Blog – Posted on Friday, Aug 20
The 30 Best Manhwa Of All Time
“Manhwa” (만화, 漫畵) is the Korean word for comic or print cartoon, much like the Japanese “manga” and the Chinese “manhua”. And while these three popular media share some historical origins in the early 20th century when Japan occupied much of East Asia, they are today different for more than just the nationality of their artists.
Part of what defines the Korean manhwa, apart from being read left-to-right like in English and the frequent use of vibrant colors, is the emphasis on online publications. Manhwa’s boom in the 2010s came hand in hand with the rise of free online comic-sharing sites like LINE Webtoon and Lezhin. Today, there are over 15 million daily readers on the LINE app alone, and “webtoon” has become a catch-all term for online comics produced both by well-known artists and users themselves. Manhwas are now almost exclusively published and read in this format, continously exploring new creative horizons.
With that in mind, we’re here to offer you a guide to this expanding world! From high politics to LGBTQ+ stories, all presented with astonishing artistry, here are the 30 best manhwas sorted by genre (though many of these defy simple categorization).
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1. True Beauty by Yaongyi
We’ll start this list with a long-running and extremely successful high-school romance that perfectly encapsulates some prominent themes in manhwa — bullying, loneliness, and self-discovery. With over 6.3 million readers worldwide and a 2020 live-action drama to boot, True Beauty is a staple that’s quickly becoming a cult favorite.
It follows Lim Jugyeong, an awkward teen who’s picked on by the popular girls at school for her looks and unconventional love for horror manga and heavy metal. After one particularly humiliating experience, Jugyeong begins to binge watch beauty bloggers at the advice of well-meaning netizens. By the time high school starts, she has transformed herself into a goddess of beauty who instantly becomes popular. She’s ready to go to great lengths to maintain her perfect facade, all of which comes under threat when the most handsome boy at school sees her bare-faced at a local manga shop. Combining lighthearted comedy with a much more serious discussion of contemporary beauty standards, True Beauty insightfully captures both the painful lows and the euphoric highs of our high school days, and what it means to truly love oneself.
2. Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe
With over 5.1 million subscribers watching keen-eyed for updates every Sunday, Lore Olympus is one of the most popular webtoons on the LINE platform. Rachel Smythe, an artist from New Zealand and an Eisner Award nominee, got her start on the user-generated end of Webtoon, though the dreamy art style and enticing story rooted in Greek mythology soon allowed her to graduate to become a professional Webtoon Originals.
Based on the classic myth ‘The Abduction of Persephone’, but transposed to a modern fantasy setting complete with modern technologies, Lore Olympus kicks off with Hades attending a party at Zeus’s place. At the party, he notices Persephone’s beauty and makes some fateful comments that set off a chain of events fuelled by gossip, lies, jealousy, and forbidden love. Through stylish and immersive visuals, Smythe’s delicate and nuanced retelling deals with heavy themes such as sexual assault, harrassment, abuse, and trauma without ever romanticizing it, nor condemning her characters to eternal victimhood.
3. Let’s Play by Mongie
If we’re ranking manhwas by popularity, Let’s Play by Mongie is another one to beat — and for good reason! With its light touch, humor, and tantalizing romance, this modern-day Pride and Prejudice-esque story about a game developer and a famous streamer will have you hooked from the get-go.
Sam is young, single, and on the verge of fulfilling her lifelong dream of becoming a game developer. There’s just one obstacle standing in her way: when she launches her first game, a popular gaming personality gives it a scathing review. And of course that isn’t the end of it — the reviewer turns out to be her new neighbor as well! Capturing gaming, meme-culture, and social anxiety with warmth and accuracy, Let’s Play is a true gem which serves plenty of plot with a side of adorable doggos to boot.
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4. I Love Yoo by Quimchee
TGIF takes on a whole new meaning if you subscribe to I Love Yoo — this rags-to-riches love triangle drama comes knocking at your door with exciting new updates every Friday. More than 4.3 millions readers are currently on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what this upbeat manhwa will do next. And to really keep readers on their toes, Quimchee throws in a good amount of reflective moments to balance the humor, too.
Centering around Shin-ae, a girl whose life has consisted of one misfortune after the other, I Love Yoo is all about learning to trust again. Shin-ae wants nothing to do with other people and certainly not with romance, but fate has other plans. Her plan to live life as a near-recluse is spoiled when she accidentally bumps into a stranger and ruins his clothes. As a result, she’s drawn into a love-triangle involving him and his estranged brother. The story that follows is delightfully addictive, and it’s only more so given the atmospheric soundtrack that comes with each chapter!
5. Yeon Lok Heun by Han Su Yeong
For readers looking for action packed historical fiction with a strong leaning towards romance and a fierce protagonist who defies stereotypical female representation, Yeon Lok Heun by Han Sy Yeong checks all of those boxes, and then some!
The leading lady Yeon Lok Heun has managed to hide the fact that she is in fact a lady since early childhood. She was thus able to learn both martial and spiritual arts growing up — two sets of skills she will put to use as she heads towards the imperial palace to clear her father’s name. At the palace, she meets the young emperor Garyun who promises to save her father in exchange for her lifelong servitude. Continuing to conceal her gender, she travels the empire solving problems of an otherworldly nature. But one question hangs in the air: how long can she keep up the charade?
6. Cheese in The Trap by Soonkki
The 2010 romantic drama Cheese In the Trap is among the OG legends of webtoons, and it’s continuing to touch the hearts of millions of readers year after year. And if you won’t take it from us, then know that this evergreen story has seen both a movie adaptation and a live-action drama. Needless to say, it’s a manhwa you simply cannot miss.
Cheese in The Trap follows Hong Seol, a hardworking and humble student who is returning to her studies after a long break as the recipient of a prestigious university scholarship. There, she gets involved with a senior — Yoo Jung — who would have received the scholarship if it weren’t for her, and her already difficult life seems to take a turn for the worse. To everyone else, Jung is known as Mr. Perfect, and he has no qualms about manipulating his admirers to get what he wants. By giving Seol his attention, he unwittingly makes her the target of envy and malice, threatening to disrupt her precarious balance and throwing her right into a love triangle that will tear at the reader’s heart strings.
7. Shall We Have Dinner Tonight by Park See-In
Though romance readers do love a bit of escapism, some manhwas really manage to hit the nail on the head with realistic characters and believable narrative arcs. And that’s exactly what Shall We Have Dinner Tonight does, hitting a nerve of truth while also managing to indulge the reader with its mouth-watering celebration of food.
Do-Hee Woo and Hae-Gyeong Kim didn’t expect to bump into each other when they decided to try dining alone at a restaurant. And they certainly didn’t think they’d form an instant connection. Making a deal to meet up and eat together on a weekly basis, their friendship quickly becomes deeper as they help one another heal from past heartbreaks. The scaled-down plot leaves plenty of room for Park See-In to really explore the strengths and insecurities of these two characters, as well as the conflicts that arise between them. Bringing it back to the basics and stripping away all the special effects, this is a refreshingly honest look at human relationships.
8. Your Throne by SAM
Bridging the romance and fantasy genres, artist and author SAM delivers thrilling intrigue and high stakes every Saturday with Your Throne, whose popularity in Korea has quickly led to an official English translation.
Starring Medea Solon and Psyche Callista, two main characters who are both vying for the position of Crown Princess of the Vasilions Empire, Your Throne is replete with political struggles which only get more complicated when they accidentally switch bodies! Having lost her place next to the Crown Prince Eros, Medea is determined to do whatever it takes to reclaim what is rightfully hers. Fairytale visuals meet fantastical worldbuilding as SAM keeps her subscribers on tenterhooks in this deservedly popular ‘toon.
9. Hive by Kyusam Kim
On the other side of the manhwa spectrum, we have dark suspense stories like Hive by Kyusam Kim. Far from the fluffy feel of the likes of True Beauty, Hive is an exhibition of bleak but excellent artwork and masterful storytelling — something fans of The Walking Dead will definitely enjoy.
When the world teeters on the edge of an apocalypse brought in the form of giant, oxygen-doped killer bees who are seeking to reverse the food-chain, mid-level manager Lee is forced to abandon everything in order to save his family, as well as humanity. Loosely based on the science of prehistoric creatures and climate change, Hive pitches modern, technology-dependent humans against nature in a high-stake battle for survival. As it’s dedicated readership will testify, it’s a wild ride from start to finish that will make your skin crawl. And if you can’t get enough of the buzz of this bug-invasion, make sure to check out the two prequels The Dog Man and Dead Queen!
10. Dead Days by DEY
No manhwa list is complete without some zombie horror with a bit of gore. Dead Days by DEY doesn’t mince its words as it proceeds to deliver high octane action within 62 episodes. And baked into all the action are some big questions about the will to live, human instincts, and selfish desires.
When Dead Days kicks off, the zombie virus has already broken out and we now follow the survivors of the resulting apocalypse. As zombies roam the streets, survivors are trapped within their homes, unable to leave for fear of their own family-members-turned-predators. With scratches at the door, two high schoolers — strangers to each other — are stuck in opposite apartments and must figure out a way to communicate and survive until help arrives. Beyond fulfilling the expected requirements of any zombie story worth its salt, Dead Days' stunning artwork, its attention to detail, and its round characters elevate it to immortal heights.
11. Sweet Home by Carnby Kim and Youngchan Hwang
Some of you might recognize Sweet Home from its monster-slaying adaptation on Netflix or the names of the creators for their equally successful psychological thriller Bastard. One thing that is certain is that you’ve come to the right place for some top-quality, hair raising suspense, full of grit.
Don’t let the title deceive you, because this manhwa is anything but sweet: the protagonist, Cha Hyun-Soo is a high school student who is suffering from the loss of his family and struggling with suicidal thoughts. Adding another layer to these weighty topics, the residents of Hyun-Soo’s apartment complex must band together in order to survive a monster apocalypse, where people turn into monsters that reflect their deepest, darkest desires. In Sweet Home, Carnby Kim and Youngchan Hwang truly tap into an old truth: the scariest monsters are often the ones hiding in our own heads.
12. Distant Sky by Inwan Youn and Sunhee Kim
For fans of visually darker manhwas in the horror genre, Distant Sky by Inwan Youn and Sunhee Kim is a Tim Burton-esque dark horse with a smaller but dedicated readership. Working with contrasts, sparse use of color, and long vertical panels, Sunhee Kim’s artwork is a disturbing feast for the eye (with haunting depictions of death scattered throughout). Combined with Inwan Youn’s fantastic storytelling, Distant Sky really packs a punch.
The deliberate use of shadow and light matches the mood of the storytelling perfectly from the get-go: readers first get to encounter a boy as he wakes up in a quiet building, surrounded by dead people. Outside, Gangnam is shrouded in complete darkness — there’s no electricity nor any stars in the sky — and the entirety of Seoul seems deserted. He must venture out now in the hopes of finding more survivors to this mysterious disaster. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
13. Catharsis by Ahniki
And if you can’t get enough of monster-fighting action but prefer low-key horror that’s actually heavier on the fantasy side, Catharsis by Ahniki is an exquisitely drawn manhwa you should immediately check out. Readers be warned: you’ll be hooked from the first slide.
Following Leon — a boy with the unusual ability of being able to see voices in terms of colors and whose dreams are beginning to come to life — Catharsis operates on the edge between nightmare and reality. When he learns about an organization called "Catharsis" that fights monsters which feed on fear, his life is forever altered. Together with Leon, readers will get a chance to see fear and courage in a whole other light. So come for the slaying, and stay for characters you can’t help but to root for in this display of epic storytelling.
14. The Gamer by Sangyoung Seong and Sang-A
Loosely drawing from role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and the fantasy series Discworld, The Gamer is about, well, gaming. From its first episode in 2013, The Gamer is a long-standing crowd favorite among both actual gamers and those who simply prefer to read about it.
The first season starts off with Jihan Han, a normal high school student who, instead of being drawn into a game, discovers that his own world is taking on video-game qualities. But not everyone can see when stats and levels start appearing next to people — only a select few are able to navigate this new world.Being one of the special few, Jihan must juggle regular homework with a quest to exterminate a monster and “level up in life”.
15. The God of High School by Jongje Park
The anime adaptation of The God of High School may have been met with mixed reviews but the divine manhwa is endlessly popular. Martial arts meet mythical folk-lore as the characters discover what it takes to become a true deity.
Set in three different realms — the realms of humans, demons, and gods — the story follows Mori Jin, a 17-year old martial artist who is invited to take part in a tournament called “The God of High School.'' Using “borrowed power” from the gods, participants compete at a regional level, gradually progressing to a national championship from which three representatives will be selected to compete for Korea on the world stage. The winner will receive anything they want from the host corporation — a corporation that may or may not be plotting something beyond Mori’s wildest imagination. With lovable characters, a well-developed world and magic system, and plenty of kick-ass action scenes, this manhwa is sure to hit the spot for those of you looking for your next binge-able read.
16. DICE by Hyunseok Yun
With over 1.2 million subscribers, DICE by Hyunseok Yun is one we’d hate to miss. Hyunseok Yun has taken a tried and tested premise — a zero-to-hero story with a touch of magic and the supernatural — and given it a refreshing spin, completed by a wonderful cast of characters.
Much like Lim Jugyeong in True Beauty, the main character of DICE, Dongtae, is a bread-shuttle for his classmate — he’s literally forced to do snack runs for his classmates and continuously pushed to the bottom of the barrel. He’s weak, has low grades, and is utterly friendless. That is, until he meets the new transfer student, Taebin, who lets him use his magical dice that can give the player strength, intelligence, and beauty. But as Dongtae rejoices at the prospect of winning his crush’s attention and climbing the social ladder, word gets out about the magical cube, complicating Dontae’s life even further. Accompanying this enticing storyline, the artwork perfectly balances a sense of mystery with straight and clear delivery for an exciting reading experience.
17. Solo Leveling by Chu-Gong and Dubu
Originally published as a web novel and later serialized, the wildly popular take on the hero origin story by the name of Solo Leveling (Only I Level Up) is beloved for good reason. This highly addictive supernatural monster-slaying tale offers both mystery and intrigue in tandem with complex worldbuilding and an endlessly unpredictable plot. It’s hardly a wonder that this has been booked for webtoon, game, and drama adaptations.
When portals that connect the human and monster worlds begin to appear, a portion of humanity (known as hunters) starts to develop superhuman powers to preserve the balance of the world. Sung Jin-Woo, the protagonist of Solo Leveling, has the lowest and weakest rank of all; yet he finds himself trapped in a dungeon and must fight together with his companions to escape. But that’s not all — Jin-woo’s powers have not reached their full potential just yet, making this a particularly addictive take on the classic hero's journey.
18. Kubera by Currygom
For some otherworldly female-driven fantasy, look no further than Kubera by Currygom — a vibrant story about resilience, vengeance, and reconciliation. With minimalist, easy-to-follow artwork, the thrilling and action-packed narration gets to take the lead, resulting in a page-turning read.
When the eponymous Kubera loses her entire village to the monster Sura on her 16th birthday, she is made both homeless and orphaned. Salvation arrives in the form of a magician named Asha, who suspects that the name ‘Kubera’ belies an age-old prophecy, and who takes her on a journey where magicians and humans must face off against Gods and Suras.
19. Tower of God by SIU
Tower of God by SIU was an instant hit upon publication, largely due to its unique characters and endlessly complex villains. Though you can expect an exploration of human desires, greed, power, and revenge, this is also a heartfelt depiction of friendship and the lengths that we will go to to protect it. And if you’re a fan of anime, there’s an excellent adaptation available with an equally excellent original soundtrack. A full house, some would say.
As for the plot, it’s almost better to know as little as possible about this one before going in so that you can uncover it piece by piece. But to give a basic premise, there’s a Tower of God, wherein your wildest dreams can come true at the risk of great peril. Our main character Bam, finds himself trapped underneath the tower with his childhood friend Rachel and when she is drawn into the tower, Bam too must begin to climb in order to save her from its enticing and corruptive power.
20. Noblesse by Jeho Son and Kwangsu Lee
Whoever said that vampire stories are going out of style clearly haven’t come across Noblesse by Jeho Son and Kwangsu Lee. With a big cast of charming characters, this tale can turn the most vampire-adverse readers into loyal followers, proving once and for all that these immortal creatures are truly here to stay.
When vampire Rai wakes up from a 820-year slumber, he finds himself in a new and changed world. In order to learn the ropes, he starts his new life as a high school student at a school founded by his servant, Frankenstein. Looking forward to living peacefully, he is disappointed to say the least when a mysterious organization called the Union starts to attack his mortal friends.
21. The Strongest Florist by Hyun Hoo Joo and Kumtata
If you grew up loving The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf — you know the adorable children’s book about the bull who would much rather smell the flowers than fight in bullfights? — The Strongest Florist is the comedy action manhwa you've been looking for! And if you’ve never heard of The Story of Ferdinand, but you love stories about gentle giants that subvert gender norms, this manhwa is also for you.
Jaeho has a fearsome presence to say the least; with a body built like a tank and an intimidating scowl, his overbearing father expects nothing but a career in MMA fighting from him. Meanwhile, all Jaeho wants is to become a florist. To escape his father’s ambitions, he enters into a virtual reality game called “New World”, where he might be able to fulfil his wholesome dream. Upon befriending the in-game AI elves, he’s given an unprecedented quest that only he can fulfil. With its colorful visuals and lighthearted content, this one is a real happy-pill of a read, served with a side of action.
22. Dallae by Choonae
Dallae is a wholesome manhwa about cats and lost high school loves — a perfect palate cleanser between martial art and vampires. Or, you know, just a straight-up good story in its own right. And Choonae certainly knows how to deliver both cuteness overload and punches to the heart in rapid succession.
When Bo-eun finds a cat in an azalea field, she dubs her Dallae (Korean for Azalea) and brings her new companion home. But Dallae’s arrival coincides with recurring dreams about Bo-eun’s high school friend Saeyeon. As Dallae comes and goes as she pleases, Bo-eun begins to suspect that her feline friend is hiding a secret which is somehow related to Saeyeon and she must try to unravel her feelings in order to find out the truth.
23. Heesu in Class 2 by Lily
There’s something timeless and universally appealing about a great coming-of-age story — a concept which author and artist Lily has honed to perfection in Heesu in Class 2, an LGBTQ+ title about friendship and first love.
Heesu has a secret crush on his best friend Chanyeong, and he knows it’ll never be returned. Even so, Heesu’s happy to just be around him, talking about his girl problems and supporting his sporting achievements, being known to others only as “Chanyeong’s friend”. So it’s as surprising to Heesu as everyone else when a rumor about Heesu’s ability to give accurate love advice starts to spread, placing him at the center of everyone’s attention. With simple, adorable art Heesu in Class 2 captures the innocence of first love and the confusion of high school, as the relationship dynamics shift and the characters continue to learn about themselves and each other.
24. Unrequited Love Skill by Teunteun and Carbonara
Flipping the script on Heesu in Class 2, Unrequited Love Skill is a story about friendship, love, and complicated relationship statuses, which tenderly captures the spectrum that sexuality operates on.
Yuna has known that she’s gay since high school when she started to develop romantic feelings for her friend, Dahye. Dahye, on the other hand, is certain of her love for men, even though all of her crushes have come to nothing — the boys and men she’s attracted to all end up falling in love with Yuna instead. Despite everything, the two have put their friendship first; or at least until Yuna decides that it might finally be time to move on. The balance is thrown, and the two have to ask themselves where to draw the line between friendship and something else.
25. Always Human by walkingnorth
From English manhwa artist and writer walkingnorth, Always Human is a sweet LGBTQ+ sci-fi that explores what it is that makes us human, and how technology changes how we interact with each other.
Always Human is a story about nanobots, genetic engineering and about falling in love. In a world where people apply fancy mods to change their appearances and functions, our main character Sunati can’t help but notice a girl at the bus stop who never changes. Like everyone else, Sunati is constantly changing herself and admires the bravery and confidence she sees in this other girl’s more natural look. But as she musters the courage to approach her, she soon finds out that things are not always what they seem. Complete with an original soundtrack and vibrant colors, Always Human is an innocent story about getting to know the true nature of ourselves and the people around us.
26. Semantic Error by Jeosuri
In Semantic Error, a romantic slice-of-life drama, oil meets water when two university students are forced together in the classic torture device, better known as “group projects”. Sparks fly as these unlikely characters learn to decode each other.
Chu Sangwoo is a Computer Science major who would love to get through university on his own. But forced to partake in a liberal arts group project with a bunch of freeloaders, his rigid personality is put to the test. Having done all the work on his own, he rightfully decides to remove his classmates’ names from the hand-in, putting a spoke in the wheel for Design major and campus star Jang Jaeyoung, as well as his plans to go on a study-abroad program. Their paths continue to cross in a hilariously infuriating way, bugging up Sangwoo’s perfect world.
27. The Boxer by JH
More than 7 million readers have enjoyed JH's explosive sports-meets-action-meets-thriller manhwa, The Boxer, updating regularly every Thursday. The premise is simple, but who doesn’t love a good Rocky Balboa underdog, striving to rise to the top?
In The Boxer, a young man with raw talent asks himself whether he has what it takes to make it to the top. There’s more to it than just physical strength and endurance — it will take precision, a whole lot of heart, and a dogged determination to achieve perfection. It’s the test of a lifetime, and readers will be knocked out by JH’s ability to capture the sport of boxing in superfluid detail, while making them root for the dynamic cast of characters.
28. Wind Breaker by Yongseok Jo
Serving as a refreshing contrast to the theme of bullying that recur in many high school manhwas, Wind Breaker is a sports manhwa that takes the point of view of a successful student who is forced to explore what “success” actually means when he steps out of his comfort zones.
The main character of Wind Breaker, Jay, not only gets perfect grades but is also the student body president. He spends his time focusing on his studies and is on a straight and narrow path to what he has been taught is success. But that’s only until he is roped into joining the school’s biking team — the Hummingbird Crew — where he discovers that there is more to life than textbooks and equations. With sleek artwork and a seriously addictive storyline, Wind Breaker will have you racing through the chapters while delivering a healthy motivational boost to brighten anyone’s day.
29. Just for Kicks by Josie Fox
Sports are often a win-or-lose game filled with pressure to perform, but it can also be a lighthearted past-time, a chance to move and sweat, to eat and laugh. Josie Fox’s Just For Kicks is exactly the kind of easy-going, comedic celebration of sports which foregoes the high achievements in favor of low-commitment and pure enjoyment.
At a university Taekwondo club, a group of amateur athletes train together and share events from their daily lives. The sweet, bite-sized chapters filled with simple illustrations are perfect for when you need a quick pick-me-up during your lunch break or afternoon tea. And if you ever needed confirmation that anyone can get enthusiastic about sports, this is it!
30. Plum by Samkimart
Finishing the list with a wholesome and sweet manhwa, Plum by Samkimart turns the idea of sports slightly on its head. But, like all the best sports comics, at its core, Plum is about perseverance and consistency when working towards a goal, even in the face of adversity.
In a world not completely unlike our own, common sports like basketball or soccer doesn’t hold a candle against the much more interesting sport of fruit stacking. And our main character, Plum, intends to overcome his underdog status and become a champion. As he sets off to Apple Seed City, he begins his quest towards the clouds, stacking higher and higher to beat the competition. Cute and colorful, this one is a sugar boost and a joy for readers of all ages!
Interested in more visually driven storytelling? Make sure to check our comprehensive lists of the 100 best graphic novels of all time!