K-Drama: The Genre Guide for Beginners!

Although K-pop is currently still the number one export of the Korean Wave, or Hallyu 한류, K-Dramas are fast on its heels. When most people think of K-Drama, they tend to think of bright colors, romance, and tons of aegyo 애교 -and although we love a fluffy rom-com as much as anyone else, K-drama is so much more than that! Whether you’re a true-blue beginner or just want to brush up on your K-Drama knowledge, we’re here to break down the details of all the genres K-Drama has to offer.



© Forest of Secrets, Signal Entertainment Group, IOK Media, 09.05.2018, IMDb


Like the horror film, this is a genre Korea excels in. As the name implies, the Korean crime drama chronicles crime, corruption, and those who have vowed to stop it. These shows typically revolve around a gifted detective or team of detectives that work to solve murders, take down drug cartels, and find missing persons. Fans of western shows such as CSI, Criminal Minds-and even Sherlock-will appreciate action scenes dispersed between autopsies, comradery, and the clever unraveling of even the most tangled (red) strings.


One of our favorites of this genre is last year’s Stranger 비밀의 숲. Stranger follows Hwang Si-muk (Jo Seong-woo), a prosecutor with the inability to experience emotion and only honest employee among an office filled with corrupt government officials, when he teams up with Han Yeo-jin (Bae Doona), a passionate detective and his polar opposite, as they work catch a serial murderer and expose a network of corruption in the process. Voted one of the best international dramas of 2017 by The New York Times and starring world-renowned actress Bae Doona, this drama is a must watch not only as a prime example of a crime drama, but as an example of Korean excellence in television.



© Reply-1997, CJ E & M, 09.05. 2018, Soompi


Like its neighbor Japan, many dramas in Korea are centered around a high school. Almost always featuring a large ensemble of best friends, laughter and drama are never in short supply. From light-hearted fare like confessing feelings to a crush, to tackling more mature and controversial topics such as teacher-student relations, the students can always count on each other not only to share gossip, but to stand up for each other. Whether it’s making friends, making enemies-or making out-the students of your typical school drama spend most of their time in this building, making the school less of a set piece and more of a secondary character


Whether you’re looking to reminisce about your high school days or looking for a drama to relate to, school dramas like Reply 1997 응답하라 1997, Heirs 왕관을 쓰려는 자, the classic Boys Over Flowers 꽃보다 남자, and the new Gossip-Girl channeling Tempted 위대한 유혹자 should do the trick.



© scarlet-heart-ryeo, Baramibunda inc., GT Entertainmemt, NBC Universal International Television, YG Entertainment, 09.05.2018, Soompi


Before Game of Thrones was a worldwide phenomenon, Korean historical dramas, or Sageuk 사극, were already dominating the historical drama scene. Though some closely follow real events featuring real families and enough backstabbing (literal and figurative) to give Shakespeare a run for his money, others go the more elaborate route, embellishing their stories with elements of fantasy with spells, prophecies, and monsters. Contrary to what you might think, this genre is anything but boring.


The most well-known example of historical Korean drama? 2016’s Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo 달의 연인 – 보보경심 려. One of the more unusual dramas of its kind, this wildly popular Sageuk opens in present day and follows Go Ha-jin (Lee Ji-eun), as during a solar eclipse, she is sucked back in time to Goryeo-era Korea and into the body of a beautiful young noblewoman. Ha-jin soon finds herself in the midst of a love triangle (a classic trope of Sageuk) between the dynasty’s gentle and kind prince and the scorned, aloof, prince who, with his face half-hidden by a mask to hide a facial deformity (a la Phantom of the Opera), strikes fear into everyone in the Kingdom-all except Ha-jin. The breath-taking cinematography, stunning temples, and gorgeous costuming make this a must-see and beautiful example of what you’re missing if you’re skipping out on Sageuk!


© The Unicorn, 09.05.2018, Soompi


The Korean Melodrama, like its western counterparts is your typical tear-jerker. Usually dealing with real-world issues, the main character is struggling with something in their lives and must trudge forward to overcome obstacle after obstacle that is thrown into their path. Unlike Western Melodramas, Korean Melodramas tend to focus on a group, usually a family, and their suffering in relation to each other. Another staple of the Korean Melodrama is the lack of resolution to the character’s woes. The point is to keep things as realistic as possible-don’t expect too many happy endings here.


One of the most recent examples of the Melodrama is this past January’s hit, Call Me Mother 마더. Mother tells the story of Kang Su-jin (Lee Bo-young,) an elementary school teacher who realizes one of her students is being abused. Frustrated by the seemingly hopeless situation, Su-jin makes the bold decision to run away with the girl. Having technically kidnapped a child, the two must live on the run and face the hardships that come with being fugitives while simultaneously reconciling with their pasts. Although this drama does have a happy ending, it comes only after extreme difficulty. If you’re sitting down to watch a Melo, make sure to have tissues at the ready!



© strong-woman-do-bong-soon-poster.jpg, 09.05.2018, Soompi


Last-but most certainly not least-we have the iconic Korean romantic comedy. The most popular genre in Korean television, elements of the rom-com will often be found in other genres and other genres (like the fantasy or school genre) found within itself. Some popular tropes of the genre include love triangles, gender bending, rich girl/poor boy and vice versa. Though a rom-com can take place nearly anywhere, they most often occur at schools and the work-place. The most integral part of the Korean rom-com is that no matter what crazy situation the couples are thrown into or how much they bicker, in the end there’s no denying the chemistry between them.


Our go-to example of the rom-com? Strong Woman Do Bong-soon. If you haven’t yet heard about it, we’re just going to assume you live under a rock at this point. All jokes aside, this incredibly successful drama about a girl whose family was gifted (or cursed) the gift of super human strength displays the classic tropes such as rich boy/poor girl and love triangles while managing a dare we say feminist heroine.



That’s it for our beginner’s guide to navigating genres of Korean Drama! Which genre is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!


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Featured Image: © Baramibunda inc., GT Entertainmemt, NBC Universal International Television, YG Entertainment, 09.05.2018

Hillary Dunn

Film Fanatic, lover of language, and connoisseur of culture. There's nothing that a new dress and a Matcha Latte can't fix.



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