S. Korean web comics app thrives in Japan, reaching $665 mln in annual transactions

By Park Sae-jin Posted : February 22, 2024, 14:33 Updated : February 22, 2024, 14:33
This image was created using Microsofts generative AI-based Copilot
[This image was created using Microsoft's generative AI-based Copilot]

SEOUL -- South Korean web comics app service Kakao Piccoma, a Japanese webtoon subsidiary of web service giant Kakao, achieved the top spot as Japan's highest-earning smartphone app service operator in 2023. This success stands out, considering Japan's strong association with "manga," iconic Japanese-style comic books like "Dragon Ball Z," "Naruto," and "One Piece."

Webtoons, formerly known as web comics, are digital comic books optimized for viewing on smartphones and other digital devices like tablets. They originated in South Korea in the mid-2000s on web portals like Daum (operated by Kakao) and Naver. Initially designed for PCs, webtoons evolved in the mid-2010s to showcase high-quality images specifically for smartphones.

Their international popularity surged in the mid-2019s thanks to globally acclaimed South Korean webtoon-based dramas and films like Netflix's "Kingdom" and "Sweet Home." Global market research firms, including Grand View Research and Markets and Markets, estimate the global webtoon market reached over $5 billion in 2023 and predict a 15 percent annual average growth rate.

The South Korean webtoon industry witnessed impressive growth, generating total sales of 1.8 trillion won ($1.3 billion) in 2022, a 16.8 percent increase compared to 2021. Annual sales of webtoon content skyrocketed by over 400 percent since 2017, and the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism predicts they'll surpass 2 trillion won in 2023.

This success is partly driven by global popularity, particularly in Japan, traditionally known for "manga." Kakao's Piccoma and Line Manga, operated by South Korean web portal giant Naver, are the top two most popular webtoon services, each exceeding 40 million downloads on Android and Apple app stores.

Piccoma, which entered the Japanese market in 2016, recorded an annual transaction volume of 100 billion yen ($665 million) in 2023, accumulating $2.6 billion in sales over the past seven years. Naver's Line Manga contrasts Piccoma's service focused on the distribution of exclusive webtoon content. Naver's webcomics wing focuses on the digitalization of popular printed comic books.
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