Essays

K-Dramas Are Perfect for Romance Readers (and Vice Versa)

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Caveat: some K-Dramas. I hear some of them are sad. I don’t watch those.

There once was a time when the only thing I knew about Korean dramas was encompassed in the cycle of commercials that played on the televisions hanging in various locations at my favorite restaurant for both bibimbap and sushi. And then, one summer when we were all sitting at home, all of my favorite online people were saying four words that made absolutely no sense to me:

Crash. Landing. On. You.

Eventually, I gave in to my curiosity, and spent several glorious days living the fear, the joy, the ups, the downs, and the slowest of slow burns between South Korean fashion mogul Yoon Se-ri and North Korean soldier Ri Jeong Hyeok. I also crocheted a blanket because if I didn’t have something to occupy my hands, I would get distracted and miss important dialogue.

And y’all. My life. Was changed.

I don’t know if this is true for all of Korean television, but what we’re fed here via Netflix, Hulu, and Viki is very different from American television. In American television, the goal is to introduce us to a group of characters, and then to figure out how to keep the story going so the show can renew, and renew, and renew. But in my experience, Korean dramas are one show, one season, one story. They’re long-ass seasons; but the story they intend to tell is carried out, and then they move on to tell another.

Do you know what this means, romance readers?

scene from Crash Landing on You
Scene from Crash Landing on You, courtesy of IMDB

Happy endings. 

Happy. Freaking. Endings.

No cliffhanger endings to make you come back for more every endless season. No surprise twists and sudden deaths to push the couple who finally got together after five seasons into a new degree of turmoil. No will they, won’t they. No baiting of any kind. Just a multifaceted story arc with a key central couple and an impressive supporting cast — with the potential to make you very upset if their storyline doesn’t work out. 

I haven’t watched a lot of K-Dramas, because there just aren’t enough hours in the day, but the ones I have watched offer the same thing we might be looking for in a romance novel: we meet two characters, then they meet each other. There is some central conflict keeping them apart, but that won’t keep them from falling in love. A lot of dramatic things happen, and even the fun ones have a significant amount of angst. But no matter what happens, you know they’ll end up together at the end, though sometimes “together” is not what you’d expect. And I gotta tell you. These shows are chock-full of the tropes we love. Hating to dating. Fake relationships. They were roommates. Friends to lovers. Second chances. Big Misunderstanding. Soulmates. And one I like to call “Extreme LDR.” 

Let me give you some examples.

In Crash Landing On You, Se-ri and Jeong Hyeok have very different ambitions in life on opposite sides of the DMZ. But when adventurer Se-ri goes on a hang-gliding adventure that takes her across the border, she’s found by a slightly bumbling group of soldiers on rotation in the forest. Instead of turning her in, Jeong Hyeok determines to get her home — leading to some dangerous experiences for both of them. But eventually, they figure it out. Also, as a bonus, the actors in this show just got married!

If you liked Whiteout by Adriana Anders, you’ll like this one.

The significantly darker Chicago Typewriter digs into the idea of past lives and true loves. When a famous author is gifted a haunted typewriter, it seems to have a mind of its own. And then there’s the woman who just won’t go away. As things start happening, we learn about some people who look a lot like them living under Japanese rule. But don’t worry, at least one version of them gets a happy ever after. Not to mention there’s a completely new definition of Hot Ghost in town. 

If you wanted more ghosts in Seven Days In June, this is the one for you.

And then, there’s the much, much quieter Because This Is My First Life. An honest mistake leaves a man and a woman living together, each thinking their new roommate shares their own gender. A lot of near misses and fun mistakes lead to interesting side shenanigans, and then eventually they decide to get married, because why not. Mistaken identity, they were roommates, opposites attract, and marriage of convenience??? SLOW-ASS BURN, folks. This isn’t even a crock pot; this is a real nice clambake.

If you thought The Bride Test was great but could use even less communication, you might like this one.

I could go on. The King. Goblin (AKA Guardian). The Bride of Habaek. (Okay, so I like the fantasy ones.)

There are so many others that I haven’t watched, but that have the perfect setup for a romance lover. Especially if you love bonkers romance plots that make you think you know what’s going to happen and then yank you the other way. There are office romances, and college stories, and meetcutes at coffee shops and libraries. There are stories of courtly love in historic Joseon and revolutionaries during wars from all sides. There are publishers and doctors, princes and mad scientists. And there are apparently even more beautiful people in South Korea than there are dukes in Regency England.

When it comes down to it, you can go into a K-Drama with the same expectation you’ll have going into a romance novel. Prepare for feels, prepare for squees, prepare for drama, and prepare for some significant suspension of belief. But you know what else you’re going to have? A hell of a good time. If American television could figure out how to tell this kind of story, and do it right, I would be behind it 100 million percent. Instead, I’ll just do as much reading watching each international romance as I would reading a book.

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