One common thing KBS 2TV's "Justice", OCN's "Strangers from Hell" and other dramas that are on air or are due to start soon have in common is that they are based on webtoons or novels. There have been other dramas based on webtoons and novels, but it has become more common nowadays.
This is because South Korean platforms such as Netflix and other foreign over-the-top media service (OTT) companies are speeding up efforts to secure contents. In addition to Netflix, HBO Max, NBC Universal, and Disney announced their own OTT services. As production of new dramas has become more active, Korean contents companies have increased opportunities to enter the market. "As the number of dramas produced increases, demand for successful content has also increased", said Ha Jae-geun, a pop culture critic.
In particular, popular webtoons and web novels attract drama producers because their stories have already been verified by the public and viewers have a high level of understanding of their works. Since production costs more than 500 million won per episode, the company will have to pay attention to these contents, which are guaranteed to be successful.
"Webtoons are visualized to a certain extent, making them easy to move to dramas, and because of their high profile, fandom is formed even though they are not promoted", the critic said. In fact, Naver's monthly number of users (MAU) reached 55 million as of the January-April quarter of this year, and the original web-toon of "Strangers from Hell" that will be aired on OCN from August has accumulated 800 million views. In addition, web novels are also popular because they secure variety, not just limited genres such as romance or fantasy. For "Justice", currently airing on KBS2, it is based on a web novel of the same name, a legal mystery featuring star lawyer Lee Tae-kyeong with a 99.9% winning rate.
However, there is also a risk factor in adapting webtoons and novels into dramas. Fans have high expectations due to the original, which could lead to further criticism if its work quality falls. In other words, the stronger the fandom, the greater the reaction. As an example, "Cheese in the Trap", which aired in 2016, made headlines even before the show, as it was a popular webtoon. However, when the drama was produced, the acting of the main actors was out of touch with the original characters, and in the second half, the level of deviation from the original was criticized, leading to box office failure.
Nevertheless, the number of dramas based on webtoons and novels is expected to increase steadily. Last month, Daum Webtoon Company, Kakao M's drama production company Mega Monster and KBS signed business agreements with drama production. Through this program, one content utilizing the IP of Daum webtoon will be broadcast on KBS every year for the next three years. Naver Webtoon's "True Beauty" will be the first Korean drama about make-up. Kim Gyu-sam's "Pegasus Market" will be produced as an entertainment drama. Other dramas include "Favorites", a webtoon that tells the story of characters with extreme tastes, and "Lovely Dog", a romantic fantasy webtoon featuring a heroine who is cursed and turns into a dog when kissed.
"As broadcasting companies are trying to transform themselves to target young people these days, there will be more drama productions based on web novels and webtoons", an industry source said.
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