Not long ago, chatter about the latest escapades from "Master's Sun" and speculation about which love interest Gu Jun Pyo would choose was reserved for Korean schoolyards, workplaces and homes. But these days, thanks in part to services like Vdio that have added several popular Korean dramas for free to their media catalog, it's not strange to see U.S. fans gossiping about the latest plot twist in their favorite Kdrama.
Fans of Korean pop culture in the U.S. have seen a rise in some of their favorite KPop stars in recent years. Psy rocked the global music charts with his "Gangnam Style" video, and groups like Big Bang have been selling out top venues in the U.S. for a few years.
Kdramas are also skyrocketing in popularity. The rise of streaming services such as Vdio are also making it easier for television shows and movies to reach users across several borders, said Scott Barrow, SVP of Operations at Vdio.
"Broadcasters have come to recognize the opportunity to distribute their programming instantly to a voracious global audience looking for high-quality entertainment," he told KPopStarz.
Now, U.S. consumers are able to watch popular Kdrama actresses such as Song Hye Kyo dazzle viewers in "That Winter, The Wind Blows" or chuckle along with the ordinary businessman who finds himself entangled in a murder mystery and corporate espionage hijinks in "History of the Salaryman."
Part of the reason for the newfound Kdrama fever is that American fans are beginning to understand the true variety and quality available with Kdramas, said Stephanie Kurze, a Kdrama fan who runs the blog "Crazy for Kdrama."
A common misconception is that Kdramas are similar to bad American soap operas - hastily made melodramas with mediocre acting and inconceivable plot twists. That's not to say Korean dramas come without shocking revelations or kooky characters, but the plots cover everything from historical events to important societal issues, and producers have high standards for their actors and crew.
Kurze said that in her writing about Kdrama fandom, she'd encountered U.S. fans that dismissed Kdramas as too romantic or silly. Later, though, she heard back from one of her biggest naysayers who, to his surprise, had thoroughly enjoyed his first experience with a Kdrama.
"He couldn't believe that what he'd watched was a Kdrama, because it was about war and was well written, had great production values and was historically accurate," she told KPopStarz. "Yeah, he's just been Kdrama'ed."
In addition, Kdramas can be a family-friendly activity, said Jennifer Griffith, an author and mother to five children. Griffith lived in Asia for two years, and she said watching Kdramas is a great way to remind her of some of the Asian culture that she enjoyed. What's more, it is also a perfect way to share an activity with her family and teach them more about the continent with which she fell in love.
"I think my favorite aspect of the Kdramas we've ended up seeing is how clean they've all been compared to a lot of American shows," she told KPopStarz. "There's a lot less that makes me cringe or think, 'Man, I don't want my kids watching this.' It's a relief."
In addition to enjoying the stories, acting and culture available in Kdramas, these fans love the ease at which they can consume the shows. Vdio already has a contract with SBS that allows them to offer popular dramas such as "Empire of Gold" and "City Hunter" without any ads, and the company is only planning to add more going forward.
"No one else is offering free HD and ad-free streaming today," Barrow noted.
That means that armed with just a TV, tablet or computer, Kdrama fans can sit and absorb their favorite dramas in one big gulp. Then, Vdio users can connect with other Kdrama fans and find out what some of their favorite shows are, making it easy to discover their next favorite.
It's that community that makes many Kdrama fans stick around after they've become hooked to their first show, said Griffith. In a new era of TV where it's possible to connect with viewers across countries and cultures, Kdramas provide a unique window into South Korea - a vibrant, quirky country straight out of the future.
"There are some serious fans out there," Griffith added. "Its kind of fun to be in their crowd, sharing the culture, including the Korean entries that are finding their way into the American cultural landscape."