Manhwa shares the spotlight at V&A’s Korean Wave show; fantasy dominates streaming channels; Onmyoji returns to Netflix as anime; Andor brings Joseph Conrad vibe to Disney+; our picks of the best episodes of this season’s premier fantasy series.
Korean manhwa: out of the shadow and into the light
K-pop and K-drama fans in the UK can now have a blast by visiting the Hallyu! The Korean Wave exhibition currently running at the V&A until June 2023.
Our focus is on the South Korean comic books or “manhwa”. There is one wall dedicated to this at the exhibition, as a precursor to the K-drama and K-film section. But if you want to get the full gist, we recommend you buy the accompanying show book, Hallyu! The Korean Wave, available at the V&A or online.
South Korean creatives are big on the content business, and webtoons – or the online manhwa – are a major revenue stream. In 2020, webtoons’ overall sales reached 1 trillion won (£684.6 million), according to the Korean Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), a quango under the country’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. That’s a +64% year-on-year increase, and during the pandemic period.
But it wasn’t all hunky-dory for manhwa in the past. The webtoon emerged in the 1990s, riding on the pervasiveness of the internet and driven by the need to make alternative income because of the Asian economic meltdown. In its infancy, the manhwa was blamed for the rise of sex crimes and bullying. The lifting of a 53-year-old ban of the Japanese manga in 1998 led to the re-entry of a very established genre. That move almost put the Korean manhwa out of business.
The lifting of a 53-year-old ban of the Japanese manga in 1998 almost put the Korean manhwa out of business in South Korea.
But the online manhwa paved the way for self-publishing. Unlike print publishing, creators didn’t need to go through the gatekeepers. They also didn’t need to depend on paper products.
K-drama was already popular in Asia by 2003, followed by housewives and the boomer generation, with the popularity of the soap opera Winter Sonata. But the coronavirus pandemic of 2019 delivered the webtoons the captive audience it needed – albeit via book-to-screen adaptations. You might not know the manhwa but you might be familiar with these series:
Kingdom (produced by Netflix, 2019)
A zombie thriller set in the Joseon era – is based on the webtoon Kingdom of the Gods by Kim Eun-hee and artist Yang Kyung-il (2014).
Itaewon Class (produced by JTBC, distributed by Netflix, 2020)
A drama on a group of friends based on a Kakao webtoon series penned by Cho Gwang-Jin (2016-2018).
Yumi’s Cells (produced by TvN, 2021-2022)
A popular romantic comedy based on a webtoon series by Lee Dong-geun (2015-2020).
We hope to see a bigger exhibition of the South Korean manhwa showcased here, like the Japanese manga was at the British Museum in 2019 and the Indonesian fantasy genre was at the London Book Fair in 2019.
About Hallyu! The Korean Wave
- Dates: 29 September 2022 – 23 June 2023
- Website: www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/hallyu-the-korean-wave
South Korean Literature on Story Of Books
2022 is the year of fantasy adaptations
The year started slow for book-to-screen fictions. It perked up slightly with Bridgerton Season 2 and Jane Austen’s Persuasion on Netflix. But it was Disney+’s adaptations of Marvel’s Moon Knight and the Star Wars prequel Obi Wan Kenobi in late spring and early summer of 2022 that really sped up the momentum. Maybe it was the pent-up demands but 2022 really let rip with fantasy adaptations.
The Sandman led the way with a Netflix release in August 2022. The prequel to Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon, arrived on 21 August 2022 on Sky in the UK. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power then made a splash on Amazon Prime Video in September 2022. Andor, one of the Star Wars prequels, debuted on Disney+ on 21 September 2022.
Big money, big returns
It’s clear that fantasy genre has moved beyond the Young Adult or YA category. Year ago, you’d find George R R Martin’s novels in the YA section at the local library. Not anymore.
Netflix reportedly spent US$15 million per episode for The Sandman, an indication of its faith on the franchise. And there are 11 episodes of Season 1. So that’s about US$156 million (£175 million) in total. Amazon, meanwhile, spent US$456 million (£407 million) for Season 1 of The Lord of The Rings: The Rings of Power. Having seen how Martin’s Game of Thrones performed, TV streaming channels are putting their bets on fantasy fictions with huge following. The dragon fantasy reportedly made an estimated “$285 million (£245 million) in profit per episode over eight seasons”.
It’s clear that fantasy genre has moved beyond the Young Adult or YA category.
Ignoring the trolls, toxic ‘fans’ and mainstream entertainment critics, hardcore fans find this a god-send. Some people aren’t happy with the diverse cast in The Sandman and The Rings of Power. So what. Get a life. Read the books. The Rolling Stone thinks Andor is weak. The Guardian gave it a four-star rating. We find it a breath of fresh air on Disney+. It lends Disney some Joseph Conrad vibe. Very colonial gothic in theme. Yes, that is a thing in Literature. Go read Heart of Darkness.
And it’s not quiet on the anime front either. On Crunchyroll, Season 2 of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba returned in September 2022 with the Entertainment District Arc. Of course, we look forward to seeing To Your Eternity, Jujutsu Kaisen and Tokyo Revengers. But we must wait until 2023. Or maybe we can get a sneak preview at the upcoming MCM Comic Con London.
Our Creative Director’s picks: Best episodes of the fantasy season
House of the Dragon, Episode 3, Second of His Name
Damon Targaryen (Matt Smith) slays the poor messenger from King’s Landing and the Triarchy rebels without uttering one single word in the episode. The best non-speaking role in our opinion.
In the realm of Hell, Morpheus battles Lucifer Morningstar to win his helm made of skull and spine. The weapon of choice? Words, in rhyming meters. We thought the scene in the Audible version with James McAvoy and Michael Sheen is impressive. The Netflix episode with Tom Sturridge and Gwendoline Christie takes this to another level. Did this upstage the comic book? Not at all.
The Rings of Power, Episode 6, Udûn
The spectacular creation of Mount Doom in cinematic and painting-like scenes. It also provides us with the sad back story of the orcs, whom we now know call themselves “Uruk”. Not forgetting the spectacular horseback stunts by Galadriel (Morfydd Clark).
Andor, Episode 3, Reckoning
Leit motif reminiscent of The Mandalorian. This is the point where Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) become sworn enemies. Two wrongs don’t make a right but this is war. Death is tragic but the darkening of the human heart is a tragedy. Very Apocalypse Now.
Demon Slayer, Entertainment District Arc, Episode 9, Never Give Up & Episode 10, No Matter How Many Lives (SPOILER ALERT)
The Demon Slayers, including Kamado Tanjiro, get hurt really badly by the sibling demons Gyutaro and Daki. The siblings get defeated in Episode 10, in a stunning, graphic and rather stylised beheading scene. Yes, it’s grim. In fact, it makes us wonder if this is a shonen or a seinen anime. But destruction can be so sublime – at least in anime.
Follow the series
- The Sandman on Netflix
- House of the Dragon on Sky
- The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on Amazon Prime
- Andor on Disney+
- Demon Slayer on Crunchyroll
More on the series on Story Of Books
- The Sandman adaptation: how the Audible series pulls it off (1 August 2022)
- How to nerd well and not give away spoilers (9 May 2019)
Onmyoji returns to Netflix as anime
Fans of the Ying Yang Master films will be happy to know that the series will return to Netflix, but in its original form, Onmyoji. The news was announced by Netflix Japan’s Tudum section in September 2022.
The anime itself will be based on the manga Onmyōji: Tamatebako, by Okano Reiko (1993-2005) that had won the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize. The manga, in turn, is based on a Japanese serialisation of short stories, Onmyōji, by Yumemakura Baku.
The two Ying Yang Master films previously aired on Netflix are in Mandarin. Ying Yang Master: Dream of Eternity is lush, dark and beautiful – a cinematic triumph despite the scandal surrounding its director. The other film, The Yin Yang Master starring Chen Kun, has us believed for a moment that it’s a kiddie fantasy. But the film takes a dark turn in the end, taking it back to its gothic origin.
It sets the mood for the coming winter. And what better way to indulge than to consume a popular horror classic.
More on Onmyoji on Story Of Books
- Michael Rosen’s poems capture the nation’s mood; Yin Yang Master continues to have us spellbound (25 March 2021)
- Netflix enthral fans with highly anticipated release of The Sandman and The Ying-Yang Master (28 February 2021)