Hallyu – Everything you need to know about the Korean Wave

You might have come across the term “Hallyu” if you’re a K-pop fan or of  South Korean culture in general. In this article, we will tell all there is to know about Hallyu and how it relates to the Korean entertainment and culture that has gained global popularity.

Hallyu Korean Wave

What is Hallyu Wave (Korean Wave)?

Hallyu is considered to be one of the largest Korean exports as this also means exporting South Korea’s popular culture, which makes South Korea unique. No other country in the world is as dedicated to making its pop culture one of its leading exports as Korea is, making Hallyu its “soft power.” They want Hallyu to be the leading popular culture export globally.

Hallyu meaning

The term “Hallyu” (한류) originated in the Chinese language that translates as “Korean Wave” (sometimes referred to as K-wave). It pertains to the popularity Korea’s cultural economy has gained around the world, specifically in terms of K-pop, K-dramas, movies, and other Korean entertainment cultures.

Initially, Hallyu reached Japan and mainland China, and after that, it spread to other countries in East Asia and Southeast Asia. These days, especially after K-pop, BTS, Parasite, and Squid Game, Hallyu is beginning to gain popularity worldwide. It is one of Asia’s most significant cultural sensations today and has boosted South Korea’s economy by millions of dollars.

History of the Hallyu Wave

Hallyu didn’t just happen overnight and certainly didn’t occur recently. Here are some facts about the history of Hallyu.

When did Hallyu start?

Hallyu was deemed to have started in 1999 when journalists from China first coined the term Hallyu Wave or Korean Wave. With the release of a few TV dramas and movies that gained popularity in Asian countries outside of South Korea. Among these were the famous dramas Autumn in My Heart, Winter Sonata, and My Sassy Girl.

The first movie released under the concept of Hallyu was the 1999 movie called Swiri. The term Hallyu was coined after the successful broadcasting of the 1997 Korean drama What is Love in China.

The spread of Korean culture abroad

Besides the popularity of the shows themselves, of course, other factors have contributed to or enhanced Hallyu. Until the early 1990s, Koreans were actually not allowed to leave the country, but once the ban was lifted, it became easier for Korean culture to start spreading abroad.

During the reconstruction of the country’s economy after the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, Kim Dae Jung, who was the president at the time, decided to start shaping up the country’s popular culture as the main export. Also, once censorship laws became obsolete, the content in Korean series and movies began diversifying.

The cultural content is still heavily present, but with more concepts added, they created more exciting material for people all over Asia to watch. This has definitely helped in boosting the Korean economy.

However, although South Korean media and content are rapidly growing popular abroad, especially with the help of social media, it remains banned or prohibited in North Korea.

The popularity of Korean brands

There have also been a few other reasons that have resulted in Hallyu growing how it has. For one, the exponential growth in popularity of Korean brands such as Samsung and LG, and Hyundai drew attention to South Korean products, which opened doors for Hallyu. For another, Korea has put a lot of focused effort into shaping its popular culture into a formidable export.

Continuance of Hallyu

Hallyu has continued to grow and become known globally. Today, Hallyu is not only popular in Asian countries, but it has also invaded the majority of the countries in the world. Here are the major reasons why Hallyu continues to gain global recognition and popularity.


Korean Movies

Korean moviemakers especially have drawn together financial resources from outside of Korea to make the movies. This, in turn, helps enhance the quality of the Korean movies that the country puts out to the market, which then helps them gain recognition around the world. Parasite by Korean director Bong Joon Ho is one excellent example of a Korean movie that has become a worldwide phenomenon.

Korean Pop Music

Of course, K-pop music bands have also become a huge thing outside of Korea, gaining millions of K pop fans in various countries. K-pop’s typically seen as the front and center of the Hallyu movement actually. While BTS is undoubtedly the most famous and successful K-Pop idol group performing on the global stage, it is not the first one to succeed.

k-pop group bts
Photo credit: https://billboard.com

PSY’s Gangnam Style song was a major hit everywhere in the world and remained one of the most-watched K-Pop songs on YouTube.

There are several South Korean artists and K-pop groups that have been widely popular in Asian countries. Some of them are BoA, idol groups like Super Junior (also dubbed as King of Hallyu Wave), who debuted under SM Entertainment, Big Bang, Girls’ Generation, and Dong Bang Shin Ki (TVXQ). They even make each K-pop song and some albums in the Japanese language.

Korean Dramas

The third major section of Hallyu is Korean dramas. While they were one of the first aspects of K-culture that became widely popular in some countries at the start of Hallyu, overall, they have been slower to reach recognition worldwide. The K-drama Winter Sonata starring Choi Ji Woo and Bae Yong Joon was one of the first dramas that became hugely popular in Asian countries.

Winter Sonata
Photo credit: https://rojakdaily.com

One of the most popular K-dramas was My Love from Another Star among the Chinese. Descendants of the Sun is another example of a K-drama from the past couple of years that was hugely popular all over Asia. Today, thanks to Netflix, global audiences have also gained access to K-dramas, which has led to the creation of the incredibly popular Squid Game and Hellbound.

Korean Government on Hallyu

K-pop culture and the Korean Wave have flourished largely, thanks to the Korean government for allocating resources to these cultural industries. Even events like the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics helped push the Korean Wave forward.

How does the Korean Government support Hallyu?

Since the beginning, Hallyu has been managed in a detailed and structured fashion by the people involved in the entertainment industry. The government’s Ministry of Culture focuses on allocating resources to pop culture, tourism, and sports, among other cultural aspects, and this allows for the entertainment industry to grow.

After all, the Hallyu phenomenon isn’t something that happened by chance. Instead, a lot of focus, planning, and strategy has gone into turning it into a great Korean force.

Determining the target audience

For a start, a lot of time and effort has been placed into studying the target audience in detail. This target audience, first and foremost, comprises people from other Asian countries.

Through this, the industry and the government can gain an understanding of which “products” are the most popular and likely to succeed among those people. And then, of course, the next step is to create those Korean films, TV dramas, and music. Koreans perhaps understand these markets better than anyone else in the world.

Uhm Ki Joon Yoon Jong Hoon Penthouse

Tourism in South Korea

South Korean government and Ministry of Culture have further busied themselves by organizing Korean culture festivals and opening up Korean culture centers in as many countries as 28. The Korea Foundation then provides reports to determine the recipient groups of Hallyu in these countries. All of this has been done to promote the Korean pop music industry and other aspects of the Hallyu Wave.

For tourists coming into the country, specific enticing packages with trips to shooting locations, attendance of music events, and so on included have also been created. In Goyang, there is even a theme park called “K-Culture Valley” for tourists coming into the country to discover in detail the K-pop culture they so love.

More than half of all tourism to Korea today is Hallyu-related, and in general, tourism to Korea has been on the rise. Idol groups and Korean celebrities, such as BTS and the main stars from Squid Game, are becoming superstars like those who star in Hollywood movies. This allows Korea to be included in international film festivals, academy awards, and top the Billboard music awards.

What’s the future of Hallyu like?

Well, for starters, it mostly looks like it will be bright, and the Hallyu Wave will keep on expanding around the world. However, there will also be challenges present for Hallyu to continue as a profitable export.

There needs to be continuous innovation in music, movies, and dramas to keep audiences excited. Also, the leaders behind Korean Wave need to remain careful that they do not overexpose the K-Pop stars and film celebrities so that audiences, Korean and otherwise, don’t get tired of them.

And, of course, ultimately, the Korean government will also have to keep supporting K-Pop and other parts of the wave for innovation and projects to keep going.

Squid Game Casts
Photo credit: https://forbes.com

It can also be expected that many more popular Korean drama series and movies will continue to be turned into remakes in the U.S. and other countries. Some TV shows like The Good Doctor, and movies like A Tale of Two Sisters, have already been remade. And now there are talks about Squid Game getting the same treatment, too!

The Hallyu effect in South Korea today

Just ten years ago, many people, especially in Western countries, seemed to know little about South Korea besides Korean War. Furthermore, they may not even have been able to differentiate which country is which!

A positive impression of Korea

But today, if you ask someone what comes to mind when you mention South Korea, you’re more likely to hear answers like BTS, Parasite, Squid Game, or popular South Korean restaurants and Korean food, among other options.

So not only has Hallyu put South Korea on the world map, so to speak, but it has also turned its image from something negative and war-ridden to something positive and modern.

A growing interest in anything Korean

Hallyu has launched South Korea into stardom of sorts, with tourists flooding in to visit South Korea as of late. And it is quite impressive what measures the country has gone into to make themselves such a force to be reckoned with its pop culture.

Today, even the Korean language, Korean skincare products, and cosmetics, online gaming, all sorts of Korean entertainment, and Korean cuisine are considered part of the Korean Wave. The rise of the Korean Wave has even spilled over to the fashion world. Some female celebrities are becoming fashion icons, not to mention getting invited to the world’s leading fashion events.

With the recent successes in the arenas of TV shows, movies, and music, one can only get excited about what Hallyu has in store for the future in South Korean popular culture. We’ll also remain hopeful that the masterminds behind its global success will find ways to retain its authenticity for years to come so that the scene remains as fruitful and exciting as it is today.

Wrap Up

Have you heard of the term Hallyu before? Is it among the reasons why you started learning Korean? Who are your favorite Hallyu stars? Let us know in the comments below!

Also, if you are interested in deep diving further into popular culture in Korea and Korean culture, don’t forget to look up our articles on K Pop, Korean TV dramas, and Korean movies. Til next time!

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12 thoughts on “Hallyu – Everything you need to know about the Korean Wave”

  1. Very informative article! I googled Hallyu and this was in the list. I discovered Korea artists when I started watching foreign films. I had no idea Korea has such talent and beautiful people. I love watching Kim Hyun Joong perform his music and Lee Min-ho should win every award possible for his role in The King eternal monarch. I am in my 70s and was looking for quality movies and TV and I am so glad I discovered Korea’s hallyu!

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