In both South Korea and Japan, dramas comprise a large segment of television shows. These series tend to have limited runs of 12 to 16 episodes before being replaced by a new show. Dramas running for multiple seasons is rare, unless a show does well enough to warrant a sequel. Each season is self-contained and not in danger of premature cancellation. Even with these basic similarities, there are a few key differences between Korean and Japanese dramas.
Korean Dramas Cheaper to Export
Thanks to a Korean drama called "Winter Love Song," Korean culture and dramas became popular in Japan beginning in 2004, to the point where Japanese people spent $2 billion on "Winter Love Song" merchandise. Other Asian countries followed Japan's example. The Koreans call this phenomenon "Hallyu," the "Korean Wave" across Asia.
While Japanese dramas had been exported to Korea and other Asian countries, licensing fees for Korean dramas cost much less in other countries -- an average of $1,000 per episode, compared to $15,000 to $20,000 charged for licensing Japanese dramas. This difference in cost means both that Korean dramas have lower budgets are likely to air in more countries.
Korean Dramas Heavy on Historical Settings
While there are Japanese dramas set in historical times, you'll find more Korean dramas that take place in historical settings. This is largely the result of a combination of Korean's pride in their country's history and the desire to educate other Asian countries about Korean history.
Different Views on Love -- Most of the Time
While romance appears frequently in both Korean and Japanese dramas, there's a difference in the type of romance. The Korean drama "Winter Love Song" may have risen to popularity among Japanese audiences due to the more traditional "love at first sight" and "love above everything" kind of romance depicted, which is generally considered pre-World War II in Japanese culture. In Japan, dramas depicting an independent career woman falling in love as she juggles a position of power with romance are more common.
Korean Traditions Versus Japanese Modernism
While Korean dramas do exhibit modernism and Japanese dramas exhibit some traditionalism, when comparing the two you'll find that Korean dramas tend to be more traditional and Japanese dramas are more modern. One example is the idea of marriage match-making, a concept that still exists in both Korean and Japanese culture. Match-making occurs more often in Korean dramas -- whether as an obstacle to overcome or a way of meeting a love interest -- than in Japanese dramas, where the portrayals of independent women has been on the rise since the 1980s.
- University of Rhode Island; "A Quantitive Analysis of Japanese Images of Korea: Perceptual Changes Brought on by TV Drama Viewing"; Noriko Hasegawa; 2006
- Smith College: Korean Pop Culture Conference
- University of Oregon; "Japanese Television Dramas and Women’s Life Courses in Flux: Viewing for the Generation Now Age Forty"; Alisa Freedman; 2005
Amy McNulty has worked as a freelance writer since 2005. She has written for "Chocolate Zoom" and "The Japanese Tutor" among others. McNulty received a Bachelor of Arts in English with honors from Carthage College, where she also pursued minors in Asian studies and French.