K-Dramas on Netflix: A Beginner's Guide to the Best Shows
Newsweek|May 21 - 28, 2021 (Double Issue)
The South Korean culture pop culture wave that has been taking over the world conquers the small screen
By SOO KIM

Movies like Parasite and Minari have been critical and commercial international hits and K-pop artists like BTS have broken records around the world. Now its K-drama’s turn. According to Netflix, South Korean-made shows like Kingdom and It’s Okay to Not Be Okay are being watched on the streaming service in more than 30 languages, including English, German, French, Swedish, Hindi, Portuguese and Bahasa Indonesia.

K-dramas have been one of the driving forces of South Korea’s entertainment industry for decades. In recent years, their quality has improved tremendously with bigger budgets and more varied characters and storylines than ever before.

The international success of Korean TV actually predates the K-pop explosion. The word hallyu (“Korean wave”) was coined in the late 1990s. The trend picked up steam in 2003, when the K-drama Winter Sonata became hugely popular in Japan. This year, Netflix announced it would be investing nearly $500 million in Korean content “to add more variety and diversity to our growing slate.”

Here are five of the most compelling Korean shows on Netflix now.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

The critically acclaimed romantic drama was hailed as one of the “best international television shows of 2020” by The New York Times.

The series follows a budding relationship between antisocial children’s author Go Moon-young (played by Seo Ye-ji) and Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun), a caretaker at a psychiatric ward who has spent his entire life looking after his autistic older brother.

Moon-young aggressively pursues Gang-tae, resulting in heated clashes that ultimately bring the couple closer together.

The filterless and fearless heroine might remind some viewers of Villanelle, the psychopathic assassin from Killing Eve, and a literal translation of the show’s Korean name is “You’re a psycho but it’s OK.” Moon-young doesn’t have the same killer instinct, however, and her strong personality is balanced by the glimpses of vulnerability drawn out by Gang-tae, who is unwaveringly patient yet stubborn.

Several scenes have a dark fairytale feel, similar to the children’s stories written by Moon-young, with snowy fields, forest backdrops and the heroine’s fairytale princess outfits and long flowing hair. Other sequences switch between fantasy and reality, such as a trippy scene where a VIP psychiatric patient walks viewers through how he sees the world.

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