Korean dramas are popular worldwide, partially due to the spread of Korean popular culture (the "Korean Wave"), and their widespread availability via streaming services which often offer subtitles in multiple languages. Many K-dramas have been adapted throughout the world, and some have had great impact on other countries. Some of the most famous dramas have been broadcast via traditional television channels. For example, Dae Jang Geum (2003) was sold to 91 countries. K-dramas have attracted attention for their fashion, style and culture all over the world. The rise in popularity of korean dramas had led to a great boost to fashion line.
A single director usually leads Korean dramas, which are often written by a single screenwriter. This often leads to each drama having distinct directing and dialogue styles. This differs from American television series, which can rely on multiple directors and writers working together. Series set in contemporary times typically run for a single season and usually contain 12 to 24 episodes of 60 minutes each. Historical series may be longer, with up to 200 episodes, but they also generally run for only one season.
The broadcast time for dramas is 22:00 to 23:00, with episodes airing on two consecutive nights: Mondays and Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, or weekends. Dramas appear on each of the nationwide networks: Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and on the cable channels, including Joongang Tongyang Broadcasting Company (jTBC), Channel A, tvN, and Orion Cinema Network (OCN).
The 19:00 to 20:00 evening time slot is usually reserved for daily dramas, which run every night from Monday through Friday. Dramas in these slots are in the telenovela format, rarely running over 200 episodes. Unlike American soap operas, these daily dramas are not broadcast during the daytime. Instead, the daytime schedule often includes reruns of the flagship dramas. The nighttime dailies can achieve very high ratings. For example, the evening series Temptation of Wife peaked at 40.6%, according to TNS Korea.
Korean dramas are usually shot within a very tight schedule, sometimes finishing just a few hours before actual broadcast. Screenplays are flexible and may change anytime during production, depending on viewers' feedback, which can be difficult for production teams.
The term sageuk refers to any Korean television or film drama that is either based on historical figures, incorporates historical events, or uses a historical backdrop. While sageuk literally translates to "historical drama", the term is typically reserved for dramas taking place throughout the course of Korean history.
Since the mid-2000s, some sageuks have achieved major success outside of Korea. Sageuks including Dae Jang Geum (Jewel in the Palace), Yi San and Jumong enjoyed strong ratings and high satisfaction ratings in countries such Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Fiji and Iran. Jumong, which aired on IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) in 2008, had 85% viewership.
Often centered around a love story, series set in contemporary times often focus on family ties and romantic relationships. Characters are mostly idealized, with Korean male protagonists described as handsome, intelligent, emotional, and in search of "one true love". This has also been a contributing factor to the popularity of Korean dramas among women, as the image of Korean men became differentiated from that of other Asian men.
Radio broadcasting, including the broadcasting of radio dramas in Korea, began in 1927 under Japanese rule, with most programming in Japanese and around 30% in Korean. After the Korean War, radio dramas such as Cheongsilhongsil (1954) reflected the country's mood.
Television broadcasting began in 1956 with the launch of an experimental station, HLKZ-TV, which was shut down a few years later due to a fire. The first national television channel was Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), which started up in 1961. The first Korean television film was a 15-minute piece titled The Gate of Heaven (천국의 문, Cheongugui mun), on HLKZ-TV.
The first television series was aired by KBS in 1962. Their commercial competitor, Tongyang Broadcasting (TBC), had a more aggressive program policy and aired controversial dramas as well. The first historical TV series aired was Gukto manri (국토만리), directed by Kim Jae-hyeong (김재형), depicting the Goryeo era. In the 1960s, television sets were of limited availability, thus dramas could not reach a larger audience.
In the 1970s, television sets started to spread among the general population, and dramas switched from portraying dramatic historical figures to introducing national heroes like Lee Sun-shin or Sejong the Great. Contemporary series dealt with personal sufferings, such as Kim Soo-hyun's influential Stepmother (새엄마, Saeeomma), aired by Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) in 1972 and 1973. As technology and funding was limited, Korean channels could not make series in resource-heavy genres like action and science fiction; American and other foreign series were imported instead.
The 1980s saw a change in Korean television, as color TV became available. Modern dramas tried to evoke nostalgia from urban dwellers by depicting rural life. Kim Soo-hyun's first real commercial success, Love and Ambition (사랑과 야망, Saranggwa yamang), aired on MBC in 1987 and is regarded as a milestone of Korean television, having recorded a 78% viewership. "Streets became quiet at around the airing time of the drama as 'practically everyone in the country' was at home in front of the TV", according to The Korea Times. The most outstanding classical historical series of the era is considered to be 500 Years of Joseon (조선왕조500년, Joseonwangjo 500 nyeon), a serial that ran for eight years, consisting of 11 separate series. The serial was produced by Lee Byung-hoon, who later directed one of the biggest international successes of Korean drama, Dae Jang Geum.
The 1990s brought another important milestone for Korean television. As technology developed, new opportunities arose, and the beginning of the decade marked the launch of a new commercial channel; Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), which facilitated and re-initiated a race for catching viewers' attention. The first real commercial success among Korean television series was Eyes of Dawn (여명의 눈동자, Yeomyeongui nundongja), aired in 1991 by MBC, starring Chae Shi-ra and Choi Jae-sung. The series led the viewers through turbulent times from the Japanese rule to the Korean War. New channel SBS also produced successful series, one of them being Sandglass in 1995. Sandglass was a "trendy drama", which the Korean Culture and Information Service considers an important milestone, having changed the way Korean dramas are made by introducing a new format. In this decade, the new miniseries format became widespread, with 12 to 24 episodes. This era marked the start of export for Korean dramas, setting off the Korean Wave.
The beginning years of the 2000s gave birth to a new genre, called "fusion sageuk", essentially changing the ways to produce historical series, with successful pieces such as Hur Jun, Damo and Dae Jang Geum.
Since the 2010s, "web dramas" has become a popular genre. It is a short form of drama mostly shoot through non-conventional broadcasting platforms, such as search engine (e.g. Naver) or video channels (e.g.YouTube). It started to take over the popularity of conventional dramas among 10s and 20s because they are shorter, hence easier to watch, and often feature trendy contents which teenagers are easy to sympathize with. Some of well-known web dramas includes Idol Drama Operation Team and Pongdang Pongdang Love.
Korean series were originally produced in house by the television channels themselves, but have been outsourced to independent production companies since the 2000s. In 2012, as much as 75% of all K-dramas were produced this way. Competition is fierce among these companies; out of 156 registered firms, only 34 produced dramas were actually aired in 2012. The budget of the production is shared between the producing company and the broadcaster, with the broadcasting channel covering around 50% of expenses usually. If top stars and famous scriptwriters are employed, they may cover even more. The rest of the budget has to be brought in by the production company with the help of sponsors. In the case of product placements, income is shared by the producer and the channel. The channel keeps 100% of the advertisement income during airtime; this could amount to ₩300-400 million. A typical Korean drama may cost as much as ₩250 million per episode, and historical dramas cost more than that. For example, Gu Family Book cost ₩500 million per episode.
In Korea, much of the budget is spent on the appearance fees of top stars. In some cases, the actors may take up as much as 55-65% of the whole budget, while it is 20–30% in Japan and roughly 10% in the United States. Everything else, including salaries of lesser-known actors, extras, and technical staff, location rent and other expenses, have to be covered from the remaining amount. Often, production companies overrun their budgets and cannot pay salaries. In 2012, actors held a demonstration in front of the headquarters of KBS, expressing their concerns. Actors are usually paid after the last episode is aired at the end of the month. In series made by smaller production companies for cable channels, there have been cases where the companies went bankrupt and could not pay their actors and crew, while the channel denied all responsibility, claiming all liability was with the bankrupt production firm. Producer Kim Jong-hak spent as much as ₩10 billion on Faith, which was considered a commercial failure, resulting in the inability of Kim to pay crew salaries and other overheads. Kim, who had produced successful dramas such as Eyes of Dawn and Sandglass, committed suicide after he was accused of embezzlement. The biggest stars may earn as much as ₩100 million per episode. Bae Yong-joon, the star of Winter Sonata reportedly received ₩250 million per episode for The Legend in 2007.
As producing a series involves high expenses, production companies seek to shoot the episodes in the shortest time possible. In contrast to practices elsewhere, the first four episodes of Korean series are usually shot in advance, but the rest are shot continuously as the series is being aired. Scripts are not finished in advance, and may change according to viewer feedback and viewership ratings. These changes may occur a few hours before daily shooting, and the crew might receive only a few ready pages. The production usually works with three camera crews, who work in a rotating manner to speed up filming. Because of unregulated script changes and tight shooting schedules, actors are almost continuously on standby, and have no time to leave the set or sleep properly. The Korean media have a separate word to describe irregular, short sleeps that actors resort to, in often uncomfortable positions, or within the set: jjok-jam (쪽잠), or "side-sleeping". Dramas usually air two episodes a week, one after the other, with the following episodes having to be shot within the intervening five days. Some Korean actors have admitted to receiving IV therapy during filming, due to extreme schedules and exhaustion.
Production teams originally sent two tapes to the channels; a primary copy and a backup copy. However, due to the tight filming schedules, a 70-minute episode might arrive at the broadcasting station on seven separate tapes in ten-minute installments. It happens that while the episode is being broadcast, the crew would be still shooting the last minutes or cutting the rest of the episode. During the airing of the nineteenth episode of Man from the Equator, screens countrywide went black for 10 minutes. Actor Kwon Sang-woo was openly complaining that he was still shooting Queen of Ambition 30 minutes before the last episode began airing. In South Korea, some production teams still do planning and scheduling manually, instead of using dedicated software.
From late 2015 onwards due to the popularity of Korean dramas abroad, especially the success of My Love from the Star in China, producers have increasingly been pitching and pre-selling the overseas broadcast and streaming rights of their dramas. This has given production teams the budget to move away from the live shoot basis to one in which the drama is completed before broadcast. In 2016, dramas such as Descendants of the Sun, Uncontrollably Fond, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo and Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth were all pre-produced before airing.
The larger broadcasting companies have their own dedicated shooting locations for historical dramas, with extensive and elaborate sets. MBC's series are shot at MBC Drama in Gyeonggi, while KBS dramas utilize the Mungyeongsaejae Studio (문경새재 KBS촬영장) in North Gyeongsang and their studio in Suwon.
Independent production companies are classified into:
- those founded and/or owned by industry veterans (e.g. Kim Jong-hak Production, Logos Film, iWill Media)
- owned by the broadcast companies (e.g. The Story Works, MBC C&I, Monster Union, Drama House)
- owned by entertainment companies (e.g. Studio Dragon, studio&NEW)
- big-tiered (e.g. Pan Entertainment, Chorokbaem Media)
The leading actors of Korean dramas have become popular outside of South Korea, due to the Korean Wave.
In the 2000s, it became customary to cast popular K-pop idols in dramas. Initially, this generated mixed reactions. Their appearance had provoked predominantly negative reactions outside their fandom because singers and dancers acting outside of their musical circle was regarded as unprofessional. Also, some idols were criticized for poor acting. Nowadays, this has become much more common feature in Korean dramas, as the public has been getting more used to the concept of "idol actors" and some idols have become known for their excellent acting skills. Their critical reception is still mixed, however, some of them became successful as actors.
Scriptwriters and directors
Scriptwriters and directors of Korean dramas are often as well known as actors are. An overwhelming majority of scriptwriters (90% according to the Beijing Metro Reader) are women, who not only write love stories but action series as well. Compared to Korean cinema, television is more appealing for scriptwriters as contract conditions are better, acknowledgment is greater, and the salary is higher.
Famous scriptwriters tend to have a say in their field. The most well-known scriptwriters include the Hong sisters, who wrote popular series such as My Girl, You're Beautiful and My Girlfriend Is a Nine-Tailed Fox; Kim Eun-sook, the screenwriter of Lovers in Paris, Secret Garden, The Heirs, Descendants of the Sun and Guardian: The Lonely and Great God; Lee Kyung-hee, famous for I'm Sorry, I Love You and The Innocent Man; male writer Choi Wan-kyu of Midas and Triangle; Noh Hee-kyung, the author of That Winter, the Wind Blows; and It's Okay, That's Love; and Park Ji-eun, who wrote My Husband Got a Family, My Love from the Star, The Producers, Legend of the Blue Sea and Crash Landing on You.
Acknowledged TV directors include Lee Byung-hoon, who directed Dae Jang Geum and Yi San; Kim Jong-hak, the director of Eyes of Dawn, and Sandglass; and Pyo Min-soo, the director of Full House and Iris II.
While scriptwriters are mostly women, directors are usually men. Some female directors have risen to prominence, such as Lee Na-jeong (이나정), who directed The Innocent Man, and Lee Yun-jeong (이윤정), whose most famous works are The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince and Heart to Heart. The latter director is also the first female television producer employed by Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).
Music plays an important role in Korean dramas. Original soundtracks, abbreviated OST, are explicitly made for each series, and in contrast to American series, fans have a need to buy the soundtrack album of dramas. This trend started in the 1990s, when producers swapped purely instrumental soundtracks for songs performed by popular K-pop singers. Tom Larsen, director of YA Entertainment, a distributor of Korean TV series, thinks that Korean soundtracks are polished enough musically to be considered standalone hits.
During the 2000s, it became customary for lead actors to participate in original soundtracks, also partially due to the employment of K-pop stars as actors. Actor Lee Min-ho, and leader of boy band SS501, Kim Hyun-joong both recorded songs for Boys Over Flowers, while the actors of You're Beautiful formed a fictional band and held concerts, where they perform the soundtracks live.
OST songs of popular K-dramas can also become hits on regular music charts, with good sales of both physical and digital albums. The chart performance of the OST songs usually co-relate to the popularity of the drama. Songs from the OST of Secret Garden for example, had high digital sales and high rankings on music charts. My Destiny, performed by Lyn for My Love from the Star, led music charts in Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and other Asian countries. It also won the Best OST award at the 2014 Baeksang Arts Awards. The soundtrack album of You're Beautiful sold 57,000 physical copies. Performers of OST songs for action series Iris held two concerts in Japan in front of an audience of 60,000 people.
OST composers usually look for singers who have previously had success in the genre. Songs are written to reflect the mood of the series and their structure. Sometimes performers give their own songs for a series. For example, Baek Ji-young thought her song That Man, originally written for her own album, would fit Secret Garden. There are popular OST singers who are often employed, like Baek Ji-young, Lyn, and Lee Seung-cheol. Sometimes, foreign singers are invited to perform songs for Korean OST. For instance, Swedish artist Lasse Lindh sang several songs for series like Angel Eyes, Soul Mate, I Need Romance, and Guardian: The Lonely and Great God.
The television rating system is regulated by the Korea Communications Commission, and was implemented in 2000. According to the system, programs, including Korean dramas, are rated according to the following principles (ratings irrelevant to dramas are omitted):
- : programs that may be inappropriate for children under 12, such as mild violence, themes or language.
- : programs that may be inappropriate for children under 15. Most dramas and talk shows are rated this way. These programs may include moderate or strong adult themes, language, sexual inference, and violence.
- : programs intended for adults only. These programs might include adult themes, sexual situations, frequent use of strong language and disturbing scenes of violence.
According to a researcher at the University of Vienna, popularity of Korean dramas have their foundation in Confucian values they transmit, which Asian viewers can easily identify with. Respect for elders, filial piety, family-orientedness, and the display of perceived "Asian moral values" play an important role in Korean series. YA Entertainment, the American distributor of Korean dramas, believes that part of the attractiveness of these series come from the quality of camera work, scenic locations, and spectacular costumes, which make the "final product very stylish and attractive, with arguably some of the highest TV production values in the world." Korean series follow their own formula, are innovative and don't conform to Western television productions. Stephan Lee from Entertainment Weekly called Korean dramas "fascinating and weirdly comforting".
Exports of Korean series yielded US$37.5 million in 2003, which was three times higher than the amount reached in 1999. According to data from Korea Creative Content Agency, in 2013 K-dramas constituted 82% of the culture content export of South Korea, with an income of $167 million, which is four times more than a decade before.
A driving force behind the rising popularity is the intense involvement of fans. Because of the live-shooting production of K-dramas, Korean-speaking fans have the opportunity to participate in their creation —a unique phenomenon in the mass media world. They can influence the content of later shows in the series through complaints and suggestions, which are frequently adopted by the production teams.
The global community of non-Korean-speaking fans, on the other hand, is more involved in the consumption aspects: Fans share their opinions through tweets and comments on newsgroups (for example, the Soompi discussion forum) as well as reviews and recaps on websites and blogs. However, the impact of their social media activity goes beyond the fan community. It spreads the word about the K-drama genre to social connections like acquaintances, friends and family (e.g. Facebook friends or followers on Twitter) and thereby generally raises its popularity. But it also has an effect on the creation of new dramas. It influences the popularity of certain dramas, leading to higher demand for those videos from streaming sites and additional income for broadcasters. When a substantial profit results, it raises not only the prestige of people involved in the production but also provides feedback for production teams and indirectly influences future productions.
Korean dramas have gained popularity in Bangladesh in recent years. Their rising popularity in the country has led to the Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange (KOFICE), an organisation which aims to distribute Korean dramas for free to countries, cooperating with broadcasters to distribute Korean dramas for free in the country.
In the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, Korean dramas and entertainment have gained popularity particularly amongst youth. Prior to interest in Korean entertainment, Bollywood had largely been the most popular form of entertainment in the country. When the Bhutanese film industry launched in the mid-1990s, Bollywood was the only form of influence on the industry. However, in recent years Korean entertainment has made significant inroads in the country and influence the entertainment industry alongside Bollywood. Korean entertainment has managed to influence fashion, and many video shops now sell Korean dramas and movies alongside Bollywood films. The interest in Korean entertainment has also led to controversy with older generations voicing their concern that Korean entertainment will deteriorate Bhutanese culture and traditions.
In recent times Korean dramas have experienced growing popularity in Brunei. The growing impact of Korean culture in Brunei led to the hosting of the ninth Korea Forum in the country at Universiti Brunei Darussalam in 2010. Korean television dramas, movies, music, and clothing have had a great impact on the people of Brunei.
The first Korean drama to be broadcast in Cambodia was Winter Sonata; it was, however, Full House that launched the interest in Korean dramas and entertainment in the country. Following the success of Full House, more Korean dramas have been dubbed into the Khmer language. Korean dramas have become popular particularly amongst youth in Cambodia.
In China, South Korean programs on Chinese government TV networks accounted for more than all other foreign programs combined in 2006. Hong Kong has its own channel for airing Korean dramas, TVB J2, but ATV also airs Korean series in prime-time slots. My Love from the Star received enthusiastic feedback from China. It was viewed 40 billion times on numerous Chinese video sites. The drama also spurred interest about Korea, shown by China's increased consumption of Korean products such as Chi Maek (chicken and beer) and Korean cosmetics. Due to the success of Korean dramas in China, some dramas have been compiled to create feature-length films by combining all episodes into one film. The prodigious popularity of Korean dramas in the country has, on some occasions, been caught in the crossfire over diplomatic issues between China and South Korea. Most notable being the THAAD deployment in South Korea which resulted in the blocking of Korean dramas on streaming services across the country in late February 2017. Following the block, Chinese TV shows showcasing Chinese culture and other similar content replaced Korean content on TV networks' prime time schedules in the country. In November 2017, the ban was uplifted unannounced following the appearance of Kpop groups on national TV and the move to resume importation of Korean dramas by Chinese streaming services.
Korean dramas have become popular in India, particularly in Northeast India in states such as Manipur, Assam, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Mizoram and Nagaland as well as parts of East India and more recently in Tamil Nadu. Hindi films and TV serials were banned in Manipur in 2000. As a result, local television stations began broadcasting subtitled Korean dramas instead. Many young people in northeast India, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu mimic the hairstyles and clothes of Korean actors and Korean fashion has become very popular in the region. As a part of cultural exchange, Indian Public Broadcaster telecasted Emperor of the Sea and Dae Jang Geum. Korean dramas have aired in the Tamil language in Tamil Nadu on Puthuyugam TV.
In Indonesia, Korean dramas have gained popularity and the popular Korean dramas Winter Sonata and Endless Love were aired on Surya Citra Media in 2002. Some Korean dramas have also been remade into Indonesian versions such as Demi Cinta in 2005 which was a remake of the popular drama Autumn in My Heart and Cinta Sejati, a remake of Stairway to Heaven. RCTI and Indosiar are examples of Indonesian television networks that air Korean dramas in the early times, but later Trans TV airing some of popular Korean dramas until today.
The first Korean drama to gain widespread popularity in Japan was Winter Sonata, which was broadcast on the NHK satellite channel NHK BS2 in 2003. The program was aired twice in the same year due to high demand from viewers. NHK also hosted a classical concert featuring Winter Sonata's tunes performed by Korean musicians. Korean dramas boost tourism between Korea and Japan, and is considered a possible way of improving strained relationships between the two countries, as series have become increasingly popular with Japanese viewers. Conversely, the series Iris had several pivotal scenes shot in Akita, Japan, which led to an increase of Korean tourists in that part of Japan.
The popularity of Korean dramas and pop culture in Laos has led to many Laotian tourists travelling to South Korea. Korean pop culture has gained popularity in Laos through the Thai TV channels broadcasting Korean dramas and K-pop bands in the country.
In Malaysia, Winter Sonata began airing on TV3 in 2003, which started an interest in Korean pop culture in the country. Dae Jang Geum and Autumn In My Heart were also aired in Malaysia. The popularity of Korean dramas have resulted in a positive reception of Korean expatriates in Malaysia.
In Mongolia, Korean dramas have become popular and are broadcast at prime time. Dae Jang Geum achieved success in the country and was broadcast five times due to this. Autumn in My Heart, Winter Sonata and Stairway to Heaven were other popular dramas. Popularity in Korean dramas has resulted in interest in the learning of the Korean language as well as Mongolians travelling to South Korea. It has also led to increased mutually cooperative relations between Mongolia and South Korea.
In Myanmar, the K-drama Autumn in My Heart was broadcast in the country in 2001, which led to interest in Korean entertainment. When Dae Jang Geum was on air, the drama sparked an interest in Korean cuisine in the country. The rising popularity of Korean dramas and music in Myanmar has led to the Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange (KOFICE) distributing Korean dramas in the country for free.
Interest for Korean dramas in the Nepal began when Winter Sonata aired on Kantipur Television Network in the mid-2000s. This led to the popularity of other K-dramas such as Boys Over Flowers, Autumn In My Heart, You Are Beautiful and Full House to name a few. Popularity of Korean media products has also led to interest of learning the Korean language and has resulted in the emergence of Korean language tutorials that air on ABC Television in the country. Korean dramas have become popular among Nepali youth and markets are often frequented by teenagers looking to buy the latest dramas. The hairstyles and fashion of Korean actors have influenced the fashion sense of Nepali youth. Fascinated by the lifestyle and food of Korea, restaurants serving Korean cuisine have also been established in the country.
In the Philippines, Autumn in My Heart ignited the interest in Korean dramas when it was aired on GMA Network in 2003. Korean drama frenzy came to its peak point when Lovers In Paris was aired in ABS-CBN in 2004. GMA Network, ABS-CBN and TV5 regularly air Korean dramas dubbed in the Filipino language.
In Singapore, Prime 12 (now known as Suria) originally aired the Korean drama Sandglass on a weekly basis in 1996 and aired Asphalt Man in 1997. Since 2001, they are shown on Chinese language channel MediaCorp Channel U daily. The launch of KBS World, ONE TV ASIA, Oh!K, Channel M and streaming app, Viu in Singapore allows viewers to watch Korean dramas with a variety of subtitles in a matter of hours after the original South Korean telecast.
In Sri Lanka, the Independent Television Network aired Full House in 2009 and it proved popular. Dae Jang Geum aired on Rupavahini in 2012 and was dubbed in Sinhala under the title Sujatha Diyani (සුජාත දියණී), meaning "The Pure, Valuable Daughter" and received a viewer rate of over 90%. The Independent Television Network, Rupavahini, TV Derana, Sirasa TV, Swarnavahini and TV1 air Korean dramas dubbed in the Sinhalese language. Streaming service, Iflix also streams many Korean dramas with English and Sinhalese subtitles in the country, some as early as 24 hours after their original Korean broadcast. Additionally, the popularity of Korean pop culture in the country has led to an increasingly warm reception towards Korean people.
In Taiwan, interest in Korean dramas began when Star in My Heart aired in 1999. Since then Korean dramas have become very popular and according to the South Korean mission 120 K-dramas had been broadcast in Taiwan in the first half of 2011.
When Dae Jang Geum was on air in Thailand, Korean food started gaining wide popularity. Due to the lop-sided nature of entertainment exports favoring South Korea, the Thai government requested increased introduction of popular Thai films to South Korean media outlets. This led to the signing of an Agreement of Cultural Cooperation between the two countries in August 2004.
Korean dramas have also gained popularity in Vietnam, particularly among women and young people. The fashion and hairstyles presented in Korean dramas have become very popular among the youth of the country.
The first Korean drama in Romania was aired on TVR in August 2009, and in the following month it became the third most popular television program in the country. Since then, Korean dramas have seen high ratings and further success.
Middle East and North Africa
Since the mid-2000s, Israel, Iran, Morocco and Egypt have become major consumers of Korean culture. Following the success of Korean dramas in the Middle East & North Africa, the Korean Overseas Information Service made Winter Sonata available with Arabic subtitles on several state-run Egyptian television networks. According to Youna Kim (2007), "The broadcast was part of the government’s efforts to improve the image of South Korea in the Middle East, where there is little understanding and exposure towards Korean culture" (p. 31). The New York Times reported that the intent behind this was to contribute towards positive relations between Arab & Berber audiences and South Korean soldiers stationed in northern Iraq.
MBC4 (Middle East Broadcasting Channel) played a major role in increasing the Korean wave's popularity in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa). This broadcasting channel hosted a series of Korean drama starting 2013 such as "Boys Over Flowers" (أيام الزهور), "You're Beautiful" (أنت جميلة), "Dream High" (حلم الشباب ), "Coffee Prince" ( مقهى الأمير). Some Arab countries opposed Korean shows (dramas and reality TV shows) because of the fear they would lead to Islam youth to abandon their traditions wholesale in order to adopt Western modernity wholesale. However, this did not stop the Korean industries from exporting more Korean Dramas to the Arab world in the following years such as "The Heirs" ( الورثة). The popularity of Korean dramas in the MENA region-and its continuous growth- originates from the content of these dramas. As the majority of the plots of Korean dramas focus on social issues (love between different social classes or family problems for instance), the Arab audiences fit themselves and could relate to the Korean socio-cultural values as they seem appealing to them. So Korean dramas play the role of an equilibrium point where two, somehow, different cultures could create a new cultural space where these two different cultures could meet.
In the early 2000s, Korean dramas were aired for South Korean troops stationed in northern Iraq as part of coalition forces led by the United States during the Iraq War. With the end of the war and the subsequent withdrawal of South Korean military personnel from the country, efforts were made to expand availability of K-dramas to the ordinary citizens of Iraq. In 2012, the Korean drama Hur Jun reportedly attained a viewership of over 90% in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Its lead actor Jun Kwang-ryul was invited by the federal government of Iraq to visit the city of Sulaymaniyah in Kurdistan, at the special request of the country's First Lady, Hero Ibrahim Ahmed.
Autumn in My Heart, one of the earliest Korean dramas brought over to the Middle East, was made available for viewing after five months of "persistent negotiations" between the South Korean embassy and an Egyptian state-run broadcasting company. Shortly after the series ended, the embassy reported that it had received over 400 phone calls and love letters from fans from all over the country. According to the secretary of the South Korean embassy in Cairo Lee Ki-seok, Korea's involvement in the Iraq War had significantly undermined its reputation among Egyptians, but the screening of Autumn in My Heart proved "extremely effective" in reversing negative attitudes.
Iran's state broadcaster, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), aired several Korean dramas during prime time slots in recent years, with this decision attributed by some to their Confucian values of respect for others, which are "closely aligned to Islamic culture", while in contrast, Western productions often fail to satisfy the criteria set by Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. In October 2012, the Tehran Times reported that IRIB representatives visited South Korea to visit filming locations in an effort to strengthen "cultural affinities" between the two countries and to seek avenues for further cooperation between KBS and IRIB. According to Reuters, until recently audiences in Iran have had little choice in broadcast material and thus programs that are aired by IRIB often attain higher viewership ratings in Iran than in South Korea; for example, the most popular episodes of Jumong attracted over 90% of Iranian audience (compared to 40% in South Korea), propelling its lead actor Song Il-gook to superstar status in Iran.
The Asian American-targeted cable TV channels AZN Television and ImaginAsian aired Korean dramas alongside content from China, Japan, India, Thailand and other parts of Asia. The dramas were aimed at the Asian American community before the channels dissolved in 2008 and 2011 respectively.
In November 2008, Netflix  began offering several Korean dramas as part of its video selection. In August 2009, DramaFever began offering free subtitled video streaming service, with video advertisements, in the United States.
Singapore-based Viki streams popular Korean dramas across the world including North America, with subtitles in 70 languages. Companies in Asia have also designed streaming services available online and as mobile apps targeted towards overseas Asian communities. "MobiTV" created by the Sri Lankan company, Bhasha is a streaming service and mobile app aimed at the Sri Lankan community and streams Korean dramas dubbed in the Sinhalese language alongside other content aired in Sri Lanka. "Roopa", created by the same company, is another service available as a mobile app also aimed at the Sri Lankan community, it too streams Korean dramas dubbed in the Sinhalese language. Chinese company PPTV is another example, a mobile app, "PPTV网络电视HD" streams Korean dramas aimed at the Chinese community alongside content that is primarily available in Mandarin, Cantonese and Korean but also increasingly in English.
Additionally, Korean dramas are available at online DVD retailers. Some Korean dramas, however, are not available for region 1 (North America) encoding and NTSC video format. Amazon offers streaming of Winter Sonata for a fee.
KBFD-DT in Honolulu, Hawaii broadcasts a majority of Korean dramas on its daily schedule, as well as offering the programs on sale at its website and on demand through its K-Life channel on Oceanic Time Warner Cable. Another Honolulu outlet, KHII-TV devotes three hours of its Sunday afternoon schedule to Korean dramas.
KTSF, a channel aimed at the Asian American community in San Francisco, California airs Korean dramas as part of its schedule alongside content in Mandarin, Tagalog, Hindi, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Taiwanese and Cantonese.
Viewership ratings are provided by two companies in South Korea, AGB Nielsen Media Research and TNmS. Originally Media Service Korea was the only company providing such information, and it was later acquired by Nielsen Media Research. In 1999 TNS Media Korea also began such service, and later changed its name to TNmS. AGB collects viewership data based on 2050 households, while TNmS has 2000 households with measuring devices. Drama ratings usually vary between the two companies by 2-3%.
List of highest-rated Korean dramas in public broadcast
AGB Nielsen Rating
|Final episode date||Ref.|
|1||You and I (그대 그리고 나)||MBC||66.9%||26 April 1998|||
|2||First Love||KBS2||65.8%||20 April 1997|
|3||What is Love (사랑이 뭐길래)||MBC||64.9%||31 May 1992|
|4||Sandglass||SBS||64.5%||16 February 1995|
|5||Hur Jun||MBC||63.5%||27 June 2000|
|6||A Sunny Place of the Young (젊은이의 양지)||KBS2||62.7%||12 November 1995|
|7||Sons and Daughters (아들과 딸)||MBC||61.1%||9 May 1993|
|8||Taejo Wang Geon||KBS1||60.2%||24 February 2002|
|9||Eyes of Dawn||MBC||58.4%||6 February 1992|
|10||Dae Jang Geum||57.8%||23 March 2004|
|11||See and See Again (보고 또 보고)||57.3%||2 April 1999|||
|12||Truth (진실)||56.5%||24 February 2000|
|13||Lovers in Paris||SBS||56.3%||15 August 2004|
|14||Jealousy (질투)||MBC||56.1%||21 July 1992|
|15||Blowing of the Wind (바람은 불어도)||KBS2||55.8%||29 March 1996|
|16||Men of the Bath House (목욕탕집 남자들)||53.4%||1 September 1996|
|17||Gook Hee (국희)||MBC||53.1%||16 November 1999|
|Trap of Youth (청춘의 덫)||SBS||15 April 1999|
|19||Tomato (토마토)||52.7%||10 June 1999|
|20||M||MBC||52.2%||30 August 1994|
|21||Season of the Storm (폭풍의 계절)||52.1%||30 December 1993|
|22||Rustic Period||SBS||51.8%||30 September 2003|
|23||My Mother's Sea (엄마의 바다)||MBC||51.6%||26 December 1993|
|24||Legend of Ambition (야망의 전설)||KBS2||50.2%||25 October 1998|
|25||Ladies of the Palace (여인천하)||SBS||49.9%||22 July 2002|
|26||My Son's Woman (아들의 여자)||MBC||49.7%||13 April 1995|
|Jumong||6 March 2007|||
|28||Tears of the Dragon (용의 눈물)||KBS1||49.6%||31 May 1998|
|29||My Only One||KBS2||49.4%||17 March 2019|||
|30||Star in My Heart||MBC||49.3%||29 April 1997|
|Bread, Love and Dreams||KBS2||16 September 2010|||
|32||My Lovely Sam Soon||MBC||49.1%||21 July 2005|
|33||Ambition (야망)||49.0%||13 October 1994|
|34||The Moon of Seoul (서울의 달)||48.7%||16 October 1994|
|35||The Last Match||48.6%||22 February 1994|
|36||All About Eve||MBC||48.3%||6 July 2000|
|Wang's Family||KBS2||9 February 2014|||
|38||How is Your Husband? (댁의 남편은 어떠십니까?)||SBS||48.2%||19 October 1993|
|39||Cinderella||MBC||48.0%||13 July 1997|
|40||All In||SBS||47.7%||3 April 2003|
|41||Seoyoung, My Daughter||KBS2||47.6%||3 March 2013|||
|42||Until We Can Love (사랑할때까지)||47.1%||28 February 1997|
|43||My Rosy Life||47.0%||10 November 2005|
|44||Pilot (파일럿)||MBC||46.2%||2 November 1993|
|45||Autumn in My Heart||KBS2||46.1%||7 November 2000|
|46||Daughters of a Rich Family (딸부잣집)||45.9%||30 April 1995|
|47||My Husband Got a Family||45.3%||9 September 2012|||
|48||Brilliant Legacy||SBS||45.2%||26 July 2009|||
|49||My Golden Life||KBS2||45.1%||11 March 2018|||
|50||Dear Heaven||SBS||44.9%||2 July 2006|||
List of highest-rated Korean dramas in cable television
AGB Nielsen Rating
|1||The World of the Married||JTBC||28.371%||16 May 2020|||
|2||Sky Castle||23.779%||1 February 2019|||
|3||Crash Landing on You||tvN||21.683%||16 February 2020|||
|4||Reply 1988||18.803%||16 January 2016|||
|5||Guardian: The Lonely and Great God||18.680%||21 January 2017|||
|6||Mr. Sunshine||18.129%||30 September 2018|||
|7||Itaewon Class||JTBC||16.548%||21 March 2020|||
|8||100 Days My Prince||tvN||14.412%||30 October 2018|||
|9||Hospital Playlist||13.125%||(currently airing)|||
|10||Signal||12.544%||12 March 2016|||
|11||The Lady in Dignity||JTBC||12.065%||19 August 2017|||
|12||Hotel del Luna||tvN||12.001%||1 September 2019|||
|13||Reply 1994||11.509%||28 December 2013|||
|14||Prison Playbook||11.195%||18 January 2018|||
|15||The Crowned Clown||10.851%||4 March 2019|||
|16||Childless Comfort||JTBC||10.715%||17 March 2013|||
|17||Encounter||tvN||10.329%||24 January 2019|||
|18||Memories of the Alhambra||10.025%||20 January 2019|||
|19||Another Miss Oh||9.991%||28 June 2016|||
|20||The Light in Your Eyes||JTBC||9.731%||19 March 2019|||
|21||Strong Girl Bong-soon||9.668%||15 April 2017|||
|22||Lawless Lawyer||tvN||8.937%||1 July 2018|||
|23||What's Wrong with Secretary Kim||8.665%||26 July 2018|||
|24||Graceful Family||MBN||8.478%||17 October 2019|||
|25||Misty||JTBC||8.452%||24 March 2018|||
|26||Misaeng: Incomplete Life||tvN||8.240%||20 December 2014|||
|27||Familiar Wife||8.210%||20 September 2018|||
|28||Dear My Friends||8.087%||2 July 2016|||
|29||Live||7.730%||6 May 2018|||
|30||Arthdal Chronicles||7.705%||22 September 2019|||
|31||My Mister||7.352%||17 May 2018|||
|32||Oh My Ghost||7.337%||22 August 2015|||
|33||Something in the Rain||JTBC||7.281%||19 May 2018|||
|34||Second 20s||tvN||7.233%||17 October 2015|||
|35||Cheese in the Trap||7.102%||1 March 2016|||
|36||Voice 2||OCN||7.086%||16 September 2018|||
|37||A Korean Odyssey||tvN||6.942%||4 March 2018|||
|38||Live Up to Your Name||6.907%||1 October 2017|||
|39||The Cursed||6.721%||17 March 2020|||
|40||Romance Is a Bonus Book||6.651%||17 March 2019|||
|41||The K2||6.636%||12 November 2016|||
|42||Watcher||OCN||6.585%||25 August 2019|||
|43||Stranger||tvN||6.568%||30 July 2017|||
|44||Hi Bye, Mama!||6.519%||19 April 2020|||
|45||Tunnel||OCN||6.490%||21 May 2017|||
|46||Queen: Love and War||TV Chosun||6.348%||9 February 2020|||
|47||Avengers Social Club||tvN||6.330%||16 November 2017|||
|48||Confession||6.275%||12 May 2019|||
|49||The Good Wife||6.232%||27 August 2016|||
|50||Designated Survivor: 60 Days||6.178%||20 August 2019|||
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- "May 16, 2020 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (JTBC) 금토드라마(부부의세계) 28.371%
- "February 1, 2019 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (JTBC) 금토드라마(SKY캐슬) 23.779%
- "February 16, 2020 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 토일드라마(사랑의불시착<본>) 21.683%
- "Reply 1988 Writes Cable Television History". Stoo Asaie.
- "January 16, 2016 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 응답하라1988<본> 18.803%
- "January 21, 2017 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 쓸쓸하고찬란하신도깨비<본> 18.680%
- "September 30, 2018 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 미스터션샤인<본> 18.129%
- "February 29, 2020 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (JTBC) 금토드라마(이태원클라쓰) 16.548%
- "October 30, 2018 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 월화드라마(백일의낭군님<본>) 14.412%
- "May 21, 2020 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 슬기로운 의사생활<본> 13.125%
- "March 12, 2016 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 시그널<본> 12.544%
- "종영 '품위녀' 12.1%로 자체 최고 기록..무서운 뒷심". Star News (in Korean).
- "August 19, 2017 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (JTBC) 금토드라마(품위있는그녀) 12.065%
- "September 1, 2019 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 토일드라마(호텔델루나<본>) 12.001%
- "December 28, 2013 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 응답하라1994 11.509%
- "January 18, 2018 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 수목드라마(슬기로운감빵생활<본>) 11.195%
- "March 4, 2019 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 월화드라마(왕이된남자<본>) 10.851%
- Kim, Tong-hyung (25 February 2013). "Childless Comfort looks like TV game-changer". The Korea Times. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
- "February 24, 2013 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (JTBC) JTBC특별기획드라마(무자식상팔자) 10.715%
- "November 29, 2018 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 수목드라마(남자친구<본>) 10.329%
- "January 13, 2019 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 토일드라마(알함브라궁전의추억<본>) 10.025%
- "June 28, 2016 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 월화드라마(또오해영<본>) 9.991%
- "March 19, 2019 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (JTBC) 월화드라마(눈이부시게) 9.731%
- "March 25, 2017 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (JTBC) 금토드라마(힘쎈여자도봉순) 9.668%
- "July 1, 2018 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 무법변호사<본> 8.937%
- "July 11, 2018 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 수목드라마(김비서가왜그럴까<본>) 8.665%
- "October 17, 2019 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (MBN) 우아한가 8.478%
- "March 24, 2018 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (JTBC) 금토드라마(미스티) 8.452%
- "December 20, 2014 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 미생<본> 8.240%
- "August 30, 2018 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 수목드라마(아는와이프<본>) 8.210%
- "July 1, 2016 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
2nd (tvN) 디어마이프렌즈<본> 8.087%
- "May 6, 2018 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 토일드라마(라이브<본>) 7.730%
- "June 9, 2019 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 아스달연대기<본> 7.705%
- "May 17, 2018 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 나의아저씨<본> 7.352%
- "August 22, 2015 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 금토드라마(오나의귀신님<본>) 7.337%
- "May 12, 2018 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (JTBC) 금토드라마(밥잘사주는예쁜누나) 7.281%
- "October 17, 2015 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 금토드라마(두번째스무살<본>) 7.233%
- "February 1, 2016 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 월화드라마(치즈인더트랩<본>) 7.102%
- "September 16, 2018 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
2nd (OCN) 놓치지말아야할소리보이스2<본> 7.086%
- "January 14, 2018 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 화유기<본> 6.942%
- "October 1, 2017 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 토일드라마(명불허전조선왕복메디활극<본>) 6.907%
- "March 17, 2020 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 방법<본> 6.721%
- "March 17, 2019 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 토일드라마(로맨스는별책부록<본>) 6.651%
- "October 8, 2016 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 더케이투<본> 6.636%
- "August 25, 2019 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
2nd (OCN) WATCHER<본> 6.585%
- "July 30, 2017 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 토일드라마(비밀의숲<본>) 6.568%
- "March 1, 2020 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 토일드라마(하이바이마마<본>) 6.519%
- "May 21, 2017 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (OCN) 운명과시간이교차하는곳터널<본> 6.490%
- "9 February 2020 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (TV조선) 특별기획드라마(간택여인들의전쟁) 6.348%
- "November 16, 2017 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 수목드라마(부암동복수자들<본>) 6.330%
- "May 12, 2019 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 자백<본> 6.275%
- "August 27, 2016 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 굿와이프<본> 6.232%
- "August 20, 2019 Nationwide Cable Ratings". Nielsen Korea.
1st (tvN) 월화드라마(60일지정생존자<본>) 6.178%
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