Korean Web-based dramas emerge as new genre

A scene from web-based drama series “A-Teen,” produced by YouTube channel “Playlist,” displays conversations of characters. They read “I want to die.” “Have you ever confessed your feelings like this?” “What am I supposed to do?” The hit drama deals with realistic issues faced by high school students./ Screen capture from the Playlist channel

Web-based dramas have long been considered second-rate content, compared to TV shows. If there’s anything positive about online-based content, it has served as a stepping stone for unknown actors and actresses to take a leap forward toward their careers on TV. 

In the digital era, such dismissal of online content is about to end. Some web dramas are immensely popular, particularly among teenagers, pushing web-based content to emerge as a trendsetter. 

Web-dramas are available to stream online and have relatively short running times. Originally low budget and low quality, recently they have become strong enough to air for several seasons. 

According to “Playlist,” the producer of high-teen web drama “A-Teen,” on YouTube, six episodes gained over 35 million views in total within two weeks of its premiere on April 25. 

“Teenage culture depicted in television shows is usually outdated and producers find it difficult to incorporate into the story,” said a staffer at a broadcasting company, whose name is withheld. “Web-dramas are seen as cheesy at first, but they quickly adapt to the culture code of teenagers and address issues related to their daily lives so young people find it easier to sympathize with their content.” 

For web-drama “A-Teen,” season 1 had over 200 million views, the highest of all web-based drama series last year. It pulled off such a feat due to the writer’s sophisticated depiction of the feelings of young adults in high school. 

The background music is trendy and some sentences uttered by actors are displayed on the screen to draw the younger audiences’ attention. 

Unlike TV series about teens where adult stars play teens, web-dramas cast younger actors. 

Television shows are much slower to catch on to trends and they tend to focus on more dramatic, heavy subjects rather than the issues young students are dealing with in their own lives. 

In “Beautiful World,” a weekend drama series on JTBC, for example, the story revolves around school violence and focuses on tensions between the victim and the arrogant parents of the bully who try to defend their spoiled child. TV series like this struggle to strike a chord with teenagers because the students exposed to school bullying are concerned with the conflict between the victim and the bully, not their parents. 

Teen dramas used to be popular in Korea in the 2000s. The popular “School” series aired on KBS between 1999 and 2017. Due to its success, the series aired one last season in 2017 but its viewership hovered around 5 percent. 

“In the past, there have been dramas targeting certain age groups, such as dramas for children, teenagers and adults. But at some point children and teenage dramas disappeared from the small screen,” said Gong Hee-jeong, a drama critic. “In many cases of Korean TV series, characters under 20 years old are not chosen for the lead, instead playing supporting roles.” 


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