Dear kfangurl: Can you talk about slice-of-life dramas and why we like them?

Yin writes:

First of all, I am an avid fan of your blog and am so grateful for your detailed, thoughtful reviews of various Korean dramas. You probably don’t remember me, but I loved The Third Charm and posted once on your blog using the handle “erstwing” about how much your review of the show resonated with me.

I have a question about genre that I was wondering if you might address/discuss on your blog one day. What do you make of the label “slice-of-life?” What are some “slice-of-life” Korean dramas and what makes them so? Based on the shows you have reviewed, I feel like you enjoyed this category of dramas, and thought you might have some wisdom to share. If you do enjoy “slice-of-life” dramas, what are some reasons? The label is used a lot in Kdrama discourse, but unlike other more established genres like the melodrama and the rom com, “slice-of-life” seems to be much hazier as a concept. I even did some research into American analogues and/or antecedents, but haven’t been able to find anything meaningful. Full disclosure: I am a college professor and my current research project investigates the slice-of-life genre in Korean dramas. I’m teaching in the US but I am actually from Singapore, so your blog is literally close to home for me. 🙂

Thanks again for all your insights and for the time you’ve generously given to cultivating this Kdrama fan community. 🙂

Who’s with me in enjoying a bit of slice-of-life? 🙋🏻‍♀️

Dear Yin,

How fun, that my blog brings you a touch of home, while you are in the US! And how cool, that your research project is about the slice-of-life genre in Korean dramas! 😃

I definitely have a soft spot for slice-of-life dramas, even though, as you rightly point out, its definition does lean hazy. I’ll do what I can to share my thoughts on the genre, and I hope that any discussion that this post generates, will help as well!

Everyone, as usual, please feel free to share your thoughts, insights and personal experiences in the comments! It’s always so enriching, to have you guys pool your thoughts, and build insights upon insights! This mutual enrichment is one of my favorite things, about running this blog. 🥰

WHAT DOES SLICE-OF-LIFE MEAN?

Do we.. know the answer to this? 😅

According to the Cambridge dictionary, a film, piece of literature, or a play might be described as a slice of life if it describes or shows the ordinary details of real life.

Of late, I find that many kdramas are high-concept sorts of things, with time travel and parallel universes being a recent trend. Other trends that we’ve seen in Dramaland include multiple personalities, body swapping, second chance do-overs, infidelity, serial murders and more. While there’s nothing wrong with the high-concept drama, I personally find after a while, I tend to tire of a drama trend. Like, how many dramas about parallel universes can you really enjoy, back to back, before you start to want something different, right?

The beauty of a slice-of-life drama, is that it doesn’t just showcase the ordinary details of real life; it brings out the drama inherent in the ordinary details of real life. A good slice-of-life drama doesn’t need to manufacture angst for its characters by introducing something alien into their world; a good slice-of-life drama finds the angst, the resolution, the growth, and the power in all of that, within the ordinary moments of daily life. And there is so much beauty in that.

I love that a good slice-of-life drama knows how to tease out characters’ personalities, motivations, thoughts and emotions, through the small, common moments of everyday life. In high-concept stories, these smaller moments might get overshadowed, or go unnoticed altogether, but in a slice-of-life story, these smaller moments are the ones that get to shine. The smaller moments often add up to tell one larger story, about our characters, and I really like that.

Having said that, this doesn’t mean that slice-of-life stories are devoid of higher concepts. There are many dramas that take a higher concept – like a baseball player who gets convicted of assault and is sentenced to prison, for example – and give it a slice-of-life treatment.

To me, what’s important isn’t whether our stories have higher concepts; what’s important is how well-developed our characters’ emotional journeys are, and how well these are teased out, in the story worlds in which they exist.

WHY DO WE LIKE SLICE-OF-LIFE STORIES?

Hrm.. Let’s see.. 🧐

I feel like there are 3 main reasons we might gravitate towards slice-of-life stories.

1. They are easy to identify with, especially if you’ve had similar experiences.

With high concept dramas, it’s often difficult to identify with our characters, because we haven’t had similar experiences, such as encountering an alien as your next-door neighbor, or meeting a universe-hopping king, heh. Not to say that those dramas don’t do a good job of teasing out the characters’ emotional journeys, just to be clear. Any time a drama does a good job of teasing out its characters’ emotional journeys, it makes it easier for us to identify with the characters, even though we might not have had similar experiences.

That being said, slice-of-life dramas are just easier to identify with, simply on the basis that they deal with everyday, ordinary life. Because that’s the kind of thing we live ourselves, every day.

2. They give insight into why people behave the way they do.

One of my favorite things about the slice-of-life drama, is that it tends to explore why our characters behave the way they do, or feel the way they do, or make the decisions that they make.

I find this an excellent way of gaining insight into why we ourselves feel the way we do, as well as why the people around us behave the way they do. The transferability of the insights gained is high, and I find that really helpful.

3. They work as vicarious experiences.

Sometimes, we haven’t yet experienced what our characters are experiencing in the ordinary world on our screens, and yet, watching the show can feel like a very enriching experience. I feel like often, these character stories work as vicarious experiences for us as an audience, and can therefore prepare us ahead of time, for when we might go through something similar ourselves, later in life.

On a slightly different but still related tangent, these vicarious experiences also mean that we get to see things from other people’s perspectives, which might change the way we see the world around us. For example, if you aren’t a mother, but the story is from a mother’s point-of-view, that vicarious experience of putting yourself in a mother’s shoes, might actually help you empathize with the mothers around you – and maybe even revolutionize your relationship with your own mother. That potentially transformative power is pretty amazing, I’d say.

WHAT ARE SOME SLICE-OF-LIFE DRAMAS?

This list isn’t exhaustive, certainly, because there are so many dramas out there that I haven’t watched. But here are 15 dramas (16, if you count The Third Charm, which you’ve already mentioned) in alphabetical order – all Korean, since you’ve specified that that’s your focus – which I think fall into the slice-of-life category.

20th Century Boy and Girl

A breezy, cozy, angst-lite story that explores the friendships among 4 friends, with a charming friends-to-lovers OTP to sweeten the deal. Sometimes Show stretches logic in telling its story, but remarkably, manages to retain its strong slice-of-life feel, in spite of it.

Flash Review is here.

A Jaunt [Drama Special]

A poignant, touching story of friendship, that also gives us glimpses into what it’s like to grow old and feel invisible to the world at large, including one’s family.

Flash Review is here.

At Eighteen

A coming-of-age story that feels low-key and restrained, but that is so good, at bringing out the angst and the euphoria of being a teenager. Everything feels real, raw and organically grown, from characters to relationships, and it all comes together beautifully.

Review is here.

Add on: Do You Like Brahms?

I can’t believe I forgot to include Do You Like Brahms?. 😅

Understated and restrained, lots of folks didn’t take to this one because they found it slow and boring, but I loved it. I think Show does a wonderful job teasing out the personalities and thought processes of our introverted leads, and exploring the intricacies of their burgeoning connection. Quiet yet uplifting.

Review is here.

Father is Strange

Not all family dramas are slice-of-life, but when family dramas do slice-of-life, they do them really well. There’s a lot of warm, hearty family warmth in this one, even as Show follows the joys, follies and foibles of each family member’s journey.

Flash Review is here.

Hospital Playlist

Such a well-balanced, relatable and very human story, where we get to feel like flies on the walls of these 5 wonderfully lovable characters, as they go through life together while saving lives on the job.

Review is here.

Life is Beautiful

Wonderfully harmonious and comforting, this is my favorite family drama of all time. The narrative beats feel quite small, but they never feel insignificant, which is exactly what great slice-of-life dramas do. As a plus, it’s set on beautiful Jeju Island. Gorgeous.

Review is here.

Midnight Diner

A warm, small story world which revolves around a midnight diner where regulars gather, and where they heal by sharing their lives, and sharing the good food that Master, the owner of the diner, serves up.

Flash Review is here.

Misaeng

Understated and realistic, the experience of watching this show literally feels like we’re following our characters to work, every day; the epitome of a slice-of-life drama. We get to not only follow our protagonist’s journey of self-discovery, but we also get to experience the daily struggles and joys of our other characters. Very well done.

Review is here.

My Mister

An absorbing watch that feels real, raw, and true in its exploration of our key characters’ journeys. Our protagonist Dong Hoon is one of my favorite drama characters, ever. He’s so human in his frailty and his pain, and yet still so compassionate and tenderhearted. I love this drama for showing us that even an everyman can be a hero.

Review is here.

More Than Friends

Muted, understated and quite the slow burn, this show isn’t for everyone. I didn’t love this one as much as I wanted to, but am including this here because I do know of folks who love this. To Show’s credit, it manages to do a good job of exploring people and relationships, and at its best, I found it to be thought-provoking and introspective.

Review is here.

Prison Playbook

Warm, hopeful and with a palpable sense of community, Show manages to keep a good handle on our primary characters’ journeys, while taking the time to shine the spotlight on secondary characters. As a result, it feels like we get glimpses into everyone’s lives, and it’s poignant, homey and altogether wholesome.

Review is here.

Reply 1988

Earthy, winsome and so pure and wholesome, that I could not serve my heart up to Show fast enough. Characters are lovingly drawn, while relationships are painstakingly teased out through the down-to-earth minutiae of everyday life in the 80’s, both in our younger and older generations of characters. There’s such a wonderful sense of community in our drama world, that I felt it a privilege to be a fly on these characters’ walls.

Review is here.

Reply 1994

Rather meandering and indulgent in vibe, but Show nails the slice-of-life feel so well, that the meandering rhythm feels like a deliberate choice, rather than a misstep. We get to watch our endearing characters experience the giddy, the mundane and the mortifying beats of life, and it’s all very charming, in spite of Show’s flaws.

Review is here.

Reply 1997

A little rough around the edges, but Show pulses with sincerity and heart, as it takes us on the various journeys of our cast of characters. Friendship and family are two of Show’s big cornerstones, with romance taking a good amount of the spotlight, just for how much it affects our characters. A lot of universal appeal in here, even if your growing up years aren’t mirrored in this drama world.

Review is here.

She Would Never Know

I feel like Show is often passed over because of how low-key and understated it is, but I love it. Show is pretty exceptional at how it’s able to tease out our characters’ thoughts, feelings and motivations, and I love that I always feel like I can understand our characters and why they behave the way they do. Sweet, thoughtful and feels so organic – plus Show is consistent too.

Review is here.

The Third Charm

Such a thoughtful and sensitive portrayal of personal journey. If you’ve ever loved and lost, and yet could still say that it was worth the cost, this drama would resonate with you. (I know that’s a little spoilery, but believe me, knowing this going in, is better than trusting in Show’s teasers and trailers, which lean (falsely) rom-com. 😅)

Review is here.

IN CLOSING

I hope you find this post at least a little bit useful, and that it helps you with some ideas for your research project!

Like I mentioned earlier, everyone, please feel free to add your own thoughts, insights and stories in the comments below. And, if you have some great slice-of-life dramas to recommend, please suggest them as well; we are all ears! As they say, sharing is caring. 🥰

Love! ❤️

~kfangurl

I hope that helps! ❤️

POST-SCRIPT:

1. If you feel that I missed anything, or if you have your own insights that you’d like to share with the rest of us, do tell us about it in the comments!

2. Do you have a question of your own? Drop me a comment here or on the Dear kfangurl page, or send me an email!

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rach
rach
1 month ago

run on is such an amazing slice of life kdrama I think you missed that

Timescout
3 months ago

Greast post! Slice of life is one of my fave genres/styles so it was nice to see a shout-out to it here. Like Junny ahead of me said, Japan has turned slice of life to an art form. On the whole their dramas tend to be more down to earth as it is. There are loads of great ones out there, if you can find them. Availability is unfortunately an issue with jdramas, unless you are willing to go for the dark side.

As for kdramas, my fave is probably Yoo Na’s Street. It’s a rare kdrama that doesn’t have any chaebols or geniuses, just ‘ordinary’ people from the bit shadier side of the street (the core cast has e.g a petty criminal, ex gangster, an unemployed mature student, a bumbling slacker, a bar proprietress, a dancehall owner). It’s also a nice found family story with this certain kind of warmth to it. Loved it! Then there is I Live in Cheongdam-dong which I might call a slice of life sitcom, ha. It’s one of the funniest kdramas I’ve ever watched and good way to boost up one’s spirits. One of those ‘happy pils’. It’s a pity the full show was never subbed but Viki has the ‘abridged’ version (19 epis). I’d also put The Light in Your Eyes / Dazzling in this genre, though it has other things mixed in as well.

BE
BE
2 months ago
Reply to  Timescout

Thanks for the show tips.

Carulhein
Carulhein
3 months ago

Hi Kfangurl, once again, thank you for a great post. I love slice of life dramas. Its maybe not action packed, but that’s what I prefer. Life, love and some personal growth. There’s nothing I hate more than unnecessary destruction whilst trying to create some action.😁 I did not love The third charm though, because I think I can only stand so much angst 😬but I did love many of the other dramas you’ve recommended. I’m watching Navillera at the moment and it’s wonderful. I’ve been holding off on Life is Beautiful, just because it has so many episodes, but I’m going to watch it next because I know you love it. I’ve watched Father is Strange twice😁, so think I’ll invest my time in it rather than watching something else again, because I’ve just been a little picky lately. I value your opinion, so I trust you 😁Thanx for recommendations. 💜💜💜

BE
BE
3 months ago

A beautiful K slice of life film would be Christmas in August with a young Han Seok Kyu as the lead, understated, poetic, and poignant. Another–Little Forest with Kim Tae Ri, which I cannot recommend more highly–a delicious, refreshing as a simple napa cabbage and mayo sandwich on a hot summer afternoon or for those who like dessert, as wonderous as a creme brulee for a little kid made right before her eyes by mom slice of life. I would very much like to see Keys to the Heart with Lee Byung Hun and Yoon Yuh Jung (see KFG’s review) but it is not available on any streaming service in the US, not even as a pay for.

Trent
3 months ago

For me personally, I wouldn’t have thought that “slice-of-life” is a style I would be that interested in, but then… I just wanted to note for the record that the the 3 Reply series (88, 94, 97) as well as Prison Playbook and Hospital Playlist, are all by the same creative team: director (Shin Won-ho) and writer (Lee Woo-jung)(PP credits Jung Bo-hoon as writer, but credits Lee Woo-jung as “creator,” and says Jung was a “junior writer” on the other shows).

And I think it shows, as they have such an assured, confident grasp on dialogue and plotting and character. As I said elsewhere once, this is a team that is working right in my wheelhouse, creatively speaking. When I started Prison Playbook, I almost immediately felt warm and cozy, in spite of the potentially heavy subject matter. These folks know how to make the most quotidian of narratives compelling.

j3ffc
3 months ago

Wonderful question, Yin, and, as always, insightful comments from kfangull and the other regulars here.

Slice-of-life is probably my favorite single genre, along with romantic comedy – and they often overlap. My pleasure in k-drama SoFs goes back to my earliest watches, when a big part of the allure was what I’ll call the travel-replacement: simply getting to see another culture, how people live, what they do, what everything looks like. Two of my earliest drama faves had strong SoF elements: the Age of Youth series (both of which I liked more than kfangurl) and the Let’s Eat series, and I think the sense that I was visiting another country was a big part of why they took such a hold of me.

Yin: I would suggest that American film has many, many examples, although often hidden in trappings of other genres. Many situation comedies fit into this mold: think Cheers, Friends, Big Bang Theory, or for an extreme example, the sardonic-to-a-fault Seinfeld, which had the express mission of being a “show about nothing”. An example that jumps to mind is the film “Waitress”, which is about a short span in a specific person’s life. I’ll think of more suggestions for tomorrow.

Antonio
3 months ago
Reply to  j3ffc

What a beautiful movie Waitress!. Back when in the US there were still good films and not pieces of propaganda filled with identity politics. I recommend The Peanut Butter Falcon if you haven’t seen it already. It’s one of the few good things that came out of the US recently.

To stay on the topic, if you haven’t seen it, retrieve The Office Usa which was a real gem.

BE
BE
3 months ago
Reply to  Antonio

I would like to point out that Waitress, which I loved, is very much a working class feminist movie; ie it does have a group identity political pov. But then these days American films are so much of the Godzilla vs King Kong identity group kind of film. The Godzilla Liberation Front foiled once again.

Antonio
3 months ago
Reply to  BE

In my memory, it is just a beautiful and funny humanist comedy with no political messages. The films and series produced today in the USA are unfortunately nihilistic political propaganda and not interested in telling a story. This is why many conservative people like me have started to watch kdrama.

BE
BE
3 months ago
Reply to  Antonio

No, it was about a woman stuck in a loveless marriage with a possessive and brutal husband, a very typical working class, white feminist complaint of the era in which it was produced, and pursued in an extremely unprofessional, not to mention adulterous, manner by her obstetrician, well ahead of the me too era of feminist politics we are in currently. She was simply a woman who wanted to have a pie business of her own, and in the end decides to eschew conventional and conservative ideas about what one ought to be as a woman in her semi rural, very conservative community and to be instead a single mom running her own pie shop business. It was a heroic choice to be her own person rather than an adjunct to either a working class or professional man, as such, happy to be a housewife and a mother alone. Personally, as a father of daughters, all of us also living in semi rural small town America, I was very happy to have seen it with my own daughters who were just becoming adults at the time.

It is easy to view K shows as non political because its emphasis on class, which is a theme of just about every K drama I have seen, or patriarchal social structures–the year after Secret Love Affair, South Korea ended a law which made it a prison sentence for adulterous behavior among women, and their upshots, ie its politics. are different than our own. K historical drama is far more pervasively concerned with class exploitation, oppression, caste, and slavery than our historical tv series tend to be. And far more blunt, not to mention matter of fact, about it.
Part of slice of life means that people grouse about their situations, including politics, politics in the workplace, the bedroom, housing, law enforcement, and so on. Can you imagine being in a work environment like that existing in My MIster in the US, folks doing engineering under constant tv surveillance, or men with college degrees and professional careers put out to pasture by the time they are fifty?
Being conservative does not mean that there is no conservative identity pov, it is just that having a conservative pov means someone who has that pov might not notice that he or she has one too. What we call identity politics is only identity politics because it is about someone else’s identity.
Steve McQueen’s Axe series on Prime is about the everyday lives of West Indian immigrants in Britain, and insofar as politics exists among people in that community it is fodder for drama. Just because folks come from a different community than your own does not mean that by focusing on the concerns of their community they are any more or less identity oriented than you are. Hidden Figures is a thrilling story about previously unheralded heroes of American space exploration, living their own realistic domestic lives, but working against extreme prejudice in their professional lives and nonetheless accomplishing astonishing feats.
Tolstoy. the Russian, wrote about Russian politics, but I am not offended, as an American, when he does so. Indeed, I find it comforting to realize in early nineteenth century Moscow, politics with its liberals and conservatives bickering with one another, its class injustices, its pompous and ineffectual, self absorbed politicians of every stripe, its connivers, its crises, even mortal crises, its heroes, its people who start off as passionately of one pov changing over the course of life to another, have always been with us. The main character in War and Peace, the wealthiest man in all of Russia, who as a youth lionized the modernization of Europe heralded by Napoleon, leaves his home with the idea of assassinating Napoleon after his invasion of Moscow, gets sidetracked saving a baby from a burning building, and as a result captured by French troops, and upon a forced march as their prisoner side by side with peasants, discovers from one the meaning of what it is to live a spiritual life.
Anyone living in the US no matter what their politics has to be aware of how extremely politicized everyone is in our country right now. Recently George W. Bush complained about how much blowback he has received because he has befriended Michelle Obama. And vice versa, both Bush and Obama were viewed by folks of the opposite political persuasions with extreme askance, and yet there it is…they like one another.
Liberals love Clint Eastwood movies. Like I averred, the real problem in American filmmaking is not that is taps the grievances of its many varied peoples, but that it is so overwhelmingly stuck in action comic book land for which slice of life is a wonderful antidote.
I certainly understand wanting a break from politics, no matter what one’s perspective might be, and look to entertainment as an escape from an already overly politicized world. As someone not conservative, I personally am quite happy that I do not have to wake up every morning to be bombarded with superstitious, unfounded, narcissistic paranoid ravings on twitter these days. And I would rather concern myself with the politics of faraway in time and place Joseon Empire than worrying about how a Congressperson of any political stripe is currently making a life and death mountain out of a molehill problem that any family would, despite individual differences, work together to solve. And personally, I think slice of life dramas, such as Waitress, do the best job of humanizing each other to each other rather than mere polemics. You and I both are rooting for her.
When I was on the road as an old man after retiring before settling where I am now near family, I met all sorts of other elder people in our national parks, retirees traveling like me. What was apparent to me was despite different lives from different communities and different political pov’s, the one thing we had in common was that we had lived long lives, experienced some things. Were interesting to one another because we could relate that to one another in a way that made sense. That is what art, imo, is supposed to do, along with entertain.

Antonio
3 months ago
Reply to  BE

you seem like a person open to dialogue, so to make you understand what I mean when I contest identity politics, I refer you to videos on YT or books by jordan peterson or gad saad.

Waitress, I remember it as a lovable film, not as fiercely misandric as everything that comes out of the US today.

Another good film that unwittingly
glorifies conservative rural culture is Lars and The Real Girl and also for this we have to go back almost 15 years.

For a few months, I have fallen in love with kdrama because the characters are rich in nuances, the male figures are treated with due respect, women can be strong even if they do not kill (or crush bones) hundreds of men within 5 minutes.

really, sometimes when I watch kdrama i say to myself “unbelievable … such a thing they would never do today in the USA”. And the same goes for absolute masterpieces like Misaeng or My Mister but also for light things like Strong Woman Do Bong Soon or Secretary Kim. None of this splendor is possible in the US today due to cultural Marxism. And thank God we have Korea!

BE
BE
3 months ago
Reply to  Antonio

Have you ever noticed that Jordan Peterson has an audience always made up of a single demographic? Now there is some heavy handed identity politics and post Iron Man popcultural psychobabble. God knows how misandryst Peterson would find Waitress. Maybe you have forgotten what an unredeemable and somewhat stereotypical jerk her husband was. Better to check out Victor Frankl, In Search of Meaning.

And The Wire, which I am sure you would consider cultural Marxism, (yuk–have you read Karl Marx? Ah, social Darwinism and Adam Smith, yuk), remains the greatest single novelistic series ever shown on television. I love My Mister, way up there. Misaeng, not so very much.

Check out the Queen’s Gambit on Netflix; it is pretty free from anything political. Just great acting. I thought Unorthodox about a refugee from a conservative Hasidic New York community also quite good. But it is about folks who have an identity. And a rebellion against that identity as well.

Antonio
3 months ago
Reply to  BE

Queen’s Gambit is exactly an example of identity politics. As in every US series in recent years we have a woman doing things a woman in the real world could never do, all seasoned with hatred of the straight white male and celebration of immoral lifestyles.

On Jordan Peterson, I don’t see what’s wrong if a lot of men appreciate him. And by the way, Frankl’s book is also one of his favorites.

A splendid series you find on Netflix is ​​Shtisel. Sweetness, morality, humanity to the highest degree. Zero depravity and nihilism here.

BE
BE
3 months ago
Reply to  Antonio

The novel, The Queen’s Gambit, to which the series is largely faithful, was written in 1983, by Walter Tevis, who also authored the novel, The Hustler and its sequel, The Color of Money, both made into films starring Paul Newman. The idea that a woman could not be an international chess champion is like saying Marie Curie could not have discovered radium. Don’t get yourself in too much hot water in your sweeping generalization land.

Maybe you should watch Queen Seon Deok, to check out a legendary 7th C woman who established an astronomical observatory to help the farmers of what was then Silla be able to plan their planting and harvesting more accurately. The Chinese T’ang Dynasty Emperor would not recognize her because she was a woman, and after all no woman could lead a nation, let alone be a chess champion, my goodness, but it was Queen Seondeok who began the unification of the three nations of what was then Korea that became the Goryeo Empire.

Just because Peterson represents a kind of identity politics to which you subscribe does not mean that other folks do not recognize it as such. Did I make a value judgment or point out that complaining about identity politics when you yourself partake of them might seem ironic to me.

Gloglo
Gloglo
3 months ago
Reply to  Antonio

@BE – great post.

@Antonio – could it be that these new stories that you view as identity politics propaganda are actually the tales of people whose voices haven’t been heard until now? Think about it: The stories we predominantly hear are those of the most powerful or more influential. I think it is now time for other voices to be heard. I’m sure you would agree with me on that score.

I enjoy the trope-heavy feel of Kdramas but I don’t let this traditional structure fool me. The voices of minorities can still be articulated through the tropes and I absolutely love it when it happens.

I’m actually one of those people who can easily tolerate what nowadays are considered very “problematic” characters or storylines, as for me fiction has its own rules, which don’t always or necessarily align with what’s considered “acceptable” in real life. I mean, in a fabricated universe the writer sets the rules of conduct, right? Think of the kdrama Vincenzo: in this universe a mafia killer is idealised and practically turned into a superhero… How is that different from having a domineering, stalkerish and obsessive Joon Pyo becoming the hero and preferred romantic interest in Boys over Flowers? Storytelling conventions and in-universe logic needs to be taken into account before jumping the gun and accusing dramas and writers of perpetuating toxic or unhealthily patriarchal behaviours… HOWEVER, I do welcome and enjoy progressive ideas filtering into kdrama: in Itaewon Class I loved seeing hierarchies challenged and minorities recognised. In Start-up I liked seeing a less powerful less aggressive more compassionate ML getting the girl. In Another Miss Oh I enjoyed profoundly the complex, not always likeable heroine and how artfully the drama exposed toxic male behaviour. I haven’t seen many slice of life dramas but they seem to me a great conduit to have minority voices heard in the kdramaverse. I welcome all of it.

As for Jordan Peterson, don’t get me started… I can’t stand the man.

Antonio
2 months ago
Reply to  Gloglo

@Antonio – could it be that these new stories that you view as identity politics propaganda are actually the tales of people whose voices haven’t been heard until now? Think about it: The stories we predominantly hear are those of the most powerful or more influential. I think it is now time for other voices to be heard. I’m sure you would agree with me on that score.

The funny thing is that you are sure that I agree with you precisely because, like any postmodernist, you do not conceive that anyone would disagree with you. You slavishly expound the dominant orthodoxy in the US. But this ordodoxy is founded on a nihilistic and immoral conception of life.

Rather than just reading the mainstream media, I would advise you to also read other points of view that you probably catalog today as “fascists”.

I am sure that with a little good will many kdrama lovers could recognize why these shows are so interesting: because they tell STORIES! Jordan Peterson would speak of archetypes.

I repeat, if today you are looking for a sense of morality and humanism, if today you shy away from the nihilistic vision that postmodern thought inevitably brings with it, you will love most of Korean production. And it is no coincidence that Jordan Peterson has sold so many books in Korea. His videos in Korean are viewed by millions of people.

Today 95% of Korean TV shows would be rewritten and censored in every aspect if they were to have a US remake. And this is the fault of a culture that is losing its mind.

Gloglo
Gloglo
2 months ago
Reply to  Antonio

I’m actually quite familiar with the old intellectual dark web group: Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, David Rueben, Dinesh d’Souza and Sam Harris. I’ve heard their points of view frequently and them debating each other quite often. I have also discussed their views with friends who find their ideas sympathetic. I personally have always found them vague, out of touch and unconvincing, never mind my political views, which are pretty different from theirs.

As for Korean liking J Peterson, I don’t know… their society is changing and opening up to various Western POVs more and more. I’m sure that the voices of other more compassionate better informed intellectuals and activists from the West are filtering though their media and having a positive influence in terms of acknowledging the voices of minorities. There is hope.

BE
BE
2 months ago
Reply to  Antonio

Oh no, post modernism! Cultural Marxism! Identity politics. Buzz! Buzz! A thought… read Mencius. Half baked intellectualism is half baked.
Your universal archetype might be no more an archetype than the kind of fooforaw of Wagner’s operas were to the most heinous anti human government in the 20th C.
Or as, the poet, Osip Mandelstam, who died on a Siberian march for writing a poem in which Josef Stalin was roundly caricatured, Mandelstam, the post Modernist, “has a homesickness for world culture.”
K Drama in almost every non comedy makes a complaint about economic inequality and its upshot. True in Misaeng, true in My Mister. It’s genre pieces critique corrruption in every professional field and the profit oriented connection with organized crime and government in capitalist society. Its humanism rarely if ever extends to the wealthy, and in its historical dramas whole plots of its greatest examples are scathing criticisms of slavery, caste, and treatment of the peasantry. In Misaeng, the issue of professional sexual harassment is in your face.
Shows are presented with an extreme reliance on flash back, rather than in linear order, sometimes breaking through the third wall, and with both irony and self referential commentary. The music used in its OTP’s range from the post modern reality of all musical traditions all over the world being available and popular on the most post modern venue I can think of, a regular Jacques Derrida compendium of texts, not to mention Jordan Peterson popularizer–you tube. Post modernism.
Read recent novels Louise Erdich’s The Night Watchman or James McBride’s Deacon King Kong, both novels reflecting the lives of folks from their authors’ community and experience, both critiques of the majority cultures as a result of that experience, both luminous and humanistic in a way that pre post modernist writers might have failed, as likely from ignorance as bias, dealing in humanistic and exceedingly non nihilistic fashion.
People who teach you that folks speaking out of their own experiences, even where that exposes long held political oppression, who use facile, half baked understanding of these concepts are the real nihilists telling you–“don’t bother with such folks, they have no values; we alone are the ones with values.” Nihilism is about denial. Above all denial of our interdependence. Nihilism says a woman could never be an international chess champion or do the kind of math that allowed John Glenn to travel in space.

BE
BE
2 months ago
Reply to  Gloglo

@gloglo: of course in Vincenzo, there is also the subtext that by contrast with cheobol corruption abetted by several government departments, folks involved in same are far more corrupt, dishonorable, and deadly, going so far even as to kill their rivals’ parents without so much as batting an eye, especially contextualized by its presentation of Korean life from an absurd lens (not unlike the movie Parasite on this account), than even the mafia, which appears via Vincenzo to at least be bound by an old testament code of behavior.
Insofar as Run On was concerned, I thought so much more of Be Melodramatic and the male lead in it, who was not as classically good looking, ridiculously rich by inheritance, static. famous, or prudish, and yet was a very good guy, both devoted to his craft, a self made success, and the success of his lover, very much someone capable of growth.

beez
3 months ago
Reply to  BE

@BE – EXCELLENT POST, BE. My emogees are not sufficient!

beez
3 months ago
Reply to  Antonio

@Antonio – enjoy it while it lasts. Unfortunately, the Kdrama landscape is changing. I realize for some people that will be a welcome change, but I was originally drawn to some of the old-fashioned ideas.

BE
BE
2 months ago
Reply to  beez

@beez: first two shows I loved: Mr. Sunshine, in which a former slave and the son of butchers, ie an untouchable in Korean society, return to Korea bent on bloody revenge, and the former slave enters into a passionate love affair with a yangban woman for whom the son of butchers also unrequitedly pines, and she, against all the Confucian imperatives her family stands for back several generations, is not only educated in the 4 Classics, something forbidden to women, but studies English, and from late adolescence secretly works as a guerilla sniper under the supervision of peasant rebels.
And Secret Love Affair, in which a woman twenty years older has an adulterous affair with an nineteen year old, her student, nonetheless, under the premise that life must be lived passionately, rather than settling.
Nothing like those old fashioned values!

beez
2 months ago
Reply to  BE

@Antonio – you picked two exceptions. But anyway, I meant more by way of what is explicitly shown and said. I know it’s not popular to want censorship but after the bombardment of vulgarities on American tv, I found out through Korean dramas that I much prefer innuendo and sexually tension brought about by restraint.

beez
2 months ago
Reply to  beez

Oops! That should’ve been directed to @BE

BE
BE
2 months ago
Reply to  beez

@beez: Sometimes the innuendo works and sometimes it does not. I thought the restraint in Mr. Sunshine worked, but only because the otp were each such heroic and romantic individuals, and the lack thereof, albeit it was tastefully done, worked as well in Secret Love Affair. On reflection too, I do like SPOILER ALERT that before Hye Won went to prison, and she tells Sun Jae that she will remember when she is locked up the tea they shared in her visits to his place, he replied, “The tea, my ass,” as he wraps her in a passionate embrace. END SPOILER.
The problem in American drama is when sex is used as shorthand for an emotional connection without taking into account all the psychological nuances of connecting and staying connected. The problem in Korean drama is when the otp have less physical passion, let alone simple affection, than twelve year olds, and are really more friends than lovers.
And in some Korean drama that is often shy about depicting passion among lovers, there is an implication that sex is only some sort of dirty pleasure men get from women, a wickedness to be laughed about among men with dirty minds.
And what is more disturbing to me is that some dramas in which the main characters act demure even though they are lovers, have action scenes are filled with unending gore and mayhem.
But as far as old fashioned values, I think the kdrama scene is like other artistic scenes in democratic and underground in nondemocratic countries all over the world, concerned with addressing the limitations of traditional culture with the anodyne of more liberal and open ways of thinking, relating, and being, even if its strongly traditional culture tends to be sympathetic towards the virtues of its past. And to my way of thinking happily, K drama whether explicitly or implicitly seems consistent with regard to a critique of a male dominated society.

beez
2 months ago
Reply to  BE

@BE – It works for me. And as we all know, a little adds to more just as we see Kdrama is slowly becoming more and more explicit.

BE
BE
2 months ago
Reply to  BE

@beez: I do not necessarily see greater explicitness in Kdrama productions. I think, and this is a somewhat legitimate perspective that Antonio might be alluding to, in television drama, the K drama worlds are less cynical (not so true in film) than American or European drama, or where it is cynical that cynicism is leavened with humor. And one of the most appealing elements of K drama is that people in relationships in which they love another, often feel more for that other’s difficulties than they do for their own. There is something quite humanistic in that impulse.
But I find a more disturbing trend to be the increasing need for tying up loose ends at the close of a drama, rather than, what makes some dramas great, the ability to follow dramatic stories out to logical if not always happy conclusions. The World of the Married, which was probably the most explicit K drama show i have seen did not fall down because of its explicit nature, but because instead of allowing characters, especially main character, to fall, it had to come up with a conclusion that short circuited everything that went before it. In Kim Hee Ae’s previous tour de force performance, Secret Love Affair, show writer had the grace to provide a bitter sweet, but logical conclusion, giving weight to everything that went before.

Gloglo
Gloglo
2 months ago
Reply to  BE

@BE – I do agree with you: many Kdramas are indeed critical of Korean society, even in romantic comedies and teenagery melodramas, which one could easily and mistakenly think are only preoccupied with frivolous matters… When watching Secret Garden (one of the 1st dramas I ever saw) I was quite surprised to encounter pretty hefty social commentary on class and on the objectionable and poisonous mindset of the rich. I also noticed this in Heirs, another of Kim Eun Suk’s dramas, as well as in many other light-hearted shows of this type by various Korean authors. There are indeed more serious dramas that deal with these issues with the refinement of the film Parasite.

However, there are several patriarchal views that Kdramas haven’t been able to shake of yet: Yes, there are shows which display a feminist slant, but I feel it is too much of the girl boss kind… There isn’t enough intersection. These brings me to other blind spots in kdramas like ie. body image: For some reason Koreans’ version of “fat” in all the shows I’ve watched is simply laughable… Weight issues are frequently not dealt right properly and casual fat phobia is rampant. I feel similarly about the way nationalities and cultures other than Korean are dealt with for comedic purpose… Far too many xenophobic caricatures and insensitive treatment of certain foreigners and certain races. And, of course, you have one of the biggest blind spots: LGBTQ issues. Homophobic remarks are far too prevalent (in spite of Coffee Prince). Itaewon Class stands proud as the one drama that addressed many of these issues ever so elegantly. I feel things are changing for the better though.

@beez – As for all the prudishness and lack of sex scenes, I really hope that changes a little bit too. Kdramas are masterful at developing romance and I do agree so very often less is more, but couldn’t there be a bit more of a physical pay off in crucial moments? a few more risqué kisses and passionate skinship when the time is right? Sex scenes that are relevant and well earned are incredibly satisfying in romance. I hope Kdrama moves a little bit more in that direction. But I do agree with BE about shows in the West equating sexual intimacy with emotion. That kind of shorthand is annoying and very male gazey. Out with it!

beez
2 months ago
Reply to  Gloglo

@Gloglo – As to the “prudishness and lack of sex” I’m happy with it just as it is. When I first started watching Kdrama, I felt the same way you do. I had just come off watching Spartacus (2010 version) and it was just one “X” shy of porn. While I did feel Spartacus was overly gratuitous in everything, at the same time I don’t think the show could’ve been done differently given the historic culture of ancient Rome. The “almost porn” is “almost art” 😆 in the context, especially considering the stellar writing.

So I really felt Kdramas were lacking in the passion department until I began to understand Korean/Kdrama culture. While real life Koreans aren’t as stifled, they don’t believe much in public displays of affection and even touching among costars during press conferences is a relatively new thing that the actress may grap the ML’s crook of the elbow. Prior to the last couple of years, the co-stars, especially male, use what’s called “manner hands”, where he places his arm around the shoulders of the actress but his fingers are splayed in the air and his hands never actually touches her shoulder. (If you Google “Korean manner hands”, I’m sure examples will show up.

I’ve since been able to understand that sex in Kdrama is like sex on tv prior to 1970. There are things that imply sex was had or is going on. 😆 That’s why I know without a doubt in Money Flower that Pil joo and Mal Doran have a sexual relationship. (That’s a discussion going on in another thread.)

Certain levels of touching in Kdrama imply a sexual relationship because even in real life, a male and female that are childhood friends do not hug each other even if they haven’t seen each other in a long while. It’s just not done.

The simple act of a guy and girl holding hands and their friends all begin to whoop and tease because they know this means they’re an official couple now. YouTube is full of videos from Koreans (and some ex pat Americans discussing how dating works in S.K. It’s verrrry different from the west. Not saying that it doesn’t eventually become “normal” intimate but it certainly starts out differently).

I recall watching a Korean variety show and Peabo Bryson was a guest performer. He sung his famous duet of Beauty and the Beast with a famous Korean singer (I’ve forgotten her name). During a certain moment of the song he tried to sell it by reaching for her hand. I was instantly screaming at my tv “OH NO! PEABO NOOOOOO!” 😆 To her credit, she didn’t snatch her hand away but in a very short time she pulled it from his grasp and carried on but while he was holding her hand you could feel the instant change in the audience.

But anyway, I’ve learned to get a lot out of the little passion provided. Take Reply 1988, SLIGHT SPOILER, when two characters are trapped in a tight space, the sexual tension is palpable although they are not touching at all. And many other examples where the chemistry is hawt without a lot of physical touching.

I guess I’m just old enough to feel I’ve seen it all now so that waaaaay less is more. Especially when I think about the fact that the shows many times are respecting an actor/actress’ recent change in marital status so the kisses become even more chaste or sometimes there is no kissing at all throughout the entire series! (i.e. My Sweet Terrius. And yes I was disappointed despite my lofty ideals cause So Ji sub is one of my heartthrobs. 😉)

Once I looked at certain situations (and having experienced them myself) such as Hollywood spouses suddenly leaving their long-term spouses for a co-star (despite all the denials by the actors that “sex scenes aren’t sexy because of all the crew and director around 🙄) then you appreciate the concession to a higher level of morals. A married person should not have their tongue stuck down someone else’s throat for my entertainment. Of course, I know that’s my opinion and I get that others don’t feel the same way. I’m just saying for me, I personally respect that and actually appreciate it.

beez
2 months ago
Reply to  Gloglo

@Gloglo – As to the xenophobic and LGBTQ issues – yeah, while as an African-American, I might wish for things to be different, but I think South Korea is moving along at its own pace and I don’t feel too highly critical on the xenophobic issue because they are not exposed enough yet to “others” but I see them making efforts. It’s just not a big enough issue for them yet because of the lack of other races to come in contact with for issues to present itself in day-to-day life. (Yes, disputes and misunderstandings happen to ex pats but there just aren’t enough “non-Asian foreigners” for it to capture a lot of the nation’s attention. They’re just as likely to have a conflict with a Chinese or Japanese person as with a western person of color. I also noticed that Africans have fewer issues than western black people. I think we carry baggage from the west (not saying that S. Koreans aren’t prejudiced, because most of them are but not to the extent of violent (and “keep out” racism that we see in the U.S.) but I think before traveling to S.K. black people should be given a pamplet that explains you’ll be hearing “neeegga” a lot but it is NOT what you think it is. LOL but SMH real hard.

I have no excuse for them on the LGBTQ front though because homosexuals have always been with us and they just haven’t been ready to embrace that in their mass media yet. It’s only just reached a certain level of acceptance in western media and Korean media is about 30 years behind us (as per my previous response to you about the lack of sexual intimacy in Kdramas).

beez
2 months ago
Reply to  Gloglo

@Gloglo – Let me add, that while I love K-culture and feel that the Korean mindset is very much similar to that of African-Americans in many aspects which I think is the result of the shared experience of enslavement/oppression of their ancestors – despite my defense of their xenophobia, I have no desire to visit their country (yet) for that very reason. The same reason I rarely travel to the southern states in America.

BE
BE
2 months ago
Reply to  BE

@beez: generally, I think actors are incredibly brave; it would be hard to be put into such roles which require so much intimacy, and not just physical intimacy, but pychological and emotional intimacy, which to my way of experiencing things, can be every bit as much compelling, and manage to be able to avoid blurring the reality from the drama. And I am not against the concept or even examples in which the skinship element of erotic relationships are down played. I had, for example, no problems with how Mr. Sunshine dealt with its two main characters, who in twenty four episodes, never kissed, and yet were able to convey a very real romantic passion for one another, in which putting a shoe upon a foot contained such a romantic charge.
But I do have problems in dramas in which the actors explicitly state to one another that a kiss might put them in some sort of moral mortal danger, or in which lust is sneered upon with a kind of lurid and prurient guffaw, when even holding a hand is an act of emotional risk. And isn’t is time that the wrist grab is replaced by some more tender physical bit of affection?
Finally, among people in their thirties and forties, folks sometimes have sex for the sake of sex, without it necessarily implying anything more. I liked in My Unfamiliar Family, Han Ye Ri’s character follows up a sexual impulse even if it is a mistaken one. And in fact it ultimately leads her to find who it was she really was romantically attracted to. At the same time, I did not find her inability to kiss the fella till god knows when that great a dramatic element. Still as it played on her character’s insecurities, at least it could be realistically understood.
What makes for good slice of life drama, for me, anyway, is that it is believable without having to suspend my sense of disbelief. That has to be conveyed by the writing and the actors, no matter whether physical affection is dealt with directly or indirectly. One never sees Kim Hee Ae and Yoo Ah In, do anything more than embrace one another and on one occasion kiss, and the scene in which they first make love includes only different views of his unlit studio apartment and their whispering, and yet it at least acknowledges what is going on between them. The event upon which the whole drama turns, even if the first time they duet together on piano in the second episode is far more erotic than any other scene between them in the entire show.

beez
2 months ago
Reply to  BE

@BE – while I “liked” your comment and can’t say I disagree with anything you said; and, in fact, felt the same way when I first encountered Korean dramas, but now, I’m happy with the way they are. That said, I can see changes slowly progressing as all things do. I just can’t say that I’m thrilled about it. But that’s okay because at my age, I’ll probably be dead by the time the shows are as bad as western media. 😉

BE
BE
3 months ago
Reply to  j3ffc

@j3ffc: The American shows you mention tend to be more short stories and vignette pieces with an ongoing ensemble than over arching narrative I think of when I think of slice of life. It is true that the Reply series lifts the trope of an American series about teasing out a couple who met in the days of the series later becoming married, but as a rule the characters in these shows remain somewhat static rather than going through a individual growth arc, and tend more to fit in to sit com than slice of life mode imo.
Something like HBO’s Insecure might be a little closer as a comedy, and certainly Treme which focused on the lives of musicians and restauranteurs in New Orleans over a period of two or three years as a dramatic iteration might be closer to what South Korea has been able to do with this novelistic genre. Or Luck, which focused on the life of race track grifters and horse trainers and owners.

j3ffc
3 months ago
Reply to  BE

Ah, you are alluding to How I Met Your Mother…I liked both it and the only Reply series I’ve seen so far (‘88).

I think my view of what constitutes “slice of life” is a bit broader than yours, since I don’t think it and sit coms are mutually exclusive) but no worries there. Another US example I recall fondly is Northern Exposure, although mostly the first half of the series (another reason to prefer the relatively shorter durations of most k-dramas).

BE
BE
3 months ago
Reply to  j3ffc

My distinction is not of comedy, but rather the novelistic rather than vignette collection with repeating cast approach.

Yin
Yin
3 months ago
Reply to  j3ffc

Thanks, j3ffc and BE! Definitely going to check out “Waitress,” and Treme sounds very intriguing!

BE
BE
3 months ago
Reply to  Yin

Treme is an underrated masterpiece, an American La Boheme taking place in New Orleans post Katrina.

MC
MC
3 months ago

Hey KFG thanks for a thoughtful post. I don’t have much to add as I agree with you – just glad that now there’s a list of shows that I should watch since I love slice of life shows!!

BE
BE
3 months ago

What I like about good slice of life drama:
they generally support large ensembles of actors who are good character actors, not simply pretty faces to create that kind of realistic feel. It is hard in such stories to get away with mere place holder actors as one can in other types of series. The ensembles in My Mister, Reply 1988, Dear My Friends are astonishingly deep and very good to a character.
they tend to be multi-generational in pov. As someone older I appreciate that. Sorry to report it to some folks, but romance among twenty year olds, like diapers, is a passing phase.
in addition, they feature older actors, often given smaller roles in other types of dramas, meaty roles to chew on worthy of their chops, and they depict a lot of the hard truths elder folk face in their lives. As one ages one realizes one tends to disappear somewhat; slice of life stories give us a face. There is a scene early on in the ongoing series Navillera in which the main character a seventy two year old man, who is taking up ballet, and after a particularly strenuous day practicing, the next morning wakes up, finding it nearly impossible to even sit up. In The Jaunt, the main character, is shown on more than one occasion slowly coming to consciousness waking up. Humorous, sympathetic, they go to the heart of what every morning is like for so many old people. And thus for an old person, it registers that someone sees us.
they tend to be forgiving of our foibles, even those that cause others and ourselves difficulty and pain, forgiving of our quirkiness, our stubborn, wonderful, maddening individuality, and in the same way we might remember someone who has passed from our lives, accentuate those little quirks that give us our particular flavor.
they are not shy about the mixed blessings and curses of family life,
and they are about friendship, not just with friends, but family and partners as well, the durability and rhythms, what makes them maddening, what makes them such a refuge.
they depict people as constantly growing and changing.

Other genres when they are really working often work because they partake of these qualities, but these qualities are what define for me good slice of life drama. They can be comic, tragic, crises driven, or filled with small wonders, but the good ones are so humane, and thus comforting.

manukajoe
3 months ago
Reply to  BE

Great reply @BE thanks! I totally agree.

Ania
Ania
3 months ago

This is actually something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I’m a U.S. high school student working on my personal statement to apply to college. It’s actually recommended that people write about mundane, “slice-of-life” topics, rather than big, cool-sounding experiences. I think in both personal statements and dramas, the goal is really to get to know about the character and their growth as opposed to having a gripping plot. The effect on this in terms of audience reception is that viewers really relate to and root for the characters (and admissions officers root for certain students).

Unfortunately, slice of life dramas are significantly longer than a 650 word essay, and I think a big contributing factor to the “amazingness” of certain dramas like R88 is the length (lots of time to get to know characters and watch them grow). So I’m still struggling to find a topic… I do think it’s an interesting comparison though so I wanted to share!

https://www.wheninmanila.com/korean-slice-of-life-drama-is-a-genre-that-deserves-your-attention-and-love-heres-why/ – Yin, this is a similar article that might be helpful, by the way!

Yin
Yin
3 months ago
Reply to  Ania

Love this connection, Ania–thanks for sharing! And best of luck with your college applications!

Shahz
Shahz
3 months ago

So initially in my K drama journey I avoided slice of life because I wanted cracktastic dramas to take me away from lockdown. But oh my, My Mister took my breath away and I still catch myself thinking about the leads. I was so late to the party with Misaeng foolishly actively avoiding it but it is definitely a top tier drama for me. Hospital Playlist so superb again avoided as not so keen on hospital dramas. And as for Do you like Brahms despite appearances one of the best FL’s I have seen. Yes soft on the outside but so resilient and determines on the inside.

MC
MC
3 months ago
Reply to  Shahz

I love so many of the shows you’ve mentioned – me thinks I need to get to watching Do You Like Brahms!

CarpControl
CarpControl
3 months ago

Uhh KFG, I LIVE for a good slice-of-life story. I was initially exposed to the style via mangas in my late high-school and early college days, with stories set around 20 year-olds trying figure out life in general.💕These were stories labelled mostly as josei (adult-shoujo), romance, family, growing-pains etc, and hence my belated realization at how often the ‘slice-of-life’ tag flies undetected under these broad umbrella-categories!~

You can also probably imagine my soft-spot for j-doramas, who I feel invariably do this genre better: it’s a more visceral and grounded depiction of day-to-day life. [the best example would be the midnight-diner franchise from both the countries, the j-version being the far more superior cousin] ✨The fairytale-esque treatment of k-dramas (esp in this genre) prevent me from getting as involved and absorbed, which I feel is better suited for light-hearted romcoms instead 😉

The biggest gripe with this ‘style’ is usually its meandering execution of the story, not ever really reaching a destination. And I have seen ‘slice-of-life’ abused as a poor excuse for a story so unfulfilling and purposeless, when it falls into the hands of a sub-standard writer.😒
I feel k-ent does this genre of story-telling better in smaller nuggets like movies and drama specials! That said, I’m yet to watch masterpieces like HP, MM, and R88, so I might get change my ‘puritan’ opinions soon 😀
— Currently looking forward to ‘Iki o hisomete’ (a post-pandemic slice-of-life ensemble-drama by Hulu Japan) ^^

cristina
cristina
3 months ago

I would add Chocolate to this beautiful list of great, down-to-earth dramas! thank you all for your inputs!

Gloglo
Gloglo
3 months ago

I’m not sure if this will be of any help to you, Yin, but in Spanish literature there is a genre called Costumbrismo that seems to have a lot of elements in common with the Slice-of-life genre. Spanish Costumbrismo influenced other genres, other European writers and also travelled to the Americas… It may be worth to check it out. It is not exactly slice-of-life, as I believe it is the environment, rather than the people or characters, what is the main focus of these stories. Here is a wiki link where you could find other sources. Good luck with your research!

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costumbrismo

Yin
Yin
3 months ago
Reply to  Gloglo

Ooooh, thank you so much, Gloglo! I am interested in transcultural manifestations of the genre, so this is super interesting and very helpful.

Yin
Yin
3 months ago

Thank you for the response, Kfangurl! I agree with you so much that it’s not that slice-of-life is devoid of drama, but that it uncovers the drama of real life and thereby transforms our perspective toward it. In a way, the slide-of-life feels more like a style than a genre, in that anything that pays attention to daily life counts: a rom-com, an office drama, a family show. Heck, I’d love to see a slice-of-life thriller—I wonder if that would be pushing the genre boundaries too much, though Korean television in general is so good at genre hybridity!

I thoroughly enjoyed Misaeng, Father Is Strange Answer Me 1988, and My Mister, and you already know I loved The Third Charm, but there’s so much in your list that I haven’t watched and I can’t wait to start on them. Thank you for the recommendations! I’d also add Because This Life Is My First to the list—I love how the writer took a fairly conventional romcom premise and infused it with such lyrical sensibility. For anyone who watched We Married As A Job, I’m curious how the two compare.

Thank you again for the thoughtful and detailed answer, and for your generosity in cultivating and holding this space for us. 🙂

CarpControl
CarpControl
3 months ago
Reply to  Yin

If you’re not averse to chinese dramas, I’d highly, highly recommend three thrillers that could fit into a slice-of-life ‘style’ of drama- ‘the bad kids’, ‘the long night’ and ‘murders at horizon towers’.. each standing around 10-12 episodes each :’D

Yin
Yin
3 months ago
Reply to  CarpControl

Oh wow, definitely going to check these out. Thank you! Also, ‘Iki o hisomete’ which you posted about above sounds like everything I need right now. 🙂

junny
3 months ago
Reply to  Yin

Japan does slice of life to an art form. I recommend checking out some Japanese dramas.

Elena
Elena
3 months ago
Reply to  junny

Agree, I was going to say that. Japanese know how to turn ordinary days from ordinary people into compelling tv.

CarpControl
CarpControl
3 months ago
Reply to  junny

Yasss…. somebody else agrees too! ^^ <3
Also, somehow, their style of cinematography (the camera angles, the colour-grading and palette, the lighting and shadows, the filters, etc) seems to work magically-well with this genre in particular :’)

Yin
Yin
3 months ago
Reply to  junny

Thank you all for the recommendations! I love the director Hirokazu Kore-eda for his slice-of-life films, but haven’t watched too many Japanese dramas, something I need to fix. 😉

I know the K-drama industry is pretty influenced by J-doramas (the “trendy drama” began in Japan, for instance), though of course the influence goes both ways especially with the emergence of Hallyu in the past decade. I’m wondering if, at least within the East Asian context, the slice-of-life is something that was first prevalent in Japan (manga, anime, film)… when I search for “slice-of-life” on Google, most of the results are about anime and manga.

For those of you familiar with Japanese television, do you find any differences in focus and theme between K-drama and J-dorama slice-of-life? I read somewhere that Japanese dramas focus less on family relationships, but is that (still) true?

CarpControl
CarpControl
3 months ago
Reply to  Yin

Hello Yin! You seem to have a good grasp on the concept of ‘slice-of-life’ and I absolutely agree to what you said earlier… ‘it’s a style of story-telling rather than a genre by itself!’ Hence, when disguised under family, friendship, youth, romance, mystery dramas etc… they have a bigger story to tell than rather a stand-alone slice-of-life.✨

I recently had a conversation with a friend doing her doctoral studies in literature (and media/ arts and gender-studies) who has a deep passion for Russian Arts. And once she mentioned it, I began noticing it too- the Japanese storytelling is quite influenced by Russian Romanticism (which is very different from European Romanticism). 💕Directors such as Tarkovsky have had a great influence over Japanese film-making (story-telling as well as camera-works)… and it is an influence that they have stuck onto even to this day, while the remaining of the Far-East Asia have moved on ahead with far glitzier and glamorous endeavors. (k-dramas more so, c-drama less)😘

Even the LOMO effects we use on instagram today, are the aesthetic product of the Russian LOMO cameras, and that is the distinct style and vibe of any j-dorama, and when used for a slice-of-life, it makes it feel even more real. I mean, I once checked out a drama based on housewives’ infidelity and the way it was shot, made it look like it was a Slice-of-life 😁
[that was my two-cents on artistic difference between the slice-of-life from the two countries]

About the plot and premise, I’d say k-ent makes family dramas look like slice-of-life, whereas j-doramas are inherently slice-of-life, which may or may not be family-oriented (hence, it could appear as if more family-based SoL dramas are made in Korea vs Japan)… Ps. I recently watched ‘My daughter doesn’t have a boyfriend’ (a nice slice-of-life on a mother-daughter bond)… you could definitely check it out.😊

After checking out korean remakes of 3 such slice-of-life projects from Japan (midnight-diner [franchise], hirugao [drama] and josee [film]) I’m completely convinced the latter has mastered the style/ genre to an impeccable level of perfection. Something about the grainy-ness, gritty-ness, the overused sepia-tones evokes a quaint sense of nostalgia… something very essential for a good SoL project, even when it’s set in the modern day 💖

BE
BE
3 months ago
Reply to  CarpControl

Any titles for Viki or available Netflix classic J-dorama slice of life series?

Yin
Yin
3 months ago
Reply to  CarpControl

That’s really interesting about the influence of Russian Romanticism! Thanks for sharing. I’m curious–what do you mean by “inherently slice-of-life”? Do you mean that K-ent takes a slice-of-life perspective on family narratives, while all K-doramas are slice-of-life in their approach?

CarpControl
CarpControl
2 months ago
Reply to  Yin

Absolutely!.. That is precisely what I meant. Since, SoL is a conscious stylistic/artistic choice of storytelling, I find K-dramas may or may not choose to go down that route, which is perfectly fine. On the other hand, J-doramas usually have that characteristic touch, that make even the most outrageous plot-lines seem like a slice-of-life, because it is shot/directed in that distinct japanese slice-of-life way. Ugh, at this point, I think ‘slice-of-life’ is more like the ‘kind of feels’ a story brings about in you ^^ And it’s definitely very hard to objectively quantify 😛

MC
MC
3 months ago
Reply to  Yin

I think we might have similar tastes? I love My Mister, Misaeng, the whole Reply Series + Prison Playbook and Hospital Playlist. I have watched Because This Life Is My First and We Married As A Job. Incidentally both are on my faves list. They have similar premises but they’re absolutely different and both wonderful. BTLIMF is lyrical, thoughtful, beautifully written and characterised, while WMAAJ is quirky and cute. And also pretty thoughtful. You would like it! KFG liked both, and her taste is top notch lol. You should watch it if only for the Koi Song!!

Kay
Kay
3 months ago

An interesting exploration of the slice of life genre and why it appeals to so many people. I’m a bit of an odd duck in that I’m not a big fan of the slice of life genre myself. I do enjoy them from time to time, but it’s a lot harder for them to win me over.

I prefer grand plots, and yes, I could even watch parallel world dramas over and over 😂 But I also feel that “big” dramas that use devices like time travel or serial murderers can also accomplish one of the main things that many find appealing about slice of life dramas…identifying with the characters.

For me personally, I don’t need to to see someone in my exact situation or even an ordinary one to identify with them. I just need to identify with the core emotions. So if the characters are teased out well in a bigger type genre, I get the same experience only with a bit more fun.

Slice of life dramas often feel a bit mundane for me, and honestly, I watch dramas for a bit of escapism rather than to experience more real life. That being said, I do enjoy them at times. Just like the bigger dramas, if a slice of life drama really nails the characters and gives me an emotional and heartwarming story and journey, I still thoroughly enjoy it. It’s just a bit of a harder sell, hehe 🙂

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
3 months ago
Reply to  Kay

@Kay, my taste in dramas is similar. I too prefer larger-than-life stories and characters, so that explains why sageuk is my favorite genre. But I have to admit that I developed a taste for SoL dramas after following KFG’s recommendations. I am now a big fan of all the Reply series, My Mister, and My Unfamiliar Family.

Kay
Kay
3 months ago
Reply to  Snow Flower

Yep, we definitely share similar tastes with a lot of our dramas 🙂 And yes, kfangurl’s reviews help me choose which slice of life dramas too. Other dramas also since she breaks them down so well. I’ve seen and enjoyed Reply 1997 & Reply 1988. Not in the loved it category, but they were both great watches. And I think My Unfamiliar Family sounds promising, so that one is on the watch list. Miss Hammurabi is a legal slice of life that I was very surprised I enjoyed since it’s two genres I’m not a huge fan of, hehe

BE
BE
3 months ago
Reply to  Snow Flower

@Snow Flower: although it is cerebral and bleak, I really do recommend The Fortress (and I know I have stated this before, Admiral: Raging Currents–Choi Min Sik is just phenomenal). The Qing invasion previous to events in Chuno, great performances put in by Lee Byung Hun and Kim Yoon Seok.
Also on the Byun Yo Han front: The Book of Fish was the largest ticket in South Korea last week, and he will be in another movie with Shin Hye Sun, She Died, opening later this year. They have apparently acted together before in a 2017 film titled A Day, a repeating over and over day genre in a tragic mode, but I am having a very difficult time locating it as it is often confused with a Kim Nam Gil film with a similar title.

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
3 months ago
Reply to  BE

@BE, I do want to see The Fortress, but I don’t know where it is streaming. The Book Of Fish and She Died are also on my list.

BE
BE
3 months ago
Reply to  Snow Flower

@Snowflower, you have to pay, but it is on Amazon Prime. Ditto Raging Currents.

BE
BE
3 months ago

More later. But My Unfamiliar Family and My Dear Friends, even Be Melodramatic (the episode of the day they all spent at the beach boardwalk would almost provide a definition of “slice of life”), and from what I have seen so far Navilerra currently showing on Netflix would also be examples.
The why I think has to do with something Oh Na Ra said about performing in My Mister to the effect of how important for drama to have a beating human heart to it. I have not seen Minari yet, but one gets that its success has a great deal to do with that kind of slice of life mentality, and it features two actresses from Korea who have a bunch of experience with those kinds of roles.

Yin
Yin
3 months ago
Reply to  BE

We must have very similar tastes—Dear My Friends and Be Melodramatic are two of my favorite dramas, and if you enjoy them, you’ll love Minari! The film has that same heart-wrenching, and ultimately heart-lifting, movement from tragedy to life that Dear My Friends does so well. Perhaps not a surprise given that Youn Yuh-jung stars in both! I’m excited to check out Navillera!

BE
BE
3 months ago
Reply to  Yin

Dear My Friends along with My Mister and Secret Love Affair are my three favorite non sageuk K Dramas. Han Ye Ri was very good in My Unfamiliar Family. Na Moon Hee who was one of the phenomenal elder leads in Dear My Family is in Navillera. A Jaunt, the short feature K lists is quite lovely as well, and Son Sook (who also plays Li Ji-An’s deaf invalid grandmother in My Mister) is wonderful. Likewise Go Doo Shim who is also quite wonderful, perhaps the most complex and conflicted, in Dear My Friends as Wan’s mother, is simply terrific as the mother of the three brothers in My Mister. What I like about Be Melodramatic is it takes the slice of life strategy into a group of young women, somewhat separate from their men and families, as is often the case for people of that particular time in life, and while somewhat comedic as well, looks at their lives in that same kind of realistic fashion in which the smaller elements of life at work or in private are given resonance.