Yen Press launched its Korean comics imprint Ize Press in 2022 (see “Yen Doubles Down on Korean Webtoons”), a year and a half after it started publishing the best-selling manhwa Solo Leveling. ICv2 reached out to Yen Press Sales and Marketing Director Mark DeVera to get his take on publishing Korean webtoons for the English-language market.

It’s been a year and a half, roughly, since Ize Press launched. What have you learned so far from the experience?
We’ve learned a lot! On one hand, we’ve seen that there continues to be incredible excitement for popular Korean comics finally being published as beautiful print books. On the other hand, we’ve seen that the category of Korean comics is like any other—there will be highs and lows with most series falling in between, a bit of a contrast from the consistent highs seen in 2021 and much of 2022. But even with this humbling lesson, the successes of new series, like Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint, and the explosive popularity of Solo Leveling show that there is still much room for growth for this category. In many ways, we’re just getting started.  

How has publishing and marketing manhwa to American audiences been different from your experiences with manga?
In terms of publishing, it is important to note that since many Korean comics are full color, there are key differences in production and timeline that differ from manga. Additionally, some of the Korean comics we are publishing are seeing their first print edition ever. For these series that do not have an original print edition, there are additional production considerations, especially as it relates to cover design and the layout of the vertical scroll web comics to a paginated form.

In terms of marketing, as important as it is to call out the print nature of our manga titles, it is even more important to call this out for our manhwa titles. Since these stories were initially published digitally, we make deliberate efforts to promote our high-quality print editions of these beloved manhwa series to their core fans.

Clearly, Solo Leveling is your most popular title, but beyond that, which titles and genres are the most popular right now?
In a year in which Solo Leveling has become a force in pop culture, I must call out action and adventure series as a successful genre in the world of Korean comics. To be even more specific, there has been much success with action series that have video game and RPG elements, as seen with Solo Leveling and other Ize Press releases, such as Overgeared, The World After the Fall, and Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint. In the greater world of media, litRPGs and other game-inspired works have become big hits in the general publishing and audiobook space. In this wider category, our series are among the most popular.

Romance also remains a big genre for manhwa. Villains Are Destined to Die was one of the two launch properties from Ize Press, and it continues to be one of our bestsellers. Other noteworthy successes include the historical romance series The Remarried Empress and the office romance A Business Proposal. Romance has also been a key genre in the world of manga, but so far, it has been even more significant and prevalent in the world of manhwa.

You recently announced that Ize has licensed Semantic Error, and the creator will be coming to New York Comic Con, which is a first. What’s so special about this series, and what is the significance of Angy being an official guest at NYCC?
Semantic Error is a series that is not just one of the biggest Boys Love properties in Korea—it is one of the most beloved Boys Love properties in the world, as seen with the success of the web comic and all the awards won by the live action-drama adaptation. In regard to the Semantic Error artist Angy attending New York Comic Con, that show has become an important one for Korean comics. The Korean Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) has attended the show to promote manhwa since 2021. Our booth at New York Comic Con 2022 was where we sold our very first Ize Press books, representing the official launch of the imprint. Bringing Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint artist Sleepy-C to last year’s Anime NYC was an amazing experience for everyone involved—artist, fans, and Ize Press included. Why not replicate that experience at New York Comic Con, a convention that has become a special one for Ize Press and Korean comics these past few years?

About how many books are you publishing per year, in terms of series and individual volumes, and how will that change in the next few years – what are your plans looking ahead?
We will end this year having published 88 titles, which more than doubles the 40 titles we published in 2023. On a series level, we will have launched 14 new properties, which is slightly higher than the 10 from last year. With many of our series ongoing, we anticipate 2025’s title count to at least remain consistent with this year and to possibly grow, especially if the fans continue to show a high level of hunger and excitement for our books.

What qualities do you look for when you are looking for new titles to publish?
First and foremost, we look for series that are ripe for print publication. There are many amazing Korean comics that have been published digitally, impressive in both story and illustration. But among those many great series, there are some that we feel provide a special experience in their print incarnation. Fans already acquainted with our stories greatly appreciate how fresh and exciting it is to read them in their paginated form, if even subconsciously. New fans reading our books get to enjoy some of the most brilliant comics being printed today.

Second, we look to see what series fans have been most passionate about. With many beloved Korean comics having yet to see their print debut, we want to prioritize the series that longtime readers have been most eager to finally collect.

What about series length – do you find there is a “sweet spot” for the number of volumes in a manhwa series?
On one hand, I can say that is a hard question to answer since many of the Korean webcomics that have been physically published in recent years have yet to see their print release conclude. On the other hand, I can give the cop out answer and say that it depends! We feel that a three-volume series, like The Horizon, was perfect for the story that it was telling, but we’re sure that many Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint fans would love to see their favorite series go on for as long as possible.

Some of the series you have published are available in English on webtoon platforms, and some are not. How do you find that affects sales of the print volumes?
As of this writing, all of the Korean comic series published by Yen Press and Ize Press were already available in English on web comic platforms. Their popularity on those platforms was undoubtedly a big part of why we’ve seen many of them succeed in print.

What about Kdramas or anime – how do they affect sales?
One of the difficulties in figuring out the effect that Kdramas have on book sales is the fact that most of the shows were already streaming before we released our print editions. With that said, we strongly suspect that the success of A Business Proposal, a series that inspired an iconic Kdrama, and See You in My 19th Life, a series whose Netflix debut was close to our print debut, were due to the popularity of their live action adaptations. In terms of anime, we saw an increase in sales of Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke’s Mansion when the anime aired last year. This year, we saw an explosive increase in sales of Solo Leveling once its anime adaptation became the most popular show of the season. It is safe to say that anime has a very positive effect on manhwa sales, and we look forward to much more in the future!

Why do people buy print editions of comics they can read for free? What extra benefits does a print book offer?
Going back to my answer for how we decide on which series we publish, we believe there is a new and exciting experience that comes with reading these amazing stories as a printed book. Additionally, the print books published by Ize Press feature extra love and care seen with the additional treatments we give our print releases, a more faithful translation and adaptation, and exclusive editorial notes and creator comments.

What Ize Press titles do you recommend that comics retailers carry? Are there any underappreciated books you’d like to see getting more attention?
All retailers need to carry Solo Leveling, our market’s most popular Korean comic by a mile and a series that we can confidently say will sell at any store.

In terms of series we’ve debuted this year, we recommend that retailers carry The Uncanny Counter and Itaewon Class. As a supernatural action series, The Uncanny Counter possesses tropes and characteristics seen in many comic series that have become popular in our market. As a dramatic tale of revenge, Itaewon Class has wider appeal to readers looking for a brilliant-yet-realistic story filled with intrigue. Upon reading these series, it will be easy to see why they inspired two of the most popular Kdramas in recent past.

In terms of upcoming releases, one that we highly recommend is Your Letter, a standalone title releasing in July. It is a wholesome and heartwarming tale of friendship filled with magic and mystery that has one of the most eye-catching and unique art styles seen in an Ize Press release. The illustrations are both unbelievably beautiful and absolutely adorable—I want to frame every page in the book!

The last series we recommend is The Horizon by JH, a series that has been Eisner nominated in the category of Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia. JH is a master comic storyteller with the ability to portray strong emotion and intensity in his characters’ faces and an amazing sense of dramatic pacing and decompression. This was immediately apparent to Korean comic readers after we published The Boxer, but his brilliance was even more apparent with our publication of his post-apocalyptic tale The Horizon. This series is one of the most popular from Ize Press so far. It is an incredible comic that sprinkles bits of hope in a world filled with human evil that has been appreciated by a wide variety of readers—from the Korean comic fans who have known about it for years to Western comic fans who just learned about this masterpiece.

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