With the rise of Superman and Batman almost a hundred years ago, the US became the home of comic books. Then, before the turn of the 21st Century, eyes turned towards Japan and its manga industry. Today, it’s Korean manhwa (also known as webtoons) that have the eager attention of so many comics fans.
We at Books and Bao have been long-time manga readers and anime watchers, but the rise of manhwa webtoons has been impossible to ignore and extremely exciting.
As champions of Japanese and Korean literature, watching the top manhwa go toe-to-toe with the best manga has been a thrill.
Korean webtoons are even now being adapted into Japanese anime — the most notable being the Crunchyroll original series Tower of God (more on the Tower of God manhwa below).
Here, you’ll find a detailed list of the top manhwa online right now. But, before we discuss the best webtoons around, we need to answer a few burning questions: what is manhwa and where can I read it?
What are Korean Manhwa Webtoons?
The names manhwa and webtoons are interchangeable, and fans will use both or either of them when talking about Korean comics.
So, if you’re wondering what the difference is between manhwa and webtoons, there isn’t one. They are just two names for Korean comics, Just like how manga is the word for Japanese comics.
If you do want to get technical, there is one difference: the word manhwa is typically reserved for comics created by Koreans (much like how manga are created by Japanese writers and artists).
Webtoon, however, has become an umbrella term for any and all comics published online. So, all manhwa are webtoons but not all webtoons are manhwa.
This, however, is a technicality that is probably debated all over the internet, much like the classic question: is Avatar: The Last Airbender an anime?
Just like with American comics and Japanese manga, manhwa/webtoons come in all types and genres. There are plenty of fantasy manhwa with exciting and original worlds to get lost in.
There is a deep ocean of romance manhwa to swim in, if you fancy it. And there is plenty of adult manhwa out there, too.
What gives manhwa webtoons an exciting edge over Western comics and Japanese manga is just how accessible they are. Because of their digital nature, reading manhwa is easy and convenient.
Where Can I Read Manhwa Online?
If you’re already a fan of Western comics, Japanese manga, or both, you’ll know that these are very physical mediums.
In Japan, people spend their lives reading and collecting weekly issues of Shonen Jump. Manga can also be bought in tankobon collections from bookshops and comic book stores all around the world.
In the US and Europe, people either buy weekly issues of their favourite comics (from Marvel, DC, Image etc) or wait for the trade collections to come out, which can then be bought in bookshops and comic book stores.
Manhwa webtoons operate entirely differently. They exist as a digital medium, rather than a physical one. This is great for convenience. As soon as one is published, you can read it on your laptop, tablet, or phone. No need to go out and search for, then buy it. It’s just there.
The other awesome thing about manhwa is that the biggest webtoon sites are free to read. You can read the top manhwa online, as I’ve said, on your phone, tablet, or computer completely free.
There are two major apps for reading manhwa online for free: Webtoon and Tapas. Both are free, but have some differences. Tapas also features novels, while Webtoon is the more popular and exclusively manhwa-focussed website (as its name implies).
Webtoon also allows anyone to become a creator and upload their own comic series’ for readers to enjoy for free. This means that many of the creators on Webtoon are not Korean. They might be from anywhere.
All of the series mentioned on this list, however, were created by Korean writers and artists and published on Webtoon (or Lezhin — more on that below).
Using Webtoon online is entirely free. You can sign up and dip into whatever series you fancy right away. Webtoon is available on your browser or as an app for both iOS and Android. And, yes, Webtoon is legal. It is the official website for reading manhwa online.
There is a popular site for reading webtoons online which isn’t free, however, and it is worth mentioning. Lezhin is a site that offers premium manhwa, with a pretty big emphasis on mature manhwa (one of which will be detailed below).
If you’re happy to pay for premium, mature manhwa, Lezhin is the site for you.
Now that we know what manhwa/webtoons are and where to read webtoons online, we need to get you a stack of the top manhwa to read online right now, so that you can get stuck into the world of Korean manhwa asap.
The Top Manhwa Online Right Now
Below is a list of some of the most popular and successful webtoons online right now. This list is, by no means, exhaustive — there are literally thousands of manhwa online for you to choose from. But these are some of the most exciting manhwa series of the past few years, and they represent a great place to start reading manhwa online.
Tower of God Manhwa
Tower of God is, and has been for a while, one of the top manhwa online, full stop. Created by a writer/artist known only as SIU, Tower of God is a fantasy manhwa with a reader base in the millions.
You may have already heard of the Tower of God manhwa thanks to it having been adapted into a Crunchyroll Original anime in 2020.
Available to read for free on Webtoon, Tower of God (Sin-ui Tap) tells the story of Bam, a boy who has lived his life beneath the titular tower with only his friend Rachel for company.
When the story begins, however, Rachel abandons Bam and heads into the tower, leaving Bam with no other choice but to follow her.
The tower itself is a mysterious and magical place filled with varied and impossible environments. People enter the tower with the hopes of reaching the top; along the way, they will face dangerous foes and overcome intense challenges. All Bam wants, however, is to find Rachel.
The Gamer Manhwa
With just how popular esports, online gaming, and PC rooms (known in Korea as PC bang) are in South Korea, it’s no surprise that one of top manhwa online is a series called The Gamer.
The Gamer is an action manhwa written by Sangyoung Seong, with art by Sang-A. If you’re a fan of isekai anime or the novel Ready Player One (no judgment), you’ll get a kick out of The Gamer manhwa.
The Gamer tells the story of Jihan, a regular highschooler whose world is suddenly transformed when he develops the ability to see the world like a video game. Suddenly, his eyes have a heads-up display and he can see the ‘power levels’ of everyone around him.
Jihan soon learns that he is not alone, that his best friend has been living with this Ability for years, and that there is a secret underground world of other Ability-users known as the Abyss.
Easily one of the most famous top manhwa around. If you’re an anime fan, you’ve probably at least seen Noblesse mentioned online; maybe you scrolled past it while browsing Crunchyroll. The Noblesse manhwa proved so popular that it was made into a Korean anime back in 2015.
Son Jae Ho and illustrated by Lee Gwang Su, the Noblesse manhwa is a fantasy action series. It plays on tropes of classic gothic literature and follows the modern-day life of a vampire named Cadis Etrama Di Raizel (or just Rai) who has been asleep for over eight centuries.
Rai is now awake and finds himself in modern-day Korea where he meets, and makes a servant out of, a boy named Frankenstein (really).
After joining a local high school, Rai builds a colourful party of characters who set out to learn the details of Rai’s past, all while fighting back against an evil and dangerous cabal.
The Noblesse manhwa ran for twelve years from ‘07 to ‘19 and is easily one of the top manhwa online right now. Since it’s all wrapped up, it makes for a great binge read. And then there’s the anime adaptation.
Full title: DICE: The Cube that Changes Everything. The DICE manhwa is a fantasy series created by Hyunseok Yun. The series began in 2013 and was actually one of the first webtoons online to get an English translation.
Meek and frequently bullied teenager Dongtae isn’t having much luck in life. That is, until he befriends the new transfer student, Taebin. Taebin introduces Dongtae to a whole new world of Dicers, people who obtain and use mysterious cubes known as dice.
The titular dice provide the roller with an increase in various attributes from strength to beauty to intelligence, depending on the result they roll. More dice can be obtained by completing quests provided by a Game Master known as X.
The God of High School Manhwa
The God of High School manhwa began all the way back in 2011, and an English translation was launched in 2014. This is another top manhwa that you’ve probably heard of thanks to its 2020 anime adaptation via Crunchyroll, animated by studio MAPPA.
Created by Yongje Park, The God of High School is a martial arts action manhwa which follows the exploits of Mori Jin, a 17-year-old high-schooler in Seoul. His martial art of choice is taekwondo, and his mission is to win the titular God of High School tournament.
Sponsored by a shady, shadowy corporation, the God of High School tournament promises its winner the grand prize of anything their heart desires. This is a series that heavily prioritises intense martial arts action.
Cheese in the Trap Manhwa
This is a slightly older online webtoon series, having wrapped up back in 2014. For that reason, the Cheese in the Trap manhwa has been elevated to classic status. Created by Soonkki, Cheese in the Trap is often considered one of the top manhwa to read online.
In fact, Cheese in the Trap proved to be such a hit manhwa in Korea that it was adapted into a k-drama of the same name.
The original Cheese in the Trap manhwa is a college drama that follows a perfect student named Seol who, after a break, returns to university. When she meets, and begins a complicated relationship with rich “Mr. Perfect” Yoo Jung, her life becomes frustratingly complicated.
Cheese in the Trap is a romantic drama that plays on class differences, exploring toxic relationships and the complications that love and romance bring with them.
Painter of the Night Manhwa
All the manhwa webtoons mentioned on this list so far have been freely accessible via Webtoon. The Painter of the Night manhwa, however, is a BL (boys’ love) manhwa series available on Lezhin, and categorised as a mature manhwa.
You can read the first two chapters for free but the rest must be paid for.
The Painter of the Night manhwa is one of the top manhwa on Lezhin; it has proved to be a hugely popular queer romance webtoon.
This online manhwa tells the story of a talented painter named Nakyum. Just as he decides to put his art behind him, Nakyum’s life is intruded upon by a nobleman named Seungho. With an intense lust for painting, Seunho recruits Nakyum as his personal painter.
Disclaimer: Because this manhwa isn’t free, I haven’t actually read it myself yet, but I’ve added it to this list due to its insane popularity and the fact that it is the top manhwa on Lezhin.
Therefore, I can’t personally recommend it, but the manhwa’s popularity speaks for itself.