K-drama, which is short for Korean drama, has also become a global phenomenon of sorts. Thanks to the spread of different forms of Korean popular culture, most importantly, K-pop.
The history of Korean drama
The roots of television in South Korea go back to the mid-1950s, with the first Korean television series broadcasting in 1962. It was broadcasted on KBS, Korean Broadcasting System, which has continued to exist as Korea’s big national channel.
However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that Korean households properly began buying television sets. Most of the Korean television series depicted historical times, and historical figures only reached a small audience. After the surge of TVs in Korean homes, more diverse South Korean dramas began getting made, from national heroes such as King Sejong to tales of regular present-day people, especially their struggles and sufferings.
When color TVs became available in the 1980s, the landscape of South Korean television changed, with modern dramas becoming more prominent. And in the 1990s, it started getting more popular to format K-dramas into a single season of approximately 12 to 24 episodes. Today, it is also more widespread to produce web dramas.
Only the first four episodes of a South Korean drama will be shot before starting a broadcast. Otherwise, each drama is shot as close to the release date as possible to save on production expenses.
Scripts aren’t entirely finalized, and changes to them may be made based on viewer feedback during the course of a Korean drama. These changes may come at just a few hours’ notice before filming. There have even been instances where scenes of the episode are still being filmed as it is being shown on TV! So filming a drama in South Korea is most certainly an intense process.
However, thanks to the increased popularity of South Korean dramas globally, producers have been selling rights to broadcast or release the dramas ahead of time, before anything has been shot. This, in turn, has allowed them to film with more time and well before airing than the “live shooting” method.
The largest broadcasting companies in South Korea also have their own shooting locations for historical dramas, with readily built, detailed sets. And interestingly, in comparison to many other countries, the scriptwriters in South Korean dramas are almost equally as famous as the stars and director of the show. There is usually one writer or a small group of writers writing each Korean drama.
Music in Korean dramas
Music plays an integral part in most South Korean dramas. Whole original soundtracks are crafted for each one of them. Most of these songs are performed by popular Kpop singers. If you would like to know some popular Kpop groups and artists, we have a list of the best Kpop groups for you to read!
A popular OST song could also increase the popularity of a South Korean drama. The popularity of a drama could also make an OST song a major hit. Each song should express the drama’s structure and mood, and a detailed process is taken to choose the right songs.
It’s also common to use the same artist for many different dramas due to their past successes. A notable example of such an artist is Baek Ji Young. She has recorded OST songs for approximately 20 different dramas.
Why are Korean dramas popular?
Korean dramas are undeniably popular nowadays. However, this wasn’t the case a few years back. Thanks to the growth of Korean pop culture worldwide, people outside of Asia have also gained interest in K-dramas and movies.
K-dramas have become easily popular once viewers knew about them for several reasons.
The Korean drama storyline
K-dramas have been known to have great plots with scenes that will keep you on the edge of your seat, wanting to know what will happen next. This is why K-dramas are great for binge-watching. They avoid predictable storylines and constantly throw plot twists that will make the viewers’ jaws drop. If you’re very into it, you might finish the whole season in just a few days!
A Korean drama’s OST or original soundtrack goes hand in hand with the actual drama. People recognize a song and associate it with the drama they heard it from, and vice versa. These soundtracks vary depending on the scene, matching the emotions portrayed by the characters. Some Korean pop stars have also starred in K-dramas while they have also sung the OST.
The Korean Culture
K-dramas gives its viewers a glimpse of what it is like living in Korea. There are plenty of interesting things about Korea besides K-pop, such as their food, culture, fashion, and the places that you can visit. All these can be within reach through the K-dramas and Korean movies we could view online. Some dramas such as Crash Landing on You even show life in the North through their storyline.
K-dramas are relatable
Korean dramas give you the usual romance or action kind of scenes, but they also exhibit issues in Korean and global society that are relatable to many. These include topics on mental health, suicide, bullying, gender inequality, corruption, or racism. Genres on family and history are also common in K-dramas.
Korean dramas can help you learn Korean
People are possibly introduced to Korean culture for various reasons, but they end up wanting to learn the Korean language most of the time. Watching Korean dramas can help you practice and learn Korean vocabulary and conversations.
People talk about it on social media
With the good quality story that K-dramas have, it’s normal for people to talk about them. This is especially easily done through social media. You can see good drama recommendations from viewers, and some even provide their reviews which make others want to begin watching already.
Korean dramas are easy to find
It’s not difficult to start watching a Korean drama as it’s available for streaming on different sites globally. We’ll go through some apps and sites on our list below.
What are the most popular Kdramas?
For our list of best South Korean dramas, please refer to this article. Below is a list of some additional popular K-dramas you might want to watch. Most dramas are shown over a 10-week period, which means we viewers are constantly getting new K-dramas to be excited about!
My Only One
Title in Korean: (하나뿐인 내편 ㅣ hanappunin naepyeon)
This story is about Kim Doran, whose life becomes complicated when her biological father returns after 28 years. If you’re fond of dramas revolving in the family and drama genre, this is a must-watch. The lead actress for this drama, Uee, who plays the role of Kim Do Ran, was also part of the K-pop girl group After School.
Title in Korean: (한 번 다녀왔습니다 ㅣ han beon danyeowatseumnida)
This drama is about the life of a family, consisting of a couple and their four adult children. The story will give you a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Once Again proves to be a drama worth watching as it won several awards during the 34th KBS Drama Awards.
When the Camellia Blooms
Title in Korean: (동백꽃 필 무렵 ㅣ dongbaekkkot pil muryeop)
At the center of this love story is a single mother running a cafe, played by actress Gong Hyo Jin, who not only tries to navigate two possible romances but has to evade becoming a serial killer’s next victim. Actors Kang Ha Neul and Kim Ji Suk played the roles of her love interests.
Title in Korean: (배가본드)
A stunt man, dreaming of becoming a famous action star, finds himself in Morocco trying to investigate what actually happened to his nephew, who supposedly died in a plane crash. This action-filled Korean drama with hints of romance is starred by actor Lee Seung Gi and actress Bae Suzy.
The King: Eternal Monarch
Title in Korean: (더 킹: 영원의 군주 ㅣ deo king: yeongwonui gunju)
Starring Lee Minho, in this drama, the king of the Kingdom of Corea finds himself in a parallel world, the Republic of Korea, while trying to know how he survived an otherwise fatal night in his childhood. Here, he’ll also come across a woman who plays a huge role in knowing the reason behind these occurrences.
Title in Korean: (시그널)
Communicating via walkie-talkies, a criminal profiler in the present-day, and a police offer in the past try to solve a cold case that is personal to the criminal profiler. As this drama is about solving crimes, some of the scenes were inspired by criminal incidents that actually happened in South Korea, including the Hwaseong serial murders.
Memories of Alhambra
Title in Korean: (알함브라 궁전의 추억 ㅣ alhambeura gungjeonui chueok)
Memories of Alhambra tells the story of the main characters – company CEO played by actor Hyun Bin and a hostel owner, played by actress Park Shin Hye who found themselves wrapped in a puzzling series of events in Spain. What’s more interesting is that it revolves around an AR game, with the lines between real-world and augmented reality beginning to become unclear. This drama is best for those who are into sci-fi.
Title in Korean: (빈센조 | Binsenjo)
This story is centered around an Italian Mafia named Vincenzo, played by actor Song Joong Ki, who came back to Korea in search of gold. He intended to make the trip quick and flee as soon as he completes his goal. However, meeting Atty. Hong and the Geumga Plaza tenants tell him otherwise. The supposed quick trip turned into a mission to stop the Babel group from pursuing their evil plans. Fans of legal, action and comedy genres would enjoy watching this series.
What is the highest-rated Korean drama?
The current highest-rated Korean drama is entitled The World of the Married (부부의 세계 | Bubuui Segye). This Korean series from JTBC is a romantic melodrama that was aired in 2020.
This story is about a doctor (Kim Hee Ae) whose life began to fall apart after she knew of her husband’s (Park Hae Joon) affair with her friend. The 16-episode long drama remains to be the highest-rated cable drama episode of all time.
Korean Drama Genres
There’s a wide variety of Korean dramas that you can start watching. Here are the common drama genres that you can refer to along with K-dramas in this category.
Action genres bring the most excitement and thrill to K-dramas. This genre is also often paired with the crime genre and keeps the viewers hooked during intense fighting scenes. Lead characters in this genre usually go against antagonists who are more powerful than them. Thus, making their victories even more satisfying.
If you’re into this type of drama, we recommend the K-dramas Vagabond, Healer, Beyond Evil, and the most recent one, Vincenzo.
We mainly think of love and happy endings when a romance genre is mentioned. K-dramas often incorporate other genres like comedy, melodrama, fantasy, or even action in romantic series. This gives the romance a twist and creates depth in the story.
The highest-rated Korean drama, The World of the Married, also falls under this genre. You can also check out these high-rating romantic dramas: While You Were Sleeping, Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, Descendants of the Sun, and Crash Landing On You.
This genre is also known as 사극 (sageuk), which refers to historical films and television series. Historical genres are special because they show the viewers a lot about Korean culture and history.
Over time, historical genres evolved and incorporated modern drama styles, making them more appealing to younger audiences. Moon Embracing the Sun, Six Flying Dragons, Queen Seondoek, Mr.Sunshine, and Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo are just some of the popular dramas in this genre.
Dramas with supernatural and fantasy elements bring anticipation to the audience because anything can happen in a fantasy world! The scenes that don’t happen in real life become a reality for the characters.
Some popular fantasy Korean dramas feature supernatural beings like ghosts, goblins, mermaids, and aliens. A Korean Odyssey, Guardian – The Lonely And Great God, The Legend Of The Blue Sea, and My Love From The Star are some of the best fantasy K-dramas we recommend.
Medical Korean dramas are both entertaining and educational. Since medical terms are often mentioned, definitions are also included to help the audience understand the concept better. Some scenes make the viewers sigh relief as a patient’s heart starts to beat again in operating rooms.
Whether you’re in the medical field or not, this genre might be interesting for you. Hospital Playlist, Good Doctor, Doctors, and Hospital Ship are some of the dramas you can check out under this genre.
Dramas in the family genre never fail to make their audience get at least teary-eyed from all the emotions. After all, the concept of family is very relatable to many. These dramas tend to be light and happy, but sad scenes can easily make you bawl your eyes out. Watching them will give you different feelings.
These dramas are usually made up of 50 to 55 episodes, with each episode 60 minutes long. Dramas of this genre are usually broadcasted on weekends. They’re usually about 2 families whose fates are intertwined dealing with common family issues. South Korean dramas on family that we recommend include Reply 1988, My Father Is Strange, Go Back Couple, What Happens to my Family, Marry Me Now, Golden Life, Father, I’ll Take Care of You, and You’re the Best.
Similar to medical dramas, legal dramas are also educational but in the field of law. Characters portrayed by the lead roles are often lawyers or prosecutors trying to find justice amidst the corruption and unfair treatment in South Korean society.
If this piques your interest, you can start by watching legal K-dramas Innocent Defendant, Diary Of A Prosecutor, Law School, or Suits which is a Korean remake of the American series of the same title.
Coming of Age Drama
Coming-of-age is a genre that focuses on the protagonist’s growth from when they were young to adulthood. This highlights the emotions felt by the character throughout the journey towards adulthood from certain experiences like first love, heartbreak, maturity, and having a new sense of responsibility.
Some dramas in this genre include The Heirs, Weightlifting Fairy Kim Joo, Boys Over Flowers, and Dream High.
K-dramas typically last around 60 minutes per episode which may be a bit long for others to view in one sitting. Luckily, web dramas usually last between 5 to 30 minutes only but still provide a similar good quality with the longer ones.
A video or an episode of this type is accessible on channels on platforms such as V-Live. Love Playlist, A-Teen, Queen of the Ring, and The Way I Hate You are some of the dramas in this genre that you can stream.
If you’re up for an intense level of drama, Korean melodrama will not disappoint you. This genre is characterized by a high level of emotions portrayed and plenty of heart-wrenching scenes.
A great example of Korean melodrama is the Endless Love series that features four different dramas entitled Autumn in My Heart, Winter Sonata, Summer Scent, and Spring Waltz, named after Korea’s four seasons.
As the name suggests, thriller dramas give loads of thrill to their audience. This is the kind of drama where every second counts, and you need to have your eyes glued to the screen. Thriller dramas usually go together with horror or action genres where many things are going on. There will constantly be a feeling of suspense and anticipation as scenes are heading towards the climax.
The Korean series Kingdom, Save Me, Defendant, and Extracurricular are ones you can start with. Before you do so, if it helps, it’s best to expect jump scares and ominous background music!
Where can I watch Korean dramas?
We’ve told you about the history of K-dramas and some of the best ones to start binge-watching. But what are the best sites to start watching these dramas on? We’ll tell you about it in a while, including some of the series you can watch on these sites!
In the past, it was a big challenge for many foreigners living outside Korea who have an interest in South Korean dramas to find an app or website for watching them. However, thanks to technology and the ever-increasing popularity of K-dramas, they’re easily accessible now.
These days watching South Korean dramas could be done comfortably through Netflix! You can stream Korean series or a movie through their website or app, or you can also download the video for offline binge-watching. Some K-dramas are also listed as Netflix originals. We’ve listed some of them below.
As Korean dramas increase in popularity and demand, this app is investing more in South Korean series and movies this year. If you’re a subscriber, you’ll definitely have a longer list of Korean series and movies on your account.
Korean dramas on Netflix
- Crash Landing on You
- Hi Bye, Mama!
- Hospital Playlist
- It’s Okay Not to Be Okay
- Love Alarm
- Mystic Pop-up Bar
- The King: Eternal Monarch
- When the Camellia Blooms
Viki is a streaming site that has often been considered the very best to get your K-drama fix. We’ve listed some Korean dramas you can stream on Viki, covering the different Korean drama genres.
Korean dramas on Viki
- Descendants of the Sun
- Guardian: The Great and Lonely God
- Hotel del Luna
- My Love From the Star
- Strong Woman Do Bong Soon
- Swing Kids
- Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo
- Welcome to Waikiki
- What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim
There’s a wide variety of movies and series that you could see, including some popular K-dramas by searching on Hulu.
Viu is one of the leading streaming sites when it comes to Korean dramas and movies. However, it is still only available in parts of Asia, the Middle East, and South Africa.
Are South Korean dramas shown in North Korea?
North Korea has minimal access to media compared to South Korea. This is mainly because government control is pretty much everywhere in the North, including their media. This means that South Korean dramas are not shown in the North. People do not have access to it as everything shown on North Korean televisions or by a media company is already filtered and controlled by their government.
Also, an anti-reactionary law was imposed by the North Korean government late last year. With this law, anyone who uses, stores, or distributes foreign cultural content from South Korea and other countries, could be punished by paying fines, imprisonment, or the death penalty being the maximum punishment.
What is your favorite Korean drama to date? Do you like the romantic-comedy genre, or perhaps action or thriller? Which actors do you especially enjoy watching, and what kind of stories do you like? Are there any upcoming K-dramas that you plan on watching soon? Let us know any thoughts you have on Korean dramas below! For example, if you haven’t yet watched any K-dramas, let us know which drama will you try out first!