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BTS-inspired webtoon '7FATES: CHAKHO' is making waves, but what is 'chakho'?
As many people had expected, the BTS-inspired webtoon, "7FATES: CHAKHO," turned out to be an instant hit, with the digital comic exceeding 15 million views only two days after its release on Jan. 15. These views amount to the highest record for any new webtoon unveiled by Korea's online portal Naver.

"7FATES: CHAKHO," which is available in 10 different languages, including English, German and Spanish, has been garnering positive reviews worldwide, scoring a 9.91 rating on Naver Webtoon's global service platform as of Monday. Although some fans are reacting negatively to the webtoon and criticizing BTS's management company, HYBE, for its "excessive use" of BTS's intellectual property, others are showing their support for the digital comic, praising its gripping story and eye-catching drawing style.

"7FATES: CHAKHO" is an urban fantasy story that stars seven BTS members as fictional characters. It revolves around seven monster hunters called "chakho," who join forces to avenge their loved ones. HYBE General Manager Hwangbo Sang-woo said in an online briefing in November that the title has interpreted a Korean folktale in its distinctive way, bringing life to a new story.

As "7FATES: CHAKHO" gains global traction, numerous people abroad seem to wonder what exactly "chakho" is and why its name appears so frequently in other Korean content, such as Netflix's hit zombie series, "Kingdom," penned by star screenwriter Kim Eun-hee.

The BTS-inspired webtoon, '7FATES: CHAKHO' / Courtesy of Naver Webtoon
Tigers inside a zoo in Gwangju / Newsis

The webtoon's name, "chakho," comes from the word, "chakhogapsa," used during the 1392-1910 Joseon Kingdom, and refers to a group of professional tiger hunters formed in 1421 by King Sejong, the inventor of the Korean alphabet, Hangeul. The "chakhogapsa" was initially made up of only 20 fearless hunters, but its number reportedly surged to 440 during King Seongjong's rule in 1469-1494.

The role of the "chakho" was crucial, as numerous people were attacked and killed by the majestic felines in the past. According to the Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty ― the annual records of state affairs during the Dynasty, listed in UNESCO's Memory of the World registry ― tigers appeared in front of people 937 times between 1392 and 1863, injuring 3,989 people.

According to the authors of "The Jobs in Korean History" (official English title) ― published by Minumsa in 2020 ― the Joseon Kingdom began to see a large population of tigers after it restricted people from going into mountains and cutting down pine trees to secure timber resources for the kingdom.

"The forests, which were rarely visited by people, naturally became the perfect land for wild animals to flourish in," the book reads.

So, the Joseon king singled out some of the most courageous and skillful hunters and trained them for years to have them hunt down these tigers. Although tigers were long regarded as sacred animals to the people of Joseon, the kingdom could not let them continue to threaten the lives of its people.

The hunters received rewards based on the size of the tigers and the order in which they attacked them. The first person to attack a tiger won the biggest prize, and those who gave critical hits to the creatures sometimes received their fur as a reward.

"But nothing is worth more than one's life," the book added. "The reason that these hunters risked their lives was to protect the country and its people."

However, as the price of tiger fur spiked, civilian hunters began to spring up as well. Their emergence not only caused the number of wild tigers to fall, but also led to the disappearance of the "chakho." In fact, the last capture of a tiger in the wild on the Korean Peninsula was in Mount Daedeok in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, in 1921.
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