Korean drama

  (Redirected from K-drama)

Yongin Daejanggeum Park, a filming site where historical dramas for Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation are produced

Korean dramas (Korean한국드라마; RRhanguk drama), more popularly known as K-dramas, are television series (Korean드라마; RRdeurama) in the Korean language, made in South Korea.

Korean dramas are popular worldwide, partially due to the spread of Korean popular culture (the "Korean Wave"), and their widespread availability via streaming services which often offer subtitles in multiple languages. Many K-dramas have been adapted throughout the world, and some have had great impact on other countries.[1][2] Some of the most famous dramas have been broadcast via traditional television channels in other countries. For example, Dae Jang Geum (2003) was sold to 91 countries. K-dramas have attracted attention for their fashion, style and culture all over the world. The rise in popularity of Korean dramas had led to a great boost to fashion line.


South Korea started to broadcast television series in the 1960s. In the 1990s, traditional historical series transformed into the present miniseries format, creating the notion of fusion sageuks.

A single director usually leads Korean dramas, which are often written by a single screenwriter. This often leads to each drama having distinct directing and dialogue styles. This differs from American television series, which can rely on multiple directors and writers working together.[3]

Series set in contemporary times typically run for a single season and usually contain 12 to 24 episodes of 60 minutes each. Historical series may be longer, with up to 200 episodes, but they also generally run for only one season. This differs from American television series, where the first season does not have a definitive end as the plot is being setup to last for multiple seasons.[4]

The broadcast time for drama series has been 22:00 to 23:00, with episodes airing on two consecutive nights: Mondays and Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, or weekends. Most of these drama series appear on each of the nationwide networks: Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and on the cable channels, including Joongang Tongyang Broadcasting Company (jTBC), Channel A, Total Variety Network(TvN), and Orion Cinema Network (OCN). Some of drama series might turn into seasonal serials just like famous american weekday drama series.

The 19:00 to 20:00 evening time slot usually have been reserved for daily dramas, which run every night from Monday through Friday. Dramas in these slots are in the telenovela format, rarely running over 200 episodes. Unlike American soap operas, these daily dramas are not broadcast during the daytime. Instead, the daytime schedule often includes reruns of the flagship dramas. The night time dailies can achieve very high ratings. During late 2000s, for example, not only the weekend series First Wives' Club recorded 41.3%, according to TNS Korea,[5] and also the evening series Temptation of Wife peaked at 40.6%, according to TNS Korea.[6] During early 2010s, as side footnote, KBS1 Weekend Household Opera serials for family like Please Marry Me, Ojakgyo Family, My Husband Got a Family, Wang's Family, and What Happens to My Family? gained such a popularity, reputation and influence.

Many Korean dramas follow the live-shoot model and thus are usually shot within a very tight schedule, sometimes finishing just a few hours before actual broadcast. Screenplays are flexible and may change anytime during production, depending on viewers' feedback, which can be difficult for production teams.


The term sageuk refers to any Korean television or film drama that is either based on historical figures, incorporates historical events, or uses a historical backdrop. While sageuk literally translates to "historical drama", the term is typically reserved for dramas taking place throughout the course of Korean history.[7]

Since the mid-2000s, some sageuks have achieved major success outside of Korea, such as Asia-Pacific, Central Asia, Greater Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America.[8] Sageuks including Dae Jang Geum (Jewel in the Palace), Yi San and Jumong enjoyed strong ratings and high satisfaction ratings in countries such Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Fiji and Iran. Jumong, which aired on IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) in 2008, had 85% viewership.[9]


Often centered around a love story, series set in contemporary times often focus on family ties and romantic relationships. Characters are mostly idealized, with Korean male protagonists described as handsome, intelligent, emotional, and in search of "one true love". This has also been a contributing factor to the popularity of Korean dramas among women, as the image of Korean men became differentiated from that of other Asian men.[3][10][11][12] The romantic tension typically "is built up so expertly that it is more emotionally resonant when the main couple finally hold hands halfway through the series than when a full-blown bedroom scene happens in an American series". Also due to Korea's puritanical culture, "love scenes rarely progress past kissing" and "even seeing a Deep tongue kiss in a Korean drama is newsworthy".[4][13]


Actress Lee Young-ae played the titular Dae Jang Geum in the series of the same name.

Early yearsEdit

Radio broadcasting, including the broadcasting of radio dramas in Korea, began in 1927 under Japanese rule, with most programming in Japanese and around 30% in Korean.[14] After the Korean War, radio dramas such as Cheongsilhongsil (1954) reflected the country's mood.[15]

Television broadcasting began in 1956 with the launch of an experimental station, HLKZ-TV, which was shut down a few years later due to a fire. The first national television channel was Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), which started up in 1961.[16] The first Korean television film was a 15-minute piece titled The Gate of Heaven (천국의 문, Cheongugui mun), on HLKZ-TV.[17]

The first television series was aired by KBS in 1962. Their commercial competitor, Tongyang Broadcasting (TBC), had a more aggressive program policy and aired controversial dramas as well.[18] The first historical TV series aired was Gukto manri (국토만리), directed by Kim Jae-hyeong (김재형), depicting the Goryeo era.[19][20] In the 1960s, television sets were of limited availability, thus dramas could not reach a larger audience.[21]

In the 1970s, television sets started to spread among the general population, and dramas switched from portraying dramatic historical figures to introducing national heroes like Lee Sun-shin or Sejong the Great.[21] Contemporary series dealt with personal sufferings, such as Kim Soo-hyun's influential Stepmother (새엄마, Saeeomma), aired by Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) in 1972 and 1973.[22] As technology and funding was limited, Korean channels could not make series in resource-heavy genres like action and science fiction; American and other foreign series were imported instead.[23]

Since 1980Edit

The 1980s saw a change in Korean television, as color TV became available. Modern dramas tried to evoke nostalgia from urban dwellers by depicting rural life. Kim Soo-hyun's first real commercial success, Love and Ambition (사랑과 야망, Saranggwa yamang), aired on MBC in 1987 and is regarded as a milestone of Korean television,[24] having recorded a 78% viewership. "Streets became quiet at around the airing time of the drama as 'practically everyone in the country' was at home in front of the TV", according to The Korea Times.[15] The most outstanding classical historical series of the era is considered to be 500 Years of Joseon (조선왕조500년, Joseonwangjo 500 nyeon), a serial that ran for eight years, consisting of 11 separate series. The serial was produced by Lee Byung-hoon, who later directed one of the biggest international successes of Korean drama, Dae Jang Geum.[19][21][24]

The 1990s brought another important milestone for Korean television. As technology developed, new opportunities arose, and the beginning of the decade marked the launch of a new commercial channel; Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), which facilitated and re-initiated a race for catching viewers' attention.[25] The first real commercial success among Korean television series was Eyes of Dawn (여명의 눈동자, Yeomyeongui nundongja), aired in 1991 by MBC, starring Chae Shi-ra and Choi Jae-sung. The series led the viewers through turbulent times from the Japanese rule to the Korean War.[25] New channel SBS also produced successful series, one of them being Sandglass in 1995. Sandglass was a "trendy drama", which the Korean Culture and Information Service considers an important milestone, having changed the way Korean dramas are made by introducing a new format.[25] In this decade, the new miniseries format became widespread, with 12 to 24 episodes.[26] This era marked the start of export for Korean dramas, setting off the Korean Wave.

The beginning years of the 2000s gave birth to a new genre, called "fusion sageuk", essentially changing the ways to produce historical series, with successful pieces such as Hur Jun, Damo and Dae Jang Geum.[19]

Since the 2010s, "web dramas" has become a popular genre. It is a short form of drama mostly shoot through non-conventional broadcasting platforms, such as search engine (e.g. Naver) or video channels (e.g.YouTube). It started to take over the popularity of conventional dramas among 10s and 20s because they are shorter, hence easier to watch, and often feature trendy contents which teenagers are easy to sympathize with.[27] Some of well-known web dramas includes Idol Drama Operation Team and Pongdang Pongdang Love.


Song Joong-ki of Descendants of the Sun is considered a top star.

Korean series were originally produced in house by the television channels themselves, but have been outsourced to independent production companies since the 2000s. In 2012, as much as 75% of all K-dramas were produced this way. Competition is fierce among these companies; out of 156 registered firms, only 34 produced dramas were actually aired in 2012.[28] The budget of the production is shared between the producing company and the broadcaster, with the broadcasting channel covering around 50% of expenses usually. If top stars and famous scriptwriters are employed, they may cover even more. The rest of the budget has to be brought in by the production company with the help of sponsors. In the case of product placements, income is shared by the producer and the channel. The channel keeps 100% of the advertisement income during airtime; this could amount to 300-400 million. A typical Korean drama may cost as much as ₩250 million per episode, and historical dramas cost more than that. For example, Gu Family Book cost ₩500 million per episode.[28]

In Korea, much of the budget is spent on the appearance fees of top stars since they are heavily dependent on celebrities' popularity.[29] In some cases, the actors may take up as much as 55-65% of the whole budget, while it is 20–30% in Japan, and roughly 10% in the United States as dramas there tend to avoid casting famous actors when starting off.[28] Everything else, including salaries of lesser-known actors, extras, and technical staff, location rent and other expenses, have to be covered from the remaining amount. Often, production companies overrun their budgets and cannot pay salaries. In 2012, actors held a demonstration in front of the headquarters of KBS, expressing their concerns. Actors are usually paid after the last episode is aired at the end of the month. In series made by smaller production companies for cable channels, there have been cases where the companies went bankrupt and could not pay their actors and crew, while the channel denied all responsibility, claiming all liability was with the bankrupt production firm.[30] Producer Kim Jong-hak spent as much as ₩10 billion on Faith, which was considered a commercial failure, resulting in the inability of Kim to pay crew salaries and other overheads. Kim, who had produced successful dramas such as Eyes of Dawn and Sandglass, committed suicide after he was accused of embezzlement.[31][32] The biggest stars may earn as much as ₩100 million per episode.[33] Bae Yong-joon, the star of Winter Sonata reportedly received ₩250 million per episode for The Legend in 2007.[28]

Filmmaking processEdit

Kim Soo-hyun in costume for the sageuk Moon Embracing the Sun, Soo-hyun is one of the most popular Korean actors.[34][35]

As producing a series involves high expenses, production companies seek to shoot the episodes in the shortest time possible. In contrast to practices elsewhere, the first four episodes of Korean series are usually shot in advance, but the rest are shot continuously as the series is being aired. Scripts are not finished in advance, and may change according to viewer feedback and viewership ratings, where popular characters receive increased screen time and plotlines are changed to match audience expectations.[36] These changes may occur a few hours before daily shooting, and the crew might receive only a few ready pages. The production usually works with three camera crews, who work in a rotating manner to speed up filming. Because of unregulated script changes and tight shooting schedules, actors are almost continuously on standby, and have no time to leave the set or sleep properly. The Korean media have a separate word to describe irregular, short sleeps that actors resort to, in often uncomfortable positions, or within the set: jjok-jam (쪽잠), or "side-sleeping". Dramas usually air two episodes a week, one after the other, with the following episodes having to be shot within the intervening five days. Some Korean actors have admitted to receiving IV therapy during filming, due to extreme schedules and exhaustion.[30][33][37] Nonetheless the live-shoot model remains widely used since the production team can react to real time audience feedback.[38]

Production teams originally sent two tapes to the channels; a primary copy and a backup copy. However, due to the tight filming schedules, a 70-minute episode might arrive at the broadcasting station on seven separate tapes in ten-minute installments. It happens that while the episode is being broadcast, the crew would be still shooting the last minutes or cutting the rest of the episode. During the airing of the nineteenth episode of Man from the Equator, screens countrywide went black for 10 minutes. Actor Kwon Sang-woo was openly complaining that he was still shooting Queen of Ambition 30 minutes before the last episode began airing.[30] In South Korea, some production teams still do planning and scheduling manually, instead of using dedicated software.[39]

From late 2014 onwards due to the popularity of Korean dramas abroad, especially the success of My Love from the Star in China, producers have increasingly been pitching and pre-selling the overseas broadcast and streaming rights of their dramas. This has given production teams the budget to move away from the live shoot basis to one in which the drama is completed before broadcast. In 2016, dramas such as Descendants of the Sun, Uncontrollably Fond, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo and Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth were all pre-produced before airing. Nonetheless, some pre-produced episodes are often re-edited or even reshot the day of airing, due to audience feedback.[40]

The larger broadcasting companies have their own dedicated shooting locations for historical dramas, with extensive and elaborate sets. MBC's series are shot at MBC Drama in Gyeonggi,[41] while KBS dramas utilize the Mungyeongsaejae Studio (문경새재 KBS촬영장) in North Gyeongsang[42] and their studio in Suwon.[43]

Production companiesEdit

Independent production companies are classified into:


Actors and ActressesEdit

The leading actors of Korean dramas have become popular outside of South Korea, due to the Korean Wave.

In the 2000s, it became customary to cast popular K-pop idols in dramas. Initially, this generated mixed reactions. Their appearance had provoked predominantly negative reactions outside their fandom because singers and dancers acting outside of their musical circle was regarded as unprofessional. Also, some idols were criticized for poor acting. Nowadays, this has become much more common feature in Korean dramas, as the public has been getting more used to the concept of "idol actors" and some idols have become known for their excellent acting skills.[44] Their critical reception is still mixed, however, some of them became successful as actors.[45][46]

Scriptwriters and directorsEdit

Scriptwriters and directors of Korean dramas are often as well known as actors are. An overwhelming majority of scriptwriters (90% according to the Beijing Metro Reader) are women, who not only write love stories but action series as well.[47] Compared to Korean cinema, television is more appealing for scriptwriters as contract conditions are better, acknowledgment is greater, and the salary is higher.

Famous scriptwriters tend to have a say in their field.[48] The most well-known scriptwriters include the Hong sisters, who wrote popular series such as My Girl, You're Beautiful and My Girlfriend Is a Nine-Tailed Fox; Kim Eun-sook, the screenwriter of Lovers in Paris, Secret Garden, The Heirs, Descendants of the Sun and Guardian: The Lonely and Great God; Lee Kyung-hee, famous for I'm Sorry, I Love You and The Innocent Man; male writer Choi Wan-kyu of Midas and Triangle; Noh Hee-kyung, the author of That Winter, the Wind Blows; and It's Okay, That's Love; and Park Ji-eun, who wrote My Husband Got a Family, My Love from the Star, The Producers, Legend of the Blue Sea and Crash Landing on You.[49]

Acknowledged TV directors include Lee Byung-hoon, who directed Hur-Jun, Dae Jang Geum and Yi San;[19] Kim Jong-hak, the director of Eyes of Dawn, Sandglass, The Legend and The Great Doctor;[50] and Pyo Min-soo, the director of Full House, Worlds Within and Iris II.[51]

While scriptwriters are mostly women, directors are usually men.[52] Some female directors have risen to prominence, such as Lee Na-jeong (이나정), who directed The Innocent Man,[53] and Lee Yun-jeong (이윤정), whose most famous works are The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince and Heart to Heart. The latter director is also the first female television producer employed by Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).[54]


Balladeer Baek Ji-young has been named "OST Queen" after providing the songs for several hit dramas such as Secret Garden (2010) and Love in the Moonlight (2016).

Music plays an important role in Korean dramas. Original soundtracks, abbreviated OST, are explicitly made for each series, and in contrast to American series, fans have a need to buy the soundtrack album of dramas. This trend started in the 1990s, when producers swapped purely instrumental soundtracks for songs performed by popular K-pop singers. Tom Larsen, director of YA Entertainment, a distributor of Korean TV series, thinks that Korean soundtracks are polished enough musically to be considered standalone hits.[55]

During the 2000s, it became customary for lead actors to participate in original soundtracks, also partially due to the employment of K-pop stars as actors. Actor Lee Min-ho, and leader of boy band SS501, Kim Hyun-joong both recorded songs for Boys Over Flowers, while the actors of You're Beautiful formed a fictional band and held concerts, where they perform the soundtracks live.[56][57][58]

OST songs of popular K-dramas can also become hits on regular music charts, with good sales of both physical and digital albums. The chart performance of the OST songs usually co-relate to the popularity of the drama. Songs from the OST of Secret Garden for example, had high digital sales and high rankings on music charts.[59] My Destiny, performed by Lyn for My Love from the Star, led music charts in Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and other Asian countries.[60] It also won the Best OST award at the 2014 Baeksang Arts Awards.[61] The soundtrack album of You're Beautiful sold 57,000 physical copies.[62] Performers of OST songs for action series Iris held two concerts in Japan in front of an audience of 60,000 people.[63]

OST composers usually look for singers who have previously had success in the genre. Songs are written to reflect the mood of the series and their structure. Sometimes performers give their own songs for a series. For example, Baek Ji-young thought her song That Man, originally written for her own album, would fit Secret Garden. There are popular OST singers who are often employed, like Baek Ji-young, Lyn, and Lee Seung-cheol.[64] Sometimes, foreign singers are invited to perform songs for Korean OST. For instance, Swedish artist Lasse Lindh sang several songs for series like Angel Eyes, Soul Mate, I Need Romance, and Guardian: The Lonely and Great God.

Rating systemEdit

The television rating system is regulated by the Korea Communications Commission, and was implemented in 2000. According to the system, programs, including Korean dramas, are rated according to the following principles (ratings irrelevant to dramas are omitted):[65]

  •  : programs that may be inappropriate for children under 12, such as mild violence, themes or language.
  •  : programs that may be inappropriate for children under 15. Most dramas and talk shows are rated this way. These programs may include moderate or strong adult themes, language, sexual inference, and violence.
  •  : programs intended for adults only. These programs might include adult themes, sexual situations, frequent use of strong language and disturbing scenes of violence.


According to a researcher at the University of Vienna, popularity of Korean dramas have their foundation in Confucian values they transmit, which Asian viewers can easily identify with. Respect for elders, filial piety, family-orientedness, and the display of perceived "Asian moral values" play an important role in Korean series.[66] YA Entertainment, the American distributor of Korean dramas, believes that part of the attractiveness of these series come from the quality of camera work, scenic locations, and spectacular costumes, which make the "final product very stylish and attractive, with arguably some of the highest TV production values in the world."[67] Korean series follow their own formula, are innovative and don't conform to Western television productions.[67] Stephan Lee from Entertainment Weekly called Korean dramas "fascinating and weirdly comforting".[68]

Exports of Korean series yielded US$37.5 million in 2003, which was three times higher than the amount reached in 1999.[69] According to data from Korea Creative Content Agency, in 2013 K-dramas constituted 82% of the culture content export of South Korea, with an income of $167 million, which is four times more than a decade before.[39]

A driving force behind the rising popularity is the intense involvement of fans. Because of the live-shooting production of K-dramas, Korean-speaking fans have the opportunity to participate in their creation[70] —a unique phenomenon in the mass media world. They can influence the content of later shows in the series through complaints and suggestions, which are frequently adopted by the production teams.[71]

The global community of non-Korean-speaking fans, on the other hand, is more involved in the consumption aspects: Fans share their opinions through tweets and comments on newsgroups (for example, the Soompi discussion forum) as well as reviews and recaps on websites and blogs. However, the impact of their social media activity goes beyond the fan community. It spreads the word about the K-drama genre to social connections like acquaintances, friends and family (e.g. Facebook friends or followers on Twitter) and thereby generally raises its popularity. But it also has an effect on the creation of new dramas. It influences the popularity of certain dramas, leading to higher demand for those videos from streaming sites and additional income for broadcasters. When a substantial profit results, it raises not only the prestige of people involved in the production[72] but also provides feedback for production teams and indirectly influences future productions.

International receptionEdit

Asia-Pacific CountriesEdit

Won Bin gained wide popularity in 2000 after starring in the television drama Autumn in My Heart and has since gained critical acclaim for his performances in the films Taegukgi, Mother and The Man from Nowhere.[73][74][75][76]

Korean dramas have gained popularity in Bangladesh in recent years.[77] Their rising popularity in the country has led to the Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange (KOFICE), an organisation which aims to distribute Korean dramas for free to countries, cooperating with broadcasters to distribute Korean dramas for free in the country.[78]

In the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, Korean dramas and entertainment have gained popularity particularly amongst youth. Prior to interest in Korean entertainment, Bollywood had largely been the most popular form of entertainment in the country. When the Bhutanese film industry launched in the mid-1990s, Bollywood was the only form of influence on the industry. However, in recent years Korean entertainment has made significant inroads in the country and influence the entertainment industry alongside Bollywood. Korean entertainment has managed to influence fashion, and many video shops now sell Korean dramas and movies alongside Bollywood films. The interest in Korean entertainment has also led to controversy with older generations voicing their concern that Korean entertainment will deteriorate Bhutanese culture and traditions.[79][80]

In recent times Korean dramas have experienced growing popularity in Brunei. The growing impact of Korean culture in Brunei led to the hosting of the ninth Korea Forum in the country at Universiti Brunei Darussalam in 2010. Korean television dramas, movies, music, and clothing have had a great impact on the people of Brunei.[81]

The first Korean drama to be broadcast in Cambodia was Winter Sonata; it was, however, Full House that launched the interest in Korean dramas and entertainment in the country. Following the success of Full House, more Korean dramas have been dubbed into the Khmer language. Korean dramas have become popular particularly amongst youth in Cambodia.[82]

In China, South Korean programs on Chinese government TV networks accounted for more than all other foreign programs combined in 2006.[83] Hong Kong has its own channel for airing Korean dramas, TVB J2, but ATV also airs Korean series in prime-time slots.[84]My Love from the Star received enthusiastic feedback from China. It was viewed 40 billion times on numerous Chinese video sites.[85] The drama also spurred interest about Korea, shown by China's increased consumption of Korean products such as Chi Maek (chicken and beer) and Korean cosmetics.[86] Due to the success of Korean dramas in China, some dramas have been compiled to create feature-length films by combining all episodes into one film. The prodigious popularity of Korean dramas in the country has, on some occasions, been caught in the crossfire over diplomatic issues between China and South Korea. Most notable being the THAAD deployment in South Korea which resulted in the blocking of Korean dramas on streaming services across the country in late February 2017.[87] Following the block, Chinese TV shows showcasing Chinese culture and other similar content replaced Korean content on TV networks' prime time schedules in the country.[88] In November 2017, the ban was uplifted unannounced following the appearance of Kpop groups on national TV and the move to resume importation of Korean dramas by Chinese streaming services.[89]

Korean dramas have become popular in India, particularly in Northeast India in states such as Manipur, Assam, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Mizoram and Nagaland as well as parts of East India and more recently in Tamil Nadu.[90] Hindi films and TV serials were banned in Manipur in 2000. As a result, local television stations began broadcasting subtitled Korean dramas instead. Many young people in northeast India, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu mimic the hairstyles and clothes of Korean actors and Korean fashion has become very popular in the region.[91][92][93] As a part of cultural exchange, Indian Public Broadcaster telecasted Emperor of the Sea and Dae Jang Geum.[94] Korean dramas have aired in the Tamil-language in Tamil Nadu on [[Puthuyugam TV]. Some of the famous k-dramas which were telecasted were 'Boys over flowers', 'My love from another star','Playful kiss' and many more.[95]

In Indonesia, Korean dramas have gained popularity and the popular Korean dramas Winter Sonata and Endless Love were aired on Surya Citra Media in 2002. Some Korean dramas have also been remade into Indonesian versions such as Demi Cinta in 2005 which was a remake of the popular drama Autumn in My Heart and Cinta Sejati, a remake of Stairway to Heaven. RCTI and Indosiar are examples of Indonesian television networks that air Korean dramas in the early times, but later Trans TV airing some of popular Korean dramas until today.[96][97]

The first Korean drama to gain widespread popularity in Japan was Winter Sonata, which was broadcast on the NHK satellite channel NHK BS2 in 2003. The program was aired twice in the same year due to high demand from viewers.[12] NHK also hosted a classical concert featuring Winter Sonata's tunes performed by Korean musicians.[12] Korean dramas boost tourism between Korea and Japan,[12] and is considered a possible way of improving strained relationships between the two countries, as series have become increasingly popular with Japanese viewers.[98][99] Conversely, the series Iris had several pivotal scenes shot in Akita, Japan, which led to an increase of Korean tourists in that part of Japan.[100][101][102]

Actor Lee Min-ho achieved pan-Asia popularity with his hit dramas Boys Over Flowers (2009), The Heirs (2013) and The Legend of the Blue Sea (2016).

The popularity of Korean dramas and pop culture in Laos has led to many Laotian tourists travelling to South Korea. Korean pop culture has gained popularity in Laos through the Thai TV channels broadcasting Korean dramas and K-pop bands in the country.[103]

In Malaysia, Winter Sonata began airing on TV3 in 2003, which started an interest in Korean pop culture in the country. Dae Jang Geum and Autumn In My Heart were also aired in Malaysia. The popularity of Korean dramas have resulted in a positive reception of Korean expatriates in Malaysia.[104]

In Mongolia, Korean dramas have become popular and are broadcast at prime time. Dae Jang Geum achieved success in the country and was broadcast five times due to this. Autumn in My Heart, Winter Sonata and Stairway to Heaven were other popular dramas. Popularity in Korean dramas has resulted in interest in the learning of the Korean language as well as Mongolians travelling to South Korea. It has also led to increased mutually cooperative relations between Mongolia and South Korea.[105]

In Myanmar, the K-drama Autumn in My Heart was broadcast in the country in 2001, which led to interest in Korean entertainment. When Dae Jang Geum was on air, the drama sparked an interest in Korean cuisine in the country.[106] The rising popularity of Korean dramas and music in Myanmar has led to the Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange (KOFICE) distributing Korean dramas in the country for free.[107]

Interest for Korean dramas in the Nepal began when Winter Sonata aired on Kantipur Television Network in the mid-2000s. This led to the popularity of other K-dramas such as Boys Over Flowers, Autumn In My Heart, You Are Beautiful and Full House to name a few. Popularity of Korean media products has also led to interest of learning the Korean language and has resulted in the emergence of Korean language tutorials that air on ABC Television in the country. Korean dramas have become popular among Nepali youth and markets are often frequented by teenagers looking to buy the latest dramas. The hairstyles and fashion of Korean actors have influenced the fashion sense of Nepali youth. Fascinated by the lifestyle and food of Korea, restaurants serving Korean cuisine have also been established in the country.[108][109]

Watching films or TV dramas from South Korea is a serious offence in North Korea, punishable by execution,[110] but people still manage to acquire them on CDs and DVDs.[111]

In the Philippines, Autumn in My Heart ignited the interest in Korean dramas when it was aired on GMA Network in 2003. Korean drama frenzy came to its peak point when Lovers In Paris was aired in ABS-CBN in 2004. GMA Network, ABS-CBN and TV5 regularly air Korean dramas dubbed in the Filipino language.[112]

In Singapore, Prime 12 (now known as Suria) originally aired the Korean drama Sandglass on a weekly basis in 1996 and aired Asphalt Man in 1997. Since 2001, they are shown on Chinese language channel MediaCorp Channel U daily.[113] The launch of KBS World, ONE TV ASIA, Oh!K, Channel M and streaming app, Viu in Singapore allows viewers to watch Korean dramas with a variety of subtitles in a matter of hours after the original South Korean telecast.[114]

In Sri Lanka, the Independent Television Network aired Full House in 2009 and it proved popular. Dae Jang Geum aired on Rupavahini in 2012 and was dubbed in Sinhala under the title Sujatha Diyani (සුජාත දියණී), meaning "The Pure, Valuable Daughter" and received a viewer rate of over 90%.[115] The Independent Television Network, Rupavahini, TV Derana, Sirasa TV, Swarnavahini and TV1 air Korean dramas dubbed in the Sinhalese language.[116][117] Streaming service, Iflix also streams many Korean dramas with English and Sinhalese subtitles in the country, some as early as 24 hours after their original Korean broadcast.[118] Additionally, the popularity of Korean pop culture in the country has led to an increasingly warm reception towards Korean people.[119]

In Taiwan, interest in Korean dramas began when Star in My Heart aired in 1999. Since then Korean dramas have become very popular and according to the South Korean mission 120 K-dramas had been broadcast in Taiwan in the first half of 2011.[120][121]

When Dae Jang Geum was on air in Thailand, Korean food started gaining wide popularity.[122] Due to the lop-sided nature of entertainment exports favoring South Korea, the Thai government requested increased introduction of popular Thai films to South Korean media outlets. This led to the signing of an Agreement of Cultural Cooperation between the two countries in August 2004.[123]

Korean dramas have also gained popularity in Vietnam, particularly among women and young people. The fashion and hairstyles presented in Korean dramas have become very popular among the youth of the country.[124]

Europe, the Middle East and AfricaEdit

Since the mid-2000s, Israel, Iran, Morocco and Egypt have become major consumers of Korean culture.[125][126] Following the success of Korean dramas in the Middle East & North Africa, the Korean Overseas Information Service made Winter Sonata available with Arabic subtitles on several state-run Egyptian television networks. According to Youna Kim (2007), "The broadcast was part of the government's efforts to improve the image of South Korea in the Middle East, where there is little understanding and exposure towards Korean culture" (p. 31).[127] The New York Times reported that the intent behind this was to contribute towards positive relations between Arab & Berber audiences and South Korean soldiers stationed in northern Iraq.[128]

MBC4 (Middle East Broadcasting Channel) played a major role in increasing the Korean wave's popularity in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa). This broadcasting channel hosted a series of Korean drama starting 2013 such as "Boys Over Flowers" (أيام الزهور), "You're Beautiful" (أنت جميلة), "Dream High" (حلم الشباب ), "Coffee Prince" ( مقهى الأمير). Some Arab countries opposed Korean shows (dramas and reality TV shows) because of the fear they would lead to Islam youth to abandon their traditions wholesale in order to adopt Western modernity wholesale.[129] However, this did not stop the Korean industries from exporting more Korean Dramas to the Arab world in the following years such as "The Heirs" ( الورثة). The popularity of Korean dramas in the MENA region-and its continuous growth- originates from the content of these dramas. As the majority of the plots of Korean dramas focus on social issues (love between different social classes or family problems for instance),[130] the Arab audiences fit themselves and could relate to the Korean socio-cultural values as they seem appealing to them. So Korean dramas play the role of an equilibrium point where two, somehow, different cultures could create a new cultural space where these two different cultures could meet.

In the early 2000s, Korean dramas were aired for South Korean troops stationed in northern Iraq as part of coalition forces led by the United States during the Iraq War. With the end of the war and the subsequent withdrawal of South Korean military personnel from the country, efforts were made to expand availability of K-dramas to the ordinary citizens of Iraq.[131] In 2012, the Korean drama Hur Jun reportedly attained a viewership of over 90% in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.[131] Its lead actor Jun Kwang-ryul was invited by the federal government of Iraq to visit the city of Sulaymaniyah in Kurdistan, at the special request of the country's First Lady, Hero Ibrahim Ahmed.[131]

Autumn in My Heart, one of the earliest Korean dramas brought over to the Middle East, was made available for viewing after five months of "persistent negotiations" between the South Korean embassy and an Egyptian state-run broadcasting company. Shortly after the series ended, the embassy reported that it had received over 400 phone calls and love letters from fans from all over the country.[132] According to the secretary of the South Korean embassy in Cairo Lee Ki-seok, Korea's involvement in the Iraq War had significantly undermined its reputation among Egyptians, but the screening of Autumn in My Heart proved "extremely effective" in reversing negative attitudes.[133]

Iran's state broadcaster, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), aired several Korean dramas during prime time slots in recent years, with this decision attributed by some to their Confucian values of respect for others, which are "closely aligned to Islamic culture",[134] while in contrast, Western productions often fail to satisfy the criteria set by Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.[135] In October 2012, the Tehran Times reported that IRIB representatives visited South Korea to visit filming locations in an effort to strengthen "cultural affinities" between the two countries and to seek avenues for further cooperation between KBS and IRIB.[136][137] According to Reuters, until recently audiences in Iran have had little choice in broadcast material and thus programs that are aired by IRIB often attain higher viewership ratings in Iran than in South Korea; for example, the most popular episodes of Jumong attracted over 90% of Iranian audience (compared to 40% in South Korea), propelling its lead actor Song Il-gook to superstar status in Iran.[138]

The first Korean drama in Romania was aired on TVR in August 2009, and in the following month it became the third most popular television program in the country.[139] Since then, Korean dramas have seen high ratings and further success.[139][140]

North America and Latin AmericaEdit

Latin America

Between 2001 and 2002, South America began to absorb everything that came from Korea and the original 1997 series Star in My Heart, began to be broadcast successfully in Chile, Peru and other countries in the area, but these last two were where More had repercussions, including an Ahn Jae-wook fan club founded.[141] In 2002, Winter Sonata, produced by KBS 2TV, became the first series in the region to match the success of Meteor Garden, attracting a cult following in Asia. Marketing sales, including DVD sets and novels, exceeded $3.5 million in Japan. In 2004, then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi noted that the series' male lead was "more popular than I am in Japan." [142] Other Korean dramas released in later years such as Jewel in the Palace (2003) and Full House (2004) had comparable levels of success.[143]

In Chile, which was one of the first countries on a global level, the phenomenon of Korean wave, which is also known as hallyu, began with the first drama aired that was the original 1997 MBC series My Wish on the Stars in 2001 by Chilevisión past midnight[144] and later years later in 2003 it was retransmitted by Canal 21 (Chillán) [es] in Chillán, but it was not until 2006, when Stairway to Heaven was broadcast at 1:00 pm on the public television channel Televisión Nacional de Chile, which achieved notoriety of this genre being compared to La madrastra - an old very successful Chilean soap opera— due to the high audience figures in its schedule competing directly with other channels, it was also broadcast by TV Chile to other continents dubbed into Spanish.[145][146]

North America

The Asian American-targeted cable TV channels AZN Television and ImaginAsian aired Korean dramas alongside content from China, Japan, India, Thailand and other parts of Asia. The dramas were aimed at the Asian American community before the channels dissolved in 2008 and 2011 respectively.[147][148]

In November 2008, Netflix [149] began offering several Korean dramas as part of its video selection. In August 2009, DramaFever began offering free subtitled video streaming service, with video advertisements, in the United States.[150][151]

Singapore-based Viki streams popular Korean dramas across the world including North America, with subtitles in 70 languages.[152] Companies in Asia have also designed streaming services available online and as mobile apps targeted towards overseas Asian communities. "MobiTV" created by the Sri Lankan company, Bhasha is a streaming service and mobile app aimed at the Sri Lankan community and streams Korean dramas dubbed in the Sinhalese language alongside other content aired in Sri Lanka.[153] "Roopa", created by the same company, is another service available as a mobile app also aimed at the Sri Lankan community, it too streams Korean dramas dubbed in the Sinhalese language.[154] Chinese company PPTV is another example, a mobile app, "PPTV网络电视HD" streams Korean dramas aimed at the Chinese community alongside content that is primarily available in Mandarin, Cantonese and Korean but also increasingly in English.[155][156]

Additionally, Korean dramas are available at online DVD retailers. Some Korean dramas, however, are not available for region 1 (North America) encoding and NTSC video format. Amazon offers streaming of Winter Sonata for a fee.[157]

KBFD-DT in Honolulu, Hawaii broadcasts a majority of Korean dramas on its daily schedule, as well as offering the programs on sale at its website and on demand through its K-Life channel on Oceanic Time Warner Cable. Another Honolulu outlet, KHII-TV devotes three hours of its Sunday afternoon schedule to Korean dramas.

KTSF, a channel aimed at the Asian American community in San Francisco, California airs Korean dramas as part of its schedule alongside content in Mandarin, Tagalog, Hindi, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Taiwanese and Cantonese.[158]

Viewership ratingsEdit

Viewership ratings are provided by two companies in South Korea, AGB Nielsen Media Research and TNmS. Originally Media Service Korea was the only company providing such information, and it was later acquired by Nielsen Media Research. In 1999 TNS Media Korea also began such service, and later changed its name to TNmS. AGB collects viewership data based on 2050 households, while TNmS has 2000 households with measuring devices. Drama ratings usually vary between the two companies by 2-3%.[159]

List of highest-rated Korean dramas in public broadcastEdit

The list was compiled from data by AGB Nielsen Media Research, based on the episode of the highest viewership since 1992, when AGB Nielsen entered the Korean market.[160]

Chae Shi-ra, the leading actress of Eyes of Dawn (1991)
# Drama Channel Highest nationwide
AGB Nielsen Rating
Final episode date Ref.
1 You and I [ko] MBC 66.9% 26 April 1998 [161]
2 First Love KBS2 65.8% 20 April 1997 [162][163]
3 What Is Love [ko] MBC 64.9% 31 May 1992 [164][165]
4 Sandglass SBS 64.5% 16 February 1995
5 Hur Jun MBC 63.5% 27 June 2000 [166]
6 A Sunny Place of the Young [ko] KBS2 62.7% 12 November 1995 [167]
7 Sons and Daughters [ko] MBC 61.1% 9 May 1993 [162][163]
8 Taejo Wang Geon KBS1 60.2% 24 February 2002 [168]
9 Eyes of Dawn MBC 58.4% 6 February 1992 [169][170]
10 Dae Jang Geum 57.8% 23 March 2004 [168]
11 See and See Again [ko] 57.3% 2 April 1999 [171]
12 Truth [ko] 56.5% 24 February 2000
13 Lovers in Paris SBS 56.3% 15 August 2004 [172]
14 Jealousy [ko] MBC 56.1% 21 July 1992 [173][174]
15 Blowing of the Wind [ko] KBS2 55.8% 29 March 1996
16 Men of the Bath House [ko] 53.4% 1 September 1996 [167]
17 Gook Hee [ko] MBC 53.1% 16 November 1999 [175][176]
Trap of Youth [ko] SBS 15 April 1999 [175][176]
19 Tomato [ko] (토마토) 52.7% 10 June 1999
20 M [ko] MBC 52.2% 30 August 1994 [177][178]
21 Season of the Storm [ko] 52.1% 30 December 1993 [179][180]
22 Rustic Period SBS 51.8% 30 September 2003
23 My Mother's Sea [ko] MBC 51.6% 26 December 1993 [181][182]
24 Legend of Ambition [ko] KBS2 50.2% 25 October 1998 [163]
25 Ladies of the Palace [ko] SBS 49.9% 22 July 2002 [168]
26 My Son's Woman [ko] MBC 49.7% 13 April 1995 [183][184]
Jumong 6 March 2007 [185][168]
28 Tears of the Dragon KBS1 49.6% 31 May 1998 [168]
29 My Only One KBS2 49.4% 17 March 2019 [186]
30 Star in My Heart MBC 49.3% 29 April 1997 [187][188]
Bread, Love and Dreams KBS2 16 September 2010 [189]
32 My Lovely Sam Soon MBC 49.1% 21 July 2005 [190]
33 Ambition [ko] 49.0% 13 October 1994 [191]
34 The Moon of Seoul [ko] 48.7% 16 October 1994 [192][193]
35 The Last Match 48.6% 22 February 1994 [194][195][196][197]
36 All About Eve MBC 48.3% 6 July 2000 [198][199]
Wang's Family KBS2 9 February 2014 [200]
38 How is Your Husband? [ko] SBS 48.2% 19 October 1993 [note 1]
39 Cinderella [ko] MBC 48.0% 13 July 1997 [205]
40 All In SBS 47.7% 3 April 2003
41 Seoyoung, My Daughter KBS2 47.6% 3 March 2013 [206]
42 Until We Can Love [ko] 47.1% 28 February 1997
43 My Rosy Life 47.0% 10 November 2005 [207]
44 Pilot [ko] MBC 46.2% 2 November 1993 [208]
45 Autumn in My Heart KBS2 46.1% 7 November 2000
46 Daughters of a Rich Family [ko] 45.9% 30 April 1995 [167]
47 My Husband Got a Family 45.3% 9 September 2012 [209]
48 Brilliant Legacy SBS 45.2% 26 July 2009 [210]
49 My Golden Life KBS2 45.1% 11 March 2018 [211]
50 Dear Heaven SBS 44.9% 2 July 2006 [212]

List of highest-rated Korean dramas in cable televisionEdit

The following dramas air on a cable channel/pay TV which normally has a relatively smaller audience compared to free-to-air TV/public broadcasters (KBS, SBS, MBC and EBS).

# Drama Channel Highest nationwide
AGB Nielsen Rating[213]
episode date
1 The World of the Married JTBC 28.371% 16 May 2020 [214]
2 SKY Castle 23.779% 1 February 2019 [215]
3 Crash Landing on You tvN 21.683% 16 February 2020 [216]
4 Reply 1988 18.803% 16 January 2016 [217][218]
5 Guardian: The Lonely and Great God 18.680% 21 January 2017 [219]
6 Mr. Sunshine 18.129% 30 September 2018 [220]
7 Itaewon Class JTBC 16.548% 21 March 2020 [221]
8 100 Days My Prince tvN 14.412% 30 October 2018 [222]
9 Hospital Playlist 14.142% 28 May 2020 [223]
10 Signal 12.544% 12 March 2016 [224]
11 The Lady in Dignity JTBC 12.065% 19 August 2017 [225][226]
12 Hotel del Luna tvN 12.001% 1 September 2019 [227]
13 Reply 1994 11.509% 28 December 2013 [228]
14 Prison Playbook 11.195% 18 January 2018 [229]
15 The Crowned Clown 10.851% 4 March 2019 [230]
16 Childless Comfort JTBC 10.715% 17 March 2013 [231][232]
17 Encounter tvN 10.329% 24 January 2019 [233]
18 Memories of the Alhambra 10.025% 20 January 2019 [234]
19 Another Miss Oh 9.991% 28 June 2016 [235]
20 The Light in Your Eyes JTBC 9.731% 19 March 2019 [236]
21 Strong Girl Bong-soon 9.668% 15 April 2017 [237]
22 Lawless Lawyer tvN 8.937% 1 July 2018 [238]
23 What's Wrong with Secretary Kim 8.665% 26 July 2018 [239]
24 Graceful Family MBN 8.478% 17 October 2019 [240][241]
25 Misty JTBC 8.452% 24 March 2018 [242]
26 Misaeng: Incomplete Life tvN 8.240% 20 December 2014 [243]
27 Familiar Wife 8.210% 20 September 2018 [244]
28 Dear My Friends 8.087% 2 July 2016 [245]
29 Live 7.730% 6 May 2018 [246]
30 Arthdal Chronicles 7.705% 22 September 2019 [247]
31 My Mister 7.352% 17 May 2018 [248]
32 It's Okay to Not Be Okay 7.348% 9 August 2020 [249]
33 Oh My Ghost 7.337% 22 August 2015 [250]
34 Something in the Rain JTBC 7.281% 19 May 2018 [251]
35 Second 20s tvN 7.233% 17 October 2015 [252]
36 Cheese in the Trap 7.102% 1 March 2016 [253]
37 Voice 2 OCN 7.086% 16 September 2018 [254]
38 A Korean Odyssey tvN 6.942% 4 March 2018 [255]
39 Live Up to Your Name 6.907% 1 October 2017 [256]
40 The Good Detective JTBC 6.847% (currently airing) [257]
41 The Cursed tvN 6.721% 17 March 2020 [258]
42 Romance Is a Bonus Book 6.651% 17 March 2019 [259]
43 The K2 6.636% 12 November 2016 [260]
44 Watcher OCN 6.585% 25 August 2019 [261]
45 Stranger tvN 6.568% 30 July 2017 [262]
46 Hi Bye, Mama! 6.519% 19 April 2020 [263]
47 Tunnel OCN 6.490% 21 May 2017 [264]
48 Queen: Love and War TV Chosun 6.348% 9 February 2020 [265][266]
49 Avengers Social Club tvN 6.330% 16 November 2017 [267]
50 Kingmaker: The Change of Destiny TV Chosun 6.327% 26 July 2020 [268]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ As of 2010 it remained 38th in ranking,[201] as of January 2013, it remained 41st in ranking,[202] as of May 2015, it remained around 40th in ranking,[203] as of June 2018, it remained 39th in ranking.[204]


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  250. ^ "August 22, 2015 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 1st (tvN) 금토드라마(오나의귀신님<본>) 7.337%
  251. ^ "May 12, 2018 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 1st (JTBC) 금토드라마(밥잘사주는예쁜누나) 7.281%
  252. ^ "October 17, 2015 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 1st (tvN) 금토드라마(두번째스무살<본>) 7.233%
  253. ^ "February 1, 2016 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 1st (tvN) 월화드라마(치즈인더트랩<본>) 7.102%
  254. ^ "September 16, 2018 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 2nd (OCN) 놓치지말아야할소리보이스2<본> 7.086%
  255. ^ "January 14, 2018 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 1st (tvN) 화유기<본> 6.942%
  256. ^ "October 1, 2017 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 1st (tvN) 토일드라마(명불허전조선왕복메디활극<본>) 6.907%
  257. ^ "August 11, 2020 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 2nd (JTBC) 월화드라마(모범형사) 6.847%
  258. ^ "March 17, 2020 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 1st (tvN) 방법<본> 6.721%
  259. ^ "March 17, 2019 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 1st (tvN) 토일드라마(로맨스는별책부록<본>) 6.651%
  260. ^ "October 8, 2016 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 1st (tvN) 더케이투<본> 6.636%
  261. ^ "August 25, 2019 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 2nd (OCN) WATCHER<본> 6.585%
  262. ^ "July 30, 2017 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 1st (tvN) 토일드라마(비밀의숲<본>) 6.568%
  263. ^ "March 1, 2020 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 1st (tvN) 토일드라마(하이바이마마<본>) 6.519%
  264. ^ "May 21, 2017 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 1st (OCN) 운명과시간이교차하는곳터널<본> 6.490%
  265. ^ "February 9, 2020 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 1st (TV CHOSUN) TVCHOSUN특별기획드라마(간택여인들의전쟁) 6.348%
  266. ^ 이애림 (10 February 2020). "'간택', '대군' 넘었다..TV조선 드라마 최고 시청률로 종영". tvj.co.kr (in Korean). 연예투데이뉴스. Showbiz Today News. Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  267. ^ "November 16, 2017 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 1st (tvN) 수목드라마(부암동복수자들<본>) 6.330%
  268. ^ "June 27, 2020 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea. 1st (TV CHOSUN) 특별기획드라마(바람과구름과비) 6.327%


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