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Cultural phenomena of East Asia: K-pop, anime, and other…

27. 03. 2023

With Hollywood movies everywhere around us, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are other options. Today we head to Asia – specifically Japan and South Korea- to look at the films, TV shows, and bands that originated there.


One of the most famous film studios is the Japanese Studio Ghibli, founded by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Studio Ghibli is nicknamed “Japanese Disney”, but instead of Mickey Mouse, the mascot is Totoro, a forest spirit. So far, over 20 feature films and over 10 short films have been released, the most famous being Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and My Neighbor Totoro. Spirited Away became most known for being the first anime film to ever win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2003. Although other filmmakers are gradually directing films at Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki has announced that he would like to make one more film before he retires. The premiere of How Do You Live? is tentatively scheduled for release in Japanese theaters on July 14, 2023.


The South Korean film Parasite also made history. In 2019, Parasite won 4 Oscars as the first non-English language film. The film, about a poor family that infiltrates a rich family, has won over audiences around the world. And here we’d like to quote Parasite director Bong Joon Ho: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” We couldn’t agree more.

TV Series

We can see a huge impact on culture in series production, especially in anime. There are thousands of different anime, but some of the more famous ones include Pokémon, Naruto, and One Piece. But we cannot forget that most of these anime are based on books, on manga. Japanese comics are referred to as manga, but also graphic novels. Similar comics are also produced in other countries with different names, in South Korea, it is manhwa, and in China manhua. Most manga books have been published in the Golgo 13 series, so far there are around 200, but volumes are still being published. What can Naruto say with his 72 manga books then? On the other hand, Golgo 13 readers must not only have a lot saved up but also own a huge library.


It may surprise you to know that the first preserved anime was released in 1917. It’s a four-minute comedy called Namakura Gatana about a self-proclaimed samurai who has a sword so dull he can’t hurt anyone with it. As it’s common in Hollywood, we can be sure to see a live-action adaptation of this anime soon as well. You can watch it here:



But it’s not all just anime. In 2021, the South Korean series Squid Game topped Netflix’s viewership charts. The series became a huge hit, earning 14 Emmy Award nominations and teaching viewers around the world what a Dalgon is and how to prevail over a stronger opponent in the tug-of-war. And of course, Korean cell phones have extra battery power – at least the one Detective Hwan Jun-ho has.


Even Asian bands are becoming mainstream. K-pop and the Japanese version called J-pop are musical styles popular all over the world. Every year, agencies try to promote their groups, but unfortunately, out of dozens of groups or soloists, only a few catch on. But don’t be fooled, K-pop is not just about the music. The specific dance choreography for each song, the fashion, and the use of English phrases in the lyrics are all an integral part of the culture. And because K-pop is popular not only in South Korea but also around the world, it’s getting support from the government. There are also KCONs around the world – festivals where the groups perform.


But becoming a musical idol is no fun. First, you start out in a training position, usually accepting kids as young as 12 years old. The training can take a few years, but if everything goes well, the agencies create a group they think the audience will like. There is usually one leader in the group, who has the main say in the interviews and oversees everyone in the group. Other members are rappers, dancers, and singers. The youngest member of the group is the maknae and usually has the best time in the group because all of the older members take care of him. Members can also be visual, which simply means they look good. However, fans of each group also have their own nicknames, usually based on the group’s name in some way. For example, Stray Kids fans are called Stay and Twice fans are called Once.


The most influential group is clearly BTS. This seven-member group has won the hearts of fans not only in South Korea but absolutely everywhere, as evidenced by their 72 million subscribers on YouTube. Even for football fans, this group is well-known, with the song Dreamers performed by Jungkook, one of the members, during the opening ceremony at the 2022 World Cup. However, the group’s future is currently affected by compulsory military service, due to which BTS is taking a break and will not start releasing songs again until 2025.


Just as BTS is the most famous boy band, Blackpink rules the female groups. The four-member group released their first song in 2016 and currently focuses on modeling or acting in addition to releasing. If you’d like to know more about Blackpink, there’s a documentary about them on Netflix called Blackpink: Light Up the Sky.

One speciality among female K-pop groups is the group Mave, which was created with the help of artificial intelligence. Its four members are hyper-realistic characters generated by machine learning, deep fake, and 3D production technology. You can check out Mave’s debut song here:



At the beginning of the 21st century, Asian culture appeared rather moderately in the Western media, while now we can observe the rise of culture coming from Asia, especially the growing popularity of anime and K-pop. As you’ve surely noticed, the selection of Asian culture is truly diverse and will bring many innovations in the future, including further experimentation with artificial intelligence.


Check out our selection of anime!


Music and visual art enthusiast, the more Queen merch, the better!

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