K-Dramas have become increasingly popular with global audiences, with streaming services like Netflix producing mega-hits. K-Dramas like Squid Game and All of Us Are Dead were so successful that Netflix has already confirmed second seasons for both shows.
Netflix was even willing to invest 2.4 million US dollars per episode in this Webtoon-based K-Drama.
As a whole, Netflix seems to even be influencing how K-Dramas are produced, focusing on shorter series that are more easily binge-watched.
And now it seems that romantic K-Dramas are having a unique impact on some international fans. CNN recently reported that more women are traveling to Seoul, South Korea, because of “the Netflix effect.”
In 2005, 2.3 million women visited the country — compared to 2.9 million men, according to government data. By 2019 — the last year before the coronavirus playd havoc with tourism — nearly 10 million women visited the country, compared to just 6.7 million men.
According to researcher Min Joo Lee, male romantic leads in K-Dramas have become so popular with international audiences because they are “selling more than men with beautiful faces and chiseled bodies.”
[K-Dramas are] offering a glimpse into a world where men [are] romantic and patient, an antithesis to what the women saw as the sex-obsessed dating culture of their home countries.
And certainly, recent K-Dramas like Business Proposal received praise for depicting incredibly healthy and heart-fluttering relationships.
Extraordinary Attorney Woo, which is still currently on air, has also received praise for the characters’ realistic but incredibly romantic moments.
For one international fan who lives in the United Kingdom but “traveled to Seoul in 2021,” Crash Landing on You was her motivation for trying to find romance in Seoul.
She was struck by how men in the show did not jeer at or catcall women on the street, as happens in her home country.
In her eyes, Korean men are ‘gentlemen, polite, charming, romantic, fairytale-like, chivalrous, respectful.’ She said it also helps that Korean men dress well and groom themselves.
While the idea of traveling to another country to find romance may seem farfetched or irrational, the popular trend of “international couples” has only made this particular fantasy seem more realistic.
On YouTube, the hashtag ‘#Gukjecouple’ (‘#international couple’) has become a genre covering 2,500 channels and 34,000 videos, the most popular of which feature a Korean man with an American or European partner. Sometimes these videos feature couples pranking each other, playing on cultural differences, and sometimes they simply portray the couples going about their everyday lives.
These couples tend to post content online, focusing on their cultural differences, usually depicted through pranks, to make entertaining content for viewers.
One of these international couple content creators, Gwon and Nichola, who run a blog called My Korean Husband, warn viewers that while some “channels promote cultural understanding,” others are more focused on “only selling looks and fantasies.”
The reality… is that women who are serious about setling down with a Korean husband should recognize there will be cultural differences to adjust to, such as living in a society known for long work hours and patriarchal gender norms.
‘(At first) you’re going ot the Han River on picnics, and it’s all wodnerful and you feel like you’re in a K-Drama, but then what’s the reality of actually having a family in Korea?’
— Nichola via CNN
While some of these couples and K-Dramas romanticize relationships, notably, real life is never actually the same as how it is depicted in media intended for escapism.
In contrast to the popular romantic K-Dramas, content like Squid Game and the Oscar-winning film Parasite focus on sharing societal and political messages as they both emphasize the more brutal aspects of reality rather than idealized romance.
People over the age of 40 are used to the established social order, and have given up some values. But those in their 20s and 30s are resisting that order amid technological changes. They see an unfair society where people can’t succeed, even if they work and study hard.
— Hwang Hee (South Korea’s Minister of Culture, Sports, & Tourism) via CNN
But, according to Min Joo Lee, realistic or not, the hope of romance is too much for some viewers to resist.
They clearly see that not all Korean men are (perfect), but they just need an alternative to the disappointing dating market back in their home countries.
They can’t really let go of it because they hope that the ideal dating relationships exist somewhere in the world.
— Min Joo Lee via CNN