The Korean Wave or Hallyu is the drastic increase in the popularity of South Korean culture since the 1990s. The spread of K-pop and K-dramas mostly takes credit for Hallyu across the world, especially in the USA.
Some of the major success keystones of the Korean Wave include BoA, BTS, BLACKPINK, PSY’s Gangnam Style, Jewel in the Palace, Squid Game, and Winter Sonata.
After the end of military censorship over the entertainment industry in South Korea in the late 1990s, it started emerging as a cultural exporter. Hallyu first began in China and certain parts of Southeast Asia and it was China that first coined a special term for the Korean Wave, called hánliú.
With the dawn of the age of social media and the internet, the Korean Wave started expanding to other parts of the world in the 2000s. And by 2008, the cultural exports of South Korea exceeded its cultural imports.
It was the advent of the internet, social media, and streaming services that played a key role in Hallyu.
How Did the Korean Wave Start Its Magic?
Until 1987, South Korea was a dictatorship and the artists weren’t free to do what they wanted or to target the desired audience.
It was in 1992 that Seo Taiji and Boys debuted their first song, “I Know”. Gradually, within a decade, South Korea had plenty of content and artists worth watching, such as the boyband H.O.T. concerts, BoA (the Queen of K-pop), Winter Sonata, and more. Within a decade, Southeast Asia started accepting K-dramas and K-pop wholeheartedly.
However, South Korea was a slow economy, so the artists had to go global to make ends meet and generate a decent amount of revenue. When the executives of the Korean content tried reaching traditional media houses of the western parts of the globe, they realized its almost impossible to crack them.
The South Korean content creators and their corporate houses knew that fans across the world have similar expectations from celebrities – to be approachable and conversational.
The artists, then, started reaching global audiences through free channels like YouTube and Twitter, which made them more approachable. And that started the Korean Wave in a true sense worldwide.
The Global Expansion of Netflix
Around the same time when the Korean Wave gained momentum across the world, Netflix captured its first market outside of the USA, that is Canada, in 2010.
Netflix implemented a three-stage process to reach where it is today – an expansion to 190 countries worldwide. It first started with acquiring markets that were geographically close to the US and culturally not much different.
Audiences in both countries loved similar type of content, spoke similar languages, and were culturally quite similar, thus relating to similar type of content.
So, Netflix started with Canada in September 2010, and then it advanced towards 40 other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean region by September 2011. It made its way to the European Union in 2012.
By the end of 2012, Netflix was becoming a household name in the European countries like the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Ireland, and more. And, at the end of 2015, Netflix had subscribers from about 50 countries around the world.
The Role of Netflix in the Korean Wave
Netflix reached the Korean market in 2016 but it had already realized the power of K-pop and K-dramas early on. Though Netflix tried hard to crack deals with large production houses in South Korea, it was the localized networks that helped Netflix get into the country and finally get its first exclusive K-drama series – Kingdom – in January 2019.
Netflix was very careful in adapting the Korean content for the different audiences in different regions of the world. It took utmost care to enhance the experience of the viewers in different countries while maintaining the creative version of the original Korean content. The dubbing style and wordplays are such that they balance the cultural nuances of both countries, the creator’s and the viewers’.
Moreover, just a year after Netflix introduced South Korean content, that is in 2019, hit the biggest pandemic of the century – COVID-19. This allowed for a lot of time at hand for the viewers to absorb the Korean content that Netflix recently introduced to them.
Due to the popularity of Korean artists on various social media platforms, the relatability of their content with several parts of the world, including the USA, increased tourism in South Korea, the increased vogue of K-music, K-fashion, K-food, and the overall K-lifestyle that followed, the pandemic, and a huge North American audience that Netflix boasts of, the Korean Wave or Hallyu gained huge momentum in the US in the past four years.
Korean Shows and Movies on Netflix
From romance and comedy to sci-fi and horror, South Korean content has masterpieces that people love across the globe, including the USA. Some of these include –
- Crash Landing on You (2019-2020)
- Squid Game (2021)
- Kingdom (2019-2021)
- Hellbound (2021)
- Space Sweepers (2021)
- Boys Over Flowers (2009)
- Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area (2022)
- Parasite (2019)
- All of us are Dead (2022)
- White Nights (2016)
- #Alive (2020)
Currently, Netflix USA has more than 260 South Korean movies and shows. Though a lot of the above listed K-dramas are available on Netflix USA, some might be available in Netflix libraries other than the USA (usually the Korean one). Due to regional content distribution laws and regulations, Netflix has to keep different content libraries in different countries.
Nevertheless, you can watch Korean Netflix in US quite easily simply by using a tool called a VPN.
The Korean Wave or Hallyu is a soft power that has become an important economic asset for South Korea in the global market in the form of direct revenue as well as by exporting K-music, K-fashion, K-beauty products, K-tourism, K-lifestyle, and much more.
A lot of things have helped in the expansion of K-culture around the world. One of the major ones is Netflix. It started streaming its first exclusive K-drama, Kingdom, in January 2019 and since then has taken the world aback with the South Korean content.