The Korean Wave

korean actors and actresses

‘s recent global rise in profile is sometimes referred to as “The Korean Wave” or Hallyu. Back in the early 1990s, Korean Drama underwent explosive growth in popularity around East and Southeast Asia as well as in cities like Los Angeles, with large immigrant populations from these regions. Soon, Korean movies (beginning with Shiri) gained an audience among American critics who’d previously (with close-minded, snobbish prejudice) limited their viewings of Asian films to critically-canonized Japanese and/or (1980s) Chinese productions. And Hollywood has taken notice too, remaking numerous K-Horror films, the rom-com My Sassy Girl, and the magic-mailbox drama The Lake House.

korean movies

I’m told Korean music grew in popularity too. I guess I know a couple of non-Koreans who listen to K-Pop. Whilst flipping through the unparalleled multiculturalism of Los Angeles’ AM radio band, I’ve occasionally stumbled across Radio Seoul (AM 1650) and Radio Korea (AM 1230). Just judging from the cadence and character of AM radio in general, I’d guess that the majority is Christian in nature, but they do occasionally play Korean pop music. Last year at the Hollywood Bowl, K-Pop was showcased in a program featuring BoA, Epik High, Fly to the Sky, Ivy, and Super Junior.

Korean pop wonder girls

Probably the most visible (and olfactory) evidence of Korea’s rising profile is in the large number of Korean restaurants and the non-Koreans’ resultant discussions of where “the best” Korean food is found. Everyone now knows about kimchi and where they stand on that popular dish. Jajangmyeon, various banchan, anju & beer, and bulgogi are also fairly well-known among culinary tourists who’ve gone to shikdangs or a pongjanmacha at an area farmer’s market.

Korean Food bulgogi banchan

If you’re like me, and you don’t have cable TV, you may’ve (in curiosity or desperation) flipped through the Southland’s scores of local stations past the shopping networks, megachurch sermons, narco movies, and used car commercials and stumbled across K-Dramas being shown on KSCI or KXLA. They usually have subtitles and I’ve, on occasion, watched partial episodes of unknown series. After a few scenes on a few dramas, it becomes evident that the popularity of K-Dramas owes to their ability to transcend their cultural and geographic origins by dealing with universally popular issues of love, work, loving a co-worker, difficult in-laws and love triangles, all told without the raciness of their also-popular counterparts, American Soap Operas and Latino telenovelas. The conventions of Korean Dramas (sensitive guys with improbable hair, repressed love, etc) have, since their rise in popularity, even become the subject of parody. Look for former Amoeba employee Steve Lee in his brother (Bobby Lee)’s satirical K-Drama, Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive.

The popularity of Korean dramas first spread across Asia. In Iran, there’s currently a Korean Drama showcase on their state-operated network Channel 2 called Korean Wave. On China‘s government-run station, Korean dramas account for the majority of the programming and China is consequently considering imposing restrictions on the amount of airtime devoted to them. Taiwan and Vietnam‘s governments are also weighing the idea of banning Korean Dramas since they’ve taken over the airwaves at the expense of homegrown shows.

More recently, Korean Dramas have invaded the airwaves of  Brazil, Chile, and Mexico. At Amoeba, a completely unscientific poll has revealed that most of our K-Drama fans are young Latinas.

Here at Amoeba, our top selling K-Dramas are (in alphabetical order):
All About Eve
Love to Kill
My Lovely Sam-Soon
Palace Princess Hours
Peppermint Candy
Prince’s First Love
Sad Love Story


In the face of Korea’s meteoric ascendancy on the world stage, some Japanese have instigated a backlash against the Korean Wave. Manga Kenkanryū (which translates to Manga-The Anti Korean) is part of the so-called “Hate Korea Wave” which some cultural theorists have suggested stems from bitterness over the perception that Japan has slipped from the position they had in the 1980s of East Asia’s dominant exporter of culture. The manga in question depicts the Japanese as more diverse, fun, Bambi-eyed free spirits who are contrasted to the Koreans, who are depicted as tiny-eyed, loud, arrogant elitists who owe their success to Japan’s superior culture, which they borrow from.

Whilst today Ice Cube is primarily known as a star of unwatchable children’s films, he was once at the vanguard of the Hate Korea Wave.

As a response, some in Korea have responded with the “Hate Japan Wave” or Hyeomillyu. Two artists, Yang Byeong-seol and Kim Sung Mo have each produced Manhwas both under the same name (Hyeomillyu). I’m no expert in funny pages but it seems a queer place to settle your scores.

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRWWhich Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California. Art prints of Brightwell’s maps are available from Saatchi Art and 1650 Gallery
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiand Twitter.
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