By Choi Kyong-ae
Advanced mobile technology will further drive demand for "webtoon" content in Korea, one of the world's most wired countries, a local research institute said Sunday.
Webtoon is a combination of the words web and cartoon, and which some hit movies have been based on in the past several years.
Korea's webtoon market will nearly triple to 295 billion won ($272 million) in 2015 with the wider use of smartphones and other mobile gadgets, compared to 100 billion won in 2012, said a report released by the KT Economic Research Institute.
"One out of three Koreans connect to a website showing online cartoons almost on a daily basis, and an increasing number of moviegoers buy tickets for webtoon-based movies," Kim Jae-pil said in the report.
Megahit movies based on popular online comics include "Secretly, Greatly," "Moss," "26 Years" and "A Neighbor." The most recent success of "Secretly, Greatly" is expected to accelerate the boom in the Korean film industry to bring more web comics to the big screen.
"Secretly, Greatly," a movie about three North Korean spies dispatched to South Korea on a mission to help achieve unification of the two Koreas, was the biggest hit among cartoon-based movies attracting 7 million moviegoers this past summer, according to the Korean Film Council.
Webtoon-based movies took 14 percent of all Korean movies released in the January-June period, sharply up from 4.7 percent in 2010, data from the council showed.
Webtoon cartoonists usually partner with Naver or Daum, the country's two largest portal sites, to carry their comics online. The spy webtoon enjoyed more than 300 million views for its 66 part series featured on Daum for a year through May 2011.
The report said that webtoons were used not only as the basis for movies, soap operas and games, but also utilized as tools for marketing and promotional events in the private and public sector. Webtoons will grow to account for 36 percent of the country's overall cartoon market in 2015 from 14 percent last year, it said.
Unlike other developed countries such as the U.S., Korea has shown a rapid growth rate in the online cartoon market due to its higher penetration rate of smart mobile gadgets, said Kim.
"Published cartoons are the mainstream, accounting for 96 percent of the total U.S. cartoon market, while Japan's digital comic market is likely to grow to $1.4 billion in 2015 from an estimated $778 million this year," he said.
The report estimated digital comics will account for 15 percent of the world's cartoon market valued at $6.5 billion in 2015, up from 12 percent of a $6.3 billion market this year.