Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Where to Watch

Where I watch
We truly live in a golden age for streaming Kdrama on the Internet.

Even a few years ago, international viewers wanting to watch Asian dramas had to hunt down time-consuming (not to mention illegal) downloads or wait for insanely expensive DVD releases. But as a North American with a high-speed Internet connection, today I have access to more drama than I could watch in two lifetimes.

There are downsides—although many sources are free on a limited basis, bells and whistles and some episodes come at a price. The video for older dramas tends to be low-quality, and few steaming sites are available outside of North America, thanks to licensing issues. Plus there are always those rare-bird dramas that are only available through illegal sources, which are often unreliable.

Ultimately, though, there’s nothing like sitting down to watch a drama when you can trust that every single episode is only a click away, well subbed and largely problem free. So as an intrepid drama watcher, I thought I’d share my go-to sources for legal drama watching. 

The lowdown: Although primarily dedicated to anime, this site includes some older Korean dramas and adds one or two new series a year. Many episodes and features are available without a premium account, but others are accessible only to paying users.

Subtitles: Drama subs seem to be provided by the show’s original network.

Ad breaks: Yes, unless you sign up for a paid account.

Restart location: Where you left off in a specific episode; using your history page you can tell which episodes you’ve seen.

The letdown: New dramas are incredibly rare, which makes this site unessential for anything but a few unusual classics in its library. When using the free service, advertisements are awkwardly placed and frustratingly repetitive—you’re likely to see a single ad over and over again.

Hidden gems: Fan favorites Alone in Love and Someday aren’t carried by other legal streaming sites. Also available are episodes of The Kimchi Chronicles, an English-language show about Korean cooking (hosted, strangely enough, by Hugh Jackman).

International availability: Determined on a drama-by-drama basis as required by Crunchyroll’s contract with the content provider.

Apps: Available for many mobile devices, gaming platforms, and set-top devices such as Roku and Google TV.

The lowdown: Home to one of the Internet’s biggest selections of old and new Kdramas, Dramafever carries many currently airing shows and reliably posts new episodes the day after they air in Korea. Many episodes are free, but a premium account is required to watch others.

Subtitles: Older subtitles come from a variety of places, including fansubbing squads. New shows are subbed by Dramafever. Their subs tend to be reliable but very Americanized, with widely known Korean terms like oppa and ajumma translated into English. Some less obvious Korean traditions may be glossed over, as in the episode of Big where the female lead mentioned a child’s hair being cut as a form of punishment. This line wasn’t included in the Dramafever translation at all. On the bright side, there are many subtitle display options to ensure that you never miss a word.

Ad breaks: Yes, unless you pay for the premium service.

Restart location: Where you left off in any given episode, if you’re a member. Dramafever also tracks which episodes you’ve watched. This makes it extremely easy to return to a show after taking a break. (I dropped Baker King Kim Tak Gu for more than a year, but thanks to Dramafever was able to tell at a glance exactly where I stopped.)

The letdown: The site is image heavy, so can be slow to load. Recent redesigns took some getting used to and are still a bit buggy for some users. (In my case, there’s only one problem: episodes resume about five minutes earlier than they should.) Free users will find commercials repetitive and awkwardly placed.

Hidden gems: Recently added reality show We Got Married; oldschool classic Sandglass; complete collections of influential drama series, including Lovers in Paris, Lovers in Prague, and Lovers; every drama written by the Hong sisters.

International availability: For a limited time, the first five episodes of all shows are available worldwide (with the exception of parts of Southeast Asia and South America). Premium memberships are available only in North and South America.

Apps: Available for many mobile devices, gaming platforms, and set-top devices such as Roku and Google TV.

The lowdown: Kdramas from many sources are available on Hulu, including Dramafever and Viki. Some episodes are free to watch on a computer while others (and most apps) require a Hulu Plus paid membership.

Subtitles: Vary according to source.

Ad breaks: Yes, whether you’re a paying member or not.

Restart location: Episodes resume where you left off, but I find it hard to keep track of which episodes I’ve already watched.

The letdown: Frustrating commercials that you can’t escape from, even as a paying user. Hulu also provides little information about the cast of each show; it’s impossible to search for actors or dramas featuring a specific individual.

Hidden gems: Kpop Tasty Road, an English-language series that visits Seoul-area restaurants favored by Kpop stars; currently airing I Summon You, Gold and The Virus; the 21-episode director’s cut of wacky sageuk Tamra, the Island. (For non-Dramafever or Viki rarities, search for CJ Entertainment, SBS International, or MBC America.)

International availability: Hulu Plus is only available in America and Japan.

Apps: Available for many mobile devices, gaming platforms, and set-top devices such as Roku and Apple TV. (But not Google TV, blast it.) Most apps require a paid membership.

The lowdown: A small-but-growing-collection of recent dramas and some classics. The first few episodes of some dramas are free, but then you need to shell out for a paid membership. All episodes of other dramas are only available to paying members. The site always contains a boatload of variety shows, although few (if any) are available with subtitles.

Subtitles: For new shows Mvibo does their own subbing, which is of generally acceptable quality. Older shows have network-provided subs.

Ad breaks: None, beyond extremely brief Mvibo commercials at the beginning and end of each episode

Restart location: Where you left off if you’re a paid member returning to the most recent episode you watched; otherwise, the beginning of the episode. (Your place is lost if you watch a different episode on the site.)

The letdown: Although Mvibo carries new dramas, its English subtitles lag far, far behind. (Nice Guy is only subbed up to episode 10 even though the show’s twenty-episode run ended last November.) Some series offerings will apparently never be subbed, including its sitcoms, variety shows, and documentaries. Beware: subbing status is often hard to determine. Just because a drama is labeled as available in English doesn’t mean all of its episodes have been translated; check the episode list before you start to avoid nasty surprises.

Mvibo doesn’t have a queue feature. Also, there’s no descriptive text for any episode or series—you have to go elsewhere for even the most basic information, including cast. This is surprisingly annoying.

Hidden gems: Episode 18 of Coffee Prince, which isn’t available on other legal streaming sites. (Don’t panic—it’s just a making-of ep.)  The KBS drama special series, including Swamp Ecology Report, starring Can We Get Married? it-boy Sung Joon. Last year’s much-loved Ojakgyo Brothers and A Wife’s Credentials.

International availability: America only

Apps: None.

Netflix Streaming
The lowdown: The gateway to Kdrama addiction for many an American, myself included, Netflix offers a limited selection of shows with international appeal that have already completed their runs in Korea. (Check out the list of currently available titles on Kdrama Fighting.) There’s no free option; to watch, you must be a paying member.

Subtitles: Quality varies. I suspect Netflix only uses official network subtitles as they appear on the series’ DVD set.

Ad breaks: None.

Restart location: Where you let off, no matter how many movies or dramas you’ve watched in the interim.

The letdown: Netflix carries an extremely limited selection of mainstream dramas—you’ll find no exciting rarities here. It’s a bummer that there’s no ad-supported free version. It offers no options for how subtitles are displayed, so good luck reading the white type on Ji Hoo’s white wardrobe throughout Boys over Flowers.

Hidden gems: Korean movies that are hard to find streaming regularly appear on Netflix, including a number that star drama favorites. Check out Gong Yoo’s Silenced and Moon Chae Won in War of the Arrows.

International availability: Streaming is open to residents of North America, the Caribbean, and parts of Europe.

Apps: Every single mobile device, gaming console, and set-top box on the market today has a Netflix app, and it always works well.

The lowdown: Featuring an amazing number of shows in a variety of languages, I suspect this free site has the broadest global availability of any of the legit streamers. Its subtitles are provided by fans, which can be a two-edged sword: they’re available incredibly quickly (often within a few hours of the Korean broadcast), but when they’re new their quality can be hit or miss.

Subtitles: Known to be faithful to the original, not translating words like oppa and ajussi into English. Sentences are often phrased in a Korean-friendly way that avoids personal pronouns.

Ad breaks: Yes. This site has no paid option that allows you to sidestep them, although some shows are available ad-free.

Restart location: From the episode’s beginning.

The letdown: Drama availability depends on your location, unlike other streaming sites; just because something is available on Viki doesn’t mean you can watch it where you are. (Which can be Tantalus-esque torture.) Commercials are thrown in without any logic, sometimes interrupting key scenes. The advertisements themselves are often annoyingly repetitive.

Viki has no queue feature, but it’s possible to use your account’s “favorites” information for this purpose. (If you don’t mind e-mails about new episodes, anyway.)

Hidden gems: Lots of dramas that are hard to find elsewhere, including the currently airing Hundred Year’s Inheritance and last year’s wonderful time-travel romance Queen In-hyun’s Man. Viki also carries Love Me Not, the movie That Winter, the Wind Blows was based on, as well as some other older Korean films.

International availability: Determined on a drama-by-drama basis as required by Viki’s contract with the content provider.

Apps: Available for many mobile devices, gaming platforms, and set-top devices such as Roku and Google TV.

The lowdown: Although most Kdrama on YouTube is unauthorized, a few Korean networks have their own YouTube channels that stream full episodes with English subtitles. These channels are often extremely difficult (dare I say impossible?) to navigate, but diligent searching can unearth some exciting finds.

Subtitles: Vary depending on source; language availability is difficult to predict until you’re already watching.

Ad breaks: Yes.

Restart location: No special functionality here; you need to keep track of where you are. Most YouTube episodes are broken up into segments, though—with the playlist feature this makes for easy watching, and also allows you to start in the specific file you were on instead of having to sit through a whole episode’s worth of commercials to watch the last ten minutes of something.

The letdown: Did I mention it’s hard to navigate? Because titles are often in Korean, you have to browse by poster image or hope searching for a specific drama name pays off. Subtitle availability is spotty and not clearly indicated. Ad breaks are often obnoxiously repetitive and annoyingly placed.

Hidden gems: Seven-episode drama special Like a Fairytale; classic action drama Time between Dog and Wolf starring a young, beautiful Lee Jun Ki. (Search by station name for listings of available dramas: KBS World, MBC World, SBS Drama, tvN, etc.)

International availability: Determined on a channel-by-channel basis.

Apps: Available for most platforms, but of varying quality.

Did I miss anything?


  1. Just a warning on Kdramas on Netflix. Often times after the first couple of episodes of a series for some reason the audio will go out of sync. But netflix and Hulu usually have the same dramas.

    1. That happened to me watching anything on Netflix. Angel (the Buffy "sequel") had some serious problems with it. Happened a couple times with movies too.

    2. Netflix probably regrets the day it suggested Boys over Flowers to me—I'd been a member almost since they started operating, but within a month or two I'd closed my account and switched over to watching television on Drama Fever almost exclusively. Netflix just isn't set up for subtitles, and because they don't specialize in Kdrama their system isn't really ideal for us. (The same is true of Hulu, really.)

      Too bad about the sound problems :b

  2. Crunchyroll- I think I've used Crunchyroll a few times for anime, but never for dramas. It's doubtful I would ever use it anyway because you have to pay for a lot of episodes.

    Dramafever- I believe I've already explained why I don't want to use Dramafever, but the main reason, of course, lies with money. Another thing that annoys me is the translating of the subtitles (i.e. oppa or ahjumma into brother or aunt/auntie).

    Hulu- I use Hulu quite often actually. I think I'm currently watching 3 or 4 dramas on Hulu. I like how you can watch (a majority of) what you want without having to pay. Having HuluPlus sounds great but I'm pretty content with what I've got.

    Mvibo- I'd never heard of this site before, but it doesn't sound that great, according to what you wrote. I might stay away from this one.

    Netflix- My family has (had) a Netflix account but they screwed up our account info and such, and won't allow us to log back in even though we're still paying. Netflix has a nice selection of all kind of movies and shows, not just K-drama, which is nice.

    Viki- I've used Viki a few times. It's not my favorite but it gets the job done (like watching K-dramas could ever be a job).

    YouTube- Yeah, YouTube is not the best place to watch a series of any kind. Movies are okay if you're desperate.

    Thanks for the rundown, Amanda! People new to watching dramas will find this very helpful.

    1. Crunchyroll is less expensive than both Drama Fever and Hulu—and they always have a free trial memberships. It's actually a perfect setup: you sign up for the free moth, watch the two or three dramas that aren't available elsewhere, and then cancel your account. I've done it a few times now ;)

      Mvibo will be worth it, if they ever get their subbing under control. Their service definitely made me appreciate how reliable Drama Fever is.

    2. Yeah, I've tried that quite a few times. ;) (I wonder if they're on to me, yet... hmm...) I just don't like cheating them. So, it's usually a last resort. I would use Dramafever a lot more if they didn't have such a proverbial ego. (is that how you would use that word?) And if they didn't cost so much. Crunchyroll is pretty great, though. I think I'd rather use illegal sites then cheat out legal ones. I guess it's sort of like a "if you're gonna break the law, you should break it all the way" type thing. (I feel like that line was said in an old western once. Huh.)

  3. I did watch TBDW on the Youtube channel - it was murder. And the further you watched, the commercials became longer, and more of them appeared (kind of like when you watch a movie on AMC, grr).

    I'm a premium dramafever girl all the way. Sometimes I resort to Viki but their commercials suck (poptarts!! Yum yum!!), and their ipad app is really unstable based on how I use it with an apple TV, so it frustrates me to no end. Netflix can be handy, especially when I want to introduce other people to drama: "Just check this out on netflix!" but then, once you've watched all the good series you wanted to watch there, you're out. I've never tried Hulu. I'll get around to Mvibo some day to watch those few good shows..

    1. Ah, but watching TBDW on the Youtube channel was almost certainly less annoying than it was to watch it on Dramacrazy with my Google TV. For some reason, Speedy Joe files always freeze halfway. This means I had to reload the page, find where I left off, and then sit through all the segment's commercials before I could continue :b

      Instead of shutting down illegal streaming sites, Dramafever should encourage them. They give you just enough to get hooked, and then make you crazy by malfunctioning or showing more commercials than drama. Which, of course, sends viewers screaming to official sites, credit cards in hand.

      I need a convincing reason to watch something on a site other than Dramafever, too; their service puts all the other sites to shame when it comes to both organization and functionality. And speaking of Dramafever, I think some congratulations are in order! I read you blog post there about the new Mischievous Kiss...and now I want to watch it even more. If I live through Ojakgyo Brothers, it might just skip to the top of my queue. It's so cool that you're contributing there—you always have great post ideas.

    2. I am really exciting to be posting there. They actually approached me first with the suggestion. Even better part isthatIactuallygetpaidomg! It's a really gratifying experience. Anyways, I hope you will watch it. Yes they are young, but just so adorable I don't care. It's really pure entertainment without all the stress most dramas put you through. Of course, if you know the plot, you'll know how much it differs from other dramas. Without making comparisons though (because that's unfair) I do like it much better than playful kiss, but then again - I actually really liked that drama too. So.. Must just be the plot xD

    3. Getting paid to write about Kdrama? That's the life. I think it's interesting that big sites rely on non-staff bloggers like us. Even as someone who's been writing for the internet in one way or another for more than a decade, it's just different posting on a site that's not your own. When you're writing for your own blog, it's like hanging out at home with friends—everyone's on the same page and you say what you want. Writing for a general-interest blog is like talking to a random person on an elevator: There's no connection on a personality level, so things can go frustratingly awry (e.g., they don't get my jokes, and it's *killing* me).

      But I digress. I will definitely watch Mischievous Kiss when my schedule opens up. I sure do wish they'd call it Playful Kiss, though, because "mischievous" is way harder to spell :b

    4. I've had quite a few spelling mishaps too with the name. Now matter how I look at it, I always think the words still look funny. Always.

      I get the blogging at home and away sort of thing. It's one thing I love about staying active on the blogosophere. I feel like I know you people (on a drama level of course) but as someone who's been following your every post for just about a year now, it's fun to see how you (and other bloggers) progress over time, and how our tastes and drama watcing patterns change and adjust, parallel or different to our own. It's also a strangely familiar and small little world too. I love it. :D

  4. I'm with Rosie about Dramafever premium. I can depend on it for quality and reasonably good subbing. I watch Viki if I just can't wait a day for Dramafever to have it but the subbing is really poor or non-existent. I end up re-watching it on Dramafever. I have tried Netflix but it is limited in what is available. I started out with K-Dramas on Hulu but they wanted so much more for their Plus than what Dramafever charges, and I found Hulu sent me to Dramafever for a lot of the shows anyway, that I decided to drop Hulu altogether. I tried watching on Crunchyroll for a while but could not stand the constant ads. I know about Mvibo but really haven't used it. And, as for You Tube, I will go there for movies and hard to find dramas.

    There is a site that I have bookmarked but haven't really used yet. It is Good Drama.Net. It does have some adds but it is subtitled. You might want to check it out.

    Thanks Amanda!

    1. Gooddrama is actually great, and they have practically every drama ever. My only complaint is that they're not legal: it's another Dramacrazy-esque site that only links to videos posted on Youtube or Vimeo.

      I think Hulu and I might be splitting up soon, too. It kills me that I'm paying for this service and *still* get stuck watching commercials. (I guess that's the case with regular cable, too, but it just seems different on the internet.)

    2. I watch all my Jdramas on gooddrama. I don't get nearly as many computer-freezing popups as on DC (which I now refuse to use). So when I want to watch a new ep, I just open up all the windows, wait a few minutes for all the commercials to load, then go! You can get a pretty streamlined viewing that way. Downside is the video quality is often grainy. I'm HD-spoiled. But I deal with it.

    3. I watch via good drama alot and there's no ad for me. I install an adblock app.

    4. Is good drama international? I find that site really great because it also has Japanese and Chinese drama. I watched both the Korean and the Japanese version of "The Queens Classroom" and found it an eye opener on the difference to those situations between the 2 countries.

  5. Thanks for the list here Amanda! I have been watching "Kimchi Chronicles" ^^

    Just a note on DramaFever subs - they are awful for the most part. They often don't translate whole sentences/ideas and the whole translating ajhumma, oppa, etc. into peoples' names really bugs me.

    If you are a watching a popular show on Viki - like one with a really popular actor or actress, or with an idol star, the subs tend to be up within hours (as in a few hours after the episode even aired in Korea) and they tend to be some of the more accurate subs out there - at least in terms of language accuracy. They're not perfect, but they tend to be a lot better than DF. They also now have shows in HD - which is always great to watch.

    I am going to be trying out CrunchyRoll. I've been meaning to because I believe they have "Friend, Our Legend". Thanks for the reminder.

    1. I guess the key with Viki is really patience—the subs are sketchy if you start watching them right away, but if you wait a few days everything gets fixed. I was always breaking down and watching Flower Boy Next Door there and then going crazy when big chunks hadn't been subbed yet. Back when I first started watching Kdrama, Viki didn't work with Google TV, so I was trained to go elsewhere first. I should give them another try, now that their site is updated.

    2. I guess I have just been lucky to catch dramas there that don't have such huge subbing problems then ^^

    3. DfD, I totally agree with you about the sub quality on Drama Fever vs. Viki. However, I do have a hard time with the new Viki layout—it's much more inconvenient to look up recent episodes. But, they often have the best subs out there—unless you're trying to watch something that's pretty obscure.

    4. I think I might be the only one who actually doesn't mind the new layout of Viki. I actually find it much easier to use...and then HD is my new favourite things ^^

  6. I prefer viki subs, also I like that depending of the subbers they even sub some ost songs! And DF subs they take so much time to be released and they still miss a lot of lines - they just don't sub them sometimes, specially some variety shows they sub - it is frustrating.

    Viki subs are usually better, if they are a popular drama - the subs are already good and edited by the end of the day or in the next day.

    Have one subber there that is korean and is very amazing! His/her? subtitles don't need to be edited at all because his english grammar is also pretty good. It is dramaokdramaok ... by the end of the day she/he subbed the entire episode! So I always pray for her/him be on team of the dramas I watch lol

    Being Qualified contribuitor on viki can give you the chance of watching some dramas that normal users can't. Qualified contribuitors usually are who sub or segment... I'm a QC there, I subbed some episodes to my language, and bam! It is awesome.

    The problem at viki is that people complain about too much ads (to be honest I never got ads while watching viki dramas, I must have a really good ad blocker) and the other problem: people don't wait the drama to be edited first and then complain about their subtitles quality which I find unfair.

    Ah! On dramafever the videos are always stopping... also I never got ads too, but now with their new layort there is no way of not getting the ads! Even if you use an ad blocker there will be a black/empty screen on your screen saying ''unable block ad'' or ''you use block ad, wait few seconds before the drama starts again - which is the same time of waiting the ads end... Grr so frustrating!

  7. I absolutely love Drama Fever. I used to have Netflix and as previous commenters have mentioned, it just did not have a vast selection. Drama Fever allows me unlimited access to many of the new dramas, with a few classics thrown it. Recently I have noticed (much to my dismay) that many classics that I would like to watch, i.e., Queen Hyuns Man, White Christmas and a Wifes Credentials are not available. :(

    1. Viki has Queen In-Hyun's Man...the others not though.

  8. There are lots of sites but it comes down to content. Viki is great only if you have a paid subscription. Other korean dramasites like dramafever or mysoju
    are good too. But The one i currently use which has like taiwanese, japanese and also kdramas (which are he best lol) is called Dramaniceyou should give it a shot

    I do like your list but where can i watch the latest dramas as soon as they come out and subbed?


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