The jump from J-drama to K-drama
Lee Min Yung, left and Gong Yoo, right, star in the Korean romcom, "Big." The show is based on Tom Hanks' hit 1988 movie.
June 22nd, 2012
02:29 PM ET

The jump from J-drama to K-drama

When I became a hardcore fan of Japanese dramas, I thought I'd discovered the alpha and omega of Asian entertainment.

Crammed with manga-esque storylines, good looking pop stars, and dream romances, J-drama was perfect. When friends mentioned Korean drama, I turned my nose up at them, uninterested in anything that didn't stoke my Japan-centric obsession.

Older, wiser and having developed an insatiable appetite for Asian idol culture, I've now warmed up to Korean media.

Korean pop music was my gateway drug - I couldn't resist the catchy songs. Google reinforced my new interest not long after that, promoting an all-Korean concert at their headquarters and pushing the trend called "Korean Wave" (also called Hallyu) to a whole new audience of potential fans. By that time, I was completely converted when it came to the music, even finding indie Korean acts such as Guckkasten and Glen Check to fall in love with. Fully enticed by these Korean stars, I was ready to find out why Korean dramas inspired equally devoted fans.

"The Korean entertainment industry has grown immensely over the last few decades, and dramas are now being produced with enormous budgets,  aimed for export more so than ever before," said Girlfriday, writer for the highly active drama community Dramabeans.

"They're produced slickly, enough to compete with American entertainment, and tend to be romance-centric. They also tell a complete story in 16 to 20 episodes, so its just long enough to get you addicted to something and just short enough that you don't feel burdened by picking up a show," Girlfriday said.

Like the Japanese dramas I'm used to, K-dramas are broken into subcategories by genre. The most popular shows are referred to as "trendies" in fan circles, and usually feature popular casts with young protagonists. There's also "ajumma" drama, which feature older or divorced female characters who find new love, "sageuk" drama, which plays out fictionalized versions of Korean history, and "makjang" drama, which is the closest thing to the American soap opera, traditionally taking a sensational approach with lots of absurd twists and turns. Korean dramas also include thrillers, action/intrigue and procedural genres.

But for all their similarities, K-drama has some major differences from J-drama. For instance, Korean shows air two episodes a week, whereas Japanese shows only air one. The biggest difference of all, however, is a key one: availability. While Japanese shows are rarely licensed for the American market, Korean shows are readily available through American-based services such as Hulu and Dramafever. Therefore, audiences outside of Korea can get their hands on them sooner.

Part of the magic of Korean drama is its finite length, said Dramabeans' founder, known online as Javabeans.

"Because every Korean drama is one season long, whether that's 16 episodes or 100, it means you get the story you're meant to get, that the writers meant to tell, " she said. "One season allows for sufficient time to bond with the characters, to watch them grow and fall in love with them, but it isn't so vast a space in which to lose sight of what makes them so appealing in the first place."

So the formula makes Korean dramas addictive for fans and keeps us coming back. But with the growing presence of the Korean Wave, it seems like dramas may have a greater significance than just entertainment factor. "Winter Sonata," the second installment in a four part series from director Yoon Seok-Ho, has gained credit for pushing the Korean drama movement into Japan thanks to its tremendous commercial success.  The show's impact was so major that it has often been suggested that it helped to bridge relations between the two countries.

" 'Winter Sonata' wasn't necessarily created with the intent of making it big in Japan, but it struck a chord there whose reverberations can still be felt a decade later," Javabeans said about the show. "Dramas and pop culture bridge a gap that can't be achieved through official policy or political maneuvering. What people respond to is the universality of the themes, coupled with the unique perspective of this one particular culture. It's fresh, without being quite foreign. In cultivating Hallyu abroad, you've exported your cultural perspective in a warm, friendly package."

This goes both ways, said Javabeans. Anime, pop music and dramas from Japan are popular in Korea as well.

"Pop culture provides a connection between the two countries that has been depoliticized; it enables communication and exchange while removing ideology and policy from the conversation."

As more and more fans become aware of what Korean entertainment has to offer, the demand for it will continue to grow. But will fans outside of Korean continue to follow drama, even if the Korean Wave comes and goes? Dan Acton, a blogger and the official representative for Dramafever, thinks that they will.

"People might first be drawn to k-dramas out of curiosity, but pretty soon they get hooked on the story and just have to find out what happens next," Acton said. "It's feel-good TV in the best possible sense: romantic, sexy and fun, but also really moving and intelligent. There's a fresh, genuine quality to the storytelling and characters that American audiences find refreshing. You get the complete story in a relatively short number of episodes, so you get your fix, and then you move on to the next one."

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soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Owen

    Addict! LoL. But that word also applies to me. I'm adtdeicd to a couple of teleseryes myself. And there's also one American soap I've been following for year now. It's hilariously pretentious but I'm so hooked. :D Thanks for coming to the Colorful Weekend party! :D

    November 15, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
  2. miyukiwi

    Oddly enough, I started out with jdramas, moved onto kdramas, and now I'm trying desperately to move back into jdramas again. I fell in love with kdramas because everything about it was so perfect. Barely anyone was less than good-looking, the scenes were beautiful planned, the clothes and props were first-grade, and it was very entertaining to watch and move onto another (like the article mentioned). However, after a few years, I really started to miss jdramas. Within that perfectly crafted kdramasphere, there was a certain lack of emotion. The actors were okay at acting, but barely any moved me just by their facial expressions (I felt emotional only because the story itself was sad). The way every scene was filmed was very straightforward, but also felt cold and manufactured. I felt at peace when I watched Love Rain (a kdrama) that was filmed beautifully and tastefully, only to find out that the ratings were very low. In comparison, jdramas have this feeling of sincerity. When you watch it, even if its not the cutest story or have the most attractive actors, something really makes you attach to the characters (for example, Kimi ni Todoke made me want to jump in the screen and hug the main character, even though the scenes were by no means full of action.) However, it is VERY hard to find jdramas. Most are very low-quality videos with only some being subbed. It's hard to find a good list of jdramas as well, because people have become so obsessed with kdramas that no one cares about jdramas enough to talk about them anymore.

    October 27, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • alyx

      im more into jdramas than kdramas. though most jdramas are short, it is more entertaining and not dragging which i find in kdramas. if i have to watch kdramas, i tend to fast forward it to next scene since the other bored me. and sometimes the acting sometimes irritates me. i have come to like kdramas first but after watching some of the jdramas, it got me hooked. it had started with hanayori dango, then gokusen and so on. i keep watching or putting jdramas on my "to watch list" since then,

      March 20, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
  3. newkdramaaddict

    Watching my first JDrama, Rich Man Poor Woman and I absolutely love it!

    July 23, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • Reiko

      If you're also into Jdramas, I highly recommend Orthros no Inu, starring Takizawa Hideaki. (my bias in JE, Johnny's w/the duo grp Tackey & Tsubasa) It's one of his best-to-date yet in modern dramas he's recently acted in. (drama was out in 2010)

      Also, Boku Dake no Madonna, Majou no Jouken, S.O.S. (Strawberry on the Shortcake) and Taiyou no Kisetsu are one of his other best dramas he's acted in as well.

      He'll also be starring in another new Jdrama soon come November 2012 called "Akutou". (another suspense/murder-mystery/cop-who done it-type of drama) Can't wait for it to air soon.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  4. Consumer Sales

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    July 13, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  5. nuri

    Nice to see Javabeans and Girlfriday gets some recognition!!
    Dramabeans is a very nice community for people like me who love dramas but doesnt really have anyone to talk with.
    most of my friends is casual watcher and through dramabeans i know that watching dramas can be fun and smart.

    July 13, 2012 at 2:48 am |
  6. Juli

    Since 2008 I'm in jdrama and kdrama and sometimes in a twdrama. My preference changes constantly. Think both have their own strengths.

    June 26, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • fly

      I agree... it's nice that they're styles are so different because when I need a break from one, I can move to another style for a bit.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
      • fly

        *their

        July 9, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
      • newkdramaaddict

        Any recommendations? I've yet to watch a JDrama! Hong Kong, KDrama and TWDramas only.

        July 9, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
      • fly

        Summer Snow is one that shouldn't be missed :D Nobuta wo Produce is a popular one as well. Oh and the old version of Great Teacher Onizuka. ^.^ That should be enough to get you started.

        July 9, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  7. beek

    I never liked Jdramas. They're so weird and exaggerated. Glad I found Kdramas though.

    June 25, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • camille

      I can say the same about Kdramas lol

      July 2, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  8. guiltypleasuregirl

    I love my Kdramas! I married into an Asian family and my Korean MIL is always watching them (I am not Asian). Anyway, when my baby was born several months ago I was basically stuck on the couch holding her all day and I randomly started watching a Kdrama on netflix and man I was hooked! I literally watched them in the middle of the night when I was up with my newborn and it definitely helped me survive those first 2 tough months. Then my in-laws came to visit and told me about dramafever and I'm pretty sure my life will never been the same–in a good way. Having my Kdramas made it easy for me to pull the cord on cable! Sure my husband makes fun of me, but I'm planning on getting him hooked soon too :)

    June 25, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  9. glacierkn

    LOL and I was thinking I was turning on my inner Geek when I got hooked on kdramas.

    June 25, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  10. paopei

    I'm addicted to both Jp and Kr dramas for 7 yrs now. One weak point of Jp ones is too short, you almost hooked to them and that's the end. Another is less obvious romance, it might be due to nature of Jp people. For Kr ones is lacking fresh storylines and it seemed to me that they solve this problem by borrowing some manga stories from Jp. Anyway I still look forward to seeing dramas from those two. It's really a joy in my routine life. By the way I'm Thai ^__^

    June 22, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  11. newkdramaaddict

    A relatively newbie to KDrama, thanks to Hulu and Netflix. With the disappearing interest in American TV, this definitely filled the void. So now there is no need for cable as I depend wholeheartedly on Hulu, Netflix, DramaFever and an assortment of other websites catering to the KDrama fans. Love Internet TVs!

    June 22, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  12. samshik

    soooo true! i got so addicted to kdramas when i started watching them 5 years ago. hallyu or not, i'll still watch them. im an avid fan now.

    June 22, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  13. samsooki

    Wow, kudos to javabeans and girlfriday!!!!!!

    Miss you!

    June 22, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • nuri

      hi, you might don't know me, but i miss you too!
      i read your My Name is Kim Samsoon recaps last year and been wondering when are you going to write again?
      cheers

      July 13, 2012 at 2:50 am |
      • samsooki

        I would love to write again, but my time in k-dramaland has been curtailed for the time-being. I miss everybody and I still read every comment – even if I don't respond.

        July 14, 2012 at 7:17 pm |