How K-Dramas Crash Landed on South Asian TV Screens

The genre’s swoon-worthy romance, side-splitting comedy, treacherous villainy, and thrilling fight sequences are some of the many reasons Brown viewers are helping fuel the Korean drama craze.

Sarah Khan

February 15, 2021

How K-Dramas Crash Landed on South Asian TV Screens
Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin), a South Korean heiress and entrepreneur, falls in love with Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun Bin), a captain in the North Korean army in 'Crash Landing On You' (Netflix).

Korean drama Crash Landing On You (CLOY) debuted on South Korea’s tvN and on Netflix in December 2019, and immediately crash-landed on the top of the charts. The tale of forbidden love between a South Korean heiress who accidentally winds up across the DMZ and encounters a North Korean soldier — played by superstars Son Ye-jin and Hyun Bin, respectively — is the third-highest-rated series in South Korean history. And while Korean dramas, commonly known as K-dramas, have long had a legion of die-hard fans across the Indian subcontinent, CLOY marked something of a tipping point for the genre’s popularity in the region: last February, the show even landed in Netflix India’s Top 10. 

CLOY has served as a gateway drama for a new generation of K-drama enthusiasts in India, who not only have wreaked havoc on their family’s Netflix algorithms through incessant binging, but are also becoming obsessed with all things Korean. Netflix reported that K-drama viewership increased 370% in India from 2019 to 2020. The Duolingo app saw a 256% growth of Korean language learners in India between March and November. K-pop has long had a sizable fanbase in India, but in 2020, BTS was Spotify India’s fourth most streamed artist, after Bollywood bigwigs like Arijit Singh and Neha Kakkar. These surging numbers appear to closely follow the timeline of the pandemic.

These days, the journey of getting into Korean dramas for the uninitiated often involves five stages: first, denial (“I don’t think I’d be into that”); second, reluctant acceptance (“the Netflix algorithm keeps recommending this to me and there isn’t anything else to watch”); third, disbelief (“wait, it’s really good”); fourth, obsession (“why am I up until 2 a.m. watching this?”); and lastly, evangelism (“you must watch this show”).

“One of my closest friends was watching CLOY initially in lockdown, and we were all laughing and making fun of her, saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re addicted to this K-drama stuff,’” recalled Mumbai content creator Scherezade Shroff. Then a few months later, she found herself with nothing to watch. “I said, ‘Why don't I give it a shot?’ There’s been no looking back.” Shroff has since started the Facebook group Sherry’s K-Drama Club, where nearly 5,000 members, mostly in India, share reviews, recommendations, and gossip. “Imagine, a year ago, I didn't know what a K-drama is, and now I have a K-drama club. The kind of excitement it creates in people is like nothing I've ever seen.”