Some have come and gone, and others have stuck around like a suspicious carton of takeout in the back of your fridge.
It seems like every few years a Korean drama with a particularly interesting plot comes along and takes the community by storm. Then a few months later another drama with a variation of the same plot bursts on to the scene. Then another and another— and before you know it, we have ourselves a trend.
Here are 11 trends we’ve observed in Korean dramas so far.
Artificial Intelligence (AKA Robots)
As technology progresses, artificial intelligence is something the whole world’s talking about. Questions like: “When will A.I. go too far?” and “Could it become sentient?” are constantly raised. In the past few years, there have been quite a few Korean dramas featuring robots, holograms, and other things that could soon become the norm. They’ve posed the questions mentioned above, but the biggest one always seems to be:
“Is it ever okay to make out with a robot?”
Out of all the dramas that asked this question, Are You Human Too? was a standout. And not just because Seo Kang-joon’s face is perfect enough to belong on an android. The story was engaging and unpredictable, and most of all Seo Kang-joon’s portrayal of both Nam-shin (the human) and Nam Shin III (the android) was beautifully nuanced.
Other notable A.I. themed dramas: I’m Not a Robot, My Absolute Boyfriend, My Holo Love, Bong Soon— A Cyborg in Love, and Borg Mom.
Humankind has always been fascinated with the supernatural, so stories revolving around the protagonist being able to see or communicate with the dead are hardly new. But back in the early to mid 2000s, there weren’t a ton of them. Realism was the order of the day. Now, because of dramas like Master’s Sun and Guardian, it seems like every time I sneeze someone’s whispering, “I see dead people…”
Other notable supernatural themed dramas: Hotel del Luna, Gu Family Book, My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho, Oh My Ghostess, Bring It On, Ghost, Arang and the Magistrate, A Korean Odyssey, Who Are You?, Cheo Young, Item, Possessed, Chicago Typewriter, Black, Spellbound, and The Village: Achiara’s Secret.
(Also, is it just me, or does Taecyeon get a phone call every time someone wants to film a drama with ghosts?)
Time Travel/Alternate Universes
If you’ve ever been intrigued by the concept of time travel, 2012 was a good year for you, because it’s when Korean dramas realized time is just a man-made construct! At least three different dramas revolving around time travel came out, with my favorite being Queen In-hyun’s Man. Then later, when the trend was starting to die down, shows like Signal and Tunnel revived it.
This trend also has a subcategory of alternate (or parallel) universes that dramas like The King: Eternal Monarch are helping to popularize.
At this point, time travel’s practically a genre of its own. And I hope the trend continues to stand the test of time.
Other notable time travel themed dramas: Rooftop Prince, Faith, Nine: 9 Times Time Travel (Try and say this nine times fast), Splash Splash Love, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, Go Back Couple, Tomorrow, With You, One More Time, Familiar Wife, Saimdang, Light’s Diary, Hit the Top, Live Up To Your Name, Dr. Jin, God’s Gift: 14 Days, Somehow 18, Marry Him, If You Dare, The Light In Your Eyes, Chicago Typewriter, Operation Proposal, and Manhole.
Alternate/Parallel universe themed dramas: W: Two Worlds, Circle: Two Connected Worlds, and Extraordinary You.
For centuries vampires were regarded as evil, nightmarish creatures by all. The fear was so potent, people came up with all kinds of methods to keep them away. They carried Holy water, wore garlic, and stayed strapped with wooden stakes (There’s a good rap song in there somewhere.) But in the past few decades, there’s been a massive shift. Thanks to characters like Lestat de Lioncourt, Edward Cullen, and now Min Tae-yeon (Vampire Prosecutor), people wish they could attract vampires instead of repel them.
Other notable vampire themed dramas: The Scholar Who Walks the Night, Blood, Orange Marmalade, Vampire Detective, Vampire Flower, and Vampire Idol.
Here’s another trend that’s practically become its own genre. It’s that carton of takeout I talked about at the beginning.
Is it old? Yes. Will I ever throw it away? No.
Noona Romances can dip into other genres and consist of multiple trends at once. The biggest requirement is that the female lead is older than the male lead. Some popular couples this trend has spawned have only been a few years apart, while others have been a decade apart!
I think it’s safe to say the drama that started all of this was 2005’s My Lovely Sam Soon starring Kim Sun-ah and Hyun-bin. The introspective, but adorable drama touched on body image, getting older, and self-confidence among other relatable topics. Kim Sun-ah and Hyun-bin’s chemistry was also through the roof. To this day it remains one of the highest rated dramas of all time.
Since then, this trend of younger men wooing older women has been going strong. I don’t think a year has gone by without at least one Noona Romance coming out, and I always look forward to it.
Other notable Noona Romances: Encounter, I Hear Your Voice, A Witch’s Love, Love Is a Bonus Book, Search: WWW, Something in the Rain, I Need Romance 3, I Love Lee Tae Ri, Secret Love Affair, Flower Boy Ramen Shop, Let’s Eat, King of High School, Biscuit Teacher and Star Candy, Personal Taste, The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry, I Do, I Do, Oh! My Lady, and Dal Ja’s Spring.
Super Powers/Special Abilities
Super human strength, the ability to read minds, the ability to…see smells?
People are getting tired of the norm, so this trend of dramas having extraordinary protagonists has been growing over the past decade. It can sometimes dip into the supernatural pool, but a lot of the time these powers are comparable to the ones found in Marvel movies.
The most popular drama in this trend is Strong Woman Do Bong Soon, because who doesn’t want to see tiny Park Bo-young lifting things fifty times her size?
Other notable super powered dramas: I Hear Your Voice, The Girl Who Sees Scents, While You Were Sleeping, Pinocchio, He is Psychometric, When Time Stopped, The Game: Towards Zero, Hero, Meloholic, Blade Man, The Light In Your Eyes, and Where Stars Land.
Mental illness is a very difficult thing to deal with or watch a family member or friend suffer through. It’s still taboo in most parts of the world, and highly misunderstood. That’s why it was such a surprise when dramas about dissociative identity disorder like Kill Me, Heal Me and Hyde, Jekyll, Me came out the same year!
Some may argue that these dramas and the others that followed aren’t realistic portrayals of certain illnesses, but if anything they started a dialogue. And the first step to understanding anything is talking about it.
Other mental health themed dramas: It’s Okay, That’s Love, Flower Boy Next Door, Introverted Boss, Me Too, Flower!, My Mister, Protect the Boss, Born Again, and I Remember You (aka Hello, Monster).
Few people can resist a man in uniform. That’s why the trend of military men is picking up steam. War movies often attract big audiences in Korea, but since Road No. 1 came out in 2010, there wasn’t a big military drama until Descendants of the Sun. The drama reminded people that military dramas can have it all: romance, action, and intrigue.
Now, with Netflix’s Crash Landing On You strengthening the trend, I think we’ll see even more men in uniform in the near future.
Other military themed dramas: King2Hearts, The K2, Mr. Sunshine, Bridal Mask, Inspiring Generation, and Korean Peninsula.
Are you a believer? Whether you believe in aliens or mermaids or nine-tailed fox spirits, there are more and more dramas venturing into this territory. I think what launched this trend was the massive success of My Love From Another Star. Since then this trend has delivered steadily, and shows no signs of slowing down.
The possibilities are endless, and the pairings are literally out of this world.
Other dramas featuring aliens/mythical beings: The Legend of the Blue Sea, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, Gu Family Book, The Bride of Habaek, Surplus Princess (aka The Idle Mermaid), W: Two Worlds, and Circle.
Infidelity/A Cheating Heart
When people start dating or exchange wedding vows, none of them imagine being betrayed. But sadly, it happens and there have been a host of dramas that have explored the topic of infidelity.
It’s a trend that’s been around, but often takes a backseat to newer trends like time travel and the supernatural.
With the huge success of this year’s The World of the Married, that could change very soon…
Other notable dramas featuring infidelity: I Have A Lover, Secret Love Affair, My Mister, VIP, Temptation of Wife, The K2, The Last Empress, Avengers Social Club, On The Way To The Airport, One Warm Word, My Wife’s Having An Affair This Week, Spring Turns To Spring, Goodbye To Goodbye, The Good Wife, The Hymn of Death, Misty, A Wife’s Credentials, Woman of Dignity, My Man’s Woman, Temptation, and My Love Eun-dong.
Here we are: the grandfather of all trends. Before BTS graced American award shows and Viki was a thing, there were two little dramas called Winter Sonata and Autumn In My Heart. Starring a cast of young actors we now know as powerhouses (Bae Yong-joon, Choi Ji-woo, Song Seung-heon, and Song Hye-kyo), both dramas were about people inexplicably drawn to each other. The twist? They were either possibly siblings or grew up like siblings.
People all over Asia went bananas for both dramas, and they became the pioneers of the Hallyu Wave.
It was a frantic time of mass consumption. A string of dramas seeing just how close to being siblings they could make the leads were released. The idea was juicy and taboo, and audiences tuned in for it.
Fortunately, over the last few decades, this “sibling love” trend has died down. Sure, you can still catch hints of it in melodramas, but we as a community are no longer fascinated by it.
Other notable sibling love themed dramas: Stairway to Heaven, Ireland, Triple, Tree of Heaven, One Fine Day, 90 Days of Love, Hotel King, Love Rain, Can You Hear My Heart, and Sassy Go-Go.
So there you have it! Robotic boyfriends, seeing the dead, men in uniform, mermaids, and Noona killers. Some trends stay and some go, but great Korean dramas live forever.
What have been some of your favorite drama trends? What do you hope to see next?
I’d like to see more mermaids, perhaps a merman this time. And superpowers are always welcomed.