Fifteen years is a long time, but on the Internet it’s practically forever. In 1998, there was no Facebook. Google was being beta tested. Wikipedia wouldn’t be around for three years, and streaming cute cat videos on YouTube would be impossible for seven more years.
But Internet users back in the dark ages of the late 90s did have one of the things we enjoy today: Soompi. Founded fifteen years ago this week, Soompi even predates the word Hallyu, which wouldn’t be coined for another year.
Since Soompi’s 1998 inception, Kpop and Kdrama have become worldwide cultural forces enjoyed by people from every imaginable background—including me, an American who has never been anywhere near Asia but is still deeply obsessed with Korean drama.
It’s hard to imagine life without Soompi and sites like it. So in honor of Soompi’s fifteenth birthday, I give you fifteen essential reasons to watch Korean drama.
|Playful Kiss: The first and last time this drama’s heroine|
showed aptitude for something, in teddy bear form.
14. Two episodes a week! Watching currently airing dramas is still pretty new to me. For the first year of my Kdrama obsession I only started watching shows that had already finished their runs in Korea and were already available online. There’s something to be said for this, but it meant that I didn’t get to experience the wonder that is watching a show live. The wait between episodes is exquisite torture that allows for lots of fangirling, but the best part is the thrill of watching a great episode and knowing that you only have to wait 24 hours for another.
|Jang Ok-Jung: Live for Love: Proving that Kdrama trends know no bounds,|
this show will feature a 17th century fashion designer.
12. Gender-bending. Kdrama writers love nothing more than a character pretending to a be a member of the opposite sex. And neither do I, as it turns out. Whether it’s earnest Eun Chan in Coffee Prince or surly Irene in Ma Boy, some of my favorite Kdrama characters aren’t quite what they seem. Gender-bending series tend to be funny and sweet. But beyond that, they’re also stealth commentary on gender politics.
11. Sincerity. In this age of irony, my fellow Americans are trapped in a world of cynicism and snark. But all we need to do for a refreshing change is to watch some Korean drama, where characters actually mean what they say. In Kdrama coincidence is possible, coolness is optional, and emotions aren’t so much worn on sleeves as they are etched across the sky. The importance of family ties, hard work, and striving for success aren’t things that come up much in my own culture, but they’re all delightfully essential in Korean television.
|Padam Padam: The best way to conserve water|
is by showering with a friend, right?
9. Homey, domestic storytelling. Kdrama premises may be over the top, but the shows themselves are always rooted in the world we live in. Characters actually eat, pay bills, and clip their toenails. Being a living human being is a part of the story, rather than apart from the story.
8. Emotion. No matter what a Korean drama is about, its goal is to make you feel something. How it’s written, how it’s acted, how it’s filmed—all those decisions are made in service of that single purpose. This can make for some pretty pathetic plots, as shows pinball from one emotion-bomb to another, but when done well it draws you into the story so completely that it sometimes feels as if you’ll never recover from your emotional engagement with it. In Western entertainment, this often isn’t the case: shows primarily want to wow you with their technique, premise, or diabolically clever plot. They forget that all those things should just be tools for hitting you in the heart.
|Flower Boy Next Door: Not to be superficial or anything, but it makes me happy|
that an entire Kdrama subgenre revolves around cute boys.
6. The culture. Before Kdrama happened to me, I never realized that I could easily step out of my land-locked American life. Now that I know different, the world seems like a much more interesting place. Watching Korean dramas has inspired me to eat things I never ate, drink things I never heard of, and learn things I never knew I wanted to know. From what Koreans do when released from prison to why you should never give a pair of shoes to someone you love and the best way to eat ramen,* foreign customs suddenly seem like the most interesting thing imaginable.
(*Eat tofu; because they’ll leave you; with lots of green onions and an egg, sitting on the floor using the lid as a plate)
5. There’s always something new to watch. A major contributing factor to my Kdrama obsession is just how many shows there are out there. Every three months or so, an entirely new batch of dramas air. Add this continuing output to decades worth of dramas that were completed before I even realized Korean drama existed, and you’ve got the world’s best recipe for couch-potato hermithood. When I started off watching Kdrama, I wanted to see it all—every drama, no matter how good or not-so-good it might be. Nowadays I’ve developed a self-protection mechanism I never would have imagined: if I’m not enjoying a series, I stop watching it; if a series gets lousy reviews, I don’t even start it. But barring the invention of a time machine I’m still never going to watch every drama I want to see.
|A Gentleman’s Dignity: flash mobs, flowers, hand hearts? That’s romance.|
3. Their fun-sized length. Primetime Korean dramas don’t overstay their welcome. Often lasting fewer than 30 episodes, they’re long enough for twisty, turny plotting and meaningful character development, but not so long that you get sick of them. A few Kdrama genres spawn lengthier shows—sageuks are regularly more than 100 episodes long, and sitcoms and daily dramas can be as long as 200 episodes. But even then, the series have a finite number of episodes and complete their runs in less than a year.
|Lie to Me: The only thing this screen capture is missing is the phrase The End.|
1. The fandom. Thanks to the hard work of the folks at Soompi and countless other blogs and news sites, the Internet is always abuzz with Kdrama talk in almost every language imaginable. From spoilers on Soompi’s forums to gifsets on Tumblr and the latest recaps posted by bloggers, the Internet is a drama-watcher’s (second) greatest pleasure.