drama-conventions-header Korean dramas, like every other genre, have a set of conventions which characterize and to some extent define them. Most of these we've all seen before, but whether we recognize them consciously or unconsciously depends on our experience with Kdramas and our awareness of genre tropes in general. Here, I highlight ten of the most-frequently seen conventions in Kdramas, most of which, as you scan this list, you should realize you are already highly familiar with... Without further ado, I give you the top 10 Kdrama conventions.
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1. Love Quartets

This isn't just a staple of Korean dramas - it's practically a law. It's not enough for two people to be dancing around each other over the course of the drama - two more must be added. Almost every Korean drama consists of, in some way or another, four people running after each other, dancing around each other, colliding with each other, and sometimes, falling in love with each other. It's Love and Other Disasters for four individuals in Korean dramas.
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2. Terminal Illness

I've mentioned this before in 5 Signs that Drama Angst is about to hit: terminal illness is an oft-featured aspect of Korean dramas, and by terminal illness I mean any variation of physical ailment (blindness is not uncommon, too). Our heroines, in particular, seem to be just too beautiful and saintly to live, and so die quite frequently. See: Stairway to Heaven, 90 Days Time to Love, and many others
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3. Childhood Love

A favorite element of older Korean dramas in particular, you know it's true love if it's established somewhere between the ages of 6 and 12. Engaged to a beautiful, kind, successful individual whom you met as an adult? He or she ain't got a chance against the enduring power of the Deep Soul Connection you established with your childhood sweetheart in the few days, weeks, or months that you knew him/her. It doesn't matter if you haven't seen this person since you were seven, or if your memories consist of a few afternoons spent playing together, or of a childhood promise randomly given, or if every possible obstacle in the world stands between you and that person. Childhood love is a kind of love that is superior to all other forms apparently, and we're all invited to worship at its shrine accordingly See: Spring Waltz, All In, Iljimae, Time between Dog and Wolf.
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4. Amnesia

Another convention of older dramas in particular, amnesia is a highly useful trope for separating the hero and heroine. Already used up the personality clashes, the evil family and the terminal illnesses? Bam! Amnesia. It is usually set up in such a way that the amnesiac is separated from all family and friends and presumed lost or dead by the one who loves him/her. And then when they do finally meet, the amnesiac doesn't recognize him/her. Oh! le! angst! See: Time between Dog and Wolf, Stairway to Heaven, Save the Last Dance for Me.
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5. Icy Tormented Rich Guy and Plucky Sunny Poor Girl

With the occasional exception of dramas like Snow Queen, Star's Lover, and East of Eden, the male lead of a Korean drama is almost invariably very rich and the girl is almost always poor. As if to make up for it, however, the girl has a happy, plucky disposition which enables her to keep going in spite of her poverty, while the guy is generally tormented and driven by some hidden sorrow or tragedy in his past which has caused him to shut everyone out. The girl thereupon thaws his cold cold heart and teaches him to love and he rescues her from poverty and/or hard work and everyone lives happily ever after. This at heart is the plot of at least 45% of Korean dramas. See: Goong, Boys Over Flowers, Shining Inheritance, Who Are You?, and many, many others.
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6. The Saintly Secondary Guy

...who never gets the girl and theĀ evil/annoying secondary girl who runs around the whole drama trying to ruin things for everyone and generally behaving as if she should be locked up in a mental institution (occasionally the secondary guy is like this too, but more often the girl). See: Shining Inheritance, Boys Over Flowers, Last Scandal.
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7. Forbidden Love

In Kdramas, people are always falling in love with their bodyguards (East of Eden), chauffeurs (Snow Queen), butlers (Take Care of the Young Lady), half-siblings (too many dramas to count), students (Hi My Teacher), siblings' fiances, and anyone else who might happen to be absolutely forbidden and wildly inappropriate. If it's a love that's doomed by its very existence, then it's going to happen. (Oh, and if you're a nun or ex-nun, you're destined to fall in love with either a popstar or a mobster - see You're Beautiful and All In).
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8. Contract Marriages/Engagements/Jobs

Need a way for the heroine and hero of a Kdrama to spend some time together so that they fall in love? No problem! Enter the contract marriage or engagement (as seen in Full House and currently-airing Creating Destiny) or the hiring of the heroine by the hero to play a specific role (such as the housekeeper in Last Scandal or Gong Chan's cousin in My Girl). It's a trope as old as time but works perennially well to create forced proximity and attraction between the leads of a drama.
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9. Grief/Loss/Childhood Trauma

Lead of a Korean drama? It's almost guaranteed that you had a childhood from hell, especially if you're the male lead (the girl has a slightly higher chance of getting off easy). Your parents are either dead from a car crash or other inexplicable event, or one or both of them abandoned you as a kid, or you never met them at all and are an orphan, or your brother died and it was your fault, or you were abused by your stepfather, or you killed someone or witnessed someone being killed. If by some miracle you have escaped all these, then at the very least you've been living hand to mouth and barely escaping abject poverty for years. See: East of Eden, Goong, Iljimae, and Cain and Abel.
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10. Evil Parents

Although the parents of Kdrama leads are generally dead, it's not necessarily a good thing for you as a Kdrama lead if they are alive, because there's at least an 80% chance that they will do all in their power to make your life miserable, starting with threatening suicide and the destruction of the family business if you don't give up the one you love and marry the one whom they choose. Mothers tend to be the worst offenders; they might stage your own father's death just to get you even more under their control, or hire professional hitmen to take you out if your existence becomes a threat in some way, or throw you out of the house penniless after your father dies. See: Boys Over Flowers, Cain and Abel, East of Eden and Shining Inheritance.