You’re not alone if the notion of playing red light, green light fills you with nerve-wracking anxiety rather than joyful childhood recollections when you watch Squid Game.
The Korean thriller, which follows a group of debt-ridden people as they compete for a large cash prize in a deadly series of children’s games, has become Netflix’s greatest ever series premiere, with 111 million customers watching it in its first 28 days.
It did so by knocking Bridgerton off the top rank, demonstrating that Korean dramas, or K-dramas for short, have received widespread approval from audiences around the world.
The popularity of Squid Games is the newest wave of a Korean cultural tsunami that has swept the west in recent years.
The show follows the rise of K-pop bands such as BTS and Blackpink to becoming household names in music, as well as films such as Parasite and Minari upending Hollywood and winning Oscars. K-dramas have been popular in Asia for decades, even if they have only recently captured the attention of a global audience.
Huge sums of money were poured into the entertainment industry as the country’s liberalisation progressed in the 1990s. As Japan’s economy faltered and China rose, South Korean culture pounced, providing television that was both more relevant than American series and morally acceptable to Beijing.
With 20 percent of Japanese viewers watching the 2003 drama Winter Sonata, it challenged Japanese might to become a new purveyor of Asian cool over the next decade.
The rise of the internet sparked a surge in global interest. Over the last decade, streaming sites like Viki and DramaFever have allowed fans to legally watch Korean material online with English subtitles, bringing K-dramas to a whole new audience. Over the next two years, an increasing number of viewers were addicted to K-dramas, caught in their diverse narratives and soothing escapism.