First and foremost, the pandemic may have contributed to this surge in popularity. It is important to note that East-Asian TV was already relatively popular prior to the pandemic. At a time where people were confined to their homes with nothing to do, naturally people would turn to their TV for entertainment. With a large catalogue of shows and series to watch, it seemed almost inevitable that people would stumble upon various Korean, Japanese, Chinese Thai etc dramas, as well as animated series too. Also considering all of their already established popularity in Asia, a new and global audience already seemed to be in the making.
We also have to acknowledge the role of streaming services which I would say has made East-Asian TV shows more accessible than ever before. Streaming platforms such as Netflix have a wide range of non-English language TV shows and dramas, with dozens of subtitles which means that not only we are able to watch non-English TV shows, we are also able to understand them. When we put this in the context of the pandemic, where people may have wanted to try something different, streaming services would have definitely made East-Asian TV shows more accessible to global audiences. I can remember that around 10 years ago, I was squandering to find pirated versions of translated K-dramas and anime series just so that I would be able to watch it, now this isn’t even a problem for me since I can hop on to Netflix and find some shows there.
It is at this point that I want to have a specific focus on K-dramas which has taken the world by storm in recent years, and we have the Korean Wave or Hallyu to thank for that. Simply put, the Korean Wave is just a way to describe the global popularity of Korean popular culture which includes (but is not limited to) K-dramas, K-pop, K-beauty etc. As mentioned briefly before, K-dramas have been popular in Asia for a very long time, however its standing in global countries has steadily increased with no signs of slowing down. The Korean Wave was always meant to reach the level of popularity it has, with social media now making it more accessible than before coupled with the mundanity of the pandemic, it naturally surged in popularity. We also have to give credit to the unique themes, narratives and storytelling in K-dramas, hence why we see the commercial successes of the film Parasite and of course, Squid Game (this does exclude the multitudes of other great series that have not reached people outside of the Korean Wave).
The same can also be said for Japanese anime, however, elements of nostalgia may play a part in its popularity. Many of us may have grown up watching shows such as Pokemon, Naruto and/or Dragon Ball Z which all remain household favourites to this day. Going back to the pandemic, research has suggested that people turned to nostalgic elements as a way to reminisce on simpler times. I would argue this may have been the case with many people who started to watch anime during the pandemic. Either that, or they found it interesting and cool which is true too.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I would like to attribute the popularity of East-Asian TV shows to the Western fascination with East Asian countries and people. We see this in everyday life from people having food from East-Asian countries to listening to music or watching films. Of course, with things like this, issues surrounding fetishisation and orientalism arise, but that is a whole other topic. But very simply, our fascination with East-Asia has actively made us seek out media forms from those countries, which has heightened their preexisting popularity.
There are countless reasons why East-Asian TV series have recently seen a surge in popularity over the last few years. But either way, I’m happy that people from East-Asian countries can create a narrative for themselves that is not clouded by Western orientalism. And of course, with many East-Asian actors and actresses being recognised for their contributions to the Western film and TV industry, I cannot see this slowing down any time soon.