Korean drama (Hangul: 한국드라마), k-drama for short, refers to televised dramas, in a miniseries format, produced in South Korea. Many of these dramas have become popular throughout Asia, with growing interest in other parts of the world. K-dramas have contributed to the general phenomenon of the Korean wave, known as Hallyu (Hangul: 한류), and also “drama fever” in some countries.
Korean dramas typically run from 16 to 20 episodes, though occasionally up to 50 or 100 for historical epics, in a single season. However it has been known that if a show is popular than it is extended, such as from 20 to 24 episodes for Goong in 2006. Each episodes usually run for 60 minute episodes. Thus, one of the shorter 16 episode series might run for 960 minutes. In comparison to BBC‘s 1995 Pride and Prejudice at 330 minutes; American mini-series Lonesome Dove at 384 minutes, and Noble House at 376 minutes.
The prime-time for flagship dramas are 22:00 to 23:00, with each series broadcasting on two consecutive nights: on Mondays and Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; and weekends. They are broadcast on nationwide networks Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC); and cable channels Joongang Tongyang Broadcasting Company (jTBC), Channel A and tvN and Orion Cinema Network (OCN).
The 19:00 to 20:00 evening time slot are usually for daily dramas that run from Mondays through to Fridays, and weekends. Dramas in these slots are in telenovella format, rarely running over 200 episodes. Contrary to its American counterpart, there no daytime soap operas instead prime-time reruns are often shown. These can record high viewerships, for example, evening series Temptation of a Wife peaked at 40.6% according to TNS Korea.
Categories of prime-time drama
Prime-time dramas fall into 2 main categories. The first category includes stories set in modern South Korea. Popular examples are Winter Sonata and Boys Over Flowers. Milieus range from restaurants (Pasta), to a mayor’s office (City Hall), to the Blue House (City Hunter). Plots range from serious, 49 Days, to comical, Couple Fantasy. Most emphasize family, as in Stars Falling From the Sky. Many, if not most, follow the efforts of a young woman trying to climb out of a hole, In Soon Is Pretty being a clear example. The hole sometimes is the result of her own machinations, as in Coffee Prince. Shorter K-dramas like those mentioned in this paragraph tend to be single-threaded, with a conventional design, not unlike a novel: set-up, suspenseful body, climax and denouement. Because of their length, most Korean dramas do not start in medias res.
The other main category of prime-time drama includes fictionalized dramatizations of Korean history, such as Queen Seondeok. These historical dramas, also known as Sageuk (Korean: 사극), typically involve very complex story lines with elaborate costumes, sets, and special effects. Martial arts, sword fighting, and horsemanship are frequently a big component, as well.
There are a growing number of dramas somewhere in between the modern and historical. These tend to be single-threaded like the first category but have many of the trappings of the second. Some, like Sungkyunkwan Scandal, have a firm historical setting but have little to do with historical events or persons. Arang and the Magistrate, while set in the past, is completely imaginary and based on folklore. A few recent dramas, like Rooftop Prince, exploit both past and present by injecting time travel into the storyline. Queen In Hyeon’s Man goes full circle. The hero, from the Joseon era, goes to a library in modern day Seoul to consult a history book so that he can solve a problem in his own era.
One reviewer characterizes Korean dramas as having excellent production quality, well-drawn but stereotypical characters, and intelligent scriptwriting.Currently, many, if not most, of the screenwriters are women, notable among them, the Hong sisters. In The King of Dramas, a k-drama about making k-dramas, the heroine is a screenwriter.