‘True Beauty’ and the Rise in Popularity of Korean Television Dramas

The rise in popularity of K-Dramas is exemplified by the new Webtoon-based drama, ‘True Beauty.’


Ellen Wu

This new hit KDrama ‘True Beauty’ is available to stream weekly on Raukten Viki. Rakuten Viki is a streaming platform that makes available numerous popular Asian TV shows and movies for streaming, making it extremely accessible to viewers in the Western world.

As Korean culture gains more and more popularity in the western world, there is a sudden rise in viewership of the iconic Korean television dramas, otherwise known as K-Dramas. With a lot of K-Dramas available on streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, their audience has diversified a lot over the last couple of years, evolving from mainly Koreans to a larger global network. With this change comes two questions: what makes K-Dramas so different from American television shows, and why are they so appealing to watch?

One of the most prominent features that draws so many people in when watching Korean Television dramas is the romance factor. Caleb Oh ’21 believes that K-Dramas are much cuter than American television shows. “In many American T.V. shows, love is portrayed in a less nuanced manner,  but in K-Dramas, it is all about the early stages of courtship, where people get to meet one another and slowly form relationships through different struggles,” said Oh. To an extent, the relationship displayed in these dramas are unrealistic. However, it tends to be the idealistic relationship that many people hope to achieve. Therefore, the fantasy around ideal depictions of love is what draws audiences in and leaves people wanting more. 

“In K-Dramas, there’s more development in the relationship between the two main characters; the romance and buildup between these characters sets K-Dramas apart from many American television shows,” said Marcus Kim ’21. Because of the innocent but powerful romance that is present in most K-Dramas, many of these shows appeal to younger audiences as well, which is different from a lot of American shows, making K-Dramas have a universal appeal. 

On December 9th, 2020, a new romantic comedy drama titled ‘True Beauty’ aired. With a total of sixteen episodes, this show concluded on February 4th, 2021. Given that these episodes were released weekly, for the past three months, it has had viewers hooked and coming back each week to find out what happens next. 

‘True Beauty’ regards a girl who was bullied her entire life based on her looks. One day, she learns about the power of makeup in which she becomes extremely beautiful and unrecognizable to everyone else. Her family decides to move so that she can start over at a new school and place where no one knows what she truly looks like, underneath all the makeup. This drama explores her “new” life, where she is trying to keep her secret, while navigating through newfound friendships and relationships. 

What is unique and appealing about ‘True Beauty’ is that it was actually based on a Webtoon, a digital comic. Because people were already familiar with the popular ‘True Beauty’ Webtoon, the K-Drama drew in a larger audience because many people wanted to see if the show lived up to the Webtoon hype. While the original story remained, the producers also managed to take a different approach with parts of the plot, making it more engaging to watch. 

Another aspect that is prominent in a lot of romantic K-Dramas is “ship” culture and what is known as “second-lead syndrome.” The term ‘ship’ is derived from ‘relationship’ and in television and media, it refers to when the audience desires two characters to be in a romantic relationship with one another. This ties into the second-lead syndrome present in K-Dramas, where the audience essentially ‘ships’ the second-male lead with the main girl, as opposed to the first-male lead. The audience can already predict that it will be the two first-leads that will end up together, but they will experience second-lead syndrome when they root for this character instead. Because the main character usually ends up in relationship drama, the audience gets to form strong opinions about each of the characters which “leads to lots of debates, and people get to bond through their opinions on the show,” said Oh. 

In ‘True Beauty,’ the main character is involved in a love triangle between the two male leads, and as a new episode airs, the audience forms strong opinions regarding if they are team Sun-ho or team Seo-jun. There is a strong community formed when you watch a K-Drama, because of all the twists and turns along the way; this allows for discussions amongst other people who watch the show as well. 

K-Dramas producers and watchers also pay a lot of attention to the visual appeal of their show. The cast in ‘True Beauty’ for example, are all extremely attractive actors, and the ‘eye candy’ in shows is another factor that draws the audience in. “One of my favorite actors, Cha Eun-woo, starred in this show, so I became intrigued and decided to watch because of that,” said Ashley Hwang ’22. Hwang thinks that the attractive cast is important because, “people tend to be shallow when it comes to watching television shows, so the first thing they notice are the actors and actresses, and most likely if they are good-looking, the audience becomes more intrigued.”   

While some K-Dramas are light-hearted and have themes that revolve around love, such as ‘True Beauty,’ K-Dramas appear throughout a variety of other genres as well. With shows that are more action and adventure or horror based, there is truly something for everyone. 2020 has been a great year for K-Dramas, with many of them airing on popular streaming platforms, providing an opportunity for the audience to expand globally. The well thought out plots, spectacular visuals, and the sense of community that K-Dramas have formed, all contribute to the addictiveness of these shows and is what will result in their continual growth in popularity for years to come.

To watch ‘True Beauty’ on Rakuten VIKI, click HERE

“In K-Dramas, there’s more development in the relationship between the two main characters; the romance and buildup between these characters sets K-Dramas apart from many American television shows,” said Marcus Kim ’21.