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7 K-Drama Tropes That *Exist* IRL

7 K-Drama Tropes That Exist IRL

K-dramas often present a stylized, romanticized, and (at times) exaggerated view of Korean culture. Amidst the fiction, some tropes are truths that are representations of things that really exist in Korean society. Whether they're seen as good or problematic, these nuggets of reality peppered in drama plots always leave their mark—challenging our thoughts, injecting awareness, and touching hearts.

Here's a list of curated tropes and the dramas where you can find them:

1. School blues

 As seen on: SKY Castle

SKY Castle fleshes out the competitiveness present in the Korean education scene and the pressure that weighs down not just on students but on their parents as well. Korean society puts a high premium on the need for students to achieve good grades that will serve as their passport to entry into prestigious universities. Ultimately, the end goal is to graduate from a top university that will give students a competitive advantage in the job market and help them cop a high-paying job that will support a brighter future. 


Sky Castle | Main Trailer [HD] | Netflix

2. High beauty standards

As seen on: My ID is Gangnam Beauty

Boasting almost 1 million procedures a year, South Korea is dubbed the plastic surgery capital of the world. Long-standing Korean beauty standards are rooted in Korean culture and have supported the growth of the country’s beauty industry as well as its cosmetic tourism. K-dramas touch on just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the high beauty standards present in Korean society. Take the case of My ID is Gangnam Beauty, which tells the story of Kang Mi Rae (Im Soo Hyang), an insecure student who goes under the knife to deal with her self-esteem issues only to realize that true beauty is what lies within.

My ID Is Gangnam Beauty | Official Trailer | Netflix

3. The soju connection

As seen on: Work Later, Drink Now

Almost every K-drama has a scene where the lead character either wallows in their sorrows, celebrates a milestone, or opens up to a friend over a bottle (or bottles!) of soju. Korea’s drinking culture traces its roots way back to the invention of Korean alcohol hundreds of years ago. Koreans see drinking as an opportunity to connect with oneself or with others. They view it as a way to open people up, break the ice, celebrate and strengthen bonds between friends and co-workers.

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Though the office drama, Work Later, Drink Now (which is gearing up for its second season this year) takes the depiction of South Korea's drinking scene up a few notches, it does shed some light on the bonds that unite among friends who lean on each other and express their own life challenges over drinks after work.

[Trailer] Work Later, Drink Now ft Lee Sun Bin, Eunji, Sunhwa | Watch it FREE on Viu from 2 Feb

4. Honorifics that bind

As seen on: What's Wrong With Secretary Kim

Koreans use honorifics to show respect for elders and people with a higher status or job title. This practice finds its roots in Confucianism whose legacy continues to shape the country’s moral system. Examples you'll often hear in dramas include the use of -nim (attached after names to mean Mr. or Ms. or after job titles to show respect to superiors at work). Another classic term is oppa (used by females to call older males or also used as a term of endearment among couples). In What's Wrong With Secretary Kim, viewers will notice how Kim Mi So (Park Min Young)'s interaction and way of speaking with Vice Chairman Lee Young Joon (Park Seo Joon) take a major turn when her office relationship with him shifts to a romantic one.


Calling Your Boss-Turned-Boyfriend Oppa | What's Wrong With Secretary Kim | Viu

5. Leaving shoes at the door

As seen on: Start-Up

All K-drama characters leave their shoes at the door when entering their or someone else's home. In South Korea, it is customary to take off one's shoes before entering a house. A top reason for this is cleanliness—especially since in traditional homes Koreans sit and sleep on the floor and also have low dining tables. Removing one's shoes before entering someone's home also signifies respect for the private space you are visiting and the customs of the family who lives there.

Check out this clip from Start-Up where Han Ji Pyeong (Kim Seon Ho) removes his white espadrilles when he decides to invite himself and Seo Dal Mi (Bae Suzy) to stay for dinner at Nam Do San (Nam Joo Hyuk)'s house.

Nam Joo-hyuk and Kim Seon-ho compete to impress Suzy's grandma | Start-Up Ep 7 [ENG SUB]

6. Awkward display of physical affection

As seen on: Heartstrings

Kissing scenes in K-dramas have been known to showcase female leads who freeze when the male lead leans in for a kiss. A classic example is this scene from the teen drama Heartstrings starring Park Shin Hye as Traditional Korean Music major Lee Gyu Won and Jung Yong Hwa as college band frontman Lee Shin. Scenes like this reflect the conservatism in Korean society where couples do not engage in raunchy PDAs. Cute ways that Korean couples do proclaim their relationship in public include holding hands and wearing matching outfits and accessories. After checking with Korean friends, I got a unanimous confirmation that unfortunately, the classic piggyback ride (where the male lead carries the female lead on his back) is uncommon and is something you only see in dramas.


TVPP Jung Yonghwa(CNBLUE) - Romantic Kiss with Park Shin-hye, @ Heartstring

7. Hoesik culture

As seen on: My Liberation Notes

Hoesik refers to a gathering of co-workers conducted after office hours with elements of dinner (often at a samgyupsal restaurant), lots of alcohol, and sometimes an after-party at a karaoke spot. Known for promoting bonding among team members and giving bosses or supervisors a chance to get to know their employees, Hoesiks have been known to be a source of pressure for some employees who feel forced to participate (since skipping it can result in creating a lasting negative impression on one’s superiors and colleagues). Kim Ji Won as contract employee Yeom Mi Jeong sheds light on this situation in episode one of My Liberations Notes when an officemate drags her into attending a team dinner. Her expression in that scene sums up how Hoesiks may not be everyone's cup of tea.

My Liberation Notes | Official Trailer | Netflix [ENG SUB]


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