South Korea, one of the most developed Asian Tigers, is now a hub of an emerging global phenomenon that expresses its cultural impact and public diplomacy through Korean dramas or series. TV dramas or series are among the most popular media genres, and Korean media uses them impactfully.

The Korean Wave encompassing TV dramas, movies, and music is widely known as Hallyu on the global stage and has helped South Korea in nation-branding.

In the post-Cold War era, the triumph of the liberal world order paved the way for states to engage in different aspects of public diplomacy. From 1990 onwards, when the concept of soft power given by Joseph Nye started spreading across the borders, a state like South Korea sitting on a nuclear war fault line had to change its ways of dealing with foreign audiences.

Calling this effort ‘Creation of a New Korea,’ President Kim Young Sam (1993-1998) liberalized the media to project the image of Koreans as ‘global citizens.’ Economically, South Korea has proved to be a miracle because Samsung, Hyundai, SK Group, LG Group, etc., appease global consumers with their products. Over the years, the country has developed new globalization strategies to open up to the world, including promoting soft power through K-Dramas.

Today, dedicated fans of these seasons or dramas exist worldwide, with a significant chunk in Asia. These series are one of South Korea’s most prized gems and act as a source of escapism for many viewers. Cultural values in K-Dramas influence the audiences, and they feel attached to them. Obedience and respect, modesty, honesty, punctuality and discipline, patriotism, social values, cleanliness and promoting Korean food, language and fashion are some of the major aspects of K-dramas. These values set these dramas apart from American or Western TV series. Today, these Korean content industries dominate the Asian media space.

The famous K-Drama “Descendants of the Sun” (2016) has more than 1.5 billion views on the internet. It was described as ‘a piece of great national service advertisement’ in China. The drama focused on values like fighting for your motherland, helping the victims and waiting for miracles while hoping for the best. Another popular Korean season, “Crash Landing on You” (2019), has been observed as a tool of North and South Korean diplomacy as the drama depicts harmony among people on both sides when one South Korean heiress accidentally lands in North Korea and seeks ways to go back to the south.

The unique K-drama, “It’s Okay Not to be Okay” (2020), adds a completely different dimension to K-dramas as it sheds light on a mental disorder, i.e., autism and makes viewers aware of this serious challenge, and allows them to build sympathy for such persons. “Hometown Cha Cha Cha” (2021) is another K-Drama that gives a glimpse of a regular neighbourhood in a seaside village in Korea. The main idea is to reflect the simplicity of life in a small town compared to complicated lifestyles in Seoul and other cities.

Today, the characteristics of the Korean Wave highlight its hybrid nature, blending traditional Korean culture with modern elements that appeal to a diverse audience. Korean dramas have succeeded in different regions for various reasons; Americans enjoy them for relaxation, Europeans for their uncomplicated plots, Asians for lifestyle inspiration, and the Middle East for their emotional depth without explicit content.

South Korea’s government has recognised these tools’ potential to appease and engage with global audiences.

Due to their notable impact, people from different parts of the world today try to emulate Korean cultural values in their daily life patterns. Individuals from all over the globe try to adopt many aspects of Korean culture.

For instance, they learn the Korean language, try different Korean food items available in their country, visit South Korea for its worth-visiting places promoting tourism, students get enrolled for scholarships at Korean universities, and many people try to imitate Korean behaviour like bowing while greeting, sitting on the floor while eating and posing for pictures. Thus, Korean culture portrayed in these dramas showcases the significant impact of K-dramas on a global scale.

In Pakistan, there exists a great K-dramas fan base depicting the inclination of Pakistani people, particularly young girls, towards East-Asian media rather than Western media. PTV Home broadcasted a dubbed version of the South Korean drama “Nageen” in 2016 to strengthen cultural ties between the two nations. The conservative cultures depicted in Korean dramas align closely with Pakistani societal norms, emphasizing respect for family, elders, and traditional values.

The portrayal of romance in Korean dramas, characterized by innocence, gradual development, and minimal physical affection, contrasts with Western content, resonating well with Pakistani viewers who appreciate the modest and relatable approach to relationships. Particularly during COVID-19, Netflix and YouTube have gained prominence as a platform for viewing Korean dramas, so people who started watching K-dramas to kill their boredom followed these series regularly afterwards.

South Korea effectively uses its TV industry to engage with the foreign public, resulting in soft power projection and public diplomacy in the country.

While offering a break from everyday life, K-Dramas also depict fantasy, take viewers to an imaginary world of romance, and, ultimately, raise standards of lifestyle, beauty, and love. This challenges K-Dramas production hubs to balance fantasy with realistic portrayals and add more authenticity. In recent years, Korean dramas are still being viewed in Pakistan and other parts of the world. If the increasing popularity of the Korean wave among Pakistanis continues and grows in the future, then the impact of hegemony may be obvious.

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