by Sara Conway ’21 A&E Co-Editor
Here we are again. Barely a month into 2021, and this new year has already slammed us with a series of historical events: the Jan. 6 Capitol attack; the swearing in of President Biden; the GameStop fiasco which occurred during the last week of January; and, of course, the world still battles COVID-19.
Escaping into a story, regardless of medium, is desperately needed. Netflix is always there, but what to watch after bingeing the high-profile shows such as The Queen’s Gambit and Bridgerton? Look no further than to the abundance of original Korean dramas—or K-dramas, as they are better known—on Netflix.
In 2019, the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) reported that the United States “accounts for five to six percent of the international viewership” of K-dramas, or about 18 million viewers. As Korean entertainment has gained more international attention, including from the American mainstream, so has the content, such as K-dramas, steadily increased and become more widely available on platforms like Netflix.
Before jumping into watching a K-drama, a few basics of the genre must be explained. Firstly, unlike American TV shows that often span across several series, K-dramas are generally one season, ranging between 16 and 24 one-hour episodes. This is part of the allure of K-dramas: their storylines have a conclusion, and in their compact form, they are highly binge-worthy (not to mention the addictive antics that are characteristic of these dramas).
Another basic element: there will be tropes. But the tropes make the stories so much fun. For example, if it is a romantic comedy (or not), there is a high chance that the romantic leads used to be childhood friends and somehow forgot this fact. Past trauma also tends to play an important role in the present drama that slowly rises to the surface (a K-drama is not complete without some family trauma). The characters find a way to confront this trauma while also looking good. Long trench coats and turtlenecks are a classic K-drama look—and for good reason.
K-dramas would not be K-dramas without their twists, and sometimes a viewer really has to suspend their belief in reality. On that note, if there is no body, then the person who was said to be dead is most likely not dead. They will reappear again, almost guaranteed.
Lastly, K-dramas cover every genre under the sun. You want a historical story? Great. Watch Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth about the Silla Dynasty, 57 BC–935 AD. What about a cute college romance? Tons out there. A semi-believable-and-also-hilarious drama about a CEO accidentally ending up in North Korea? Let me tell you about Crash Landing on You.
Released in 2019, Netflix’s original show, Crash Landing on You, follows Yoon Se-ri (Korean last names are written first), a successful businesswoman and CEO of her own beauty brand. One day, while testing a new hang glider suit, a strong storm suddenly sweeps in and knocks Se-ri into none other than North Korea. Her antics to try and escape are both hilarious and frustrating, as upset plans and close calls abound. Family drama back in South Korea, a North Korean army captain, and a loyal band of side characters make things interesting for Se-ri as she attempts to cross the border again and again.
About two months after Crash Landing on You finished airing, a new Netflix original hit the streaming platform: Extracurricular. In this darker K-drama, a typical wallflower-straight-A high school student is not all that he seems. Oh Ji-soo is the middleman in a complicated side hustle that makes bank, which helps him save up money to go to college. However, things start to spiral out of control when his “part-time job”—which may be or not be illegal—is discovered by a fellow classmate.
Ethical undercurrents are also foundational in Hospital Playlist, another Netflix K-drama released in 2020. Maybe hospital shows are not what one wants to watch now, but Hospital Playlist sets itself apart from the copious medical dramas available through its tight friend group of doctors who first met in medical school. Also, they form a band together, practicing after work whenever they can. You will never hear Pachebel’s “Canon in D” the same way.
Finally, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay (2020) explores mental health, trauma, and family with a dark fairytale twist. Ko Moon-young and Moon Gang-tae are a famous picture book author and a caregiver in a psychiatric hospital, respectively, who literally collide in a hospital where Gang-tae works and Moon-young is a guest speaker. As their lives become more and more entangled, which is further complicated because they knew each other as children, both take steps towards emotional healing, beginning with art and stories.
If you need some laughs, moments in which reality is tossed out the windows, or shows in which friends, family, and romance all intersect with unique plotlines, K-dramas are an absolute must-watch.