Hallyu, “Korean Wave,” when translated from Chinese, refers to the phenomenal growth of Korean culture. Let’s look at how K-dramas, K-pop, and K-webtoons have started to conquer the world.
In 2008, businessman Seung Bak went to a Korean broadcaster’s outpost in Los Angeles with his business partner and asked to license Korean television dramas for online streaming. At that time, “streaming” wasn’t a word people used yet. And the idea of having American T.V. viewers watch South Korean dramas was, to put it mildly, a long shot. But Bak and his fellow Korean American entrepreneur Suk Park were already seeing the potential of Korean dramas in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries.
There were already fans illegally downloading pirated shows, risking malware, and putting up with pop-up ads. Some were already working on subtitles for the growing number of English speakers who wanted to consume Korean content. There was indeed a market, and removing the language barrier could only make it grow.
This began DramaFever, a streaming service for international audiences that licensed Korean dramas and other Asian content. Warner Bros. later acquired it in 2016.
K-pop, or Korean pop music, is another area where the Korean Wave has had a significant impact. In 2012, Psy’s “Gangnam Style” became the first YouTube video to reach one billion views. The music video was so popular that it led to a surge in the number of people interested in Korean culture and propelled Psy to international stardom. Many K-pop artists groups also successfully reached international audiences, with BoA, Big Bang, 2NE1, and Wonder Girls all holding concerts and tours outside Korea.
K-webtoon, or Korean webtoons, is a type of digital comic originating in South Korea. They are usually published in serialized form, typically weekly, and often come in the form of a vertical scroll.
Webtoons first gained popularity in Korea in the early 2000s and have since spread to other countries, with many popular titles being translated into English and other languages. Some popular K-webtoons include True Beauty, Tower of God, and The Cheese in the Trap.
Much like manga, K-webtoons also had a long journey to globalization. It was impossible to find English translations of most webtoons until scanlation groups started to appear. These groups would scan raw Korean webtoons and translate them into English, often releasing them for free on their websites or forums.
Note: Scanlation has been around since the 1970s, and the modern scanlation scene rose in the mid to late 90s! It has been a reliable way for international audiences to consume otherwise unavailable manga and webcomics. Still, not all outputs are of high quality.
To those who still don’t ride the Korean Wave, it’s only natural to wonder, “How do people enjoy the content they can’t understand?” It’s true! How can you appreciate a song when you don’t know the lyrics? How can you laugh at a joke that’s in another language? All these were significant barriers to entry for non-Korean audiences, but the exploding popularity of Korean culture has led to the development of many resources that help people enjoy it.