In a time of reboots, remakes and sequels, Wattpad Webtoon is aiming to bring more original stories to Hollywood and counter that franchise bloat. As Wattpad Webtoon Studios president Aron Levitz tells Variety, the goal is to show production banners and media platforms that loyal webcomic and series fans will tune in to their TV adaptations of those titles. And so far, it’s working.
The Webtoon-adapted K-drama “Sweet Home” and Wattpad-originated young adult film series “The Kissing Booth,” both on Netflix, has given the company an early boost in making Hollywood inroads by showing the power of IP from each platform. And now, the recent hire of former Fox Entertainment and AMC Entertainment president David Madden as head of global entertainment is another example of the company’s move to further ramp up its entertainment industry presence.
“We’re better and stronger with two massive IP libraries, united with tons of stories and over 166 million people around the world coming to create, interact, and engage on our platforms monthly,” Levitz said.
Combined, Wattpad Webtoon Studios has more than 100 on-screen and publishing projects in development or production. The studio division of Wattpad — the original story platform best known for its wide array of webnovels — and Webtoon, the original webcomics platform, joined forces soon after South Korean internet conglomerate Naver acquired both platforms in May 2021.
By June, Naver had committed $100 million to the global multi-format studio umbrella to develop and produce fan and data-driven TV shows, films, and books.
“Often, the traditional industry doesn’t allow new names in storytelling to come through,” said Levitz, who had been with Wattpad since 2017. The exec, who focused on democratizing how new literary talent was being discovered and supported inside the company, was tapped to head the merger of Wattpad and Webtoon’s studio divisions last summer.
“It is wonderful that I can work with a diverse set of writers from around the world who are telling the stories they want to tell,” Levitz added.
Wattpad Webtoon Studios’ story-to-screen projects already in production include “Float,” starring Robbie Amell (“Upload”) and Andrea Bang (“Kim’s Convenience”) with Lionsgate; “The QB Bad Boy and Me” starring TikTok sensation Noah Beck with Creator Plus; “Perfect Addiction,” produced by Jeremy Bolt at JB Pictures and Constantin Film’s Robert Kulze; “GremoryLand” with Roy Lee’s Vertigo Entertainment; and “Lore Olympus,” a Webtoon comic with over a billion views, with The Jim Henson Company.
In addition, Wattpad Webtoon Studios has more television and movie content cooking with creative partners Paramount Global, Fremantle and the Leone Film Group, among others.
The studio umbrella has already seen the fruits of its labor with the adaptation of Ariana Godoy’s Wattpad Spanish-language YA romance novel “A través de mi ventana” (“Through My Window”) on Netflix. Starring Clara Galle, Julio Peña Fernández, and Guillermo Lasheras, the film soared to the streamer’s Top 10 rank of non-English global films for three months after its February 2022 premiere. Netflix picked the movie up for two more sequels, which have already begun filming.
“Original content has swelled with the evolution of the Internet and the mobile format,” said Ken Kim, chief executive officer of Webtoon Entertainment. “By embracing that wave, we have created equity for creators everywhere and have made it a healthy and comfortable place for everyone. That diversity has been the origination of market acceptance.”
Adapting IP from Wattpad and Webtoon into streaming series and movies was a natural evolution for both companies, each of which had already successfully dipped into the stories-to-screen space separately or seen the impact of IP from their platforms become major success stories.
“The Kissing Booth,” was adapted by Netflix and Komixx Entertainment into a film trilogy starring Joey King, Jacob Elordi, and Taylor Zakhar Perez from Beth Reekles’ Wattpad novel of the same name, starting with the first installment in 2018. Hulu’s “Light as a Feather,” based on the Wattpad thriller by Zoe Aarsen and produced by AwesomenessTV, Wattpad Studios and Gramnet, was nominated for ten Daytime Emmy Awards over its two-season stretch on the streamer between October 2018 and October 2019.
“There are already millions of people who are waiting to watch adaptations,” Kim added. “I think that is part of the content evolution that will continue to happen. In Asia, we’ve already become a famous content platform with a major push for adaptation.”
Webtoon’s existing partnership with anime, manga and dorama distributor Crunchyroll, for instance, has birthed highly-rated shows based on titles from its platform, such as “Noblesse,” “The God of High School” and “Tower of God.”
Netflix apocalyptic K-drama “Sweet Home” debuted in December 2020. The Webtoon-originated “Sweet Home” was renewed for two more seasons after 22 million subscribers viewed it in the first month of its release. “Sweet Home” became the streamer’s first-ever original South Korean series to make it to the Top 10 trending ranks in the U.S. (peaking, at one point, at No. 3) and was in the Top 10 in over 70 countries.
“I think there is power in stories that are interesting and creative,” Kim said, noting that viewers worldwide are hungry for wholly original content, whether that be animated or live-action shows and films based on Webtoon or Wattpad’s extensive libraries.
Kim and Levitz (along with the legions of readers eager to see their favorite webcomic or story come to life) believe that integrating both studio divisions into one and leveraging fan loyalty has unlocked the full Hollywood potential of the company’s portfolios.