Korean Dramas (sometimes called K-dramas) are comparable in content and format to Japanese, Hong Kong, and other Asian dramas. They typically run for one season. Aimed at women with a focus on romance, family and, well, drama, Korean dramas (along with music and movies) have been sweeping over Asia for the last decade in a phenomenon called the "Korean Wave" or Hallyu.
Some Korean dramas are popular enough to get remade in other countries—Winter Sonata was so popular in Japan that a Japanese anime adaptation was made. The street runs both ways, too, as the immensely popular Boys over Flowers was made into a Korean drama as well (not to mention a Taiwanese drama, a Chinese drama, and a Thai drama).
Korean dramas are famous for the female lead inevitably having to deal with a vicious mother-in-law, tragic setbacks and someone falling terminally ill. Actually, they're famous for pretty much everything.
Here is a guide (under construction) on how to write a Korean Drama.
It also has a wiki (which is for Asian dramas in general).
Like a lot of things in Korea, the TV broadcasters producing these shows are mostly based in Seoul.
See also Turkish Drama, Dorama, and Telenovela, other regional forms of dramatic entertainment.
For an index of these dramas, see Korean Series.
Tropes common across Korean dramas:
- Abusive Parents: A necessary element in any Korean series for dramatic purposes and they come in all shapes physical or psychological.
- Affectionate Gesture to the Head: The male lead often does this to the female lead (and sometimes vice versa) and she touches her head after he removes his hand as if she can't believe he just did such an affectionate thing to her.
- Age-Gap Romance: While not that common, certain shows have this as the plot, in which the older person is almost always the heroine who's called "Noona" by the younger protagonist. This case is known as "Noona Romance".
- Arranged Marriage: Money and power-obsessed parents force their offsprings to marry someone from a wealthy family to maintain their social status and gain more power regardless of their children's agreement.
- Bandage Wince: The male lead can endure the pain of all types of wounds and injuries, but the moment his love interest tries to clean it and bandage it up, he remembers it hurts and winces in pain.
- The Big Damn Kiss: Most first-ever kisses in dramas are this. They're often dramatic and shot from different angles or with the camera circling around the couple for extra emphasis.
- Bitch Slap: Korean works are so OBSESSED with these, they range from well-deserved ones to unnecessary and over-the-top ones. This scene in "Stairway to Heaven" alone takes the cake for the most ridiculously long slapping scene where an Evil Step Mother repeatedly slaps her stepdaughter just because she did better academically than her own actual daughter. Even her own child looked scared while watching this go down...
- Beautiful Dreamer: Often the best way to showcase the romantic lead's soft side.
- The Bully: There is at least one in every series, either to provide tension or a way to form friendships and romance through another important character saving the character from being tormented. They often exist in a Gang of Bullies, but not always.
- Cast Full of Pretty Boys: In male-dominant casts, the male characters will be conventionally attractive and very handsome or pretty.
- Childhood Friend Romance: A popular trope to establish a series' Official Couple is to have them be acquainted with each other as children.
- Cock Fight: Dramas with plots concerning love triangles, even if subplots or not the main focus, have lots of fights where the female lead has two handsome men fighting for her and trying to "win" her over the other. This gets criticized often for how the female character is treated as a toy whom men are trying to obtain/possess and some dramas deconstruct it or acknowledge the dehumanizing aspect of it.
- Contrived Coincidence: Seoul is a huge metropolis, a city of some ten million people. Characters in Korean dramas are always randomly bumping into each other on the streets, or in restaurants/clubs/bars.
- Courtroom Drama: It may not be as common as Family Dramas and Melodramas, but it is a genre that still appears in the Korean drama scene from time to time. This genre is best demonstrated in shows such as: Lawless Lawyer and Your Honor (A.K.A Dear Judge), to name a few.
- Creator Provincialism:
- The vast majority of dramas are shot and set in the Seoul Capital Area. Then again, the metropolis is home to 50% of South Korea's entire population, so it's kind of justified.
- Many sageuk subvert this with their more diverse choice of setting, even if they are still shot in Seoul. Pre-Joseon, the peninsula's center of power was located in North Korea.
- Disappeared Dad: A character (usually female) searching for their missing father is another frequent trope in Korean dramas.
- Distant Finale: It's very common for the last episode of a Korean drama to skip forward to tie up the story and show how things settled out for the characters.
- The Ditz: The main characteristic trait most female protagonists have to have, Cute Clumsy Girl, Apologises a Lot, and Damsel in Distress also goes hand in hand with this trope.
- Driven to Suicide: Though in most cases the suicide doesn't really happen (interrupted or the suicidal changes their mind somehow, etc.), when a character is bullied mercilessly at school or mistreated at work, they often attempt to kill themselves by jumping off a building.
- Easy Amnesia: Oh yeah. In Korean works, anything and everything that happens to the head causes amnesia and any random trivial thing can also make the memories magically come flooding back to the amnesiac character. Most often, this comes hand in hand with the Amnesiac Lover trope.
- Education Mama: A parent (usually female but can sometimes be male) who obsessively pushes and pressures their child into succeeding academically and would resort to emotional and physical abuse if said child fails at meeting their academic expectations. This is frequent in dramas due to the way South Korean society emphasizes education and having good grades to extreme lengths.
- Eiffel Tower Effect: The Han River is an obvious natural landmark and easily betrays the apparently foreign (or at least non-Seoul) setting of a series.
- Family Drama: A popular genre due to the importance of family values in Korean culture and how it's used to portray different types of families and intensify familial dynamics.
- Fireworks of Love: It's fairly common to have fireworks or something similar going in the background while the main couple have an intimate moment in Korean shows.
- Follow in My Footsteps: A parent forces their child into doing what they want and living their own life according to their parent's wishes while not taking into account the child's own feelings or wishes is common concept.
- Food Porn: Even in non-cooking related shows, Korean cuisine gets lots of focus before and after it's prepared enough to make one drool over it. This is especially done to popular food such as Ramen, Kimchi, Tteokbokki, and stews.
- Forgotten First Meeting: The main characters have almost always met each other when they were children or had a past together in any form and it's revealed both to them and the audiences later when they're adults.
- Happily Ever After: Korean dramas are famous for always having happy endings as the main couple(s) get together without any obstacles, and in shows where romance is not the major focus, then it's still a happy one in the sense that the main characters triumph against the Big Bad even if there was no No Romantic Resolution. In short, it's extremely rare for a Korean series to have a Downer Ending or a Bittersweet Ending, especially one where The Bad Guy Wins or The Hero Dies, and it doesn't look like they are planning on changing this pattern any time soon.
- High School: Features in many dramas, as many of them have teenagers for protagonists.
- Hollywood Homely: Holy crap. Every main character in an average drama can pass for a supermodel, no matter how hideous they are supposed to be.
- Hopeless Suitor: This role is reserved for the second male lead in a love triangle. No matter how better or more suitable or how enamored he's by the female lead, she only has eyes for the first male lead and the 2nd male lead always "loses" to him in the end.
- Informed Poverty: In some works, characters who are supposed to be poor have the latest phones, wear designer clothes, etc.
- In Vino Veritas: Alcohol often makes the drunk character (usually female) spill out the truth about their feelings or shocking hidden information to someone else unconsciously and they may or may not remember it when they sober up.
- Kneel Before Zod: Kneeling is a thing in Korean culture. In dramas, it will be seen in some big dramatic moment, as a character kneels to ask for forgiveness, or a favor, or when making a show of submission. It may also happen when an antagonistic character wants to humiliate a protagonist, in the way that the trope is usually scene in Western media.
- Love Dodecahedron: Very common for a core Love Triangle to actually be expanded out to four or five characters.
- Love Triangle: Conflicts of romantic interests between several characters is the backbone of Korean dramas. Obviously leads to Romantic Runnerup, Green-Eyed Monster, and sometimes Cock Fight depending on the show.
- Fire and Ice Love Triangle is particularly common as it shows a striking contrast between (mostly male) characters thus more complexity and grandeur. The main male lead would often be the distant, arrogant guy, while the second lead would be the friendly and warm one.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: Need to kill off the main character(s) or give them a Tragic Back Story by killing off their parents without having the police investigate it too much to achieve a specific goal their existence is stopping you from achieving it? Then making it look like an accident is the way to go in Korean drama. Of course, if they're the main characters they'll survive somehow, but if it's someone's parents? Not so much.
- Medical Drama: Many Korean shows, for instance, Hospital Playlist, Emergency Couple, Good Doctor, and Faith, have themes centered on doctors and patients, hospitals, and the practice of medicine in general and they tend to be exaggerated for a dramatic effect or sometimes flat-out inaccurate.
- Meet Cute: Rom-Coms and lighter works have a good amount of these.
- Melodrama: Is a very popular genre in dramas as of late, and is also more likely to have high viewership ratings. Examples include Sky Castle, The Innocent Man, Miss Ripley and the old classic Winter Sonata. Expect to see a lot of World of Ham, Chewing the Scenery, constant shouting and crying, Heroic BSoD, Feuding Families, Arranged Marriage, Revenge, and Cain and Abel stories, and so on.
- My Beloved Smother: Korean dramas have their fair share of mothers who are very controlling of their child's every little move and don't allow them space to breathe even for a minute.
- Obnoxious In-Laws: The common obstacle to a female protagonist in a romantic drama is her boyfriend's Rich Bitch of a mother.
- One True Love: There's only one person the heroine can love all her life and they're meant to be together despite the odds and it's always gonna be the first male lead and vice versa for him. The heroine never falls out of love with him, and if she got involved with someone else, it's against her will and due to circumstances. Her heart will still yearn for her one true love.
- On the Next: Very frequently, after that week's episode ends, there will be a series of previews for next week's show as the credits roll.
- Orbital Kiss: In older dramas, the camera does a full 360-degree orbit around the couple kissing. This is now a Discredited Trope in dramas.
- Parental Abandonment: If the parents in Korean dramas aren't abusive, then they are most likely missing, dead, or have abandoned their children.
- Parental Favoritism: In which the parents have two (or more) children. They naturally favor the prettier and smarter child over the one who has low grades and is less beautiful. Double points if The Un-Favourite child happens to be adopted.
- Parental Marriage Veto: Expect the parents of at least one of the romantic leads, and possibly both, to be strongly opposed to the pairing.
- Parent Never Came Back from the Store: A mother leaves her child at a specific place, usually in front of an amusement park, tells them to close their eyes a bit... and the mother is gone! Prepare a tissue or two for when the child realizes that their mother has abandoned them.
- Piggyback Cute: The best way to hint at a drama's main couple.
- The Pollyanna: Most female protagonists' personalities rotate between three traits: always positive, bright, and a Determinator no matter how much the Rich Bitch harrasses her. They are almost always optimistic and upbeat despite how miserable their lives can be. However, as od 2019 onwards, there has been a rise in complex and dynamic female characters who are more varied in personalities than they used to be, (and of course, not all shows portray women in this manner, anyway).
- Possessive Wrist Grab: Can be frequently seen in older works where the main male character asserts dominance over the main female character and it's portrayed in a romantic light.
- Product Placement: Very, very common in Korean dramas. Many shows have characters eating at a Subway restaurant, or getting coffee from Angel-in-us, a Korean coffee shop chain.
- Race for Your Love: If the main character is leaving to somewhere, there's an obligatory scene where their love interest races to get them back by running alongside the bus (and it's always a bus, never a train or a car) or following them to the airport.
- Rooftop Confrontation: Seoul is a very dense city that is cramped for space. So quite frequently, characters find their way to rooftops for big confrontations that allow for scenic views. Extracurricular, Il Ji-Mae, Signal, Voice, Who Are You?, and Vincenzo all have major rooftop confrontations between protagonists and villains.
- Shower Scene: Only reserved for male characters due to South Korea being a conservative country still. The male lead will be ripped with a six pack. Usually.
- Sleep Cute: This often happens after the main couple gets together, but sometimes happens as a way of foreshadowing their relationship in the first place.
- Snow Means Love: Many dramas are set in winter for this reason. The fact that Seoul is a very snowy city helps.
- Soap Opera Disease: A popular trope in particularly angsty dramas is a terminal illness (usually cancer or heart disease) suffered by one of the Official Couple, which realistically would not let a person function out of the bed. Yet, they continue to carry on for the sake of their beloved, which ironically only speeds up the progression of the disease. Eventually, they succumb, leaving the significant other all alone anyhow.
- Stalking Is Love: Since the stalker is the heroine's love interest, him following her around isn't a big deal and even prompts romance. Though sometimes in recent works, it's averted, and the heroine is normally annoyed over this.
- Surprise Car Crash: Happens quite frequently. Sometimes it's just bad karma, but often it's a killer truck dispatched by the bad guys that takes out someone important to the hero/heroine.
- 12-Episode Anime:
- Most Korean dramas run for 16-24 one-hour-long episodes, with 16 being the most common. New episodes are shown biweekly. Recent works have shown preferences for two half-hour episodes being shown a day, but these are usually grouped together for convenience.
- Also, note that most Korean tv shows don't have second seasons and those that do usually go for a different story with a different cast anyway.
- Sageuk (historical dramas) are an exception to this rule. They can run up to 200 half-hour episodes, with 50 being the most common.
- Umbrella of Togetherness: A staple in Korean shows is to have the couple or soon-to-be couple share an umbrella when one of them forgets to bring one as Ship Tease. Expect the male to bring the umbrella closer to the female lead even if a bit of his shoulder gets wet.
- Uptown Girl: The characteristic of Korean dramas, according to foreign observers, is a forbidden love story between a poor girl and a rich boy. And it is Truth in Television, but things are diversifying fast due to changing social conceptions.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: When Korean female characters get drunk, there's 80% chance they're gonna puke on someone. Mostly the male lead.