As colorful as their culture is, sexuality remains a sensitive topic in South Korea, and they still have a long way to go in becoming more a...
In Korean Media, from little to none, they seem to be expanding the queer representation in their dramas by adding characters or even writing a whole show with a queer storyline. There is still a great amount of work to be done but this improvement in Korean Media opened a window and shed a light on several positive queer representations in dramas and even movies.
Looking back, South Korean actor Lee Jong Suk was among the first ones who bravely played the role of a gay character which paved the way for the gradual progress when it comes to Korean media’s openness to embrace queerness in the stories they produce.
As a late celebration of Pride Month, let’s take a look at some Korean shows that include queer representation and illuminate colorful stories that are not often told due to fear of not being accepted and being seen as a mistake.
Reply 1997 (2012)Let’s start with the hit sequel of ‘Reply 1998’ which is one of the first K-dramas that featured gay characters. The main lead Kang Joon Hee, played by former INFINITE member HoYa, confessed his sexuality to his best friend Shi Won (Jung Eun Ji) at the same time, he realized his love for Shi Won’s childhood best friend, Yoon Jae (Seo In Guk). His friends accepted him and treated him with respect which was one of the most positive queer representations in Korean media.
However, HoYa encountered speculations about his sexual orientation after playing a gay character which traumatized him.
Love With Flaws (2019)
This drama includes a subplot that highlighted the story of coming out, pursuing a closeted queer, and seeking acceptance from your family. Ho-Dol (Jang Yoo-Sang) was beginning to accept his sexuality when he met Won-Suk (Cha In-Ha), a bartender at a gay bar.
Their relationship progressed as Won-Suk helped him come to terms with who he was and protected him from the students that bullied him.
|Screenshot from Love with Flaws|
Itaewon Class (2020)
This Netflix K-drama that became a worldwide hit in 2020 features the first-ever transgender character in Korea’s mainstream media. Ma Hyun Hi, played by Lee Joo-young, was a chef at DanBam pub owned by Sae-Ro-Yi (Park Seo-Joon).
When her identity was revealed, her colleagues became uncomfortable with her, but they eventually accepted her for who she was. She also represented the pub in a cooking contest in which the opposing team leaked a story about her identity which embarrassed and scared her but after her talk with a co-worker, she publicly acknowledged her identity without fear and won the contest.
|Photo credit: Hancinema|
Hello Dracula (2020)
Hello Dracula is a two-part series that features a relatable story focused on three women at different stages of their lives including An-na, the lead character played by Girls’ Generation’s Seohyun whose mother refused to accept her identity when she was in middle school.
An-na was a lesbian who had just broken up with her girlfriend of eight years.
This drama revolves around the relationship between the lead characters, Nabi and Jae Eon, but the side characters, Yoon Sol (Lee Ho Jung) and Seo Jiwan (Yoon Seo Ah), regularly stole the spotlight. Their relationship was a refreshing take on a simple friends to lovers' story which captured the heart of many.
At first, they kept their feelings for one another fearing that it will rock the boat, but in the 8th episode of the drama, Sol made it clear to Jiwan that she liked her more than a friend which led to the progress of their relationship as the most romantic in the series.
|Screenshot from Nevertheless|
This women-centric drama with solid ratings featured Seo Hyun (Kim Seo Hyung) an ambitious and dignified woman from a chaebol family who is married to Han Jin Ho (Park Hyuk Kwon), the eldest son of Hyowon Group.
Despite being married, Seo Hyun was secretly in love with an internationally acclaimed artist Suzy (Kim Jung-hwa) since college. As the drama progressed, she gained the courage to overcome the prejudices, face the consequences, and refrained from being afraid of tarnishing the name of her family.
Semantic Error (2022)
Semantic Error is a drama based on a web-based cartoon with the same name which features enemies to lovers BL story of a junior computer science major Chu Sang Woo (Jae Chan) and senior student Jang Jae Young (Park Seo Ham).
The lead characters were opposites and got off on the wrong foot, but they were forced to collaborate on a school project which resulted in them developing feelings for each other.
Merry Queer (2022)
Merry Queer is the first LGBTQIA+ centered reality show that premiered in South Korea. It was described as “the first coming-out romance reality series in Korea” which features stories of queer couples and the challenges they encounter.
It is hosted by comedians Shin Dong Yup and Hong Seok Cheon together with Ahn Hee Yeon, also known as Hani of the K-pop girl group EXID.
These are just a few of the growing number of Korean shows that highlight LGBTQIA+ stories, there could be a long list by now, but you’ll have to put a tiny bit of effort to find them. In the meantime, you should check out Bosung and Minjun’s first episode on Merry Queer posted on their YouTube channel.
Written by: Johannes Daño
Johannes is a soon-to-be world traveler who used to see the world in black and white but is now finding ways to paint it yellow. She expresses her innermost thoughts through metaphors and fictional stories, but it takes her a while to do so as she is not a great first-drafter but a great rewriter.