Mobile gaming, eSports, and PC Bang’s are integral parts of Korean culture and as such it’s no surprise that several Korean dramas and documentaries center around the Korean gaming culture.
Whether it’s romance, comedy, or investigations into the prestigious yet sometimes dark side of professional gaming here are five of the best Korean dramas and documentaries where gaming plays a key role.
Strong Girl Bong-soon (2017)
Strong Girl Bong-soon is a 2017 South Korean series about a woman with superhuman strength The main character is played by Park Bo-young and the show also stars Park Hyung-sik and Ji Soo.
After being born with the ability to defy physics with her incredible strength (a trait that is hereditary for all women in her family), Do Bong-soon (Park Bo-young) dreams of creating a video game starring herself as the main protagonist.
When Ahn Min-hyuk (Park Hyung-sik), the rich CEO of the gaming company Ainsoft sees Bong-soon beat up a group of gangsters at a construction site he hires her to work as his bodyguard.
The series centers around Bong-soon’s relationship with Min-hyuk and chronicles her attempts to win the heart of Guk-doo (Ji Soo) a police officer, who prefers delicate and elegant women.
Min-hyuk has a deep dislike for authority, rules, and especially police officers leading to many comical scenes and drama.
The series has 16 episodes, and one special and was aired on JTBC in 2017. It quickly became a commercial success and remains one of the highest-rated cable television series in the country.
The TV series was written by Baek Mi-kyung who previously wrote Beloved Eun-dong and was directed by Lee Hyung-min of Ms. Temper and Nam Jung-gi.
Level Up (2019)
A more recent series within the same genre, Level Up is a romantic comedy that stars Sung Hoon, Han Bo-reum, Cha Sun-woo, Kang Byul, and Danny Ahn.
Much of the drama, comedy, and romance of the show centers around Ahn Dan Te (Sung Hoon), who is by all appearances a cold-blooded and ruthless man who never expresses his feelings and is a perfectionist, and Shin Yeon Hwa (Han Bo-reum), a passionate yet inexperienced game developer.
Dan Te is the director at Toosung CRC, a company that specializes in restructuring other businesses. Yeon Hwa is the head game developer at Joybuster, a gaming company that is on the verge of bankruptcy.
When Dan Te is sent to work as the CEO of Joybuster, Yeon Hwa tries to create a game to please him but various arguments, disagreements, and fights ensue.
This is made all the more complicated by Yuseong CRC’s new employee Kwak Han Cheo (Cha Sun Woo), who believes Shin Yeon-Hwa is his soulmate, and by Bae Ya Che (Kang Byul), who has an unrequited love for Dan Te and becomes jealous of Yeon Hwa.
Level Up was produced by iHQ and ANEW Productions and aired from July 10 to August 15, 2019. The series received mixed reviews and had an average nationwide viewership of 1% according to AGB Nielsen.
Memories of the Alhambra (2018)
One of the highest-rated Korean dramas in cable television history is the fantasy/action/romance series Memories of the Alhambra.
The show is set in Granada, Spain, and follows Yoo Jin-woo (Hyun Bin) the CEO of an investment company, Jung Se-joo (Park Chan-yeol) a revolutionary augmented reality game developer, and Jung Hee-joo (Park Shin-hye) the owner of the hostel Jin-woo stays in and the older sister of Se-joo.
After Jin-woo arrives in Granada to find that Se-joo has gone missing, the series takes various twists and turns, and when both Jin-woo and Hee-joo become entangled in several mysterious incidents the line between the real and virtual world begins to blur.
The series has 16 episodes and one special and as well as airing on tvN from December 2018 until January 2019, the show is also available on Netflix.
The series drew critical acclaim for its fast-pace, cinematography, and themes of augmented reality and averaged an 8.5% nationwide audience according to AGB Nielsen.
Memories of the Alhambra was directed by Ahn Gil-ho, who also directed Stranger, and was written by Song Jae-jung who wrote W and Queen In-hyun’s Man.
GameChangers: Dreams of BlizzCon (2018)
Moving away from television dramas and into the world of esports, GameChangers: Dreams of BlizzCon was not produced by Korean filmmakers but is about two Korean gamers.
The film chronicles a year in the life of two of the world’s best Starcraft II players, MC and MMA, as they compete to get to the world’s biggest Starcraft II tournament, BlizzCon.
Starcraft has long been recognized as the game that put eSports on the map and for MC and MMA, it bought them out of poverty and PC bangs and into global fame.
In the film, we learn what it takes to become a professional gamer, how fickle the success of eSports players is, and how society treats professional gaming in South Korea.
The documentary was produced by Film Rise, was directed by John Keating, and has an 8.1/10 rating on IMDB making it one of the highest-rated eSports documentaries of all time.
State of Play (2013)
One of the first documentaries to ever put eSports in the spotlight, State of Play is set in the birthplace of professional gaming in South Korea.
The film follows the lives of three Starcraft II players. One is a professional gamer and popular culture icon (Lee Jae Dong), another is an upcoming star and new professional recruit (Kim Joon Hyuk) and the third is an amateur (Park Yo Han).
All players have the same goal, to be the best Starcraft II player in the world, and the film shows just how difficult and important this is to these players in a culture that can be both cutthroat and rewarding.
The documentary was released in 2013, before esports betting and games like CS:GO were multi-billion dollar industries, but it still shows viewers the potential fame and real costs of competing to become one of the biggest stars in Korean esports.
State of Play was directed by Steven Dhoedt and won Best Documentary at the New York City Independent Film Festival in 2014. It has a 6.4/10 rating on IMDB.