Is Hellbound Based on an Anime, Comic, or Manga?

Hellbound was an animated short film and a webtoon before becoming a live-action Netflix series.

Supernatural monsters burn a man to death in Netflix's Hellbound
Executor Photo: Netflix

Hellbound has an interesting story history, as the world of the supernatural horror series appeared in two previous incarnations prior to its birth as a six-part Netflix series: an animated short film released in two parts and a Naver webtoon. The former does not follow the same story as the Netflix series, but the webtoon does, with some frames from the online comic recreated almost exactly as is in the drama. It’s cool to see creator Yeon Sang-ho revisit this story-world at different points in his career. Let’s talk about the inspiration for and earlier incarnations of Hellbound

Where to Watch the Hellbound Animated Short Film

Sang-ho first visited the world of Hellbound in his early-naughts animated short film 지옥: 두개의 삶, or The Hell (Two Kinds of Life). (Part I was made in 2003 and Part II was made in 2006.) The 11-minute rotoscope short follows two different people who are visited by angels, who tell them of their impending deaths and where they will end up afterwards. One character is bound for hell, and the other for heaven; the two separate parts follow their struggles with their respective death sentences. Like Hellbound, the animation includes some gruesome imagery, though interestingly the monsters in the short are much more human-like (though still very terrifying) as compared to their Hulk-like forms in the recently released live-action version.

Thus far, there isn’t a great way to watch the naughts-era animation. At the time of this writing, the short film is available to watch on YouTube (don’t forget to click on the “CC” button to turn on English subtitles) in four parts. (It is not an official upload, but Yeon Sang-ho mentions it in this interview as the only place he knows of to view the short, so…)

Where to Read the Hellbound Webtoon

The more well-known previous incarnation of Hellbound is a webtoon, a form of online comic that is very popular in Korea. If you watch K-dramas, you’ve probably watched multiple series that were adapted from webtoon source material. Hellbound is one such drama, and if you’re very into the drama, then it is more than worth reading the source material for comparison’s sake.

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Unlike many K-dramas adapted from webtoons, the Hellbound webtoon has the same creator as the Hellbound TV series. Yeon Sang-ho co-wrote the 2019 Naver webtoon with illustrator Choi Kyu-Seok, and it reads like a storyboard version of the live-action adaptation, so similar are they in how the story is told. You can see just closely some of the comic frames are to the shots in the live-action adaptation in the tweet below…

The Hellbound comic is available to read (without English subtitles) via Webtoon, which has both desktop and mobile versions. (I recommend using mobile, as the single-strip format is particularly easy to use with a touch-scrolling function.) If you don’t feel like reading the webcomic in Korean, Dark Horse has a physical version of the comic with translations from Danny Lim slated for a December 8th release. You can pre-order the print edition here.