whole. In many ways, I feel like authors have been shamed when they speak about or celebrate their own work, whereas Webtoons definitely has an air where the creators are their own biggest fan. I mean, how many times have you seen an author tweet about their book release, then apologize for spamming the feeds? Meanwhile, in Webtoon land, artists are drawing fanart for their own work and having a blast. Publishing could use some of that energy. It’s so addictive, because it is welcoming and fun and exciting. Every download is a new experience. Every novel should be, too. 

Next time you’re working on your novel, consider the modern reader. Do they only want your story delivered, or do they want an experience? How can you provide a broader experience to them? How can you push the definition of novel? Of story? 

I know I’ve been looking at writing in whole new ways as of late! I’ve definitely added “have my novel adapted into a Webtoon” to my author dream. 

Have you read any Webtoons? Which ones did you love?

If you are interested in Webtoons, here are some that I’ve read recently and loved:


12 thoughts on “What Novelists Can Learn from Webtoons

  1. Big Ole YES to responding with the music I listen to while writing. Love that Twilight was written with Muse. They are epic, especially live. Such talent developed into moving and visceral abilities with Muse.

    Thanks for this post, Shannon! I was completely unaware of Webtoons. I resonate with graphic novels as well, as reading without music or imagery, yes, the imagination paints the scenes, though as a writer that didn’t feel much like entertainment. On most occasions it simply felt like work. I don’t expect the silver platter or to be spoon fed, though unless the writing is visceral and cascades those ablution tingles through me as my eyes brighten and I dial in deeper, I often enhance and amplify the experience with music. Mostly, out of respect for the writing. As, of course it has to stand and deliver on its own, though no reason for it to be alone. I look at the writing as the front person in a potential band or orchestra/symphony, so I color the tenor… and often spend some time gearing into what kind of music the writing feels to want. Sometimes, it’s even discordant to my musical tastes, though when it makes the writing feel more robust, I’ll take the experience over the glass-ceiling’s candy of a glass ceiling built by taste. Also, it’s a fun way to amplify depthful exploration by juicing the process with serendipity.

    I as well play music when I’m writing. For the longest time it was James Horner and similar epic soundtracks, though now those epics are peppered in as whole musical feast courses amidst the Grace Potter & The Nocturnals and Judas Priest and Blue October and Kasey Musgraves and Faunt and OvniMoon and 7th House Moon and and and and and other musical/lyric feasts — DAYum, sounds like Hedonism when I put it that way… a Writing Eating Disorder? Nah, not much disorder there, just a comfortability with the not knowing.

    I used to write in complete Silence as I felt my own balance there only hearing the chords of my own work that occasionally made music, kept the influence to a minimum. These days, though, I am more resonant with the Songs of Experience, me in context, so I just click Shuffle on Sonos, and go to town so to speak. Heck, it just went from Hammerfall to The Cranberries to Carl von Weber Clarinet Works Theme from “Silvana.’ Makes the background music into a Serendipity Itinerary road trip. And, Shuffle ended up being the form-giver for my weekly Serendipity Itineraries blog series. So, the music in the background also provides context, gives back, allows a freedom WITH influence that wil of course when focused go unconsciously noticed for hours… lol, until my rockin’ German-Shepherd with Wolf needs to go out. I don;t punch a clock. She does it for me. 🙂

    Great to see your posts again. I don’t know why they were gone from my feed for so long.

    Have a wonderful day, Shannon.

    1. WOW! There are so many great things in your comment that I’m going to have to check out. Thank you for sharing your method and inspiration! I always love to see how other writers go about things. Have a wonderful day, too!

  2. When I was a kid I read “comic books”, which were so different than today’s graphic novels. I’m a story and book/ novel author. While reading this post I had some Interesting ideas I’m going to try

  3. As a comic reader, I take to the web comic format readily. I love the unique variety of stories and art styles that wouldn’t be considered commercial enough for the big comic companies.

    Recently, there’s been a lot of coverage about how terribly the industry treats its creative workers. Basically forcing them to remain freelancers for decades, long after they have proven their merits on the page. It’s great to hear that there’s a mechanism for the creative workers to be paid through this platform.

      1. You know, that is an excellent question. From what I’ve experienced, you can give 1-5 stars to the Webtoon you are reading, and it also gives the option to share it elsewhere, like to Twitter. I personally haven’t seen a bunch of trolls on Webtoon, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. From my experience, though, the platforms seems pretty friendly overall. (But I admittedly don’t explore the comments section very often.)

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