Korean television might be synonymous with Korean drama (K-drama) – scripted shows produced by South Korea running for a definite period and commonly having a romantic flavour regardless of genre. But there’s a type of Korean entertainment gaining popularity on the global stage due to its laughter-inducing authenticity and shenanigans: Korean variety shows. These variety shows started as a venue for Korean pop stars to reach out to their fans but later evolved to more unique formats from murder mystery games to celebrity dads spending time with their kids.
With over 300 titles, there’s bound to be a Korean variety show for every taste whether you’re from the United States or Singapore. Here are five shows to start binge-watching while eating Korean fried chicken and drinking Yogurt Soju cocktails.
The Uninitiated: Running Man
Running Man is a beginner-friendly variety show, composed of a regular cast with completing missions in a race format, hence the name. Most episodes have themes ranging from an action-packed battle royale with superpowers to an ultimate K-pop idol race. The most iconic game is the Name Tag Elimination, where players tear the name tags on the backs of other members while dealing with challenging mechanics and obstacles. Both international and Korean stars have been guests on the show such as Ryan Reynolds, Jackie Chan and girl group Twice.
The Family-oriented: The Return of Superman
What’s a day in the life of a celebrity dad and their kids? The Return of Superman showcases how fathers deal with a more prominent household presence as their wives take the time off for 48 hours. Cameras are set up in the families’ actual home revealing heart-warming interactions and realizations of how much work-related absence affects their kids. You’ll be wowed by the intelligence and cuteness of each child, rooting for the father-kid duo to become closer and happier throughout the program.
The Jetsetter: 2 Days and 1 Night
2 Days and 1 Night is a travel program portraying picturesque sceneries while cast members challenge and outwit each other. Games must be won to be able to eat traditional dishes and avoid punishments like sleeping outdoors in the cold. Each episode features a must-go destination in South Korea viewers can visit, promoting local tourism, especially in rural areas and offshore islands. This variety show is a great way to explore what Korea has to offer beyond the bustling cities of Seoul and Busan and the famous Jeju Island.
The Learner: All the Butlers
Learning never stops even for Korean actors Lee Seung-gi and Shin Sung-Rok, and comedian Yang Se-Hyung as they spend time with a well-known “Master”. The cast members follow the master’s routine, learning about his or her lifestyle and ideologies while contemplating how to apply them in their own lives. What makes All the Butlers unique is the show’s openness to tackle deeper issues like maturity, mortality, and the struggles of working towards one’s dream.
The Mystery Lover: Busted!
Busted! toes the line between scripted and unscripted with each episode having a group of Korean celebrities look for clues and interview suspects to solve mysteries. This variety show injects comedy and improvised pranks to the usual crime and thriller formula. Cases range from lost treasure to vanishing acts of a famous magician, all while trying to solve the overarching mystery of their own identities as super sleuths with missing memories.
It’s time to swap those romantic sighs and tears from K-drama with giggles and guffaws. Watching Korean variety shows is a great way to have a happier mood and destress from your worries. After all, laughter has been found out as beneficial to your health.