city hunter 13 kim sang joong

Perfect K-Dramas for Men: Why They Don’t Exist

My brother-in-law recently had his first encounter with a K-drama. And it was a certain rom com about a woman weightlifter. I want to share his reaction with you.

But first, a question that haunts many K-drama fans—and every K-drama producer looking for a big ratings hit:

What are good K-dramas for men?

Now and again I read suggestions for dramas that are “appropriate” to watch with a boyfriend or husband. Drama Beans recommends shows with action, like City Hunter, Healer or Two Weeks. Steven at Seoul Sync offers his favorites: IRIS, A Gentleman’s Dignity and Nine Time Travels.  Dramafever, true to their mission—get everyone hooked and conquer the world!—provides a long list of possibilities for every kind of guy. (Also true to their mission, they omit some good dramas that aren’t in their library.)

iris english poster k-drama for men
One nominee for “most guy-friendly K-drama.”

These recommendations are pretty good. These are dramas that could get anyone, male or female, hooked. (Confession: IRIS was so suspenseful that I actually had to stop watching. I was going to have a heart attack otherwise! Yes, I used to be one of those kids who got scared and hid behind the sofa when Lucy made trouble on I Love Lucy.)

But I suspect these lists aren’t very helpful. If a man’s going to like K-dramas, he’ll like them. And if he won’t like them, he won’t. No matter how much action is in them.

Maybe these lists are even harmful, because they perpetuate the myth that men can’t enjoy stories that don’t feature superheroes or fight scenes. They encourage us to think that men don’t care about families or relationships. This is unfair and insulting to most of the adult men I know.

Action and suspense don’t belong to one gender, after all. I count City Hunter and Nine Time Travels among my favorite shows. I judge the quality of a historical drama on the basis of how many sword fights take place. Am I not supposed to enjoy action sequences because I’m a woman?

And adult men are perfectly capable of enjoying shows without action. Since coming to Korea, I’ve met a twenty-something guy from New Zealand whose favorite drama is It’s Okay, That’s Love. I’ve met a young American guy who raved about Answer Me 1988.

TwoWeeks_english poster
Did Drama Fever design this image specifically to reassure American men that it’s okay to watch? Could anything be more American-guy-appropriate than a car crash?

Let’s not forget that over the years white male writers have been responsible for some super crazy K-drama-style stories.

Sophocles wrote a play about an orphan with a birth secret accidentally marrying his mother. How K-drama can you get?

Shakespeare wrote revenge melos, romantic comedies and a play about identical twins switched at birth.

And that manliest of American men, Ernest Hemingway, wrote novels about men who fall in love and work through their emotional issues. His male characters may fight in wars, drink a lot and occasionally go to watch bull fights, but mostly they just spend a lot of time thinking about their girlfriends.

Newsflash: Sophocles, Shakespeare and Hemingway had male audience members! Historically speaking, having a Y chromosome didn’t disqualify you from enjoying stories about relationships.

Here in Korea, it’s a running joke in many families that older men are hooked on dramas. A friend of mine says at first her retired father started watching the weekend dramas because her mom was watching them. But now he cares about them more than his wife. Those slow 50-episode weekend melodramas wouldn’t have such high ratings if there weren’t a lot of old guys tuning in.

william-shakespeare
This man wrote stories about birth secrets, revenge and young love, stories men still read, perform, and write books about. Does that make Shakespeare girly?

Younger guys in Korea will say that dramas are for middle-aged women, but even they tune in sometimes. I know a teenager in Seoul who watches Defendant because he has a crush on Girls’ Generation pop idol Kwon Yuri. (There’s a reason producers love to cast pop idols.) Dramas may be primarily a woman’s thing, but men can and do watch them.

Among international viewers, too, gender doesn’t predict who will like dramas. (If I had the rights to it, here’s where I would insert this great photo of young Cuban men watching K-dramas.) Your enjoyment of K-dramas depends more on your level of cynicism than your gender.

A woman who loves Quentin Tarentino movies probably won’t fall for a K-drama, even if it’s the suspenseful, action-packed Two Weeks. Too much optimism about human nature, too much Search for Meaning in a Cruel Universe! But a guy who loves The Shawshank Redemption just might end up having a soft spot for Goblin.

Which brings me back to my brother-in-law, Zach.

My little sister is a thirty-something-year-old doctor in Denver, Colorado. She and her husband Zach don’t have much time for TV, but yesterday I got this note from her:

On Saturday I turned on Viki.com for the first time in a VERY long time, and randomly started watching something called “Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo.”  I watched 2 episodes and then at dinner time talked Zach into watching it with me.  We just finished episode 6 last night—Zach has been sucked in completely.  While I hopped in the shower last night he went back and started watching the episodes he had missed.  I heard him exclaim while I was getting out of the shower, “This is fucking amazing!”

Zach may be the first person to ever describe Kim Bok Joo with those particular adjectives, but the show has a lot going for it. Strong, three-dimensional characters who are genuinely likable. A fresh depiction of everyday friendships. Young women fighting to redefine femininity on their own terms. All wrapped in a totally unpretentious package that treats the viewer like an old friend.

weightlifting fairy kim bok joo english posterweightlifting fairy kim bok joo english poster
Talk about a poster that was not designed to appeal to American men.

Is there a “girlier” drama than Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo? Probably not. But men, like women, are multi-dimensional. Let’s give them some credit. If women can enjoy superhero stories, men can enjoy stories about everyday life.

K-dramas will probably be considered “women’s stuff” for the foreseeable future. Whatever country you’re in, it’s hard for men and women to just enjoy stories without chafing against gender stereotypes.

But we should be careful how we talk about dramas and their male fans. It shouldn’t surprise us when men enjoy K-dramas.

Some people like a well-made K-drama.

And men are people too.

It’s that simple.

I wonder what my brother-in-law would think of Shopping King Louis? ♥

What do you think about men watching K-dramas? Are certain kinds of drama more appropriate than others?

13 thoughts on “Perfect K-Dramas for Men: Why They Don’t Exist

  1. Sadly, all of the men I know are very shallow when it comes to movies/tv. They fit the stereotype mold of all action, interspersed with car chases, all the time. *siiiiiggghhhh*

    • Hang in there, Beez! Hopefully someday you’ll come across the kind that likes car chases AND a good soap opera. They’re out there but sometimes they’re shy. Hwighting!

      • Yeah. It’s probably like musicals. They all puff up and say they’re too manly to watch them, yet strangely seem to know all about them if the subject comes up!

  2. Actually, it was my husband (in his 70’s) who got me into KDrama. He kept trying to get me to watch, but I didn’t want to get involved in something that I would want to keep watching for the next episode…too soapy?! Anyway, I finally gave in and started watching Dong Yi. I was totally hooked, and now this is the main kind of screen entertainment we watch. He likes even the “girlie” ones.

  3. Hope this isn’t too long! Both my grandnephew (15) and grandniece (13) are big KDrama fans. I started him with City Hunter which he liked, even though the complicated details about construction, social welfare and university scandals made his first-time subtitles a challenge. However we talked a lot about revenge, filial devotion and of course the tragic arc of the brave upstanding Prosecutor.
    Next: Doctor Stranger. Again he liked both male leads as counterpoints for each other. Female lead not strong enough he thought, but liked the strong-willed daughter of the Hospital CEO. Thinking more action flicks I thought Chuno would be a great intro to Sageuks. NOT. Around episode 10 he asked to see something different. The cluster of secondary village characters were an irritation and for the first time ever, he actually said something we drama fans say repeatedly: “They should have made this half as long!”
    Before the one we are watching now, I gave a short ‘elevator pitch’ for about four dramas and when he heard Lee Min Ho was in “Legend of the Blue Sea” he was ‘in’. After the 3rd episode, he declared he actually liked this type of drama best because of the light comedy, the fusion fantasy and especially the relationship details which he considers as “quite interesting” (likely because he is now entering the stormy seas of romance himself as a high school student.) We have some interesting talks about Koreas very stiff kisses, women hitting men or acting aegyo, plus I think he gets some great lines to use at school. So far Lee Min Ho is ‘the man’. We finished episode 17 tonight and he liked the way the stakes have been upped since both leads have ‘confessed’.
    He’s a lot more invested now that there is an ominous threat of them being a threat to each other’s lives.
    Next on the docket, it might be time for Kill Me Heal Me or Healer.
    So perhaps there is indeed hope for the future?
    My young grand-niece who adamantly refused to watch one, gave me a surprising gift for my birthday. She gleaned KDrama facts, put some photos of fadhion, homes & music in Korea, bound it into a homemade book and on the last page wrote: “So, for your gift, I will watch some KDramas with you but only the ones you haven’t seen yet. (No classics for her).
    Again I showed her a ten minute selection and (sadly) she chose a classic: “Playful Kiss”. We started ‘eye rolling’ early on & I kept reminding her that it was made 7 years ago when girls liked funny feisty, dumb heroines. She liked the distant, arrogant male lead’s looks I think, so we kept going & spent our time wrily laughing together at ‘Oh Ha Ni’s ridiculous antics. And now we’ve graduated to Sassy Go Go which she is liking a lot.
    Sigh, it might just be a hope, but as their “Grantie” I look forward to watching more with them as they grow older.
    So maybe just maybe there is a future in which men will be watching with us…we just have to start them young!!
    In fact because they have stuck with it, their Dad has now agreed to try one too. I might pitch “W” , Signal, Nine x Travel & Descendants of the Sun.
    We’ll see.
    Odessa thanks for the perspectives. I always enjoy your notes.
    PS. Forgot to add: one night I dropped something in the kitchen and heard my young grandnephew call out: “gwaenchana?” (Are you ok?). Priceless.

    • A great subject for a long comment, Charlotte. You sound like the most fun aunt ever, I have to say. It would be so much fun to talk about these stories with young teens. There’s so much to discuss: human personalities, motivations, and of course, cultural differences. And boys are as unpredictable as girls when it comes to what they like and don’t like. Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Hey Miss Jones! Good to see you blogging again! I agree that dudes can like dramas too, but I confess when someone close to me rats me out to acquaintances, I always test the waters first and mention martial arts. If they love Bruce Lee films or liked Ip Man, my window of opportunity for conversion tends to be broader. You sidestep the whole “eww furreign” and “eww subtitles” conversations. I generally list movies first though because a) quality b) ease of access (don’t have to sling around names like DF and viki and avistas and spook the poor suckers). One guy friend watched Heartless City in three days and we watched A Hard Day together. Stereotypical masculine choices yes, but for a guy who is practically narcoleptic when it comes to movies, I took what I could get. Goofy comedies low on romantic histrionics ala History of a Salaryman would’ve worked, but my long game got cut short. Hard to watch dramas with your best friend’s ex lol.

    • @muse – how do I go about getting an invite to avistaz? What type of content do they have? (I’m always on the look out for earlier Kdramas that Viki or DramaFever (and even Dramanice) doesn’t have.

      Is the site available to people in the U.S.?

      • You have to find someone to invite you (sorry I have no tokens), or wait till they have open registration which is how I joined. No idea how often that happens. They have a wider selection than Viki or Dramafever, older shows, more films, non k shows and movies. It’s available in the US, I don’t think its geo-restricted.

        • Now I’m curious… how do they survive? Ads? Membership fee?

          I ‘ve stumbled across them once before (I can’t remember how) but had to give up.

          When they do have open registration, does it appear on the avistaz.com site or do they send notices to some other site?

          Do they consider themselves eliteist or is it kept closed to the general public to save itself from piracy or to keep it’s own “illegit” service from being discovered? I’m not trying to get it into trouble (heck, I desperately want to join – lol). I’m just full of curiosity because most sites survive on getting the most number of visitors that it can. And, I want to know where I need to check in everyday to catch the elusive open registration.

  5. Charlotte….how great that you are watching with the kids. Many times I wish I had someone to watch with…so we could discuss it afterward. My husband watches them, too…he got me into them. But he continually falls asleep while watching and constantly rewinding, so we watch on different TV’s. One of the things I enjoy in these dramas is the character development that happens during the span of the show. A great one to watch with the kids would be the Perfect Doctor….about an autistic savant who becomes a doctor. Also, JiSung in The Entertainer is really good. Historical drama s like Dong Yi are excellent…and the Series of dramas on the ‘seasons’….Spring Waltz, Summer Scent, Autumn in My Heart and Winter Sonata are ones you shouldn’t miss.

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