If you’re new to understanding Korean culture, you may have heard about a thing called K-dramas.
These are TV shows featuring beautiful actors with dramatic and suspense-filled dialogues. Westerners could compare them to soap operas, where everyone is rich and beautiful.
The men are perfect, and the women are drop-dead gorgeous.
So, are Korean dramas realistic? Do they portray Korean life in a true way? In general, no. However, a few TV shows do display things that are true about Koreans and what they value.
Even still, all of these are caricatures of what and who Koreans really are.
This is because it’s a television, and it is, therefore, entertainment, not reality. Just like soap operas in the US, the scripts are slightly cheesy but strangely enthralling.
They do not show how average people really live and behave.
Let’s dive deeper.
How Korean Dramas Are Unrealistic
When you watch a K-drama, it’s the equivalent of a 1970s romance novel. There is always chaos and upheaval, with characters constantly stricken with angst, love, and conflict.
Koreans aren’t like this. They, like anyone else in the world, wake up in the morning and get ready for school or work.
They marry, have children, go to concerts, hang out with friends and strive to be the best at whatever they do.
The conflict and strife portrayed in a K-drama is an exacerbation of real life.
Albeit very entertaining to watch in such a hyperbolic way.
The romance and romantic ideas that come across in a K-drama carry an undertone of truth, but that’s not the reality of it.
For instance, almost all love relationships in one of these TV shows have the woman being older than the man.
While younger men will date older women in Korea, they do not relegate themselves to this.
They will never actually show anything, even though they focus whole storylines around romance.
Clearly, in real life, people fall in love, and you will see Korean couples holding hands in public.
In fact, there is a huge social promotion around the coupling and finding someone to be with.
While this is essential to many K-dramas, they hide certain aspects about it due to state censorship.
Another way you can tell K-dramas do not reflect reality is in how Korean women dress and act.
If you see any female on the street of Seoul, you will see legs, arms, and other skin exposed.
In contrast with a K-drama, she’s covered from head to toe and wears ridiculous high heels, even in winter.
Children & Family
For some reason, there’s always an orphaned character where at least one of their parents is not in the picture.
Either they’re absent, in jail, traveling, or dead.
This simply isn’t often the case in Korea. Family is a big deal, and both parents are very much a part of the child’s life.
Having that stated, it is quite common for one parent to travel outside of Korea for work.
Because the pay is better, they will live in places like Japan, Germany or the US.
So, in some instances, having a parent go away for long periods of time is somewhat true.
Even still, K-dramas will display how important family is. Indeed, Koreans are a tight-knit society specifically because of their strong bonds with relatives.
If Korean dramas didn’t include some of this, it’d be unlikely anyone would watch them. That’s how important family is.
Ways K-Dramas Are True to Life
Concepts of family aside, there are other things in Korean dramas that are true. One is the prescribed gender roles for men and women.
Women are subtle and quiet when in the presence of their lovers but outgoing and independent at their job.
Patriarchy & Hierarchy
Yet another reflection true to life is the hierarchy and pecking order intrinsic to Korean culture.
They value patriarchy and the elderly, which puts them at the top of the social order of things.
As such, Koreans employ special language to address people depending on their social status. K-dramas definitely do this.
Money & Beauty
While these shows do highlight Korean values about money and beauty, they take them to the extreme.
However, skincare and a perfect appearance are obsessions in Korea and on K-dramas.
Actually, plastic surgery is huge in Korea, along with skin care products that promote whitening and brightening benefits.
The Concept of Han
Another truism of K-dramas that is real in Korea is the concept of Han.
In Korean TV shows, there will be some sort of jump in time or a long separation with one of the lead characters.
Han is a word used to describe the hardships Koreans tend to suffer, especially since the Korean War.
Han is an idea that surrounds an emotion of vengeance, depression, anxiety, or some other such negative life experience.
But, Koreans embrace this as a way of life and a means of defining one’s character.
So, K-dramas will portray this aspect of Korean life in a realistic manner.
Some Realistic Korean Dramas
But, it stands to note that not all Korean dramas are cheesy, overblown stereotypes of the culture.
There is a growing demand for TV shows that mirror how Koreans really are.
Two very popular examples are “My Mister” and “Itaewon Class.”
However, they are dramas, and anything on TV is never 100% true to life.
When you watch a Korean drama, it’s easy to see how unrealistic it can be.
The outlandish dialogues and melodramatic situations are not common in Korean life.