Monday, 25 February 2008

GUEST POST: Top 5 Most Wanted Korean Toys

In the world of Korean toy collecting, there is a hierarchy or a most desired list. What’s that you say? "I didn’t even know there were Korean toy collectors let alone desirable Korean toys!" Well, desirability does depend entirely on personal taste, but rest assured, South Korean manufacturers have made some really bright and fantastical plastic eye-candy over the years.

Yeah, that’s right. We’re talking plastic. Macho robo-plastic. Many hardcore toy collectors can only get excited over die cast stuff, and that usually means the Japanese made toys, but I think the plastic stuff that came out of South Korea during the ‘pali-pali’ (rush-rush or hurry-hurry) development period from the 70’s to the early 90’s tells far more stories and is infinitely more revealing.

Archaeologists love finding toys from bygone civilizations because the toys can reveal much. The more advanced and technological the toy, the more advanced the society and culture. When it comes to toys from the 'pali-pali era', we’re looking at an old culture embracing the new by leaping into the industrial era. You’re also glimpsing South Korea’s first efforts at embracing the technological. Heck, might sound like bunk to read this, but you gotta remember that Samsung is now the worlds biggest electronic consumer goods maker after knocking Sony from that spot in 2006. South Korea’s economic miracle is mirrored in its animation industry and the history of Korean animation is mirrored in its toys. Okay, don’t wanna bore you too much.

For now, let’s focus on some of the most desirable toys ever made in South Korea. Feel free to disagree and argue the merits of one over another if you want.


5. Superman Knock-Off. Coming in at number 5 on the list, I place the great knock-off of Superman made by the Hyundai Tongsan Company. Now, Hyundai Tongsan were great in that they made the most lavish and oversized boxes for what were often, somewhat larger than normal toys--these guys here come in at around 45cm in height. Hyundai Tongsan, with their stolen image of either Duey or Luey (the green hatted one), made bootlegs of just about anything South Korean kids were watching which really adds to their desirability. Heck, I’d rather have a badboy bootleg than some sterile approved toy merchandise any day.

Superman and Atom

There were three characters in this series (Atom, Ultraman and Superman) and the Ultraman is still to be found on the shelves of some Moombangoo (toy store/stationary stores) in the outer provinces. The thing that makes them so desirable is that they were the same body mould with different heads/color scheme applied to each figure. This meant that things didn’t fit--so Atom (or Astroboy if you wish) has feet, a huge round melon head and a bulging groin! The superman is arguably the rarest because for some reason the plastic quality on the Supermen was very poor and they crumble to bits in the box.

4. Taekwon V 90: jumbo sized with all the extras. This toy is really quite desirable and has lured a few collectors of Japanese toys over just because of the many parts that it came with. I sold a few of these a few years back for around U.S. $300 each but I’d bet they would fetch quite a bit more now as I recently parted with this smaller version pictured here for the same price.

Robot Taekwon V 90

Taekwon V is arguably the most important Korean cartoon character ever created and while this robot is a latter version from around 1990, anything to do with the Taekwon V series of films is incredibly collectable and desirable within South Korea.

King of the Kings

3. King of the Kings. One of only 4 Jumbo Machinders known to have ever been made in South Korea (yes, there is a variant of this guy and then there’s the Go Lion). What makes this guy desirable is that he has Taekwon V styled horns/helmet slapped onto a Japanese styled God Sigma robot character toy. Current estimates value him at around $600 U.S. – that’s about $10 per centimeter in height.2. Super Taekwon V (pink box). Whew, hold your breath here, because you won’t believe what the last one of these was listed at on Korean ebay--a staggering 5 million Won --approximately 5K U.S.! Yep, granted the toy collecting community screamed that the seller was ‘pabo’ (fool), and other colorful phrases denoting he was living in a dreamland, but these have definitely sold before for around the 2 million won mark. Why? Once again it goes back to being a Taekwon V toy. Anything Taekwon V or Wooroemae in South Korea is collectable and with this, you’re looking at one of the first official toys of Taekwon V ever made. Taekwon V mania was absolutely huge in the late 70’s in South Korea and the mania continues to this day.Unfortunately, I’ve lost the picture of the pink box Super Taekwon V toy. This Super Taekwon V toy is from the same era and approaching the same price now. This picture is from recent gallery display in London/New York hosted by the Korea Society.

1. Korean made Jumbo Machinder circa 1975-76. The great lost treasure--heck, it’s so rare I wouldn’t dare even suggest a price. Nobody has seen one of these since the 1970’s.It stands at 65cm tall and is really a knock off Grandizer character, but heck, only one hardcore Taekwon V fan in Seoul claims to have owned one of these as a kid--he showed me a picture of him and his Taekwon V bicycle from when he was about 8 years old in Seoul in 76 and he then explained that he owned this jumbo toy as a child as well. I heard another Korean toy collector sigh under his breath after viewing the picture of said collector with original Taekwon V bicycle, words to the effect of ‘he was spoilt.’

Guest Post by: Alex Powell


Midodok: I would like to thank Alex for contributing the very first guest post here on Korea & Animation. Alex is an avid collector of Korean animation memorabilia and really knows his stuff! He is also a frequent commenter here who often leaves very insightful contributions in the comments section (check them out!).


Alex in Hoju said...

Heck, I say heck far too much!

I forget to mention in this article that the toy exhibition in London and New York by the Korea Society was from the collection of Kim Tae Hyeon.
I used to work for a publisher in Seoul and Tae Hyeon had a book on Korean toys published through them. Tae Hyeon once bought an original 1970's Evil Knievel stunt cycle from me at the toy auctions that are held once a month in Toto's in Insadong.

If anyone is interested in attending the toy auctions in Insadong it's best to go in and explain you want to attend and find out the night it's held on as they're a fairly tight knit community. They really love it when you sell old Japanese or Western toys but can be defensive when it comes to selling original Taekwon V toys.
You'll also meet a lot of crazy toy collectors and even some animators that attend the auctions!

Helly said...

Very cool post! Is there a big market for vintage Korean toys in the US?

Alex in Hoju said...

Hey Helly,
Well, it depends on the character of the toy- the most desired Korean knockoffs in the states are the Transformers boots from the 80's and then the Spiderman knockoffs while the Japanese love Mazinger bootlegs and anything Devilman. Believe me- the Japanese Devilman collectors are without a doubt, the most obsessive collectors on earth and they don't care about the cost!

It sounds like I'm a money hungry psycho when I'm not but will admit to being quite pleased after buying a 2,000Won ($2) toy in the ROK and selling it for over two hundred bucks in the states or 25,000 Yen.

Unfortunately the toy industry in South Korea has not blossomed since the 90's and has really become a provider or middleman for foreign made computer games. These days physical toys made under licence from Japan and America is all that comes out of South Korea; there's no bad boy bootlegs or much that is distinctly Korean.

So, faced with this realization following a visit to Sonokong toys in South Korea (that's the biggest Korean toy company) and after doing a lot of research for some magazine articles around 2002, I decided to trade all of my bootleg and vintage Korean toys (I had around 350 at one stage) for original Korean animated film posters.
Why? because the topic garners more interest from a wider demograph than Korean toys do.

Yes, even traded a pink box Taekwon V toy for a single original poster- a very rare poster of...
Korean Wonder Woman meets the Starship Enterprise!!

Jason Pi said...

Hi Alex,

Are you the same Alex who posted on and wrote the super7 article?

I am a huge Korean bootleg toy collector and was wondering if there was any way of ordering Tae Hyeon's book and shipping to america?

Alex in Hoju said...

Hey Jason,
Oh, somebody remembers! Ahh, the old days when scrounging for bootlegs was simpler- like finding lost treasure in your neighborhood.

Well, I'm going to buy a few thousand dollars worth of old Korean toys in 2009 for a new project coming up in 2010. I'll ask around and grab a couple of used copies of the book then but Tae Hyun's book hasn't been in print for over a decade now and that publisher probably wouldn't do another run of the books.

Mid 2009 is the soonest I can lay my hands on some used copies of it.

Good to hear from you. You keepin busy? What cool bootlegs do you have now?


Jason Pi said...

Hi Alex,

Great, thanks a lot! I love any literature I can get my hands on.

Sounds like you are definitely going to be back in Korea in 2009, that’s good news for the few Korean toy collectors there are in the United States as we can definitely use a hand in getting some goodies. Right now the major online source for old toys requires bank deposits which are inconvenient for friends to do frequently.

I have started an exhaustive catalog on vintage worldwide fakes (mainly transformers)…what’s your email now? I tried “aristotlespode” awhile ago and never received a reply, I’ll link you to my new site.


justin nyc said...

hey there.. good info here. i just put up a post on a recent Korean Transformers knockoff acquisition. Atom Toys' Sonata/Bluestreak KO.

Leslie said...

If anybody is interested in a Vintage #43 Carrera Porche yellow wind up metal toy car let me know.
Not much info given on car detail.
It has STP & Shell logos & it says Flying Lion on hood & MTU Made in Korea on back.

Anonymous said...

None of these toys look remotely like Taekwon V ... especially not the Voltron bootleg.

raideen said...

Alex, I purchased some toys through you before....are you still doing the middleman shuffle? I have list from Toysee! Let me know man.

Mike Parisi said...

Hi Mike,
Wow! Long time. Well, I'm in Australia now, about to do a Ph.D. in Creative Media focusing on Korean knockoff animation.

I'll be going back to South Korea within the next two years for a month to chase up interviews and stuff- I could chase up a couple of toys but I don't know about big boxed orders from Toysee as it would be too time consuming.
If you've got a lone must-have then yeah, I'll pursue it but for big-sized orders it's a definite no.
Drop me a line to and I'll let you know when I'm going to go.
Good to hear from you though.


FLIGHT815 said...

Not sure if anyone is checking this site anymore, but I found this article while looking up Robot Taekwon V stuff.

Could anyone give me tips or recommendations on where I could find some cool old toys in Korea?

I just started getting into retro Korean animation and it would be cool to have some toys to go along with my DVDs.

Michael Parisi said...

I have a nice selection for sale, email me at

Unknown said...

Wow, I just found out your lovely blogs what I have been looking for. It's amazing. Is there any opportunity to get Kong of the King and other Taekwon V items what you have posted as the above? Please. That's my dream!!!

Steven Kim said...

Wow, I just found out your lovely blogs what I have been looking for. It's amazing. Is there any opportunity to get Kong of the King and other Taekwon V items what you have posted as the above? Please. That's my dream!!!