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Some thoughts on paid Chinese webtoons


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For about 2 years now, I've been regularly reading Chinese webtoons (条漫). The vast majority of webtoons are free, and like everyone else, I like free content so I've just been reading free webtoons for most of this time. But last month, I got curious enough to explore the world of premium Chinese webtoons (the kind that you have to pay real money to read). There are probably a lot of sites and apps that have premium webtoons, but the only one that seems to work well in North America is the 快看漫画 app for iOS. Payment goes through the Apple App Store, which is a safe and reliable app store that I've used many times before (the prime example being to purchase the iOS version of Pleco).


One thing I should explain about premium webtoons--in most cases, the first several chapters are completely free to read. And in many cases, you can keep reading many (even most) of the chapters by watching 30-second ads before each chapter (note that you can only read a maximum of 4 chapters this way). In some cases, you only need to shell out money for the last 10-20 chapters.


When you have to pay, the primary way is to use KK coins, the in-app virtual currency. You obtain KK coins by either subscribing to an auto-renewing VIP membership or you can purchase a bundle of KK coins. As of this writing, a VIP membership costs $2.00 per month and 600 KK coins cost $1.00 per month. VIP membership allows you claim to 20 coins per day, 300 coins per week, and 500 coins every month (when auto-renewal happens). VIP status also gives you an automatic discount on chapters that require KK coins (for example, a chapter that normally costs 68 coins is lowered to 58 coins). If you read a lot or read relatively quickly, VIP membership is a better deal than buying coins outright.


With all that out of the way, you have to go out and find some premium webtoons to read. The one that I especially wanted to try was Moving, a translated work by famous Korean webtoon artist Kang Full*. The first 8 chapters were great, and I was willing to pay to read the rest of the story. Unfortunately, about 3/4 of the way in, the writing really jumped the shark and the last few chapters were a hot mess. This experience repeated itself to some extent with some other premium webtoons that I tried. Basically, the pattern seems to be to hook readers in with some exceptional artwork or writing in the opening chapters, then phone it in as the series drags on or just fail to deliver on a promising setup.


In the end, the only premium webtoon that I really liked from start to finish was 面王, a cooking-centric wuxia series (I should write a full review of it sometime). But note that you can read 200+ chapters of this series for free before needing to pay for the final chapters. (The only knock against this series was that the creator stopped making it before giving it a proper ending, but it doesn't negate the enjoyment that I got from reading almost 250 chapters.)


My conclusion is that premium webtoons mostly aren't worth it. Generally speaking, they are more polished than free webtoons, with better artwork, lettering, and longer chapters, but the quality can be very inconsistent after the initial chapters. Since there are a lot of good free webtoons out there, there's not much reason to waste your money on premium webtoons. A possible exception is if you find a premium webtoon you like that lets you read most of its chapters for free and only requires you to pay for the last chapters.


* Despite the disppointment of Moving, Kang Full's work does deserve attention. His 魔女 (no longer online but available in print) is one of the best works of science fiction I have read in the past few years (this includes all media, not just comics). 照明商店 is a solid horror webtoon that is 100% free to read, although it suffers from a somewhat weak (but not horrible) ending.

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