If you know me, you know that I love K-drama, a.k.a Korean drama series. It was a few years ago when I first became curious about these foreign films and TV shows. I decided to give them a go and it didn’t take long before I was hooked. I never knew I could become so attached to characters on the screen or root so hard for them. And in many ways they surprised me by their depth, complexity, humor, and ability to draw you so deeply into a story. The more I watched and became familiar with the genre, the more I found certain elements that I wanted to include in my own stories. And after watching hours upon hours of content, I realized there were a few things many of them had in common. I compiled my notes and came up with five key elements that make K-dramas so darn good.
1: Vicious Villains
If there is one thing K-drama does best it’s villains, or at least the opposing force. There are times when the villain will move against the protagonist and I find myself filled with a burning rage, and other times when the villain feels so real and so honest, that I’m often empathetic towards them. When any work of fiction, (books or film), can get you to feel so intensely toward a villain, you know that character is done well. And when villains have realistic goals and/or purposes their impact is much greater than a character who is simply bad in order to cause friction in a story. I’ve also learned that a villain doesn’t have to be an evil Overlord, reigning terror upon innocent citizens. Sometimes it’s a classmate, a neighbor, a brother, someone who wronged you years ago. What matters most is the emotion and the selfish motivations driving them forward. (My recommendation: Tale of the Nine-Tailed)
2: Tropes Done Right
Whether we admit it or not I think we can all enjoy a good trope, when it’s done right. I’m sure you know the silly, sometimes cheesy stereotypes often found in film and books. A common one you’ll find in K-dramas is Rich Boy/Poor Girl. As often as I think I’m going to get tired of this trend, I don’t, because the character development isn’t so shallow as to end there. The personalities, motivations, and emotions are more real and affecting than the character’s job description. I have found myself able to relate to the billionaire, C.E.O. of a conglomerate company, from the humble walls of my suburban house. K-drama has the ability to remind us that we’re all human, no matter our social standing. (My recommendation: My Shy Boss)
Another common trope you will find, is love triangles. (Cue the cringe.) Not everyone can pull this off, but it is through K-dramas that I was introduced to the term, ‘Second-lead Syndrome’. Which means exactly what you think it means. It’s a strange and often painful phenomena where you find yourself rooting for the second lead instead of the main lead. Going down this road will most definitely end in heart-break, but it’s oh-so worth it. </3 (My recommendation: True Beauty)
3: Internal Struggle External Conflict
Another aspect that K-drama does exceptionally well is internal conflict. Typically within the first episode you will catch a glimpse of the inner struggle the protagonist is faced with on a daily basis. Each character has a very real and often relatable challenge that most people can understand. K-dramas are mainly character-driven stories but that isn’t to say the outer conflict isn’t just as deep and pertinent. Trying to predict the twists and turns of a K-drama is almost as complicated as brain surgery. Okay, maybe not that complicated. These two different forms of conflict will surprise you when they culminate in an often epic clash at the end. (My recommendation: He is Psychometric)
4: Moral of the Story
The moral of the story or what the writing world refers to as theme, is never left out of any K-drama. Most K-dramas are fraught with drama, as their name implies, but by the end of a series you’ll come away with a valuable life lesson or even a tough moral question to ponder. Many of them have a strong family element woven into the storyline with complicated relationships and consequences for all peoples. Sometimes they will focus on positive character transformations, and other times they will highlight the consequences of allowing darkness to take root in one’s life. So next time someone asks why you’ve been watching a K-drama for four hours straight, you can tell them it’s not just entertainment, you’re also learning some very important life lessons. For example, maybe the friendly neighborhood assassin down the street is just misunderstood, and his actions are actually justified? Hypothetically speaking, that is. (My recommendation: Kill It)
5: Laughter is Medicine, Too
If you’re ever feeling down the surest way I know to lift your spirits is a little K-drama pick-me-up. When you’re feeling gloomy or just want a little distraction from the world, humor is the best remedy. Just press play and you’ll soon be laughing, (or crying), along with the characters on the screen. Sometimes comedy can be over-done or even cringe-worthy, but when you find the right drama your belly will soon be aching from all the laughter. But even the seemingly lighthearted and cute dramas can be quite complex, and serious at times. It’s easy for jokes to fall flat in film or TV, but K-dramas sure know how to make you laugh, or at least smile. (My recommendation: Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo)
I could go on and on about why I love K-drama so much, but I’ll end it here for today. I find it hard sometimes to classify K-drama’s as a thriller, or comedy, etc., because they also have the unique ability to bend genres. They will take you on a roller-coaster of emotions and plot twists as you follow the characters along their journeys. I have learned so many story-telling techniques from K-dramas, that I think it’s safe to say that all those hours invested might just pay off in the end. And if you’re not too intimidated to cross the threshold into the territory of subtitles, I don’t think you’ll regret it. You might even find a new way to spend your free time.
Thanks for reading,