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12 Reasons Why Korean Culture Is So Popular

Jason Park
Published by: Jason Park
Last updated:

Lately, Korea has become more and more popular. Now, many people think it’s because of BTS.

While this is partially true, it’s not the main reason why Korean culture is so popular. Korean culture has been popular for many years. Back in the day, it was because of the food that garnered the attention of people overseas.

These days it’s K-drama and K-pop that tends to be in the spotlight.

But there are many reasons that will blow your mind.

Let’s get started.

Why Is Korean Culture So Popular?

Korean culture is an international phenomenon but its popularity didn’t grow overnight. Also called the “Korean Wave“ or “K-Wave,” its current rise to fame is the result of decades of introduction. K-Wave encompasses everything Korean.

While music, movies and animation reign supreme, these have had a domino effect in demands for cosmetics, beauty standards, skincare, hairstyles and other aspects of the fashion industry. Yet there are other contributing factors too like language and cuisine.

What makes these components so attractive is the wonderful mix of the familiar with the unusual. Indeed, the 2021 Innovation Index by WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), indicates that K-Pop is one of the cornerstones of creativity for South Koreans.

12 Reasons Why Korean Culture Is So Popular

Causes for Korean Culture’s Rise to Fame

With the advent of the internet coinciding with Korean culture’s rise to global notoriety, more people have various avenues to access and discover this niche. This means its success is also due in part to the development of social networking and video sharing platforms.

If it wasn’t for the existence of these, Korea’s entertainment industry wouldn’t have been able to achieve the audience it has since the early 2000s. This is highly evident in K-Pop. For instance, the song “Gangnam Style” by Psy in 2012 gleaned one billion views on YouTube.

Korea’s History

A lot of the subject matter in many movies, songs and animations is Korea’s tumultuous history. Particularly, the effects of the Korean War along with living under a military dictatorship inspire a plethora of things part and parcel to South Koreans. These foster a foundational reason for so many being receptive to Korean culture. [1]

International Diplomacy

While people love K-Wave and experiencing Korean culture, most of it’s popularity is due to much larger influences. Mainly, it’s a diplomacy tool the government uses to gain leverage with other countries and international affairs.

But, this is because of the corporate partnerships the government has with companies like Hyundai and Samsung. Their financial resources and international recognition allows for the promotion of K-Wave.

Various Aspects of Korean Culture

K-Pop leads the way of the Korean culture phenomenon with acts such as Blackpink, Psy and BTS. Indeed, when you talk about Korean culture, most people immediately identify K-Pop, making it synonymous with Korea. But other cultural offerings have a stronghold too.

TV Shows & Movies

K-dramas, which include TV shows, movies and animation, follow close behind K-pop. Some of the most popular ones are “Vincenzo,” “My Sassy Girl,” “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha,” “Hellbound,” “Squid Game” and “Descendants of the Sun.”

Even streaming services offer K-dramas with subtitles in English, French, Greek and German, to name a few. The K-dramas also are what attract people to their unique sense of fashion, makeup application and unusual style.


However, Manhwa, or Korean animation, is the source for many successful K-drama productions. Some of the more popular of these are “True Beauty,” Itaewon Class,” The Uncanny Counter,” “Navillera,” Lovestruck in the City” and “Steel Rain,” among hosts of others.

Manhwa was able to gain steam via two avenues. The first was being able to ride on the coattails of the Japanese animation craze of the 2000s, when a cult following developed.

The second was due in part to Webtoons, a platform that helped elevate manhawa via its unique layout and use of color. So, by 2010, manhwa gained a great cult following around the world.

Beauty & Skincare

Because of how pop stars and actors display makeup application combined with the classic flawlessness of Korean skin, beauty and skincare are also high in demand. As such, some of the largest beauty companies in the region are Amorepacific, Innisfree and LG Household ; Heath Care.

They offer signature soothing skin creams, eye-brightening products, under eye treatments, moisturizers, cleansers and so many others.

The Language

K-Wave’s popularity extends to language as well. Duolingo, a famous language learning app, reported between March and October 2020, interest in learning Korean shot up 256%. Today, it is the second largest spoken foreign language in India and the seventh most popular language studied in the world.

What’s more, government data reveals that 1,669 schools in 39 countries made learning Korean part of the curriculum for children as of 2021. The Ministry of Education hopes to export language-learning resources to 43 countries by 2023. [2]

Even the Oxford English Dictionary recently added 26 Korean words. For example, they’ve added “hallyu,” which means, “Korean Wave.”


Korean ramen noodles, kimchi, barbecue and Soju are hugely popular in places like the United States, Turkey, India and Nepal. Since 2019, there has been a major rise in demand for Korean-style ramen noodles.

Also, Soju, distilled rice liquor, is becoming quite high on the demand along with Kimchi. This is dish with worldwide appeal because of its distinct spiciness that’s pungent and is an excellent accompaniment with ramen noodles. Plus, Korean BBQ spots riddle every major city throughout the United States.

History of K-Wave’s Notoriety

While Korean culture’s popularity is due to its 1990s explosion, it’s been a growing trend since the 1950s. In these earlier years, K-Wave was a regional phenomenon that people from China, Japan and Taiwan would flock to. [3]

Government Influence

However, the South Korean government saw how lucrative this could be. Therefore, they made great strides to bring global awareness to its traditional and modern lifestyles in the 1990s.

They did this through creating a close-knit corporate partnership with companies like Samsung and Hyundai by providing subsidies. Since these two were powering much of South Korea’s economy at the time, they asked them to fund their burgeoning music industry.

This effort was so successful and lucrative that they devote 1% of their total annual budget to cultural promotion. There are even government-funded schools where children go for training to become a pop star.

K-Wave as a Worldwide Cultural Superpower

So, in this way Korea has become something of a cultural super power. As it stands now, their entertainment industry is worth about $10 billion per year.

Upon the advent of the 21st century, Korea has become a major distributor of music, tourism, entertainment and fashion. All of these components have become a significant and essential part of the country’s economy.

Consuming Countries

Per Korea’s Ministry of Culture, foreign consumption of Korean content is rising exponentially every year. In 2020 alone, the top nine countries are (in order): [4]

  • China
  • Japan
  • Thailand
  • Indonesia
  • Malaysia
  • Vietnam
  • Turkey
  • France
  • United States

Among these places, K-dramas stood at 29.7% of all content consumed. Beauty and skincare followed behind at 28.5%. Then comes in variety shows and fashion with percentages at 26.9 and 24.8, respectively.

Our Verdict

After all, Korean culture is popular because of these 12 reasons. Many of these reasons are pretty well known overseas. Now, that doesn’t mean that Korean culture is popular in every country.

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    About The Author

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    Jason Park

    Jason has been living in Seoul for over 4 years, and during that time, he has experienced many of the city's hidden stores. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others. Jason has been quoted and referenced by different major media companies like Mashed, Distractify, ThePrint and TastingTable. In his free time, he likes to watch Korean dramas and learn more about Korean culture.

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