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K-Dramas’ Slice of Life Genre is Self-Therapy

By Iman

In recent years, the Slice of Life genre has amassed an avid following across cable and international streaming platforms.

The genre is a refreshing contrast to Hollywood’s often fast-paced, complex and domineering storylines.

Korea’s take on the Slice of Life genre is therapeutic entertainment; a soft mirror to the reality we face, in youth and beyond.

The Beginnings of Slice of Life K-Dramas

In the 1990’s, K-Dramas emerged as a key vehicle to the Hallyu Wave. Whether as a force for escape or relatability, South Korea produced dramas that touched on the dreams and concerns of its people.

However, it was only in the 21st century, with the evolution of content distributions and streaming platforms, that enabled the expansion of K-Dramas to a global market.

As a result, the Slice of Life genre, with its familiarity in character and brilliant execution of emotional maturity, became one of the leading K-Drama genres in the past few years.

Reply 1988

Whilst the genre appeared long before the K-Dramas I’ll mention as the ‘beginning’, these are most definitely the K-Dramas that gained traction and formed the foundation for the genres' future popularisation.

It’d be a disservice to not mention the spectacular writer Lee Woo Jeong and his must-watch anthology series Reply 1997 (2012), Reply 1994 (2013) and Reply 1988 (2015). (This series is quite possibly my go-to recommendation for K-Drama newbies. You’ll cry, you’ll laugh and you’ll remember each scene for years to come!)

The final instalment of the series, Reply 1988, is nostalgic to the late 1980s. Its backdrop is rich in pop culture with the Seoul Olympics 1988 and the intense political student demonstrations that successfully brought revolution and democracy.

[Image Credit: 1988, Viki (2015)]

But, it’s the 5 childhood neighbours that carry the drama. Their storylines tackle the issues of struggling for attention as a middle child, experiencing generational clashes, being unable to get into college with poor academics, dropping out of college and the burden of being over-dependable. (Sounds a little too relatable, huh?)

More than neighbours, the friends are family who lean, support and comfort each other as they build a path for their future. And we, as viewers, are right there with them!

My Mister

Yet another K-Drama that is a must-mention by the talented Park Hae Young (who also wrote My Liberation Notes). Famous for her detail to delicately unfold emotion and perspectives when it comes to Slice of Life storylines, My Mister (2018) constructs a story that embodies the motto: ‘never judge a book by its cover’.

[Image Credit: My Mister, TVN (2018)]

The main storyline is told through our female lead, Lee Ji-An (IU/Lee Ji-Eun).

She is an open target - a young debt-laden woman, with a criminal past, caring for her sick grandmother and in a friendship with a married man [20 years her senior] whose wife is cheating on him with his subordinate. (I know, what a soap opera!)

And when offered a way out of her impoverished situation, by betraying her equally miserable friend, Ji-An is at a tempting crossroad.

My Mister is a work of art because it touches on dysfunctional families and marriages. But, it also scrutinises workplace gossip, sexism, loneliness and societal stigmas in a way that exposes projections of insecurities yet adds dimensions to Ji-An and her friends’ struggles.

Neither of their positions is ultimately their fault. But, life doesn’t discriminate.

The drama highlights the need for compassion and understanding.

Everyone is suffering, righting their wrongs or fighting their own battles.

Slice of Life in the 2020’s

Come the turn of the decade, we found ourselves in an unusual and unique situation.

Global lockdowns halted life as we knew it. We masked up, stayed indoors and worked from the comfort of our burrito-ed beds.

Some of us turned to horror and true crime for stimulation. But, just as life on the outside slowed down, most of us looked for something healing.

Slice of Life K-Dramas are known for delicately mirroring the nuances of life; where heated arguments drip with love and hatred, silence is a much-needed hug and company is found in oneself.

The genre gives us a moment to pause and evaluate (or re-evaluate) ourselves, like self-therapy!

The meandering pace of such dramas allow audiences to connect with its characters on an emotional, and even mental, level.

We sympathise, we judge, we justify but, most of all, we understand. And it’s this type of validation that we, often, don’t extend in real life.

Yet, somehow, Slice of Life K-Dramas create that companionship through a screen - that vital space to open up what we keep bottled inside.

[Image Credit: Move to Heaven, Netflix (2021), My Liberation Notes, Netflix (2022)]

Recently, a friend who finished two of my new all-time favourite K-Dramas Move to Heaven and My Liberation Notes said:

I’m grateful dramas are exploring the realness of life. No over-the-top, rushed and complicated storylines. Things like mourning, dysfunctional family dynamics, loneliness. The parts of life we don’t like to talk about. It’s exploring but also exposing humans, humanity, as we are and for what we are.’

And I couldn’t agree more! There have been (too many) times when I’ve cried at the unravelling of a characters’ unintentional self-sabotage as it mirrored my own. There's something comforting about seeing my emotions represented and experienced back to me.

[Image Credit: Giphy]

Introspections Thanks to Slice of Life K-Dramas

Have I felt my emotions? Or have I simply stuffed my pain into that overflowing, dusty box to deal with later?

Have I given too much of myself? Have I compromised my morals or values for someone, something?

Do I really know my friends? How much am I willing to sacrifice for them? And, how much are they, for me?

Am I living or am I numbingly going through the motions?

What’s my purpose?

We’re presented with emotions, relationships, thoughts and perceptions so similar to our own, that it’s impossible not to let scenes and characters marinate.

Such K-Dramas help us find solace in our hardest, saddest, stagnant and lowest moments - without really needing to find or know of a solution.

(Sometimes life gets so numbing or overwhelming, we just can’t begin to even think of finding an answer! We just want to get to the end of the day!)

The season can end without a wholly happy ending or resolved relationships or a 180° change of heart - just a natural closing of one chapter.

[Image Credit: The New Daily]

Answers aren’t as necessary as the process. Remember, it’s only a slice of life.

A portion of our existence that we may come back to at a later time, with a more mature mindset, a clearer heart and better understanding.

Or, a portion of our lives that will remain a memory and lesson learnt.

We still have the whole cake (or pie, if you prefer it. I’m judging though) to get through. Until we’re without slices left, we’re still on this journey called life.


A short list of my favourite Slice of Life K-Dramas:

Hospital Playlist Series (2020-21)

Move to Heaven (2021) - new all-time favourite!

My Liberation Notes (2022) - another new all-time favourite!

Our Blues (2022)

Summer Strike (2022) - currently watching and it’s creeping up my favourites list.

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