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Webtoons

Naver vs. Kakao: Global webtoon duel extends into Southeast Asia

Webtoon archrivals' competition shows no signs of cooling

By Jun 14, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Naver vs. Kakao: Global webtoon duel extends into Southeast Asia

The global webtoon battleground between South Korea's leading platforms Naver Corp. and Kakao Corp. has expanded into Southeast Asia with each company claiming to be the frontrunner. The companies' rivalry to be the No. 1 webtoon player is showing no signs of cooling down in Japan and the US as well.

On June 13, Naver announced that its webtoon platform, Naver Webtoon, is the highest-grossing app on Google Play in Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia. According to the platform giant, its webtoon service has surpassed 12 million monthly active users in Southeast Asia.

Given that there are no ongoing events or promotions that require the company to make an announcement about its leading position, industry watchers see it as a move aimed at Kakao's recent foray into Southeast Asia.

Last week, Kakao rolled out its webtoon platform, Kakao Webtoon, in Thailand and Taiwan. And just a few days after the launch, the company announced that Kakao Webtoon had become the leading app in Thailand and Taiwan.

Kakao’s announcement is based on popular download rankings, while Naver's ranking is based on the highest-grossing apps.

“The two companies are both announcing their No. 1 rankings in different categories. It's a battle of egos and the competition is expected to get fiercer in Southeast Asia,” said an IT industry official.

NAVER’S ECOSYSTEM VS KAKAO’S IP PORTFOLIO

The rising contender Kakao is expected to target Southeast Asia with its rich portfolio of intellectual property rights based on original Korean content. The company holds IP rights for around 8,500 original pieces of Korean content, including the hit Solo Leveling.

Solo Leveling is a Korean webtoon that became No. 1 on Piccoma in 2019.
Solo Leveling is a Korean webtoon that became No. 1 on Piccoma in 2019.

In Japan, Kakao's webtoon service Piccoma had overtaken Naver's Line Manga, despite being a latecomer, thanks to its IP-based webtoons.

Currently, Korean webtoons account for only 1% of Piccoma’s IP portfolio, but they are responsible for 50% of the platform’s total revenue.

Still, it remains uncertain if Kakao will be able to beat Naver's content ecosystem in Southeast Asia.

Naver's webtoon service has maintained the lead in Southeast Asia since launching its webtoon service in Taiwan in 2014. Around 700,000 creators are active on Naver’s webtoon platform Canvas, where amateur artists can upload their work and connect with readers.

Also, Naver's messaging app Line, which has around 165 million users in Southeast Asia, helps create traffic for Naver's webtoon platform.

The latest webtoon competition in Southeast Asia is an extension of the two companies' rivalry for the top spot in the storytelling market. Currently, Kakao is in the lead in Japan while Naver is ahead in the US.

“The two companies are going head to head to win the top spot in the webtoon industry. Their competition is evident across various sectors and regions," said an IT industry official.

The two companies have been ramping up M&A activities to beef up their IP portfolios. Naver has acquired the world’s biggest web novel platform Wattpad for almost $600 million, while Kakao has purchased US-based mobile fiction startup Radish Fiction Inc. and the third-largest US digital comics platform Tapas Media Inc. 

Write to Min-ki Koo at kook@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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