[Exclusive Interview] Co-Founder of Tappytoon Ernest Woo on Webtoon Connection to K-pop, KDramas, and Beyond

Korean webtoons are known for their unique art style, compelling storylines, and often unpredictable plots. From romance to horror, there's a webtoon to suit every taste. A popular example is Solo Leveling, a fantasy action story about a man named Sung Jinwoo, who is the weakest of all the "Hunters" in the world. However, after a mysterious portal opens and he becomes trapped inside, he discovers that he has gained the ability to level up by himself by battling monsters, making him the strongest Hunter in the world. The webtoon's popularity led to an anime adaptation slated to premiere in 2023 and the development of an upcoming video game. This title, among many others, is available to read on the popular Webtoon platform Tappytoon

Tappytoon is the mega-hit webtoon platform that features licensed webtoon titles translated into English, French, and German for readers worldwide to enjoy in the palms of their hands on their smart devices through an app or on the web. With the help of Tappytoon, webtoons are more accessible worldwide than ever before. The platform, founded by CEO Sun Bang and CPO Ernest Woo, officially launched in 2016 and recently reached 8.5 million app downloads in 2022. 

Meanwhile, K-pop is a genre of music that has been gaining in popularity all over the world, and it's no surprise why. With its catchy melodies, captivating choreography, and eye-catching visuals, K-pop can be an incredibly enjoyable experience for fans. From BTS to BLACKPINK, much like webtoon genres, there are K-pop groups to suit all tastes.

Webtoons and K-pop —two of Korea's most popular exports—are a perfect combination for anyone looking to get their entertainment fix. Whether you're a fan of K-pop or an avid reader of webtoons, you'll find something to love in both of these offerings from South Korea. So are there any connections between them and any other forms of media, for that matter?

KpopWise was privileged with the opportunity to sit down with the Co-Founder of Tappytoon Ernest Woo, to discuss the popularity of webtoons, the connections to other media forms, and the future of Tappytoon.


KW: Hi, Ernest; you're so busy, so thank you so much for spending some of your downtime with me today. As a founder of a news media outlet, it took me a couple of years to finally make the leap to establishing KpopWise. I'm curious, what made you decide to take that leap and co-found Tappytoons?

Ernest Woo:  We wanted to try getting good and interesting stuff to non-Korean audiences. Some of the titles already had an international audience which was dependent on fan translations. We prepared for a year and a half and took the leap because we knew that Japanese manga had taken off and saw that Korean webtoons and manhwa were getting to where small pockets were taking off as well, so we knew there was an interest. We gathered resources to put it together well. 

KW: Carrying webtoons around through a smartphone instead of a physical book is a significant difference because it gives the stories different dynamics and dimensions. 

Ernest Woo: (Agrees) It is the preferable method for younger readers between the ages of 18 and 24. 

KW: As a relatively new K-pop news website trying to grow among other the other websites that already have a loyal audience who visit every day for years. I'm interested in this. How did you find a way to stand out among other webtoon platforms? 

Ernest Woo: One key thing that we focused on is catering to a female readership. Female readers were being served less than their male counterparts around the same age. Female-centered stories inspire and excite and really show how the characters live their lives. Many stories show the characters doing something that really changes their lives, like fighting against something, getting revenge, and righting wrongs. Tappytoon felt that introducing these stories would find the audience and resonate with them, and it was true! 

KW: I notice that a lot of popular webtoons deal with more mature situations and adult characters, from college students to career people or business owners. I find that a bit different from Japanese manga that got popular internationally by featuring mostly more youthful or teen characters in shonen or shoujo titles. Why do you think these more mature stories are popular now? 

Ernest Woo: Their titles are more mature but not too much, so there is not a feeling of distance. Stories that do not revolve around high schools is something really interesting for a lot of people and has a wide range of audiences. 


KW: How do you notice the connection, if any to Korean webtoons and K-pop fans? 

Ernest Woo: There have been collaborations with K-pop artists for webtoons. For example, an artist that you've covered before AleXa performed the OST for a popular series on our platform The Broken Ring: This Marriage will Fail Anyway

There is an intersection or sensibilities for both webtoons and K-pop, and there are people who have time for both. There are fans who actively participate on the same level for webtoons as idol fans. 

KW: Several idol groups have their own webtoons. What are your thoughts about that? Does Tappytoon have any plans to work with an entertainment company to produce webtoons? 

Ernest Woo: World-building is an important interest when exploring those options. BTS 7Fates: Chakho was produced by Redice for example. We recently signed a joint venture with Redice and will make new projects. They have a lot of experience in this field and are the makers of the biggest titles, such as Solo Leveling. We have exclusive projects on the way, but we can't reveal much about them now. 

KW: Beloved Korean dramas like "What's Wrong with Secretary Kim" are based off webtoons. 

Ernest Woo: Yes, It was something like a medium for interaction between Kdrama fans and Webtoon fans. It quickly became one of our biggest titles. 

KW: Which webtoon featured on Tappytoons would you love to see made into a live-action adaptation?

Ernest Woo: When the Crow Caws – the subject and storyline is perfect for a drama. It is about an actor and a secret agent, it has all the makings to suit a drama. 

KW: Speaking of fantasy settings -- Why do you think the very specific isekai genre of waking up in a video game world and becoming the main character, the villainess, or even the side character has become such a popular genre?

Ernest Woo: It is a direct form of escapism. We can not literally fly away anywhere, but what if we could somehow wake up in someone else's body, and live another life? Real life can get tough. To carry the knowledge, you have from your previous life makes you more powerful in that universe. The greatest stories are centered around escapism, such as Harry Potter, and it feels good to be in them. These stories are fun and enjoyable and sink you in. 

KW: The BL or Boys Love Genre has gained a stunning amount of momentum within the last couple of years in Korea, from webtoons to webdramas, even many K-pop idols are starring in the live-action versions.

Ernest Woo: Yes. People are opening up in Korea, and I would love to see them as regular dramas on television instead of just webdramas, because it reflects the real world. It is our second most popular genre. There is so much potential in that direction. A lot of people are interested in that genre. 

KW: However, I don't see GL as being at the same level of popularity yet. 

Ernest Woo: True, GL doesn't get as much attention, but it is now growing. 

KW: How do you envision the future of TappyToons? 

Ernest Woo: We have big announcements and partnerships. These include things that tie into entertainment, music, and other genres. We set up Tappytoon Studios and will produce more original Tappytoon webtoons. We will have 30% more titles than usual. Now we are looking in all directions. 


A special thank you to Tappytoon for the interview. You can visit their website and download the app on iOS or Google Play to enjoy  broad categories of webtoons and novels right now!

Read Also: Korean Webtoon and Web Novel Service Tappytoon Surpasses 7 Million Registered Members

Interview edited for clarification.

Ciera Reeves

Ciera is the founder of KpopWise. She has been a fan of Korean pop culture since 2005 and writing about it since 2009. Her bias groups are VIXX and OnlyOneOf. She is a 2nd-3rd generation K-pop fan, but she is actively keeping up with the current artists. twitter instagram

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