2022 K-drama Trends
Updated: Jan 4
In a fun scene in Reborn Rich, reincarnated character Jin Do-jun makes a cheeky prediction to his friend in the past—someday, people all over the world will welcome Korean actors, musicians, and culture. His friend looks on in disbelief. All of us, of course, are in on the joke.
2022 was a good year for most as the world slowly regained some sense of normalcy. For many of us, k-dramas became both our companions and points of connection with others. In this article, we take a look at the k-drama trends that Hallyu generously shared with all of us.
The long arm of the law
Called the “three wheels of the legal profession,” judges, public prosecutors, and attorneys-at-law make up the landscape of the Korean justice system. K-drama writers’ fascination with the law was in fine form as they released an average of two or three per month for this year. Juvenile Justice, May It Please the Court, and The Empire took a serious look at how the system changes the lives of those who were affected by it, for better or for worse. Others such as Extraordinary Attorney Woo, The Law Cafe, and Bad Prosecutor took a more light-hearted approach and reminded audiences of how the law can uplift and make people’s lives better.
We enjoyed this phase of k-dramas but at the same time we’re all lawyered out too. Here’s hoping the k-drama courts will be in recess for the whole of next year.
An eye for an eye
The terms “revenge shopping,” “revenge travel,” and “revenge party” came out this year when people finally had the confidence to go about their normal business as the effects of the pandemic and the consequent lockdowns eased. But in k-dramas, revenge (or 복수 boksu ) is a staple theme with or without a pandemic. This year though, revenge-themed k-dramas were churned out by studios at breakneck speed. Many of them such as Again My Life, Military Prosecutor Doberman, Doctor Lawyer, Why Her?, One Dollar Lawyer, and Insider married revenge with the fascination for the law and had its main characters exact justice through legal (if sometimes questionable) means.
From Bloody Heart in the Joseon era to highly rated Reborn Rich, which we saw through the 80s and IMF crisis in the 90s, and modern day The Glory, revenge preoccupied our favorite characters. With all the trauma people have been going through the past two years, maybe revenge dramas were just wish fulfillments for some justice and closure at a difficult time in history.
Butterflies in the stomach
We applaud the comeback of the formulaic rom-com tropes this year that brought many of us to the k-dramaland gateway. Business Proposal successfully ushered in the contract relationship plot and was followed by Crazy Love and Love in Contract. Close behind its heels is the tried and tested friends-to-lovers formula in Soundtrack #1, Love Is for Suckers, and The Fabulous. Kiss Sixth Sense brought in some fantasy to make sure that fated lovers get their happily ever after. And of course, what’s a rom-com without some bickering from enemies who turn into lovers as in Sh**ting Stars.
Sometimes, we just want an uncomplicated love story that give us all the feels. Thank you, k-dramaland, for granting our wish. We hope this trend continues in the following years.
More elbow room
Has South Korea fully embraced the multi-season format? If 2022 is any indication, it would appear so. This year has brought us five second seasons (Hope or Dope 2, Yumi’s Cells 2, The Good Detective 2, Missing: The Other Side 2, and Work Later, Drink Now 2) and two dramas released in two parts (Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area and Alchemy of Souls).
Part of the appeal of k-dramas, as opposed to Western shows, is the self-contained nature of single-season series, so reception to this new trend is still mixed. But whether we like it or not, the format looks like it’s here to stay, with new seasons of Dr. Romantic, Taxi Driver, The Uncanny Counter, Yumi’s Cells, All of Us Are Dead, Poong the Joseon Psychiatrist, D.P., and Squid Game, among others, on the way.
Maybe we’ll finally get that Signal second season we’ve been waiting for!
The shoe on the other foot
It’s not rare at all for other countries to adapt super successful k-dramas. Every once in a while, k-drama writers will take a show from another country and give it its own k-drama flavor. We’re happy to see that this year, there were several of these shows: Woori the Virgin (Juana la Virgen, Venezuela, 2002; Jane the Virgin, USA, 2014), Behind Every Star (Dix Pour Cent/Call My Agent!, France, 2015), Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area (La Casa de Papel, Spain, 2017), and Cleaning Up (Cleaning Up, UK, 2019). Good stories are good regardless of language and it’s a great thing when we find that significant human experiences transcend cultures, too.
2022 welcomed some serious cinematic talent crossing over to the k-drama format. Baeksang awardee Lee Joon-ik of The King and Clown fame brought his directorial A-game and incredible aesthetic to the six-episode Yonder. Lee Byeong-hun of top comedy Extreme Job brought his dark sense of humor and flexed his mastery of action scenes in the high school Bonnie-and-Clyde romp Ultimate Weapon: Alice. Celebrated director Yeon Sang-ho’s first animated feature King of Pigs (before he broke out with Train to Busan) is transformed into the eponymous 12-episode live-action k-drama that is even bloodier than the material it was based on.
But it’s not just directors that are wading into k-drama waters. Choi Min-sik of the legendary OldBoy film, is the lead of Disney+’s latest crime k-drama, Big Bet. Esteemed art director and set designer Ryu Seong-hee is behind the gorgeous yet sinister look and style of Little Women. The longtime film veteran has worked with top Korean directors and is credited on film masterpieces such as Bong Joon-ho’s Mother (2009), The Host (2006), and Memories of Murder (2003). Moon Ji-won, known for writing Innocent Witness (a film about an autistic girl who witnesses a crime), doubles down on the same theme and succeeds wildly in writing for Extraordinary Attorney Woo.
As we look back at 2022 and welcome 2023, here’s hoping that our favorite oppas will return safe from the military, that k-drama writers will give us more interesting stories, and that the only drama in our lives will be k-dramas (with subtitles!).