Original webtoon adapted into dramas has become one of the factors causing a perceptible shift in the content market

The original webtoon adapted into dramas has become one of the factors causing a perceptible shift in the content market in recent times.

In the past, there were many instances of webtoon-based movies being released, but films like “Fashion King” (2014) and “Cheese in the Trap” (2018) received dismal box office results due to the massive story compression and omission within the limited 2 hours and 30 minutes runtime.

Of course, there are success stories as well. “Secretly, Greatly” (2013), based on the webtoon of the same name by HUN, and “Inside Men” (2015), based on the webtoon of the same name by Yoon Tae-ho, each drew audiences of 6.95 million and 7.07 million, respectively.

Additionally, the upcoming film “New Generation War: Reawakened Man” (directed by Baek Jong-yeol) starring Gu Kyo-hwan and Shin Seung-ho is based on the webtoon of the same name by Kim Jae-hwan, set to be released in 2024.

However, producers who realized that films and webtoons do not fit together like gears have turned their attention to dramas or OTT series. In the case of a typical 16-episode drama series, it is easier to incorporate episodes from long-running webtoons, and the advantage lies in the ability to depict characters in a more multifaceted manner due to the abundance of characters.

Choosing dramas or OTT series over films, which inherently clash in format, seems to have resulted in a synergistic effect. Of course, not all content based on webtoons succeeds. Adapting webtoons, which include images, rather than scenarios based solely on text, can lead to completely different outcomes due to clashes in synchronization and the creativity of the creators.

In this sense, it is necessary to pay attention to the popularity of the tvN drama “Marry My Husband” (2024).

Based on the web novel and webtoon of the same name by Sung So-jak, “Marry My Husband” tells the story of Kang Ji-won (played by Park Min-young), who discovers her husband Park Min-hwan’s (played by Lee Yi-kyung) affair with Jung Soo-min (played by Song Ha-yoon) and dies in an accident but gets a chance to go back ten years and live her life again to seek revenge. The so-called “regression genre” to which “Marry My Husband” belongs is one of the elements frequently used in webtoons.

Another example is the JTBC drama “The Last Empress” (2018), based on the web novel and webtoon of the same name by San Kyung, and the TVing original series “Death’s Game” (2023), based on the Naver webtoon “Death’s Game” by Lee Won-sik.

The regression genre, which can also be seen as a kind of fantasy, depicts the process of reflecting on and repenting for one’s life while gaining the opportunity to go back in time, experiencing a series of steps toward revenge.

In “Marry My Husband,” Kang Ji-won thoroughly prepares and executes her plan to imprint the pain on the backs of the two betrayers who stabbed her in the back. She begins to piece together the puzzle of Park Min-hwan and Jung Soo-min’s marriage, which she initially set as her goal, by ensuring that Park Min-hwan serves Jung Soo-min’s school lunch tray instead of herself, revealing Jung Soo-min’s lies at a high school reunion with a completely changed appearance, rejecting Jung Soo-min’s proposal to take over the project she had planned, and causing a scene at the engagement ceremony between Park Min-hwan and Jung Soo-min, even loudly exposing their affair at work.

Yu Ji-hyuk (played by Na In-woo) also regrets not being able to confess his love for Kang Ji-won and becomes her ally when he regresses.

Numerous successes and failures of dramas based on webtoons have followed. Then, where does the success of “Marry My Husband,” which steadily increased its viewership from 5.2% in the first episode to 10.7% in the tenth episode, come from?

Although it is too early to conclude as the drama is still airing (“The Last Empress” ended with a whimper), there is plenty of reason to explore what factors are behind the enthusiastic response.

Firstly, it’s the combination of actors such as Park Min-young, Lee Yi-kyung, Song Ha-yoon, and Na In-woo. The relationship and ensemble of the four characters, who deceive and deceive each other, are the key points of “Marry My Husband.”

Lee Yi-kyung, who plays Park Min-hwan, who outwardly seems diligent and cherishes his lover but actually engages in verbal and physical abuse, erases his deeply ingrained image and replaces it with a new villainous persona.

What about Song Ha-yoon, who plays Jung Soo-min, who uses Kang Ji-won, who unconditionally obeys her words, to take care of her chores? Those who remember the innocent and naive Baek Seol-hee from “Fight My Way” (2017), who would rather press than ask uncomfortable questions, may rediscover Song Ha-yoon. Her sarcastic tone of “Our Ji-won” and the way she condescendingly praises Kang Ji-won for doing her favor are in line with the webtoon and its spin-off.

Park Min-young, who plays the protagonist Kang Ji-won, delivers somewhat cartoonish and exaggerated lines like “Congratulations. You’ve carefully collected the trash I threw away” and “Where is the birdie that flew away making such a big noise?” without making them sound childish. She differentiates herself both physically and mentally from her past when she received a terminal diagnosis due to cancer and decided to take revenge, while also bringing about significant changes to her appearance.

Perhaps it was Park Min-young’s portrayal that made it possible for Kang Ji-won to hide her emotions in front of the two and soothe them with submissive behavior, only to explode later.

Na In-woo, who was full of playful energy in KBS’s entertainment program “1 Night 2 Days,” gained maturity through his role as Yu Ji-hyuk. He expresses concern as he watches over Kang Ji-won like her bodyguard and boldly jumps into danger, speaking volumes with his affectionate gaze and every word in his low voice.

The synchronization of the actors also plays a role, but the placement of episodes at appropriate times also contributes significantly. It accelerates the development of the story, which can be extended to 16 episodes. Of course, there may be some skepticism about the scene where Kang Ji-won and Yu Ji-hyuk find out they are regressors while listening to a BTS‘s song in Episode 6, but most of the effort seems to be focused on making the scenes as similar to the webtoon as possible.

It feels like an attempt to balance the conflict between existing fans who have already seen the original and new viewers, which is the destiny of dramas based on original webtoons.

Along with original content, webtoon-based dramas have shown considerable success over the past year. From Netflix’s “Mask Girl,” based on the webtoon by Story Maemi and Art Huisae, to Disney+’s “Vigilante,” based on the webtoon by Story CRG and Art Kim Kyu-sam, and “Moving” by Kang Pool, many successes have been achieved.

The commonality among these works is that they add the thoughts of secondary creators without undermining the centrality of the original creators.

“Mask Girl” focused on Kim Mo-mi’s (played by Lee Han-byeol, Nana, and Ko Hyun-jung) distorted maternal love due to appearance complex, while “Vigilante” delved into why police academy student Kim Ji-yong (played by Nam Joo-hyuk) had no choice but to get involved in that situation and the relationships between Jo Heon (played by Yoo Ji-tae), Jo Kang-heon (played by Lee Joon-hyuk), and Choi Mi-rye (played by Kim So-jin).

“Moving” focused on the story of the generations rather than the individual abilities of Kim Bong-seok (played by Lee Jung-ha) and Jang Hee-soo (played by Go Youn-jung).

Comparing webtoons and dramas is the charm of these contents. Director Lee Chang-hee of Netflix’s “A Killer’s Paradox” (2024), based on the webtoon of the same name by Kkoma Bi, said, “At first, I thought it wouldn’t be easy to adapt and visualize.” The webtoon for “A Killer’s Paradox,” which will be released on February 9th, was expressed in a cute drawing style despite its shocking content, which made it difficult to adapt.

Along with “Marry My Husband,” various contents to be released in the future will captivate viewers in what direction.

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