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Korea’s homegrown characters going global

Kakao Friends

Korea’s home-grown characters are gaining increasing popularity abroad, buoyed by the country’s advanced information technology and the increased popularity of hallyu.

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The Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) estimates Korea’s character industry will rake in 13.7 trillion won (US$11.9 billion) in total sales this year, up 8.2 percent from 12.7 trillion won the previous year.

Along with the industry-wide growth, exports are expected to reach US$770 million in 2019, up 8 percent from US$710 million the prior year.

“The character industry is seeing robust growth thanks to increasing exports and domestic consumption,” a KOCCA official said.

“VR, AR and mobile platforms, such as YouTube, social media and games, are pushing the market to develop new characters.”

Until the mid-1990s, the character industry was dominated by Western cartoon characters such as Disney although there were some popular Korean cartoons including Dooly the Little Dinosaur.

By the early 2000s, a wide variety of Japanese characters, including Jjanggu the Unhelpable, Digimon and Dragon Ball, enjoyed wild popularity here.

It was in 2003 when the industry saw the potential in domestic characters with the introduction of the Pororo the Little Penguin, which became the most popular animated character among young children.

Now the industry is led by characters from mobile application services such as Kakao Talk and Line.

There are currently 25 character stores for Kakao Friends nationwide, while its rival Line has 21 character stores in Korea and over 120 stores in 11 countries.

Line Friends has launched numerous collaborations with popular brands including Danish audio brand Bang & Olufsen, German stationary brand LAMY and Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi.

Riding on the popularity of K-pop superstars, it also created BTS-inspired characters called the BT21 figures.

The BT21 figures ― Tata, Van, RJ, Chimmy, Cooky, Shooky, Mang and Koya ― are each associated with one member of BTS as well as their fandom ARMY.

Meanwhile, Kakao IX has teamed up with cosmetics brand The Face Shop, global drink bottle maker Thermos, and tech accessory brand Logitech.

“We used a localization strategy to target Japan, which includes introduction of Japanese limited edition products,” a Kakao IX official said. “In addition, we are seeking to collaborate with renowned Japanese brands and open pop-up stores to attract young customers.”

Experts attribute the success of Korean characters appealing storyline and characterization.

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“The story component is extremely important. Characterization has become richer and deeper,” said Ha Jae-keun, a culture critic. “The fact that each character has a distinctive personality has made them more appealing to the global market.”

(Source: The Korea Times)