Korean dramas on Hulu: Why I'm addicted

Kkot-Boda-NamjaImage Credit: KBSGrowing up, I always had a strong hatred toward Korean dramas. My parents would rent a big stack of them on VHS from Atlanta’s Koreatown and watch them on Friday nights while munching on dried squid snacks. Maybe it was a kind of Pavlovian response on my part — the smell of stinky squid forever associated with the sound of Korean actors speaking a language I only barely understand — or the fact that my parents watching their stories meant no TGIF lineup for me, but I never gave Korean soap operas, or K-dramas, a chance until recently.

A non-Korean American friend of mine had been telling me for a while that K-dramas on Hulu were crazily addictive and that we should get addicted together. I ignored her recommendation for weeks, until one day after an epic DVR and Netflix binge, I was really lacking any other TV options. I did a Hulu search for “Korean Drama.” I settled on one called Boys before Flowers, based solely on the title, and my friend was right — after two episodes, I was hooked. I watched all 25 episodes of the series and had serious withdrawal after it ended. Luckily, Hulu’s DramaFever channel had more than 20 more series, and there are thousands of episodes, all subtitled in English, available to watch for free.

You can’t enjoy a K-drama using the same standards as you would watching American TV. Even the more salacious storylines might seem pretty tame to a western audience. The popular K-dramas I’ve seen, even the most recent ones, feel like throwbacks to a less cynical time. The plots tend to unfold slowly, and teenage characters seem shocked by things that the kids on Skins wouldn’t even blink at. The humor is usually played broadly — think: Three Stooges — and poop jokes are practically guaranteed in any K-dramedy series. The minds behind Korean TV have to be doing something right, though: The ratings for the most popular K-dramas would blow those of American scripted shows out of the water, sometimes attracting more than 40 percent of South Korean households.

K-dramas can appear simplistic and downright campy to an American viewer, but they’re also fascinating and weirdly comforting in a “movie-of-the-week” kind of way — they’re not afraid to whack you over the head with an important moral lesson or social critique. Take Boys before Flowers, which is still my favorite. It’s a Gossip Girl-like allegory about Geum Jan Di, the daughter of dry cleaners, who is admitted to the impossibly exclusive, super-rich Shinhwa High School. She becomes a quick target of F4, a gang of the four richest and most feared boys on campus. They make the other students shake in their boots, but really, they’re the most hilariously dainty-looking gang I’ve ever seen. In Korea, young male actors are just as — if not more — concerned with grooming, makeup, plastic surgery, and general prettiness as female stars, and these actors are Blue Steeling up a storm whenever they’re up to their evil antics, which include throwing cake in a boy’s face for no reason or demanding that a girl lick ice cream off their boots. Jan Di, who I find lovably grating, manages to get through to the bad boys of F4 by repeatedly shouting at them that there are things that money can’t buy. You can’t miss the message about class differences here. The Chuck Bass of his high school is Goo Joon Pyo, a snarling poor-little-rich-boy who rocks a pretty sick perm and delivers his lines like a young Alan Rickman. And I get that Jan Di is working class, but does that mean she has to constantly eat with her hands? Despite the exaggerated types, the characters do grow and become more complex as the series progresses.

It’s really a charming, funny show, and others are just as good. (The titles alone are amazing.) Check out Cinderella’s Sister, Playful Kiss, Bad Boy, and Creating Destiny. I’m convinced I’m not the only one out there: PopWatchers, have you discovered — and become addicted to — Korean dramas?

Follow Stephan on Twitter.

Comments (90 total) Add your comment
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  • Lucky

    I’ve been addicted to Kdramas for a few years ago and you can’t help it. If you want to get a guy hooked on Kdramas, try “IRIS,” “Kingdom of the Wind,” “Slave Hunter/Chuno,” “Bad Boy” and some of the new historic dramas.

  • td

    stephen, we’ve never met. but, today you became my brother from another mother! i love k-drama. i found them completely by accident and i love a good weekend binge! i’m all action right now (fugivite plan b, athena). i just finished secret garden and next is dr. champ! you are right, there is something refreshing about watching these shows. it’s like a throwback to my favorite tv miniseries and shows from the 80’s.

  • Astro Boy

    I had no idea they were on Hulu! I used to watch all the illegal ones on dailymotion before they would get yanked away. I never watched Boys Before Flowers but I totally got into Hana Yori Dango (the JDrama version) but I’ll check it out.

    • Lucky

      There’s a bunch of sites to watch them like mysoju, drama fever, drama crazy, vikii, etc.

      Big fan of both BBF and Hana Yori Dango

      • Astro Boy


    • Kristi

      Love Hana Yori Dango. And also Nodame Cantabile.

      • Avanika Khanna

        omgggg <3 <3 <3 nodame cantabile! it was such an anime-like drama

        I totally agree btw. I've been a Kaddict for the past two years and am currently watching Secret Garden (once again) as well as Sungkyunkwan Scandal OST.

        Enjoy your drama-watching!

  • Kristi

    This post makes me feel so much better about my secret love for Korean dramas (and, to a lesser degree, Japanese dramas). I’ve been watching them for about three years now. They are completely addictive.

  • S

    oh yes, yes, yes! I accidentally stumbled upon the K-dramas on Hulu last month and they are very addicting! I really enjoyed Bad Boy and moved on to Bad Love. These story lines would never work here in the States due to the culturual differences. Can’t wait for the next one.

  • coolrepublica

    OMG! I love Korean dramas. I am not Korean. I grew up in the Caribean watching Telenovelas and American Soaps and others, but man I never thought I would be find something like Korean Drama that would keep me up at 2AM trying to finish a story. It’s freaking weird. There are lots of cliches but the Koreans have MASTERED pulling at your heart. If you want to see a fresher drama try “Secret Garden” on dramafever.com or dramacrazy.net or mysoju.com. My new addiction is Life is Beautiful. Long but worth it.

    If you are new to K-drama try My name is Sam Soon with Kim Suna (the best freaking actress you have never heard of.) Fighting!lol

    • laura

      I too grew up watching Telenovelas from Mexico but then got over then and moved to watching novelas from Argentina .. but now I have the Korean Drama fever .. I stay up til 2 or 3 am on weekends watching a whole story .. glad to see am not the only one!

  • AKill

    You need to watch Coffee Prince! Its one of my favs!

  • Sue1

    My old cable provider carried AZN network until it’s untimley demise, and I became hooked then, especially the histotical ‘costume’ dramas. I had no idea they were on Hulu either…thanks!

    • Astro Boy

      RIP AZN

  • whatevs

    Omg, I can’t believe this topic is even on here! I’m a J-drama watcher myself, but I did see the K-drama version of Hana Kimi.

    It’s funny that you mention how tame these stories are, especially compared to the sexual saturation of American shows.

    That’s actually the main reason I love to watch them so much. Nothing wrong with good, clean fun once in a while.

    • Claudia Rivra Boknegra


      • Reetika

        I don’t think that there is a kdrama version of Hana Kimi but there is one with a similar storyline called You’re Beautiful which has Jang Geun Seuk in it who is absolutely amazing and Park Shin Hye. The songs in it are soooo awesome!

      • Yay!

        There is a korean version of Hana Kimi that will start airing in August. Im really excited!

  • Sue1

    My old cable provider carried AZN until it’s untimely demise, and I became hooked then, especially the historical ‘costume’ dramas. I had no idea Hulu showed them, thanks.

    • Sue1


  • laura

    Coffee Prince!! YOU have to watch Coffee Prince with Gong Yoo!! It is my first Korean mini novela and love it!!!

  • LC

    i discovered kdrama a few months ago and i am so into it! they are fabulous for a weekend binge. i think my favorite so far is personal taste (same guy that starred in bbf). the characters are in their 20s so it’s a little bit more adult than some of the high school ones.

    • Nikki

      I have to say that I love Personal Taste also. It is one of my recent purchases from YesAsia. :)

  • Dennis

    I started watching Korean Dramas after there was nothing to watch for the summer on HULU and then I too was addicted and found Dramafever.com and I am now up to 30 dramas. In fact since there is a blizzard here in Chicago I am watching Dr. Champ, these dramas are never boring and they know how to tear your heart out. Thank you KD.

  • laura

    Watch Coffee Prince if you have not watch it. It is about a guy that is tired of his family setting him up on blinds dates so he hires a guy to pose has his guy lover .. only the guy is a girl!! so she goes along with it. As time pass the guy is torn because he thinks he is in love with a guy and my god! when he finds out the truth … craaazzy! This story had me laughing out loud and crying like a baby! love love Coffee Prince.

  • Kristen

    I loved one called “Full House” about a girl whose so-called friends need money, so they send her on a vacation and somehow sell her house to a famous actor while she’s gone. When she gets back, the actor makes her work as his housekeeper in order for her to still live in the house her parents built for her. They end up falling in love, of course, but it’s very funny and sweet. Love K-drama;)

    • Voodoo

      Isn’t that the one with Rain?

      • Kristen

        Yeah, I think that was who played the actor.

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