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K-drama glossary

Learn about four types of K-drama.

Here are four types of K-drama. You may find some very familiar. Which one is it?

1) Jisangpa drama /지상파 드라마/

Technically, South Korean broadcasting services comprise jisangpa, cable, and satellite broadcasting. “Jisangpa” is a term referring to terrestrial television and radio broadcasting services, for which the signal is transmitted by broadcasting waves from the terrestrial (Earth-based) transmitter of a television station to a TV receiver. Meanwhile, cable and satellite broadcasting use signals transmitted through electronic or fibre-optic cables and satellites, respectively. However, South Korean people tend to use jisangpa to refer to the TV broadcasts in general. South Korean jisangpa include public-funded broadcasters KBS and MBC, and commercially funded broadcaster SBS.

2) Gajok drama /가족 드라마/

K-drama: Gajok drama

As the name hints, this terms refers to TV dramas that air either in the evenings or on the weekends when gajok (가족; meaning family) can watch together. The aforementioned Korean terrestrial broadcasters tended to organise “gajok drama” during such times, and as they reminded people of family love [there was a] public perception that weekend drama is gajok drama.
However, jongpeon that were established in 2011 began to broadcast many non-gajok dramas on Friday and Saturday, undermining the unwritten rule. Generally, the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) has achieved high audience ratings for gajok dramas, giving birth to the phrase “the legend of the unbeatable KBS weekend drama”.
As KBS is a public service broadcaster, their gajok dramas tend to advance the narratives in ways with which the South Korean population can generally sympathise, for example, family crises and conflicts between family members. Unlike “makjang” drama (low-quality television drama relying on inflammatory subject matters and rushed, unreasonable storylines;, gajok dramas often attempt to invoke emotion and understanding from audiences, portraying how family members unite to resolve crises and conflicts, how parents sacrifice and dedicate their lives to their children while children show “filialpiety” to their parents, and confirm their love for each other.
Some media scholars have pointed out that such Korean-style family drama can be considered KBS’s response to the rapid individualisation and family deconstruction that followed the government bankruptcy in the late 1990s. According to this view, the broadcaster sought to reconstruct the imaginary of the traditional Korean family, restoring the idea of family and reminding audiences of notions of familial love and solidarity.

3) Makjang /막장/

K-drama: Makjang

The word makjang, in dictionary terms, is “a blind end [front] in a mine gallery”, or the dead end of a tunnel. More recently, it has been used to refer to someone whose misbehaviour ends up resulting in the worst situation, or simply to someone’s wrongdoings. For example, “makjang drama” indicates low-quality television drama whose inflammatory narratives and implausible storylines provoke anger from the audience.

4) Joseon zombies /조선 좀비/

K-drama: Joseon zombies

Following on from the success of Netflix Original Korean drama (2019), zombie films set in the Joseon dynasty and the accompanying “Joseon zombies” have attracted widespread attention in the South Korean broadcasting industry. The pioneer of this trend, set against the backdrop of a sanguinary royal feud, tells the story of a crown prince in the Joseon dynasty who struggles to save people from turning into zombies following a plague of unknown cause, and who grows into a true heir to the throne. Upon release, it went viral globally thanks to its unique content, and received critical acclaim for the strong performance of the lead actors and actresses, its enthralling bow and sword fighting, and the artistic expression of the “hanbok” (한복; Korean traditional clothing) and “gat” (갓; traditional Korean hat) that were integral to the Joseon period.


As of 29th April 2021, had gained a 96% “Fresh” rating on film review-aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, considered highly positive. 101 Meanwhile, the same year saw the release of another Joseon zombie film (2018), which was simultaneously adapted into a popular Webtoon. Together, they are often referred to as the “Joseon zombie” series. In the years that followed these early hits, similar works have been produced, for example (2021) which was aired on SBS but cancelled after just two episodes. This drama featured an idiosyncratic plot where in a Joseon kingdom that was being devasted by a “saengsi” (생시; a zombie + demon like evil creature), two kings Taejong and Grand Prince Chungnyeong (later Sejong the Great) took on the task of exorcising the demon, with assistance from a Roman Catholic priest. The drama was produced with budget of 32 billion KRW (approximately $28.5 million). However, its use of Chinese-style props depicting foods, clothes, and architecture did not sit well with the viewers, and the suspected distortion of historical facts around the two kings caused further controversy, leading to the cancellation of the drama.


● Yu, S (2020). ‘‘취집’ 꿈꾸는 여성총리?…힘 못쓰는 로코ㆍ멜로 시대 [출처: 중앙일보] ‘취집’ 꿈꾸는 여성총리?…힘 못쓰는 로코ㆍ멜로 시대’, JoongAng Ilbo, 5 May [Online]. Available at:

● Kim, I. (2019). ‘검증된 작가·‘가족’ 소재의 힘… KBS2 주말극 ‘20년째 불패신화’’, Munhwa Ilbo, 19 Feb [Online]. Available at:

● Lee, S. (2018). ‘온라인 ‘고나리’ 화제 왜? 의미 뭐길래?’, The Kookje Daily News, 17 Jul [Online]. Available at:

● Yun, S. (2019). A Study on the Aspects of Family Liberalization in Korean Television Family Drama- Focusing on KBS2 TV Weekend Soap Operas [한국 텔레비전 가족드라마의 가족자유주의 양상: KBS2 TV 주말연속극을 대상으로]. 어문논총, 34, pp.37-79.

● See Standard Korean Language Dictionary,

● See Rotten Tomatoes,

● Nam, J. (2021). ‘‘역사 왜곡’ 논란에…SBS, ‘조선구마사’ 결국 방영 취소’, Hankyoreh, 26 Mar [Online]. Available at:

● Kim, J. H., Yu, J., Sya, K., & Son, S. H. (2021). K-Culture Glossary: 100 Terms to Get You Started with Korean Popular Culture. Jikim Publishing Limited.

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