K-drama in the Time of the Pandemic : The Production of Hope through the Subgenre of the K-Dystopia

Michael Kho LIM, Dongjoon LEE

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


During the last quarter of 2021, as the world was preparing to exit the COVID-19 pandemic, Netflix released three original dystopian K-drama series: Squid Game (September), Hellbound (November), and The Silent Sea (December). Through textual analysis of these three series, this paper delves into the ways in which the pandemic served to create a sense of hopelessness and helplessness, a social mood which served as a backdrop for the K-dystopia subgenre to thrive. Paradoxically, perhaps, these dystopian narratives found creative ways to re-package and re- present the concept of hope. In this way, the new genre both built on and veered away from the previous success of K-dramas that presented hope through the element of romance. The dystopian trend might also be considered a Netflix counterprogramming strategy. Finally, the paper explores how realism is incorporated into these dystopian storylines, reflecting the gloomy side of Korean society. Here, realism involves the theme of social injustice, which may be contrasted with the brighter side of Korean culture—typically communicated through the K-pop craze that offers (and sells) fun, glitz, and glamour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-108
Number of pages32
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, Yonsei Institute for English Studies. All rights reserved.


  • Hallyu
  • K-drama
  • Korean wave
  • Netflix
  • dystopia
  • fandom
  • hope


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