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History of Korean Dramas

Letter R symbolizes Rolling Korea

Rolling Korea

Korean drama walked the same path as the movies – censorship didn’t lift until 1996. However, there are still strict rules regarding what can be displayed on Korean TV. As probably everyone who has watched Korean TV music shows before has noticed is that idols always cover their tattoos with tape. There are also strict rules on how much nudity and violence can be shown on TV. Let’s start by looking at the first internationally recognized Korean dramas first.


Until the 1990s, typical drama plots evolved around family issues, showing the Korean Confucian concepts of family roles. The first drama of this kind, which was also shown in Hongkong and later even on mainland Chinas TV was the 1991 drama What is Love (kor.: 사랑이 뭐길래). Korean dramas were the first media marketed under the name Hallyu or Korean wave. Still, before they became popular, the most popular dramas and music in South-East-Asia, came from Japan and were promoted under the name Japanese Cool. The first Korean drama that picked up the typical trendy topics of Japanese dramas was the 1992 drama Jealousy (kor.: 질투). This new drama genre focused on an office lady instead of family issues. It portrayed the manner of living, including consumption and fashion. This drama was also exported to China. Initially, Korean dramas became more popular than Japanese dramas because they were much more cost-effective.


During the IMF financial crisis in Asia, dramas that reflected the crisis became popular, for example, the 1998 drama 육남매 (eng.: 6 siblings), which shows a mother struggling to raise her six children on her own.

At the beginning of the 2000s, the drama Winter Sonata (kor.: 겨울연가) won the heart of many Japanese women, and the main character of the drama became the ideal type of Japanese women. The image of Korean men became one of warm, romantic men who would protect their women. While this romantic drama became popular in Japan, the 2003 historic drama Jewel in the Palace (kor.: 대장금) became popular in Turkey and Iran. But Hallyu didn’t stop in the Middle East and Asia. Until this day, the rise in popularity of Korean media is seen worldwide. The five main plots found in Korean dramas until today are: cheating, jaebol (kor.: 재벌, lit.: wealthy family, a large South Korean industrial conglomerate), revenge, femme fatal, and the secret of birth.

But also, other plots are seen, for example, in the Netflix series Squid Games (kor.: 오징어 게임), which features a macabre game show in which highly indebted people play typical Korean children’s games for life and death. It was officially the most-watched Netflix show in October 2021, shortly after its release, and showed the spread of Korean culture worldwide. After Squid Games, more and more K-dramas were recognized worldwide, and K-dramas often dominate the Top 10 Non-English TV shows ranking on Netflix. Recent popular shows include Alchemy of Souls (kor.: 환혼), Little Women (kor.: 작은 아씨들), Vincenzo (kor.: 빈센조) or Big Mouth (kor.: 빅마우스).


I will talk more about the Korean dramas in the future blogs. Please stay tuned.