South Korean soap operas have recently gained huge popularity in the US. Around 18 million Americans enjoy Korean soap operas (K-dramas), especially romantic ones. The global contagiousness of Korean popular media has become known as the Korean Wave.
K-dramas use creative, well-structured story lines to garner intrigue, rather than relying on violence and sexual content. These shows usually root in real-life family situations, with characters beating the odds and overcoming obstacles in their lives. With most shows lasting only 16 to 20 episodes, viewers know to expect an ending unlike some US soap operas which produce new seasons until popularity or funding runs out.
Due to the huge viewership of Korean shows, American media companies are hoping to get a piece of this growing pie. Hulu recently partnered with DramaFever to offer more than 200 K-Dramas on their own site. Netflix is expanding its foreign content too.
There are nearly 23,537 South Koreans living in Hawai‘i, making Hawai‘i the doorway for Korean soap operas to enter the US market. KBFD-DT, an Asian-language independent television station located in Hawaii, broadcasts a majority of Korean dramas on its daily schedule, as well as offering programs on sale at its website and on demand through its K-Life channel on Oceanic Time Warner Cable. Another Honolulu outlet, KFVE devotes three hours of its Sunday afternoon schedule to Korean dramas. Additionally, retailers in Hawai‘i such as Wal-Mart, Costco, Borders, Blockbuster and Tower Records are capitalizing on the craze and in the past few months began selling K-drama DVD box sets for $60 to $120.
Soap operas are not the only way in which Hawai‘i and South Korea have built a close relationship; visitors from South Korea have been an important part of the Hawai‘i tourism industry. In 2016, Hawaiian Airlines held a grand celebration of its fifth anniversary of successful service between Seoul and Honolulu. Additionally, Hawai‘i has four sister relationships with communities in South Korea to promote cultural and commercial ties.
Xiaoyi Wang is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington, DC. She is a graduate student at Georgetown University.