Kakao Friends: An Introduction to the Cutest Emojis

While deciding what to write about for this week, I kept thinking about the emoji characters from Kakao Talk, a popular messaging app in Korea similar to WhatsApp or Line.

Although it’s been nearly a year since my Fulbright grant ended and I left Korea, I think of Kakao emojis often. Only because my laptop is covered in Kakao character stickers.

Laptop with several Kakao Friends stickers and a few others

My personal favorite is Tube, the duck in the center, but we’ll get to that later.

Line might be more widely used, but Kakao is king in Korea. It’s pronounced a bit like cacao, with more emphasis on the first “ka.” Better yet, just listen to Obama pronounce it in the “Obama Talk” alert. This audio clip was pulled from a real speech and you can still use this alert today.

But the thing that distinguishes Kakao from Line is not its “Obama Talk” or its bright yellow color scheme. It’s the emojis.

Kakao Talk has the BEST emojis.

(And in case you get the two confused, we’re talking emojis here, not emoticons, which look like this: : ) or : – ( or ^_^. Emojis vs. emoticons is one of those things I look up, and then immediately forget. So this is just as much for my benefit as yours: An emoticon is text; and an emoji is a picture. It’s all explained here.)

Having awesome emojis is probably why everyone in Korea seemed to have such a strong emoji game. You can’t help but want to use the adorable Kakao Friends emojis. On top of that, these little characters each come with distinct personalities. We’ll go through them, and then you tell me what’s not to love?

 

Kakao Friends and Their Elaborate Backstories

Kakao friends characters standing in a line: Ryan, Apeach, Tube, Con & Muzi, Frodo, Neo, Jay-G

Since I first learned about Kakao friends – they were included in a workshop during my Fulbright Korea orientation – the company has revamped the character descriptions and added a new Kakao friend. I’ll include both versions for each.

 

Tube

Kakao Friends Tube

Kakao Friends Tube The cowardly duck with an angry altar ego

Yes he’s first because I’m biased. I don’t want to sway you too much, but Tube is the best. He has two main traits: his foot insecurity and his alter ego. Tube wears flippers to hide his small feet – in the first image you can see that one has fallen off. How adorable is that?

Kakao Friends Tube duck emoji falling backwards and losing one flipper

He also has a hulk-like alter ego: a green duck that breathes fire and destroys things. As a result, he gets the table flipping emoji.

Kakao Friends Angry Green Tube flipping a table with rice, soup and silverware

Muzi and Con

Kakao Friends Muzi and Con Kakao Friends Muzi and Con

Muzi is a definitely second favorite for me. He (or possibly she) is usually paired with Con, a tiny, alligator-like creature.

Kakao Friends Con sitting in office chair throwing paper airplanes

Muzi is by far the most creative character. At first glance, Muzi seems like a rabbit, but it’s actually a picked daikon  radish or damuji in Korean. Con is some sort of evil scientist who brought Muzi to life. Makes sense.

Kakao Friends Muzi and Con celebrating

When I used a Kakao Friends review game in class one day, my students were shocked to hear me use a male pronoun for Muzi. I always default to my students’ expertise on matters of Korean pop culture, so I conceded that I wasn’t sure about Muzi’s gender. In Muzi’s original bio above, the creator uses “he,” but in the updated version, the writers are careful to avoid any gendered pronouns and only use “it.”

Kakao friends Muzi with sparkly eyes holding Con

 

 

Frodo and Neo

Kakao Friends Frodo and Neo

Another pair usually grouped together, largely defined by their relationship, if you ask me. But in the revamp, they receive separate descriptions. Yay for progress!Kakao Friends Neo Bio

The Kakao Friends designers created each characters with different segments of the population in mind. And they were definitely spot on with “the couple.” Couples in Korea are a big deal, from couple outfits to the common 100-day anniversary gifts.

Kakao Friends Frodo and Neo crying and hugging Kakao Friends Frodo and Neo taking a selfie

Neo is a stylish, high-end cat. Honestly I don’t have much to say about Neo. She’s a stereotypical girly-girl But her emojis are fun.

Kakao Friends Neo doing a hair flip Kakao Friends Neo Posing in Compact Mirror

Also this Dragon Ball Z reference is excellent.

Kakao Friends Neo Super Saiyan mode

 

Kakao Friends Frodo

Frodo doesn’t have a lot going for him either; he just looks good. His emoticons cover stereotypical boyfriend stuff. Kakao Friends Frodo with bouquet of roses

Although it’s not in this description, people have also said that Frodo is a mixed breed, and therefore very sensitive to matters of birth and status. Perhaps this little detail is relatable in a society where most can trace their family history back to specific clans and regions.

Kakao Friends Frodo with heart eyes and forming heart shape with arms

Kakao Friends Frodo wearing sunglasses and trench coat in a fall breeze

Jay-G

Kakao Friends Jay-G

Woah, is this allowed? And/or racist? Jay-G seems to be a walking stereotype and his name is just too obvious of a rip-off. Fortunately in the update, designers have drawn out features besides “loves hip-hop” in the one character clearly coded as black.

Kakao Friends Jay-G

Jay-G used to be the boring wannabe rapper. He was a mole, which was interesting, but that was it. Now designers seem to be focusing more on his identity as a secret agent (who still loves hip-hop).  Kakao Friends JayG break dance

He’s the one who has interesting emojis that I never really use. I wonder if they’ll do more with this character.

Kakao Friends JayG bathtub

 

Apeach

Kakao Friends Apeach Kakao Friends ApeachHere’s a fun one. Apeach is a sassy peach who’s “not afraid to show off its backside.” And its name is literally “a peach.” Coincidentally, Apeach is another character who seemed to have gone from male to gender neutral.

Kakao Friends Apeach smiling with hearts Kakao Friends Apeach showing off backside

 

Ryan

And finally the last character is Ryan, the Kakao newbie. Ryan is the lion. The almost-rhyme/assonance is fun.

Kakao Friends Ryan

I can’t find the old version of Ryan’s backstory anywhere, so here’s this instead:

Kakao Friends Ryan King

Ryan came out sometime during my second year in Korea, so between late 2015 to early 2016. I still haven’t fully accepted him as Kakao canon. He also looks a lot like a Line emoticon character, which is questionable.

Brown Line vs Ryan Kakao

But I guess he has an okay backstory. Ryan the Lion – even though he looks more like a bear – is from Africa. Go figure. He’s insecure about not having a mane, which is kind of cute, but has already been done with Tube and his small feet.

Regardless, Ryan seems to be popular now.

Ryan cheering with glow sticks gif

Next week: A part 2 on Kakao emojis that actually ties them to my artwork.

Back to Kakao Friends: A History of Emojis in Art

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