Web-based fiction soars in popularity, boosted by adaptations

By Kim Dong-young Posted : May 21, 2024, 14:28 Updated : May 23, 2024, 18:01
A newly released mobile game based on the web-novel series Solo Leveling
The poster of game developer Netmarble's mobile game based on the web-based series "Solo Leveling"

SEOUL, May 20 (AJU PRESS) - The popularity of web-based fiction and novels has surged, with the market growing by 62 percent this year, compared to two years ago, according to a recent study by the Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea. Experts attribute the growth to the booming demand driven by popular web series being adapted into Netflix shows.

The so-called web-novels, name-wise, are literary works available primarily or solely on online platforms such as Kakao Page, Naver Series and Novelpia. Unlike conventional books, they are typically shorter, with each episode brief enough to read in one sitting – akin to YouTube Shorts, Instagram Reels, and webtoons, catering to readers seeking bite-sized content.

Unlike e-books that may be digital versions of previously published works, web-novels are uploaded through online platforms from the beginning and primarily serialized.
One of the most successful adaptations is "Solo Leveling," which originated in 2016 as a story about "dungeon gates," releasing monsters that only gifted "hunters" could combat. The epic fantasy novel's unique premise of a hunter who could grow stronger by "leveling up" proved immensely popular.
"Solo Leveling" spawned a webtoon series, further boosting its popularity, followed by a Netflix anime and a mobile game that quickly ascended to the top spot on Apple's App Store and Google Play upon its release early this month, garnering over 10 million downloads in less than a week. Industry insiders estimate the franchise generates at least $370 million annually.
If considering previous novels turned into golden geese, J. K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series and J. R. R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" series would be predecessors. Both authors initially wrote simple bedtime stories for their children, taking them into a fantasy world filled with adventures and wonders. These tales later evolved into derivative works such as movies, games, and theme parks.
However, breaking into the traditional literary market in Korea is notoriously challenging with only a small fraction of new writers emerging from obscurity. Last year, out of some 8,359 entries in one prestigious annual literary contest, only seven were deemed worthy of publication. Another way to become professional includes paying to have one's book published. Otherwise, there are not many viable options to choose from.
But web-novels have significantly lowered the entry barrier for aspiring writers or amateurs to go professional with online platforms like Novelpia, which allows them to post their stories without any specific requirements. They can initially offer free episodes to attract readers' interest before charging fees or monetizing their content.
This has led to a diverse array of web-novels, while some authors express concerns about the pressure to hook readers from the outset, potentially compromising quality.
"Too many writers are just seeking fortune, so they have to grab readers' attention in the very first episode," said one novelist from Novelpia who requested anonymity. "Many of such creative works just seem to dumb down as a result."

Lee Yung-hee, a professor at Seoul Cyber University believes government-level support for online platforms which can serve as a jumping board for novice writers could elevate the web-novel market.

"With efforts to nurture talented authors, we may see a diverse range of high-quality web-novels emerge," Lee told Aju Press last week.
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