Looking for Adult K-Webtoon & Novel Recommendations?

One of my favorite Korean YouTubers starts a new series

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes. Photo by @thiszun from Pexels

“What is he, man or mouse? Is he interested in nothing more than tea and the wider issues of life? Has he no spirit? Has he no passion? Does he not, to put it in a nutshell, fuck?”

Those who wish to know should read on. Others may wish to skip on to the last chapter which is a good bit and has Marvin in it.

Douglas Adams, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Chapter 25.

With that, Douglas Adams finally addresses readers’ burning questions about Arthur Dent, the main character of his classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Reach the same point in the fourth book, and you’d be asking too. Why indeed, describe a cishet man meeting women he was interested in, some of whom felt a mutual attraction for him, only to tell us nothing whatsoever about what happened next? For three whole books?

Those 1980s readers’ frustrations mirror my own with Korean pop culture today. Dramas in particular often fall flat for me because the adult characters seem to have relationships but never sex.

No, I don’t need to see them in bed necessarily. Nor does sex have to be the plot’s focus. Just have them acknowledge it’s a thing. Talk about its associated problems and pleasures sometimes. Admit experience and desire. Make bawdy jokes. You know, like normal adults do, including asexuals.

Don’t, and I just can’t relate to the characters at all.

I could continue with my feelings about other elements of Korean pop culture, such as being unable to find much interest in or desire for K-pop idols presented for our sexual objectification who are not allowed to actually have sex themselves. But you get the idea. You may also find my very limited experience quite unlike your own, and actually know plenty of Korean dramas, say, in which the characters don’t shy away from talking about about one-night stands, contraception, consent, and so on. If so, then do please let me know.

Which brings me to why I’m so excited about YouTuber Daisy’s latest video below. Many years ago, I finally found the relatable, adult stories I was seeking not in dramas, but in the monthly manhwa compendium PopToon instead—only then for it to cease publication just a few months later. Heartbroken, I refused to make the transition to webtoons. But, she’s finally persuaded me to take the plunge, and I hope you’ll find something of interest in her video too, and/or in later ones in the series (note she includes fluent English CC subtitles):

Ironically, I didn’t actually like any of her suggestions here, mostly because I’m not a fan of the sharp, angular drawing style in most of them. But I am looking, so please send me your own recommendations!

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

Related Posts:

Sunday Fun: Bottoms!

Hidamari Sketch EscherGirlMy 8 year-old daughter Alice is really into comics these days, often hiding our home phone under her pillow to keep reading when she’s supposed to be asleep. To my chagrin, she couldn’t care less if the female characters have huge eyes though, and/or no noses. But yesterday, I noticed the above while she was watching the opening to the anime adaptation of Hidamari Sketch. It was a great opportunity to start teaching her about female characters’ typical poses too.

Cue 20 minutes of giggling at the bottoms in the Escher Girls blog, which ultimately had the whole family trying—and failing—to imitate some of the pictures (although I was pretty good myself actually). Naturally, we quickly skipped past some of the more inappropriate ones, and Alice still has no idea why female characters are so often drawn in a “boobs and butt” style. But at least she’s aware of the phenomenon now, and, with gentle prodding from me, will hopefully think more about it herself as she gets older.

For now though, she’s still very much a 8 year-old girl, and I can hardly fault her for that. Much of those 20 minutes were also spent by her and her 6 year-old sister Elizabeth saying “와! 예쁘다…” (Wow! They’re so pretty…), and today this post took a long time to write because she kept on stopping me to tell me all about the characters in Hidamari Sketch. Including Yoshinoya above, who’s supposedly a high school teacher (sigh)…

FINALLY, a Way to Study Korean Through Dramas!


If you’re a Western student of Korean, then probably you’ve experienced the same dilemma I have: you’d like to watch dramas to improve your listening ability and get a handle on everyday language, but are put off by their excessive melodrama, cliches, and often poor quality. Which is not to say that all of them are bad of course, but when you do find one you like, then you can struggle in vain to find Korean subtitles to them. For Korean torrent sites naturally don’t bother to provide them, and Koreans’ rampant illegal downloading means that it’s extremely difficult to find DVDs of Korean dramas (if they even exist).

So, either you have to watch dramas with distracting English subtitles, or struggle to understand the stories with none at all. If only there were some alternate way to study the dialogue in advance, or read it as you go along. Sure, Dramabeans’ detailed synopses of each episode of most dramas are very helpful for the gist, but I think I speak for most when I say we’re really after something more akin to transcripts…

Enter “드라마사진만화”, or “드라마영상만화”: a little like manhwa books, but with photo stills from the drama, rather than hand-drawn pictures. Please see Shanna’s post about them at Hangkukdrama and Korean here for more information, and which so impressed me that I immediately ordered some for Secret Garden. And you can just imagine how I felt when I read that she’s had some for over 3 years, when this is the first I’ve ever heard of them!

Does anybody else already used them? What did you think?

Studying Korean Social Issues Can Be Fun…

(Sources: left, right)

And using manhwa (만화), or Korean cartoons, is a good place to start. Sadly, my favorite “grown-up” comic-book poptoon (팝툰) sold its last edition back in March, but there’s lot’s more where that came from.

One possibility is Department Head Dal-ma (Dalmagwajang; 달마과장), available in the free Focus newspaper. Although it’s often very basic, requiring no Korean ability to get the gist of, you could do much worse than quickly translating it on your morning commute.

Take these two strips for instance, which kept cropping up in Naver searches while I was preparing a recent post on sexual harassment in Korea. First, number 21:

Dal-ma: Gulp.

Man: Miss Kim, what did you have for lunch?

Miss Kim: I simply had ricecake at the park.

Even from just these first panels, already one thing of interest is that the man uses banmal (반말), or informal speech to speak to Miss Kim, and she replies in nopimmal (높임말), formal speech. No big deal there you might say: he’s probably her superior in the company. And as this recent incident on a subway demonstrated, using the appropriate level of speech to others is considered extremely important in Korea, with even many of my university students using nopimmal to friends just a few months older.

But then the same happens in the second cartoon too, even though the man addresses the woman with the semi-formal shi (씨) at the end of her name. And while a brief survey of other Dalmagwajang cartoons does occasionally show men and women each using nopimmal to each other, I didn’t see any cases of a woman speaking to a man in banmal and he answering in nopimmal. Which is not to say that they don’t exist necessarily, but if there are any then I’d wager there’d be very few.

If so, then is that just a reflection of reality? After all, women do tend to have junior and/or non-advancing positions in Korean workplaces, as even in 2011 it considered perfectly normal for them to resign and/or be fired upon marriage or becoming pregnant (only 50% of Korean women work, the lowest rate in the OECD).

(Source: unknown)

But on the other hand, recall that even subtitles for foreign films and programs have this gender-dichotomy grafted onto them too, despite being absent in the original English:

A women’s group has issued a report on the “sexist” dubbing of foreign films and dramas, reports women’s newspaper Ilda The group took a look at some 27 English-language dramas shown on terrestrial broadcasting in September and October.  It found that most of them employed sexist sexist practices when dubbed into Korean.  Namely, male characters spoke in banmal, or “low language,” while female characters used jondaenmal, or “high/respectful” language, even though the original English dialogue made no such distinctions.

This tendency was most often seen in dialogue between husbands and wives or lovers.  Besides dramas, foreign films showed the same tendency, with 12 of 15 films monitored by the group employing this dubbing practice.

Clearly then, for TV at least there is a compulsion to conform to it. Whether that’s just the industry convention, fear of negative public reaction, and/or the personal choices of the translators themselves, then that remains to be seen, but I’d be surprised if that didn’t apply to some extent to other forms of media. And either way, you’re left with a pretty pervasive socialization agent, and one easy to overlook for English speakers, and/or even easier to get used to for native Korean speakers.

Man: Ah, why didn’t you invite me? I pound ricecakes really well…No, well, I eat them well…

Miss Kim: (Laughing) What do you mean?

Dal-ma: Even acting like that, he won’t get accused of sexual harassment?

Next, despite its curious reputation for conservatism overseas, in fact the Korean media is simply full of sexual innuendo, and this cartoon read by millions every weekday is surely a classic case in point: “떡을 치다” is literally “pounding rice cake”, but is really slang for having sex. Which is why a year ago, a cartoonist was sued for sexual harassment by Girls’ Generation’s (소녀시대) management company SM Entertainment for this otherwise innocuous-looking cartoon:


This might sound strange, but personally I find that slang quite endearing. For not only does it seem quintessentially Korean (here’s another example), but with most Koreans living in the countryside until as recently as 1979, then it reminds me of the country’s strong agricultural roots too (no pun intended).

Ahem. Continuing:

Dal-ma: Still, if something is judged sexual harassment or not all depends on your face (how attractive you look)

Woman left: He really said that?

Woman middle: (Laughing) Really?

Dal-ma: Wow! Look at her chest!

Dal-ma: Jeez, how can’t they feel ashamed to wear clothes that emphasize their breasts like that…

Eek, I forgot! Staring is also sexual harassment.

Dal-ma: (Worried) For no reason, because of a misunderstanding I’d be called a bald pervert.

Woman: Eek! It’s sexual harassment!

Having a shaved head myself, then I couldn’t help but chuckle at the unnecessary mention of his baldness here, as if that somehow makes his perversion all the worse. But with shaved heads being best known as a symbol of “prison, protest, or penance” in Korea, then unfortunately those negative connotations aren’t likely to go away any time soon.

Woman: Sexual harassment!

Dal-ma: No, it’s not that…

Women in background: Bald pervert!

Dal-ma’s daughter: What’s wrong with Dad?

Dal-ma’s wife: He’s like that because working at the office is tiring.

Next, number 57 (as I type this, the latest is number 327 by the way). Sorry for the poor image quality:

Woman (Eun-hee): Good morning!

Man: Good morning! Eun-hee, you bought new clothes?

Eun-hee: Yes, because it’s the end of the year I spent a lot on myself

Man: Wow, your back is a killer!

Eun-hee: Really?

Man: Yes, you’ve a perfect Honey-bottom!

Despite what the man says in a moment, that’s the first time I’ve heard the term ggooldongi, a combination of ggol (꿀; honey) and ongdongee (엉덩이; bottom). But I have heard (and written about) ggoolbokji (꿀벅지) that it comes from though, which, as Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling explained:

…apparently means, according to this article and allkpop, ‘sweet-as-honey thighs’ or “alluring as-if they-were-coated-with-honey thighs”, though a more creative, if incorrect, translation would be ‘alluring thighs that spread like honey.’ Ahem.

And in particular:

…a ‘high school girl living in Cheonan’ posted a petition on the Ministry of Gender Equality’s website claiming that the word ‘honey thighs’ actually means ‘thighs that you want to smear honey all over and lick off’, and represented the sexual commodification of a female body part, was sexual harassment, “induced a feeling of sexual shame” and said its use should be banned. She was also irritated that such a ‘sexually derogatory word’ was used by the media and asked that it stop. According to allkpop, “Even Korean portal site Daum has requested people to refrain from using this controversial term…”

Hence Eun-hee’s justified reaction:

Eun-hee: Honey bottom?

Man: These days it’s popular. It means honey applied to a bottom…

Eun-hee: I’m going to the Human Resources Department to complain about your sexual harassment!

Man: Honestly, it was just a compliment, why…

Man: Well, I was just complimenting her on how well her clothes fit. Why’s she acting like that?

Dal-ma: It doesn’t matter what your intention is, it depends on how the other person receives it. If they feel uncomfortable, then it’s sexual harassment.

Man: In that case, if someone has a good body, how can we give them a compliment?

Dal-ma: If you intend to compliment a certain part of a person’s body, then do it precisely. Then, the other person will take it well.

Man: I don’t really understand.

Dal-ma: Watch me do it.

Dal-ma: Sung-mi, your pectoral muscles are amazing. And your Sternocostal joints and Sternocleidomastoid muscle are beautiful!

Sung-mi: Er…thank you.

Dal-ma: You see?

No, I didn’t find them funny either. What’s more, they give the impression that all it takes to deal with sexual harassment in Korean workplaces is a quick visit to the Human Resources Department, and consequently that male employees are very nervous about being accused of it. Unfortunately though, as this case at Samsung and these recent testimonies by victims demonstrate, the reality is anything but.

Why the discrepancy? That’s a good question, and it’s made me curious to see if its also found in other newspapers, and so on. Which is not bad for a couple of quick cartoons over a morning coffee, yes?^^

From Woman to Manga

(Source: aatheory.com)

Granted, #9 seems a little excessive. Still, it’s probably more common than #1!

Thanks to eccentricyoruba for the laugh!

Men Can’t Get Raped in Korea? (Updated)

( Source )

But in Korea at least, perhaps the most appropriate revenge would have been to inflict the same back on the rapists? For I’ve just been shocked to learn that legally speaking, men can’t actually be the victims of rape here.

In fairness however, Korea is by no means the only jurisdiction that strictly defines rape as non-consensual penile penetration of the vagina, so perhaps my reaction was quite naive. But still, recall that not only is spousal rape not a crime, and that the Korean Bar Association remains opposed to its criminalization, but that there is also endemic sexual violence within the military.  So it’s not like some decidedly archaic notions of sexual identity and rape don’t still exist both in theory and in practice in Korea.

Accordingly, the fact that males can’t be raped is not so much highlighted as taken for granted in the webtoon Judge Byeon Hak-do’s Puzzling Law Questions (알쏭달쏭 변학도 판사의 법률이야기) below, instead focusing on the question of if a rapist of a male to female transsexual would be charged with rape or indecent assault instead, concluding that as the victims are not considered women in Korean society then it would be the latter. And indeed as of 2006, only 25 transsexuals had been successful (and 26 denied) in their applications to change their legal gender, easily the most famous being entertainer Harisu (하리수) and model Choi Han-bit (최한빛) below:

( Sources: T-L, T-R, B-L, B-R )

That figure was taken from “Hallyoo, Ballyhoo, and Harisu: Marketing and Representing the Transgendered in South Korea” in Complicated Currents: Media Flows, Soft Power, and East Asia (2010), which I highly recommend for those of you more interested in the current state of transgender and transexual rights in Korea (full disclosure: this blog is mentioned in it!). As for the webtoon itself, unfortunately it raises more questions than answers, and the last 2 panels in particular make little sense, and I think are supposed to be a joke. But I’m not going to write it off because of the medium (quite the opposite), and unlike the pig-ignorant, racist, and anti-Semitic comic history books that some of you may recall from 2007, the webtoon series as a whole does at least seem to be written by someone who knows the subject, probably even by a judge himself.

Below, I’ve literally translated all of it (including all the sounds!), adding notes where necessary. But as always, I welcome and appreciate any corrections:

Comic #2. In the case of the rape of a man who has had a sex change operation to become a woman, does that [actually] carry the charge of rape?

Heo-poong, we are going to launch a product called “Eong-bbong”, and want you to come up with a marketing plan.

What’s an Eong-bbong?

Eong-bbong: a device to create an S-line by putting it under a skirt or pants.

How would wearing that feel?

“Eong-bbong” is actually quite a good name: it comes from a combination of the “eong” in eongdeongee (엉덩이), or bottom, and “bbong” (뽕), not unlike “boing” in English.

Meanwhile, when Heo-poong asks how wearing that would feel, he means literally or physically, not in the psychological sense of what it would be like to be a woman having her S-line ogled.

Okay then, let’s try becoming a woman!

Hee (Your guess is as good as mine)


Syoong! (a quick moving sound, in this case through a magic portal used in all the other stories)


Cheok! (a grabbing sound?)

What’s this?

Your bottom is so pretty…

Hweik! (used for something sudden and abrupt)



You bastard, you want to eat rice and beans (prison food) by raping someone?


Beonjjok (Flash)

Go back to Judge Byeon Hag-do and try asking about what the crime of rape is!

GGudeok, ggdeok (Nod, Nod)

What? You say you almost got raped??

According to article 297 of the criminal code, a person who rapes a woman by violence or threat of violence gets a jail term of at least 3 years.

So in other words, the only people that can be raped are women?

Woman, then Syak! (quick swishing sound?)

If so, what are women?

Here in article 297, all females are referred to: adult women, teenagers and girls, married women, and unmarried women.

Who doesn’t know that?!! (lit. Where is someone that doesn’t know that?!!)

A man who dresses as a woman is only a woman on the surface. But for someone to be called [really be] a woman, they need to have the heart, mind, and body of a woman.

The Korean maum (마음) is often translated just as “mind” in English, but if you just ask Koreans where it is located then they’ll usually say the chest, let alone often use it in a “heart” sense. I don’t think there is any real distinction between them in Korean.

However, what about the case of a man who has had a sex change operation and thinks of himself as a woman?

Let’s have a look for any precedents.

Chwa-ra-rak~ (the sound of flicking through pages?)

If Miss “I am a woman” was a man and has a sex change operation…

When I go in I’m a man

When I come out I’m a woman

…through having her male “important parts” changed to a woman’s, she comes to think of herself as a woman.

Finally, I’ve found myself.

I’ve found where I belong!

And her personality is completely like a woman’s, and she also completely looks like a woman, and has lived as a woman…

A cockroach!

My master/mistress~

Then Mr. Evil rapes Miss “I am a woman”, all the while thinking she was born a woman, will he be charged with rape?

Sob sob sob~

You bastard! I will curse you forever!

“Mr Evil” may sound facetious, but actually boolhandang (불한당) is the usual term for a bad person, a little like the bogeyman in English (but more specifically a criminal of some sort). Meanwhile, jooinnim (주인님) is gender neutral, so I don’t know if the caterpillar(?) thinks of Heo-poong as a man or a woman sorry.

There is a precedent for this.

The sex chromosomes, internal physiology and external genitalia were all male…

(Before the operation)

He lived as normal man, but a time came when he wanted to have a sex change operation…

Feelings of confusion about if he was a man or woman.

A hard time doing his military service.

He met his true love, a man.

After the operation.

After the operation, she had no reproductive ability as a woman, so in the case of average people on the street’s assessments of and attitudes towards her…

They would decide that she couldn’t be called  a woman.

– Not a woman~

This way, even if you had had a sex change operation, someone who rapes you would not be charged with rape.

Of course, being a woman is not a prerequisite for charging the perpetrator with indecent assault under article 298 of the criminal code, yes?

According to article 298 of the criminal code (indecent assault), if someone assaults another through the threat of violence then he or she can go to jail for a maximum of 10 years or pay a maximum penalty of 15 million won.

In this case, “assault” means not just something which infringes on the victims’ sexual freedom and is in contradiction to normal sexual ethics, but also leaves them with a sense of sexual shame and disgust (Shim Hwae-gee, Official Law Studies (#359), 2004)

This was also established by the Supreme Court in their judgment on case 96.791 on June 11, 1996.

Your honor, do you think that Miss “I am a woman” is also included in the definition of woman for the charge of rape to apply?

What’s that got to do with anything? I just want to do whatever feels good~

Bbok (Bash?)

Master/Mistress, kill this bastard in self-defence!!


Bbak! (Bash?)

That’s strange?? The contents of the Supreme Court’s judgment on case 96.791 on June 11, 1996 have been changed!!

Clearly, it was about rape, but here…

Gyaoodoong (??)

Now it’s about how far one is justified in inflicted violence in self-defense??

Save me~

Oodangtang (Thump! Stamp!)

Update: I completely forgot this article from The Korea Times, which I covered back in February last year (see#17 here):

A provincial court for the first time found a man in his 20s guilty of “raping” a transexual, Wednesday, challenging the current law that defines rape to when a man has forcible sex with a woman born a female. The victim’s legal gender still remains man.

The Busan District Court sentenced the man to three years in prison suspended for four years on charges of raping the 59-year-old transsexual. He was also ordered to participate in 120 hours of community service.

Judge Ko Jong-joo said in the ruling, “The victim has acted like woman since he was born. In 1974, when he turned 24, he underwent a gender reassignment program. He once also lived with a male partner for a decade. Given all of these, he can be seen as female.”

The judge added that although the victim was legally a man, but this did not take into account his sexual identity. “Thus, his sex in legal documents cannot be seen as his `ultimate’ gender,” he said.

The rapist invaded the victim’s home last August and raped her using a blunt weapon. The prosecution initially indicted the man on a “molestation” charge but changed it to “rape” later after considering the victim’s personal history. It sought a five-year prison term, Feb. 11.

Giving the unprecedented ruling, the judge set three criteria to define the precedent ― whether the victim had sex change surgery; how long he/she has lived with appearance of the opposite sex; and if he/she has no problems having sexual relations.

In a similar case in 1996, the Supreme Court did not acknowledge rape charge, citing the victim’s sexual chromosome identity as a male.

I wonder if that 1996 case is the one referred to in the cartoon?

judgment on case 96.791 on June 11, 1996.