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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UC London chapter.

On one particularly dull evening during a COVID lockdown, I made the fateful decision to watch my first K-drama. To nobody’s surprise, I was immediately hooked. Thus began an unwavering addiction to a whole genre of TV shows that, to this day, shows no signs of stopping.

I won’t lie–I was one of those stubborn people who refuses to watch K-dramas solely because of their rapid acceleration into popularity. It took the whole world shutting down for me to finally give in to my friend’s insistence to watch them. However, from the very first episode of my very first show, I immediately saw the reason for their fast rise to fame­–the overwhelming vibe of sincerity and wholesomeness, almost to the point of corniness, was so extremely addicting.

Unlike many western romance shows, K-dramas are known for being modest in nature; rarely are the characters seen kissing, let alone performing anything overtly explicit. Instead, the story relies on a slow burn of emotions and tension entirely through subtle actions and touches, such as quick eye contact and soft touching of hands, focusing on the ambiguity of the character’s actions to build romantic tension. By turning away from explicit acts of love, K-dramas portray romance through the feminine perspective, with a tenderness rarely seen in western media.

Often called the female gaze, the rewriting of stories through a woman’s perspective is increasingly becoming a topic of interest. While about 28% of UK TV shows are written by women, in Korea, almost 90% of all TV screenwriters are female. Although, of course, there are outliers, if Hollywood-esque dramas are the epitome of the male gaze, K-dramas exemplify the female gaze, focusing on emotional subtleties and complexities to tell the story. I’m sure many know that feeling of overanalysing their interaction with a crush– the way they look at you to the way that they fidget suddenly holds so much more meaning. This is precisely what K-dramas are so good at conveying­, focusing on interactions, touch, and body language rather than sexual attraction. This form of emotion-based storytelling is so artfully done in Korean romances, allowing the audience to be genuinely invested in the characters and striking a chord that Western equivalents seldom do.

Not only is there a greater focus on emotional connection, the love interests are also unlike those of western dramas. Far from the masculine, brooding type, these male characters are often explored in a way that reveals their soft, vulnerable sides. It is the exploration and gradual uncovering of their true character that is used as the focal point of K-drama relationships. The result is a wholesome romance that builds less on sexual tension but on that bitter-sweet, painfully giddy feeling of having a crush as a young teenager. It is immensely refreshing to watch these characters’ raw, three-dimensional interactions. Somehow, it captures elements that I’m sure most can relate to; it depicts a perfect portrayal of those first seeds of a crush, and how even a small interaction can bring such feelings of happiness.

As a former K-drama denier, I wholeheartedly admit I was wrong; these shows deserve all the hype and I hope to convince any more stragglers out there to join the bandwagon and start watching them. However, I do warn you: you’ll be hooked.

To get you started, here are a few of my favourites on Netflix: 

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo

If wholesome love stories are what you’re searching for, I strongly believe this is the best you’ll ever watch. I think this might actually be my favourite K-drama from the sheer wholesome, cute, middle-school-first-crush vibe of this story. The main character, a young weightlifting protege in university, slowly falls in love with her enemy/chaotic swimmer friend, while battling her insecurities about being a weightlifter, which she considers to be a traditionally manly and unfeminine sport. If you decide to watch any show, please choose this one!

Crash Landing on You

This was the one that started my K-drama obsession– I cannot recommend it enough. The show features a strong South Korean CEO who, through some freak accident, ends up crash landing in North Korea. Her struggle to find her way back home leads her to a North Korean soldier… you must watch to see what happens.

Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha

This truly adorable story features an uptight dentist from Seoul who decides on a whim to move to a small seaside town to flee her problems in the capital city. There, she encounters an unusual local neighbour, with which a romance unfolds. 

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Emma Copsey

UC London '23

Emma studies Arts and Sciences, focusing on anthropology and physics. She loves all things knitting and crocheting, and is passionate about anything art-related.