It’s undeniable that the Korean entertainment produces high-quality content that is well-received by millions across the globe. Their drama works are exemplary and so the talented actors that they introduce to us. Here are five observed reasons why viewers are highly interested and engaged with Korean dramas:
1. K-drama explores a variety of themes.
One thing that makes Korean dramas engaging is how they explore different themes on matters of life with relevance on social issues. They integrate them into the story, allowing insights for viewers along with entertainment.
In particular, Move To Heaven (2021) explores the unusual job of trauma cleaning while contemplating life and death. The military-themed series, D.P. or Deserter Pursuit (2021) bravely tackles the struggles of new recruits and reasons why some enlistees decide to desert the army. The medical-themed series, Hospital Playlist (2021) educates viewers with medical terms, illnesses, and incorporates “life” into the incredibly busy career of doctors. The legal-themed drama, Extraordinary Attorney Woo (2022) explores a wide range of courtroom cases handled by a brilliant lawyer who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
In addition, the fantasy series, Tomorrow (2022) bravely explores the delicate topic of suicide. Mental Coach Jegal (2022) highlights sports life and what athletes experience physically and mentally. Itaewon Class (2020) talks about marketplace battles. Start-Up (2020) follows young entrepreneurs who seek career success and teaches a lot about investments. Happiness (2021) represents various human behavior in response to crisis. Today’s Webtoon (2022) tackles the highs and lows of career life. Juvenile Justice (2022) deals with teenage crimes while Through The Darkness (2022) digs deep into the minds and behavior of a serial killer through criminal profilers. The list could go on.
2. K-drama creators write original and excellent screenplays.
South Korea is gifted with great writers from webtoons to novels to TV series. K-drama writers are known to prepare hard for years in writing a good script, which includes a lot of study and research on a certain topic such as law, investments, medicine, and others in order to provide original and excellent screenplays. Aspiring drama writers attend screenwriters’ academies to get training and enhance their talent. Main writers work and discuss with assistant writers to do research, toss out ideas, give feedback, and proofread content. Some even immerse themselves into a particular job to understand the world of a certain drama character and portray reality.
Director Hwang Dong-hyuk who penned Squid Game (2021) revealed that he wrote the show’s first two episodes for six months and rewrote the full story of season 1 for more than 10 years since 2009. He spent time reading comic books on survival games and did much reflection on society’s capitalism, wins, and losses. When the show was released on Netflix, it took the world by storm for its attention-grabbing brutal adaptation of Korean traditional games with its powerful storyline that depicts humanity’s extreme competition of life. It also takes you on a journey to the often neglected facet of society—gambling and poverty, illustrating that “life is a gamble”.
Inspired by her own love story with a man who had a personality disorder, Jo Yong wrote It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (2020) to shed light on the delicate issues of mental health. The drama bravely tackles the struggles of human behavior and conveys the reality that we are all broken in different ways, thus eliminating the stigma of mental health problems in a shame-based culture. It gained popularity that even the storybooks were published by Wisdom House in 2020, listed in the Top 20 bestselling books, and translated into Brazilian Portuguese in 2021.
Award-winning writer Noh Hee-kyung is also known for creating dramas with realistic and in-depth portrayals of humanity. She wrote about social prejudice against the mentally ill in It’s Okay, That’s Love (2014) and conveyed life’s sorrows experienced by ordinary people in Our Blues (2022).
Park Ji-eun who penned the flawless masterpiece and award-winning series, Crash Landing On You (2019-2020), did a courageous yet credible dive into the most mysterious society in the world—North Korea. It was a genius idea for her to write a fated love story about a South Korean heiress and a North Korean army officer, who are hindered by political walls. She also wrote a good representaton of the contrasting culture, lifestyle, and values between the two countries.
Reply 1988 (2015-2016), written by Lee Woo-jeong attracted a huge fan base for its nostalgic experience and warm narrative about friendship, family, and first loves set in 1988. Park Hye-ryun’s Pinocchio (2014) highlights society’s corruption issues, witch-hunting practices, and irresponsible reporting of the press. Kingdom (2019-2021) written by Kim Eun-hee attracted many viewers and critics for its creative storytelling with a blend of sageuk, horror, and intriguing politics.
K-drama content also presents timely lessons with quotable lines that utter what we need, think, feel, and experience in reality. My Liberation Notes (2022) conveys the unspoken words of humanity, “I don’t know where I’m stuck but I want to break free.”
Every character in Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha (2021) represents us, reminding viewers to extend kindness to everyone we meet, “Life isn’t so fair for all of us. Some spend their whole lives on unpaved roads, while some run at full speed only to reach the edge of a cliff.”
Juvenile Justice (2022) challenges society about responsibility, “They say it takes an entire village to raise a child. In other words, a child’s life could be ruined if the entire village neglects the child.”
18 Again (2020) teaches that new beginnings happen to those who choose them, “When you regret something, that’s when everything ends. But when I thought of it as a lesson, it helped me get started again.”
Through The Darkness (2022) leaves a thought-provoking message, “If the world is responsible for creating monsters, it should share the responsibility, too.”
Twenty-Five Twenty-One (2022) inspires success, “Don’t ever forget how you earned a new opportunity. Whenever you’re having a hard time, remind yourself how difficult it was to start.“
Start-Up (2020) ignites passion and the dreamers in us to keep on going, “You’ll face many hardships while running a start-up. The only thing that keeps you going is the confidence that you’re doing what you love.”
3. K-drama creates relatable and iconic characters played by talented actors.
Another reason that Korean dramas get high engagement is the creation of relatable and iconic characters portrayed by amazingly talented actors. There are too many to mention but here are some examples:
Vincenzo Cassano is a handsome Italian lawyer and Mafia consigliere of Korean descent in Vincenzo (2021). He owns 1.5 tons of gold, adorably curses in Italian, and has a good sense of humor. Song Joong-ki definitely slayed this character, making him win the Grand Prize (Daesang) award at the 2022 APAN Star Awards.
Na Hee-do is an adorable young student and fencing prodigy in Twenty-Five Twenty-One (2022). This brave girl speaks her mind with charisma and candor. She has experienced significant loss and rejection in life yet chooses to face another day with a renewed focus on achieving her dreams. Kim Tae-ri stole everyone’s hearts by her outstanding performance and even took home Baeksang’s Best Actress and Popularity award.
Yumi in Yumi’s Cells (2021-2022) is a relatable character who goes through all kinds of relatable emotions played by multiple adorable animated cells. From heartbreak to misery to letting go and moving on, her story conveys what every woman experiences in their head, heart, sleep, even in alone moments. The character may seem simple but Kim Go-eun portrayed this with excellence, winning Best Actress at the 2022 Blue Dragon Series Awards.
Han Ji-pyeong, also known as “good boy” is a self-made investor in Start-Up (2020). He speaks with clarity and authority, and makes intelligent decisions based on logic and expertise. Although he is known to be highly critical and perfectionist at work, people depend on his great leadership and wisdom on business. Deep within him also lies a generous and warmhearted man. Kim Seonho portrayed this secondary role with excellence and even gained Hallyu popularity. He also won the Character of the Year at the 2021 Seoul International Drama Awards and Most Popular Actor at the 2021 Baeksang Arts Awards.
Although Mr. Gu is an alcoholic and mysterious man in My Liberation Notes (2022), he gained immense popularity for his outstanding performance. Ko Mun-yeong in It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (2020) was made iconic by Seo Yea-ji. Power couple, Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin, made Captain Ri and Yoon Se-Ri in Crash Landing On You (2019-2020) believable.
4. K-drama invests in high-quality elements from visual to soundtrack.
Several Korean dramas deliver good quality production value from cinematography, set design, soundtrack, costume, graphics, to editing and effects, creating a cohesive binge-watching experience.
The impressive props in Squid Game (2021), including the huge doll, colorful costumes, masks, well-designed sets, black and pink coffins, cards, maze-like corridors and stairs gained huge popularity worldwide, that a replica of the “Red Light, Green Light” doll was displayed in the Philippines. An exhibition of the game set also opened to the public in Itaewon, Seoul while a squid game store opened in Paris.
Love In The Moonlight (2016) received praise for its great production, music, and Joseon-era costumes, leading to the exhibit display of Park Bo-gum’s hanbok at Tokyo International Forum in Japan. The visually pleasing retro costumes, props, and cinematography in Snowdrop (2021-2022) also generated positive buzz. The visuals of Vincenzo (2021) and overall production of The Red Sleeve (2021-2022) are both remarkable.
The visual stortytelling in It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (2020) is so clever and artistic in a way that helps viewers better understand human woundings and nightmares of the past. The costumes are also visually gorgeous most especially Seo Yea-ji’s outfit that attracted the crowd’s attention.
Original soundtracks in various Korean dramas also excel in quality production, winning awards left and right, as well as drawing public attention across social media with several YouTubers and musicians around the world doing covers of the drama songs.
5. K-drama offers a cultural experience for viewers.
Whether the genre is sageuk, action noir, fantasy, thriller, or slice of life, Korean dramas serve as windows into their rich culture. They showcase the importance of their tradition, beliefs, and values in their projects and you learn so much just by watching some scenes. In particular, bowing is their way of greeting people as a sign of respect, and it’s also practiced during celebration of death anniversaries to honor loved ones with lots of food and drinks prepared on the table.
They keep their rich culture alive from food to filming location, which adds interest to their shows. As Squid Game (2021) showcased Korean traditional games, it made “dalgona candy” in various shapes popular across the globe. Song Joong-ki in Vincenzo (2021) loves to eat “bungeoppang” and drink “makgeolli”. Miss Choi, also known as “halmeoni” in Start-Up (2020) sells “corn dog”, which is a symbol of his relationship with Han Ji-pyeong played by Kim Seonho. Park Eun-bin’s scenes with “gimbap” in Extraordinary Attorney Woo (2022) will surely make you order one.
Whether it’s Korean fried chicken, beer, ramyeon, kimchi, soju, or samgyeopsal, these Korean dishes and drinks are integrated into the meaningful conversations or moments in dramas.
K-drama content also highlights the beauty of their country, showcasing the wonders of spring, autumn, winter, summer, and shooting in locations that display what is unique in South Korea such as the Nami Island in Winter Sonata (2002), Jeju Island in Our Blues (2022), N Seoul Tower in Itaewon Class (2020), just to name a few.
Jirisan (2021) is an adventurous drama, taking place at Mt. Jiri also known as Chirisan, the second-tallest mountain in South Korea with a height of 6,283 feet or 1,915 meters above sea level. The series displayed the magnificent beauty of the mountain with its huge rocks, peaks, trees, river, and trails that viewers who love to climb summits will surely set this mountain as the next destination to hike.
Pohang City, which is the main filming location of Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha (2021), known as the fictional Gongjin in the drama became a hot destination for international travelers. The show introduced the hometown as a good place for seafood, road trip, and picturesque sceneries such as the lighthouse, Hong Dusik’s small boat on top of the hill, as well as the beautiful rocks and beaches. Yoon Hye-jin’s dental clinic in the drama was also transformed into a restaurant that serves warm food, overlooking the ocean.
South Korea continues to reign in the field of TV and web series and we remain dazzled by their creativity and expertise. Hence, we commend them for honing such creative writers, directors, and artists. We can learn so much from them.
Copyright Myra Bansale for KORB Blog.
Cover image credit: tvN’s Our Blues group poster