The term drama-seller has sprung into prominence only in the last few years. While movies and dramas based on novels have been around for decades, never before has visual media exerted such a strong influence on the book market as it does in the current age.
With webtoons skyrocketing in popularity, dramas based on these digital comics are the most promising newcomers in the market. Despite this, novels continue to be at the very center of storytelling. While romance novels were often turned into dramas in the past, these days even genres like thrillers and science fiction are carving their niche on the television, thanks in part to advancements in computer graphics. Reading a Korean novel today offers us a sneak peek into what may very well be a drama in the future.
Given how stories from Korea are achieving global reach via streaming services like Netflix, Korean literature is likely to receive even more love from creators worldwide. As visual media continues to expand into larger markets, Korean literature is expected to follow suit.
Ju Young-ha, "Happiness Battle", Goznuck ENT(Korea) 2023
The drama "Sky Castle" was a sensational hit that depicted, quite provocatively, Korean society’s extraordinary obsession with education and the resulting tears in the fabric of society. "Happiness Battle" is a novel that seems to build upon this element of provocation. Written by Ju Young-ha, it tells the story of people who have no need for more happiness yet engage in a "Battle for Happiness" The battleground is social media. In a high-end Gangnam apartment, Kang Do-jun is found stabbed in the back and barely alive, while his wife is discovered dead, hanging from the balcony railing. Jang Mi-ho discovers that the deceased wife is Oh Yu-jin, a friend she became estranged from 17 years ago. They were best friends in high school but grew apart after an incident. Unable to shake off her guilt over what happened long ago, Jang Mi-ho begins to investigate her friend's death. She learns that Oh Yu-jin had been engaged in a 'Happiness Battle' on social media with other English kindergarten moms. As Jang Mi-ho begins to unravel the mystery, shocking truths come to light.
Lee Hyuk-jin, "The Interest of Love", Minumsa(Korea), 2019
Lee Hyuk-jin's "The Interest of Love" boldly exposes themes of money and class, seldom focused on in romance novels. It centers around four individuals working at a bank, each hailing from a different social stratum. They include a regular full-time banker who is the only daughter of a wealthy family, another full-time banker from a prestigious university but less affluent background, a high school graduate working part-time, and a temporary security guard preparing for employment. Their relationships don't flow freely according to emotional inclinations; rather, they sway tumultuously based on their backgrounds and job statuses. The novel vividly depicts an array of emotions produced by love, from excitement and elation to insecurity, inferiority, pride, jealousy, and resentment. Its fresh approach has won it lasting admiration. Particularly noteworthy is the seamless adaptation of this novel into a drama, a feat unlikely to be easily replicated.
San Kyung, "Reborn Rich", Terracotta(Korea), 2022
Many viewers were unaware that "Reborn Rich," arguably South Korea's most successful drama in 2022, originated from a novel. The web novel, released in a massive five-volume paper edition, boasted immense popularity during its 2017 serialization. It could simply. be described as a "revenge reincarnation" story: a man wrongfully killed after serving 13 years in a corporate conglomerate comes back as the youngest grandson of the family that killed him, vowing to take revenge and claim their empire. However, what truly fuels the book’s popularity is the realistic portrayal of family dynamics, despite its fantastical elements. The intricate tales of power struggles for inheritance in a family of wealth and influence, evoking comparisons to the Samsung empire, make it nearly impossible for readers to put the book down.
Kim Jinyoung, "A House with a Yard", ELIXIR(Korea), 2018
"Lies Hidden in My Garden" is about the serendipitous meeting of two women and the salvation that ensues. Juran is a homemaker in what appears to be an ideal family, with a doctor husband and an intelligent, handsome son. Despite relocating to the 'perfect house,' Juran detects a peculiar odor in the yard, which becomes the catalyst for ensuing events. On the flip side, the other woman, Sang-eun, grapples with a life of poverty and domestic abuse. She manages to escape from her husband but finds herself pursued by the police, until she encounters Juran, who offers her an escape route. The persistent tension throughout the narrative owes itself to the story's parallel structure as a detective novel, seeking to identify a murderer. The high-quality drama adaptation, featuring experimental visuals rarely seen in Korean dramas, is also not to be missed.
Jung Han-ah, "Intimate Stranger", MUNHAKDONGNE Publishing Corp.(Korea), 2017
With the success of the drama "Anna," Jung Han-ah's "Intimate Stranger" became a bestseller, defying odds more than five years after its publication. The story centers on a perplexing character named Lee Yumi. She has an eclectic resume—working as a magazine editor at a university she never graduated from, serving as a piano professor without ever setting foot in a music school, and even practicing as a doctor without certification. Additionally, she has lived life as the wife of three different men and as the husband of one woman. The narrator, who had previously abandoned writing, becomes increasingly fascinated by Yumi's complex life. Driven by curiosity, he starts to write again, chronicling Yumi's mysterious whereabouts. Unlike the drama where Suzy plays the role of Yumi living under the alias 'Anna,' the novel circles around the author-narrator as he delves into unraveling the enigma that is Yumi. The novel intricately sketches the many faces of a character living a life riddled with deception. It appears to satirize the modern individual who navigates existence wearing masks, ensnared in the web of public perception and reputation.
Written by Seul-ki Kim
Journalist at the culture & sports department at Maeil Business Newspaper. Kim has been covering literature and publishing since 2012, writing book reviews.
Translated by Snigdha Gupta
Snigdha is a literary/academic translator residing in Korea. An ex-fellow of KLTI and a Korean Government scholar, Snigdha bridges gaps not only through her Korean to English translations, but also as a full-time communication specialist in the government sector.
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