Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Drama Trends of 2013

In 2012, I somehow managed to watch every Korean series that I was remotely interested in, and then write this gigantic year-end post about their many similarities. This year it’s a different story: Thanks to a more demanding job and my discovery of Tumblr, I saw far fewer dramas.

I still couldn’t help noticing some common themes, though. So here’s a doubtlessly incomplete list of things that made the pop-culture rounds in Korea this year.

Noona romances that aren’t really noona romances
I Hear Your Voice, June to August 2013 (10 year age difference)
Master’s Sun, August to October 2013 (3 year age difference)
My Love from Another Star, December 2013 (7 year age difference)

Korea’s age-based hierarchy means that dating a younger man isn’t just a bit unusual—it’s a transgressive act. This year’s crop of dramas downplayed this, either by ignoring the age differences between their actors (and characters), or by using a supernatural trait to ensure that their male leads still had the upper hand in the relationship. Sure, he looks physically younger than his love interest, but he’s actually a 400-year-old alien! Or he can read her mind! Unlike noona romances of yore, the power differentials in these couples aren’t really impacted by their ages.

Ghostly apparitions
Master’s Sun, August to October 2013
Who Are You, July to September 2013

Now that the time slip trend is mostly a thing of the past, Kdramas were hungry for new supernatural plots in 2013. It never enjoyed the same level of popularity as its predecessor, but for a while there seeing ghosts was all the rage. Master's Sun approached the undead as a scary comedy, and Who Are You did as a scary melodrama.

Mind reading
Flower Boy Next Door, January to February 2013
I Hear Your Voice, June to August 2013

With supernatural plots in vogue, it was only a matter of time until mind reading made an appearance on Korean television. It came up twice in dramas I watched this year—once as a way to show how in sync a pair of characters were, and once as the centerpiece of a murder mystery. Both shows used the trope to best effect: What’s more intimate than someone knowing your every thought?

Post-appendectimy gas
Answer Me 1994, October to December 2013
My Love from Another Star, December 2013

Korean dramas love nothing more than hospitalizations and bodily functions. This common theme offers a the best of both worlds: After the removal of an appendix, Kdrama characters are inevitably commanded to break wind. The relationship between the two events is unclear to me, but it sure is well-established in canon. (When my own appendix was removed in an American hospital, I’m pretty sure there was no discussion on the topic.)

Moms who use sign language
Answer Me 1994, October to December 2013
Heirs, October to December 2013

Did a sign language specialist send their résumé to all the drama production companies this summer? If so, that might account for the prevalence of sign language on Korean television this fall. Heirs and Answer Me 1994 (like the 2011 drama Can You Hear My Heart) featured mothers who couldn’t speak and instead used signs to communicate—a great way to indicate how mature and self-sufficient their daughters must have been, to have acted as their mother’s voices as they were growing up.

Park Shin Hye goes to the movies and stares moodily at the ocean
Flower Boy Next Door, January to February 2013
Heirs, October to December 2013

This was a big year for Park Shin Hye—she starred in a blockbuster movie and two separate dramas. She wasn’t the only thing those shows had in common, though: both also included trips to movie theaters and lots of angsty shots of her starring out over the ocean. (They also happened to feature my favorite and least favorite male leads of the year: sweet, supportive Enrique Geum and creepy and controlling Kim Tan.)

Dark under-eye circles
Flower Boy Next Door, January to February 2013
Master’s Sun, August to October 2013

Who would have guessed this year’s big trend in Kdrama eye makeup would be involve dark circles?  Thanks to a hardworking girl editor and a ghoul-spooked medium, it was.

“Dog” bites
Answer Me 1994, October to December 2013
My Love from Another Star, December 2013

It turns out that drunk people are some of the most predictable characters in Kdrama. When it comes to the heroines of Answer Me 1994 and My Love from Another Star, this means you better watch out—they bite.


  1. Moms who use sign language - although present only briefly, one of the characters in Pretty Man also had deaf parents.

    I believe You From Another Star was parodying Answer Me with the biting thing. It seems as though they might incorporate some fun with other shows/movies into each episode.

    1. Also, don't forget the mom and daughter pair in 2 Weeks, where the mom used sign language too. Probably has something to do with the movie Silenced.

  2. I laughed so hard at the Park Shin Hye going to the movies and staring moodily at the ocean, because its so true!! hahaha!
    The Post-appendectimy gas trend, weird as it is, also happens in Let's Eat. The main character also cheers after she breaks wind because she can finally eat again! :)
    You From Another Star was definitely parodying Answer Me 1994! The writers included many pop culture references in You From Another Star. In one episode their even parodied Heirs!

    1. "The Post-appendectimy gas trend, weird as it is, also happens in Let's Eat. The main character also cheers after she breaks wind because she can finally eat again! :)"

      Yes! I wish this drama were getting more attention, it's one of my favorites. It's nice and funny, not annoying or eye roll-inducing.

    2. I so agree! Let's Eat is so refreshing! Its been along time since I've liked a drama this much!

    3. I'm really enjoying Let's Eat as well. And it's a cable drama, so the episode are only 45 minutes. Even better!

  3. Regarding the passage of gas after appendectomy, this is a common medical principle not unique to Koreans. You must pass gas or have a bowel movement after abdominal surgery to prove your bowel is not obstructed.

  4. I am watching Let's eat with great enthusiasm. I love shows that feature food. I loved the Kimchi/Fermentation Family for the same reason. The visuals of the food are wonderful!

  5. Yes, what Kristin said about gas/bm and surgery! Any abdominal surgeries. If they didn't ask you then they did not do their job!

    I think the beach thing is a common trope. Whether it's for reflection or a getaway.

  6. These were fun… Here's another for you: The No-Social-Life Heroine, brought to you by "Master's Sun" and "Flower Boy Neighbor". (Two of my 2013 favorites, actually. ^^)

  7. This was a fun list! :)

    I would just like to bring up that in the case of "I Hear Your Voice", while it was a faux-noona romance for a good part of its run, when Soo Ha got his amnesia, we sort of get the reverse because Hye Sung was definitely the power in that relationship at that time. It was interesting to see the dynamics change.

    And also while Soo Ha's power gives him the upper hand sometimes, Hye Sung's character was so assertive that there are times that I think the power shifts to her. She does make a lot of decisions for both of them, which is something I did not see in the heroines of the other dramas mentioned.

    I'm not discounting the validity of the list, by the way, I just wanted to mention that there are also shades of a real noona romance in IHYV. :)

  8. I'm pretty sure I once saw the post-appendectimy gas thing happen in an American show. Too bad I don't remembers which one. Anyways, I think it's actually a real thing in medicine. But I agree, Korean dramas LOVE to use bodily fuctions as comedy.

    I totally didn't realize that Yi Ryung-Kang Woo relationship was actually a noona romance. Of course, he was the more mature one, so I guess that might have confused me.

  9. A hospital and doctor drama,no?

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