This fall, hit K-pop bands including BTS, ENHYPHEN, and Tomorrow x Together will make their debut in bookstores and comic shops across North America—as a trio of full-color comics from IZE Press, the Korean comics imprint of Yen Press.

“As a part of our initial slate of announcements back in April 2022, when we revealed the Ize Press imprint, we have looked forward to the print release of these HYBE graphic novels for quite some time,” said Mark de Vera, sales and marketing director at Yen Press. “The Ize Press team went to great lengths to make these print editions special by adding pull-out posters, covers with special effects, and exclusive bonus content.”

Produced by South Korean entertainment company HYBE Corporation and originally released as full-color, vertical-scrolling digital comics on Webtoon, Naver’s global digital comics platform, the stories put the members of the HYBE-managed bands in fantasy, supernatural, and action/adventure settings.

“In the past decade, K-pop and webcomics have been two of Korea’s biggest cultural exports. Both are now massive global businesses, with passionate and dedicated fandoms around the world,” said David Lee, v-p of content at Webtoon. “One of the ways that K-pop and comics have both built and expanded their fandoms is by developing narrative universes. K-pop fans love to know everything about a band, its history, and the stories behind the stories for songs and albums. This process of mythologizing and building stories around artists is part of what fans want. Many comics do the same thing, building universes with arcs and casts of characters who have adventures and perhaps develop over time.”

7 Fates: Chakho will be the first out of the gate, with its first volume arriving in stores on October 24. In contrast to the upbeat, dynamic vibe of BTS’s concerts and videos, 7 Fates: Chakho was produced in collaboration with REDICE Studio, the creators of webcomic superhit Solo Leveling, and is a surprisingly dark action-fantasy story featuring the members of BTS as hunters in a dystopian world where Beom, fierce tiger-people from another dimension, threaten to destroy mankind.

The Star Seekers, a more lighthearted modern fantasy tale featuring members of Tomorrow x Together, will follow, with volume one arriving in stores on November 14. This co-production between HYBE and Webtoon, along with webcomic studios YLAB—creator of another IZE Press/Webtoon series, Jungle Juice—and ZKStudio is set in a world where top pop idols have flashy magical powers, The Star Seekers imagines the members of TxT as a band struggling on the lower tiers of the entertainment world because all five lack supernatural abilities. But an incident sets off a chain of events that unlocks each member’s dormant powers, and they must figure out how to create a new kind of synergy in their songs and as friends—and maybe save the world in the process.

Dark Moon: The Blood Altar, the third HYBE-produced graphic novel series, hits stores on December 12. Created with production assistance from webcomic studios RD (Rangddo), HENIE—creator of Webtoon romantic comedy The Hip Guy—and KIRO, Dark Moon: The Blood Altar features ENHYPHEN as students in a boarding school who try to hide their true identities as vampires, all while dealing with a gang of werewolf boys from a rival school and the arrival of a new student, a girl who has some mysterious powers and secrets of her own.

Unlike past pop/rock stars as comics characters stories—such as the infamous KISS Marvel Comics stories of the 1970s or, more recently, the Ramones meet the Archies tie-ins—the HYBE-produced webcomics don’t have the band members playing themselves as pop idols. In fact, in these stories, they’re characters with different names and backstories than their familiar onstage personas, as if they’re playing roles in a movie. For example, in 7 Fates: Chakho, the lead character, Zeha, a half-human/half-tiger demon twentysomething, is the alter-ego of BTS main vocalist Jung Kook.

The music, however, is still woven into these stories. It’s just done in a different way than usual.

Because they can be read on phones, some of the HYBE stories on Webtoon have chapters that play songs or soundtracks created by the band members that tie into the different stories’ themes or mood. Chapter 4 of 7 Fates: Chakho has “Stay Alive,” a song produced by Suga and sung by Jung Kook, playing in the background as readers scroll through a climactic fight scene between the tiger-men and humans.

Tying into the vampire themes introduced in the Dark Moon webcomic, ENHYPHEN released an EP, Dark Blood, in May 2023. With such on-theme songs as “Bite Me” and “Sacrifice (Eat Me Up)” and a music video that incorporated characters and animated scenes from the webcomic, the Dark Blood EP sold 1.1. million copies on the first day of release and entered the US Billboard charts in the top 10 upon its North American release.

So what is HYBE, and why are they creating webcomics? HYBE, previously known as Big Hit Entertainment, is the engine behind BTS’s stratospheric rise to stardom. Founded in 2005 by Bang Si-Hyuk, HYBE represents several top tier K-pop entertainers, and has grown from a South Korean talent agency into a “global entertainment lifestyle platform company” that includes its own record label, music production company, event management and concert production company, and music publishing house. Hybe Corporation is a publicly-listed company on the Korean Exchange (KRX), and by all accounts, it’s doing pretty well lately. According to an August 2023 article in Variety, HYBE Corporation reported a 29% increase in revenues to KRW 1.32 trillion ($1 billion) and a 7% increase in operating profit to KRW 134 billion ($850,000) in the first six months of 2023.

When the HYBE-Webtoon comics were first announced in November 2021, the company described the effort as a way to “expand artist-based content to include not only music, but also stories that can flexibly be applied to different types of media formats”—including webcomics, web novels, and animated clips—and release them on various entertainment platforms like Webtoon, Naver-owned webnovel site Wattpad, YouTube, and more. “Fans will be able to discover new charms of the artists through the characters they express in the new webtoon and webnovels,” an official from HYBE said in a statement. “We hope to provide fans with more diverse content so they can enjoy K-pop artists in different dimensions.”

According to Lee, “our work with HYBE has been a wonderful example of K-pop and webcomics working together to tell incredible stories and mythologies that fans have fallen in love with. For example, when 7Fates: Chakho launched on Webtoon, it hit a new record for views within two days of its global launch. These stories are helping people discover webcomics and give fans an exciting new way to imagine their favorite pop idols.”

Representatives from HYBE and Webtoon will be featured on a panel at New York Comic-Con 2023, “Making Fans the Fans of Our Content With Music and Narratives,” presumably to showcase, at least in part, these graphic novels.

Not stated explicitly, but perhaps understood by most K-Pop fans, is that these webtoon stories are also a way to keep fans engaged when bands go on hiatus. This happens more frequently with K-pop boy bands, mostly because of South Korea’s requirement that all young men aged 18-28 must enlist for stints in the military of 18-21 months. This is the case with K-pop megastars BTS, who currently have two members, Jin and J-Hope, serving their time as soldiers, with the other members—RM, Suga, Jimin, V, and Jung Kook—reportedly soon to follow. While several BTS members have released solo albums in the past year, the fact remains that it will be at least 1-2 years until all seven members can go on tour and perform together on stage again.

In the meantime, the webtoon versions of these bands’ adventures seem to be catching the eyes of BTS, ENHYPHEN, and TxT fans worldwide. In late 2021, Webtoon teased the January 2022 launch of the series with a series of short photo-comic vignettes, showing the various members of the band encountering a mysterious portal that transported them into the world of the webtoon story. When the first chapter of 7 Fates: Chakho debuted on Webtoon app worldwide, it set a site record, with 15 million views in two days.

More recently, at KCON USA, the annual K-pop fan festival and concert held this August in Los Angeles, fans eagerly put in pre-orders at the Ize Press booth for copies of 7 Fates: Chakho, Dark Moon, and The Star Seekers—months in advance of their Fall 2023 street dates.

“We were thrilled to witness the excitement for these releases live and in person when we exhibited at KCON in Los Angeles this past August,” said de Vera. “We cannot wait for many more fans to have that same excitement when they finally hold 7Fates: Chakho, The Star Seekers, and Dark Moon in their hands!”