‘The Ramparts of Ice’ Is a Game Changer of Webtoon-Origin Manga

©Kocha Agasawa/SHUEISHA
The cover of the first volume of “Kori no Joheki” (“The Ramparts of Ice”) by Kocha Agasawa published by Shueisha Inc.

Kori no Joheki (The Ramparts of Ice)
by Kocha Agasawa (Shueisha)

I like to read all kinds of manga, but I’ve never really gotten into webtoons. Originating in South Korea, webtoons are basically synonymous with “vertically scrolling manga” that are read on smartphones.

Webtoons are often mentioned in business newspapers, with articles along the lines of “Vertical scrolling, not horizontal reading, is now the global standard,” and “Japan is lagging behind in this field.” Yes, I know that sales of e-manga account for more than half of the manga market, and that the webtoons category in particular is showing rapid growth. I also acknowledge that it is an important new genre.

So, why don’t I like them so much? The reason is simple: I don’t find them interesting or entertaining. I’ve seen articles offering commentary on the webtoon market, but I’ve never seen a report that passionately discusses any webtoon work itself.

Having said that, I have finally encountered a webtoon that I find amusing. “Kori no Joheki” (“The Ramparts of Ice”) is what I will discuss today.

I read it first in book form, turning the pages to read it horizontally. The original webtoon version was drawn so it could be read by scrolling vertically. To make the book-form edition, the frames were reconstructed so that it could be read horizontally without trouble. Now both versions are available, which is quite rare.

The story has two lead characters, high school girls Koyuki and Miki. Koyuki comes across as ice-cold, and Miki appears to be cheerful and popular. They are best friends, and only they know that their true personalities are completely different from how they appear.

When two high school boys, also with opposite personalities, become involved with the two girls, a complicated romance unfolds among the four. Nothing flashy happens in this psychological drama that delves into the subtle sentiments of the four. But this indeed is what makes this manga a compelling read.

After reading the book version, I also read the webtoon version and felt that the essence of what makes this manga so interesting was maintained in both. It should be emphasized that making a horizontally-read book-style version from a vertically-scrolled webtoon is by no means easy. Looking at both versions of “The Ramparts of Ice,” I found that the frame structures are fundamentally different and the frames have been extensively redrawn. This must have taken a lot of time and effort.

The author, Kocha Agasawa, is probably better known for the rom-com manga “Seihantaina Kimi to Boku” (“You and I are Polar Opposites”), which is currently being serialized in Shonen Jump +, an online manga site provided by Shueisha Inc. This horizontal, page-turning manga is Agasawa’s second work as a pro. Its success led to the rediscovery and eventual publication in book form of “The Ramparts of Ice,” Agasawa’s debut work.

“The Ramparts of Ice” must be quite unique in the world of webtoons, major titles of which are mainly created in a group production system. The tasks of writing the scenario, drawing characters, drawing backgrounds, coloring and so on are divided and assigned to different individuals to mass produce works. I have my doubts about whether such a system can produce interesting manga. The reason why “The Ramparts of Ice” is so gripping is because the author’s individuality comes to the fore.

“If it were not for a webtoon, I wouldn’t have been able to make my debut,” says Agasawa. A webtoon’s frame structure is simple, making it easier for amateurs to draw and lowering the hurdles to enter this field, thereby leading to the discovery of new talent for horizontally-read manga. This synergistic effect deserves special attention.

I think that webtoons will develop into something that is similar to manga but not exactly the same. It may become a separate genre, in a similar way to the relationship between manga and anime. Some people lump webtoons and traditional manga together and say, “Horizontal reading is outdated; vertical reading is the global standard.” I would firmly respond and say that they are completely off target.