The sweeping results of the South Korean clearly show Squid Recreation is plain. The dim drama exploring themes these types of as capitalism and course disparities is Netflix’s most-viewed collection to date. But it is merely the crest level of “hallyu”, the Korean wave of pop culture – and there is far more to this phenomenon than meets the eye.

For at minimum three a long time now, South Korea has been slowly raising its gentle power by stepping up exports of its pop lifestyle in the form of K-dramas, K-pop and K-elegance, amid other individuals. Pop culture is massive enterprise in South Korea, and the govt invests intensely in cultural productions – earmarking $440m in 2021 to the Korea Innovative Information Agency (KOCCA), which resources and oversees displays, video games for cell and digital reality platforms, style, animation and other endeavours. 

This has culminated with K-pop acts these types of as BTS, the greatest pop team in the environment, and K-dramas this kind of as 2019’s Crash Landing On You and Squid Video game accomplishing accomplishment on an unprecedented world wide scale.

But for these common with South Korean cultural exports prior to the achievement of BTS and Squid Game, this global craze has not come as a surprise. Above the a long time, avid K-drama followers have noticed the Korean wave mature exponentially. Two decades ago, the budget for one particular K-drama episode was estimated to be around $30,000. Now, this selling price tag can simply leading one billion South Korean won (about $850,660). An increase in spending budget suggests much more advanced creation, far better performing, amazing scores and large advancements in cinematography.

Any person who has seen the Oscar-profitable movie Parasite is most likely to concur that it is worthy of the common acclaim it acquired, with a 98 p.c approval rating on the evaluation aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. But South Korean series are not significantly driving element films in phrases of generation specifications.

Squid Game follows a legion of critically acclaimed K-dramas, some of which have gone unnoticed on the world-wide phase. Below are 6, hit K-dramas that are value the buzz.

With South Korea stepping up its soft power in the latest a long time, bands this kind of as BTS have come to be a world wide phenomenon [Yoan Valat/Pool via Reuters]

1. Flower of Evil (2020)

Range of episodes: 16
Style: Mystery, thriller, melodrama
Accessible on: Netflix 

Cha Ji-gained (played by Moon Chae-won) is a murder detective who is happily married to Baek Hee-sung (portrayed by hallyu star Lee Joon-gi). But when investigating a sequence of unexplained murders, Ji-gained commences to suspect that her ideal partner might not be who he claims he is. Hee-sung watches his lies unravel as his wife digs deeper into his earlier.

While this K-drama retains viewers guessing, an occasional sprinkling of comedic aid and romance simplicity the rigidity. The plot is diligently crafted and the clearly show is pacey and suspenseful, with perfectly-timed revelations and a haunting authentic score.

Flower of Evil was nominated for best drama in this year’s Baeksang awards for excellence in film, television and theatre [tvN /CC 4.0]

Visually beautiful, the show’s places match its darkish and mysterious themes, from Hee-sung’s eerie childhood property to the gloomy deserted swimming pool wherever he fulfills his sister.

This shifting, often chilling, drama spots an emphasis on emotion, due to the fact for Hee-sung, that is an elusive human trait he is still to grasp.

Lee Joon-gi’s portrayal of Hee-sung, a character who struggles to recognize the despair and stress he feels as his spouse uncovers the real truth about him, gained him a 2021 greatest actor nomination for a Baeksang award for excellence in film, theatre and tv in South Korea.

2. My Mister (2018)

Episodes: 16
Genre: Drama
Readily available on: Netflix 

In My Mister, Park Dong-hoon (Lee Solar-gyun) is compelled to confess that his everyday living is not a content 1. A center-aged engineer doing the job at a firm where by a higher education junior is his boss, he life with his mom and two unemployed brothers. Dong-hoon does what he can to assist his struggling loved ones, all the while emotion as if his personal lifestyle is slipping aside.

Lee Ji-an (portrayed by Lee Ji-eun, identified skillfully as IU) is a young woman who is heavily in financial debt and remaining harassed by a mortgage shark when attempting to treatment for her aged grandmother and do the job as a temp at the very same company as Dong-hoon.

Eventually, the two come to be good friends and embark on a journey of damage, hope and healing.

With its aim on economic struggles, family members problems, loneliness and depression, the sequence does not attempt to set a filter on the human expertise. As an alternative, it attempts to present that no subject how monotonous or depressing existence may feel at occasions, it can be just as riveting and intriguing as any film. It suggests that the fight to strike a ideal balance among our responsibilities and particular development can be an remarkable journey.

For viewers, the message that actual lifetime is, in itself, incredible, is strengthened by the parallels in between IU’s previous and the job that she performs. IU, a single of the most well-known K-pop stars in South Korea, like her character, lived for a time with her grandmother in a crowded, one space following her parents fell into debt.

The wildly popular sequence Squid Game has sparked reinterest in the retro Korean candy ‘dalgona’, marketed by street distributors. It is featured as a person of the series’ troubles wherever contestants need to clear away the shape in just the candy without the need of it breaking [File: Chung Sung-jun/Getty Images]

3. Healer (2014)

Episodes: 20
Style: Motion, thriller, romance
Available on: Netflix 

In the 1980s, for the duration of South Korea’s transition from authoritarianism to democracy, a group of 5 students managing an unlawful pro-democracy radio station stumble upon a key scandal, which potential customers to the killing of one scholar in 1992. An additional student finishes up in a wheelchair and a further in jail.

A long time later on, an illegal evening courier with the codename Healer (Ji Chang-wook), a popular broadcast journalist (Yoo Ji-tae) and a next-level tabloid information reporter (Park Min-younger) arrive collectively to uncover the truth of the matter about what took place to the college students.

The collection starts gradually, having time to introduce the several significant characters just before the properly-crafted plot picks up the tempo with some jaw-dropping twists in the later episodes.

It is value seeing for the exclusive storyline, gripping action scenes, and improvement of figures who, as they uncover extra about the five learners, become inspired by their bravery to dig further into their investigation even if it may possibly cost them their life. There is also a healthful dose of humour and romance and the existence of veteran actress Kim Mi-kyung in the part of Healer’s hacker spouse offers the drama a last seal of approval.

Ji Chang-wook plays an unlawful courier and Park Min-young, a tabloid journalist, in the thriller series Healer [Han Myung-gu/WireImage via Getty]

4. Mr Queen (2020)

Episodes: 20
Genre: Historical drama, intimate comedy, fantasy, human body swap
Readily available on: Viki

It would be difficult to come up with a little something more absurd than the plot of this sequence about a guy, Jang Bong-hwan, who finds himself trapped in the physique of a queen from the late Joseon period, all around 1850 (the Joseon period began in 1392 and ended in 1897), and still it is the seventh optimum-rated drama in Korean cable television historical past.

Shin Hye-solar portrays the major character brilliantly, in a position that could have effortlessly bordered on caricature, and the present is value observing for her functionality on your own. 

She flawlessly relays Bong-hwan/Queen Cheorin’s character expansion whilst serving as one particular of the most important comedic things in the series.

Kim Jung-hyun, who was earlier in the hit series Crash Landing on You, performs Queen Cheorin’s husband, King Cheol Jong, in this time period drama comprehensive of palace intrigue, scheming concubines and queen dowagers. 

Narrated by Choi Jin-hyuk, who is known for his roles in the zombie horror movie Educate to Busan, and dramas such as The Final Empress and The Heirs, Mr Queen has long gone to some degree unnoticed amongst an English-speaking audience. But all those looking for gentle aid really should give it a try.

Squid Game, which delivered fodder for the latest Halloween celebrations globally, follows a legion of critically acclaimed K-dramas [File: Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images]

5. The Topped Clown (2019)

Episodes: 16
Style: Historical drama, romance
Accessible on: Netflix

Set during the mid-Joseon period in the early 17th century when upheavals and royal electric power struggles reached a peak, The Crowned Clown tells the story of a king who, fearing assassination, orders his doppelganger, a clown named Ha Solar (Yeo Jin-goo), to acquire his put on the throne.

When he was a youngster, Ha Sun’s mother and father died through an epidemic. He pretty much starved to loss of life but was saved by a group of jesters, at some point increasing up to turn out to be one particular of them. When the jesters performed, Ha Sun played King Lee Hun because of to the similarities in their physical look.

The tale usually takes inspiration from Mark Twain’s novel The Prince and the Pauper. A visual feast with luxurious costumes and picturesque landscapes, this historic drama is an powerful and riveting tale of romance, palace intrigue and politics. The properly-knit yet unpredictable plot retains the viewer engaged until finally the very stop.

As the clown, Yeo Jin-goo’s performance is honest and moving, but his portrayal of the egotistical and virtually repulsive character of King Lee Hun is likewise noteworthy and will make it hard to consider that it is the exact individual actively playing both roles.

6. Navillera (2021)

Episodes: 12
Style: Drama
Available on: Navillera is a Netflix original

Seventy-12 months-outdated retired post business office employee, Sim Deok-chool (Park In-hwan), has harboured a lifelong desire of understanding ballet. But existence acquired in the way, and he put his dream aside – until eventually now. Inspite of a deficiency of assist from his family, he signs up for ballet lessons wherever he meets 23-calendar year-outdated Lee Chae-rok (Track Kang).

Chae-rok has a expertise and passion for ballet but his determination to turn out to be a dancer has estranged him from his father. Having difficulties fiscally and emotionally, he considers quitting. But points start out to improve when he fulfills Deok-chool and will become his ballet coach.

The story of their friendship elevates Navillera from an effortless-going and heartwarming view to an inspirational tale that generally steers apparent of stereotypical sentimentality.

Navillera explores relatable, human challenges this kind of as how we cope with the actuality of previous age whilst demonstrating that it is under no circumstances also late to commence performing what you really like.