You may have noticed the influx of stunning men and women of kdrama popping up on your on Netflix feed recently. If you’ve been wondering what the fuss is about, or even if you’re already hooked to the genre and looking for your next fix, this is my guide to the wonderful world currently opening up on your friendly neighborhood video streaming service.
And I am so excited to be writing this! For so long I have held my secret obsession close to my heart, sharing only with my trusted comrades the real reason I’m sleep deprived. Kdrama isn’t for everyone, but for others it’s surprisingly addictive, and here’s my breakdown of why I think that is, and where to find the good stuff.
1. Ever Lasting Love
Once you’ve bought your ticket into kdramaland, you know that one way or another, your tragic leading man will get together with your heroic leading lady, and they’ll live happily ever after. It’s a version of Korea all onto itself, where beautiful people with big personalities fall into love, rivalry and dramatic shenanigans.
2. The Crazy Plots
If you can suspend belief at the wacky-sillyness throughout the series, you’re in for a treat;
A girl mistaken for a boy working in an all-male coffee shop.
A girl mistaken for a robot befriending a boy who is allergic to human contact.
A girl who steps into the world of the comic her father created.
Or a girl with magic strength to lift trucks..
Which brings me onto my next point.
3. Our Leading Ladies
The screenwriting for kdrama respects and celebrates the emotional strength of it’s characters. They’re not fly-kicking action heroes, they’re the sole supporter of their families, or they’re broke while pursuing hopeless dreams. It’s a slice of life genre that gives a generous amount of screen time to the everyday heroism of female role models. And there are always a range of relatable heroines to cheer for.
4. Our Leading Men
The beautiful people on the screen, looking directly at you intensely, smoldering, being heroic, being cool as all hell…(see ‘Squee Factor’ while I blush into my pillow).
5. Community Spirit
The connection to the characters is what carries me through a 16-hour series over a weekend, but it’s also the relationship between the characters that often brings me to my emotional knees.
There are certain tropes that just work for this genre: like the unwavering support from the pseudo-love-guru bestie, or the circle of neighborhood ajummas (middle aged aunts), or the fiercely protective parents.
There’s the ex or fiance you love to hate, the conservative tough-love elder, or the group of loyal underlings that risk their lives for your main lead.
Whoever the supporting characters are, the love between players in kdramaland is a heart-warming presence throughout the story.
5. Korean Food & Drink
I craved korean street food long before my first taste of kimchi, thanks to the amount of screen time mealtimes get in kdramas – and it always looks so wholesome and good! Give me some of that Bimbimbap!
Drinking scenes are primarily used to lubricate the lips of characters to bring them closer, which leads me onto…
7. Kdrama language
I’m not referring to the spoken Korean, which is nice to hear in and of itself (not to mention the fun you can have if you pay attention to the often rushed and questionable translations).
Kdrama’s have their own unique story-telling shorthand that I would call a kdrama language, or kdrama rules. A lot of it was spoofed in the Viki original ‘Kdramaland’, where an American girl magically ends up in the land of Kdrama. In that world, if you trip, the handsome man who catches you will instantly fall for you.
Me and my friends play a game of kdrama bingo, where you have to drink if one of the following occurs:
If the characters get drunk on soju, one will need a piggy back home.
The eldest child will inherit the fathers company.
If they get caught in the rain, one will collapse in sickness as a direct result, and their romantic interest will patiently and lovingly nurse them back to health.
Other common tropes include: Arbitrary hospital scenes, family feuding, memory loss & long-lost fiances.
8. Roller coaster highs & lows
What would kdrama be without the DRAMA.
The obstacles usually come in the form of a familial duty and a greater, external enemy that prowls around the unsuspecting protagonists, like a vengeful murderer or corporate rival.
The prowling forces of resistance to their love all conspire together, and bam!
8. Interior Designs
I’m going to let these screenshots speak for themselves, but needless to say, these spaces are gorgeous!
Kdramaland has beautiful people, impressive locations and gorgoues interiors, and the cinematography does indeed do it justice.
I could just print and frame so many shots for my wall. Here are some that come to mind…just look at the light, and the story each shot is telling!
10. Squee Factor
Do you feel a bubble blooming in your chest? A fuzzy, warm feeling? Are you blushing? Making high pitched noises into a pillow? Rocking slightly? Do you need to pause the scene so you can gush to someone, anyone, to get out all the feels you’re suddenley feeling???
This is what I call the Squee factor, and in my personal experience it happens very, very rarely anymore – with kdrama being the miraculous exception.
Romantic gestures big and small are sprinkled throughout dramaland to keep us glowing with happiness at the cuteness of it all. From lighting up a street with fairylights as our herorine walks home, to secretly treasuring the cute little tokens they gift each other; a tomatoe plant, a rabbit teddy with a pig nose or an onion with a smiley face.
A lot of it comes from the tension that’s built up from the abstinence of the characters. Societal values (some from Christian or Confusian origin) play a huge part in keeping characters from being very touchy feely despite their obvious attraction to each other, which is very different from how Western characters get together. There are other obstacles of course to create the resistance that is drama, and often the characters are just oblivious.
But eventually, and you know it’s coming…..they will kiss (squeeee!!!)
And that is what keeps me coming back for more.
11. Lessons of the Heart
It’s not all fluff. Some kdrama’s have delivered some real shit.
Have you ever been in a relationship where you felt you were doing more for the other person than they would do for you? These kinds of experiences can leave us feeling jaded, like we’ve given too much of ourselves away. A wasted investment. So I admired the alternative sentiment from a character in One More Happy Ending:
“You can’t know how the relationship will end, but loving them the best you can is the only way to leave no regrest The one that loves most, wins.”
Kdrama is my go-to feel-good escapism type of romcom. I’ve been focusing on the shiney highlights of kdrama, but like I said before: it’s not for everybody. It’s been described as twee, a bit samey, the plot is usually all over the place, some scenes are so overacted that it’s unbareable to watch, it’s political correctness is questionable, and well…the list could go on.
But it’s great for the kicks, and when you find a good one, it fills your time with feel good energy nicely. It’s fun to watch with friends or to snuggle down happily into for a self care night in your onesie.
So, what do you think? What kdramas stuck with you? I’m curious.
To send you off your trip to kdramaland in good stead, here are some recommendations from yours truely.