Americans are importing Korean products, goods and popular culture more than ever before. Korean pop music, or K-pop, is gaining listeners across all demographics worldwide at a steady rate. Even the beauty and skin regimens of South Korean women are popping up in almost every beauty store, making previously unknown Korean products more readily available.
However, Korean-produced television shows and dramas—called K-TV for short—have not gained as much popularity with American consumers. Streaming services such as Netflix make it easy for those wanting to consume K-TV across the Pacific, without having to go searching on the web for an obscure site that houses the international genre.
It can be a little strange watching a K-TV show for the first time if you’re not familiar with the format, acting, over-editing and quirky elements of Korean productions. Sometimes overdramatic and fantastical, but always relatable and entertaining, K-TV is the perfect place to go for your next Netflix binge. Here are a few shows to get you started, streaming now on Netflix.
This situational comedy, known in Korea as “Maeumui Sori,” is based upon the longest-running web cartoon in South Korea by the same name. The webtoon and the show both are loosely based on the family and life of the creator, Cho Seok. It gives viewers a look into a modern Korean-family’s life, as both Cho Seok and his brother are adult children still living with their parents—as many Koreans do if they are not married—giving rise to sibling rivalry and jest throughout the series. Following the professional life of Cho Seok as an artist, as well as the hilarious and often misguided attempts at winning the heart of his eventual wife Ae-Bong, the show finds comedy in every situation that is relatable to all people regardless of nationality.
Beginning as a ten-episode web series in Korea in December 2016, it quickly became popular enough to air an additional ten episodes shortly after. Netflix has all of the episodes up to date, and will most likely add the others for Season 2, which has yet to be confirmed.
Fusing everything great about Korean pop culture, this 2012 show chronicles the fate of the fictional K-pop boy band, M2, as some of its members transition out, while others audition for the coveted spots within the group. Playing with gender and traditional roles of women like many other K-TV shows, the main character Seung-Yeon is a tomboy that finds herself auditioning for the part after failing in her classical music training in the United Kingdom. Fooling everyone except her family into thinking that she is a boy, she successfully makes it to the training stage of the group known as M2 Junior, where the most talented will ascend to the real M2.
The comedic drama is saturated with over acting, quick and cheesy cuts in editing as well as some pretty repetitive music. None of this detracts from the plot of the show, and, in fact, actually strengthens it, as the histrionics are so authentically Korean. Keep your eye out for the budding love story between Seung-Yeon and the most popular member of M2, Woo Hyun, who is losing his spot in the group to the winners of the competition. This rivalry-turned-romance will have you interested until the very end, as her gender identity eventually comes into question.
In this choose-your-own-adventure series that debuted on the web, viewers follow new high school transfer student Kwon Mi Na in short episodes as she meets four potential guys of interest. Each episode ends with a situation that will lead Mi Na to cross paths with a different guy, and the viewers are given a choice on which boy to pursue, thus leading the story in a different direction as dictated by the audience members.
The four boys each represent the athlete, childhood friend, class clown and bad boy tropes. Based on the audience’s decisions, Mi Na will end up with one of these boys in the final episode, and with a plot rife with romance, humor and drama, the journey is as engrossing as if you were the main character herself.
Be careful when watching this show on Netflix, because as a result of the choose-your-boy format, the episodic format of Netflix can have you unintentionally watching the wrong episode. So make your choice at the end of each episode, then be sure your choice is represented on the title slide of the next episode you watch, so as not to go out of order.
One of the most popular K-TV shows of 2009, “Boys Over Flowers” follows the story of Geum Jan-di as she enters the prestigious and private Shinhwa High School and gains the attention of the four most popular boys, also referred to in a group as F4.
A lot of classist issues are explored, as Jan-di is attending on scholarship while the other students come from rich and powerful families. This dynamic creates some tension between F4 and Jan-di, as some of the members give her a hard time for her innocence and naivety. She eventually develops feelings for two of the members, creating a tense love triangle in which both boys vie for her love while learning to be normal people in the process.
The show is known for its amazing filmed Korean locations, so it’s a great way to see the beauty of the country while being entertained. Don’t be thrown by the quirkiness of Jan-di, as she becomes endearing and more realistic than all of the other characters. The only downside to this show is that they use the same four or five songs on rotation throughout the entire twenty-five-episode series, which gets repetitive and sometimes inappropriate for the mood of certain scenes, but totally worth it.
Aired in summer 2015 in South Korea, “Oh My Ghost” tells the story of Shin Soon-Ae, a lonely ghost with unfinished business on earth due to dying as a virgin. The premise is a little cheesy, but when Soon-Ae finally possesses the body of female kitchen assistant, Bong-Sun, she begins to live the life of the possessed and is immediately drawn to the celebrity chef and owner of the restaurant, Sun-Woo.
The characters are humorous and charming as their flaws and attraction to each other are revealed as the series goes on. This show has a lot of spiritual elements to it, as Bong-Sun’s shamanic grandmother tries to dispossess her and move Soon-Ae onto the spirit world, but the seamless incorporation of the spiritual into the daily lives of the characters is realistic enough for the audience to not get lost. And of course, everyone likes a romance story, especially when the wellbeing of a ghost is dependent upon the release of her virgin grudge.
While K-TV may not be for everyone, as the style of production is a departure from what many in the American audience is used to or comfortable with, the genre itself is worth checking out. For someone that may get tired of the predictable and repetitive American television model, K-TV is just fantastic enough, while being grounded in reality, to keep you entertained on so many levels.