Manhwa – Meaning, Origin and Usage

If you are into graphic novels, manga, South Korean comics, and other Asian lore, then you probably know about manhwa. If not, then you are in the right place to learn everything there is to know on the topic. Come with us as we explore the South Korean world of animated cartoons. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The meaning of word manhwa literally translates to impromptu sketches. It means the same as comic in English or Manga in Japanese. The printed cartoon follows the same format as Western comics that read from left to right. There are specific sub-categories of manhwa that are made for specific groups of people.

Manga-inspired comic strips in South Korea are also called manhwa. Seongin manhwa is a specific style that is targeted toward adults with harsher topics and grittier art styles. Sunjeong manhwa is another style that anyone can read, however as they are romance stories they target mainly the female audience. For the boys, there is Sonyeon manhwa, which is less inclined to romance and more action based.

Example Usage

“The female characters in manhwa tend to be highly skilled and self-reliant”.

“I love the art and color play exhibited in manhwa, especially those drawn by some of the newer artists”.

“Did you see the latest manhwa that was released? It’s a webtoon which is great news for fanatics like me!”

“I found this shop in little Asia downtown that specializes in Seongin manhwa, have you heard of it?”


The word manhwa originated in China, and it translates directly to impromptu sketches. The word has traveled most of Asia and has been adapted depending on the dialect. The most common iteration of manhwa is that it stands as the name of South Korean comics, similar to Japanese Manga. The first time manhwa was found was in 1910 in South Korea. This was during the Japanese Occupation during which time South Korean society was highly enmeshed with the Japanese language. The intent of manhwa was to criticize Japanese colonizers, however, in 1920 the art form shifted from politics to kids’ cartoons and funny illustrations.

Though the art remained satirical, it continued to develop over time. It grew into several sub-categories which include sports, drama, romance, sci-fi, and even fantasy. Following the liberation in 1945, regular cartoons returned, but manhwa lingered. In 1948, after the reformation, it was used in various forms to make political statements and help to lead coups.

Once the boycott against Japanese media was lifted in 1990, the older manhwa style saw an infusion of new ideas. The genre as a whole has been available online and as webtoons since the early days of the internet. This caused a meteoric rise in popularity among forgivers and South Koreans living overseas.

Phrases Similar to Manhwa

  • Manga
  • Comic
  • Cartoon
  • Webtoon
  • Hentai

Phrases Opposite to Manhwa

  • Newspaper
  • Book
  • Print
  • Movie
  • Play

What is the Correct Saying?

  • The proper saying is – manhwa.

Ways People May Incorrectly Say Manhwa

It is difficult to use the word incorrectly as it refers directly to only one thing, a comic. However, many people may mistake styles between countries. Some ways that Manhwa is used incorrectly are:

  • The last time I was in Japan I picked up a whole box of manhwa to take home to my kids.
  • That American artist that creates manhwa is really nice, I am sure he will be famous one day.
  • Did you see the manhwa convention they are hosting in China this year? I think I want to go!

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Manhwa

Some ways that Manhwa is used correctly are:

  • My wife loves to read Sunjeong manhwa, but I prefer the traditional style of comics myself.
  • I am so excited that I can go online to get my weekly manhwa fix in just a few clicks!

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