16 Korean Documentaries to Check Out in 2024

In the span of one hour or less, you can learn a chock-ton of fascinating facts and intriguing information about Korea, all without leaving the comfort of your home.

Here are my recommendations for 16 Korean documentaries to help you learn more about the country.

Contents

1. BTS Monuments: Beyond the Star

Available on: Disney+

Year: 2023

Chances are, you are already familiar with (if not a rabid follower of) BTS, South Korea’s current top boy band. But what took place behind the years of their ramping success?

In this in-depth documentary, explore the successes (and failures) of the phenomenon that is BTS.

You’ll get candid looks into the thoughts and lives of your favorite singers themselves as they work fiercely to reach the top of the K-pop music industry.

2. BLACKPINK: Light up the Sky

Korean title: 세상을 밝혀라

Available on: Netflix

Year: 2020

Korean girl groups are also gaining acclaim outside of their country’s borders. Four-member group BLACKPINK is one such stellar example, but of course, their major success wasn’t easily won.

As different as each girl is from each other, they’re united by a common goal that ties them together into a powerful and talented team.

In this documentary, you can understand the long path of unique trials and tribulations that each artist experienced for the sake of creative excellence.

3. Korea: The Never-Ending War

Available on: Amazon Prime Video

Year: 2019

The Korean War (1950-1953) was the ultimate result of years of interregional conflict, although it managed to involve much international intervention as well.

But what spurred such strife and discord among the people occupying the same country?

In this somber documentary narrated by Korean-American actor John Cho, you can learn the history of the beginnings of Korea’s tragic division, and how such stark friction continues to exist to this day.

Due to the nature of the content, I recommend this one for those who are interested in the military sphere.

4. Korea from Above

Available on: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV

Year: 2016

Sure, you’ve heard of it, but have you actually gone within the country of South Korea? If not, then I think this documentary will help you get a good look.

Take a bird’s eye view as you explore the magnificent geography and locales of this small but beautiful nation.

From its quiet pastoral fields to its sophisticated city streets, find out what makes South Korea a cultural hotspot and a well-loved travel destination for tourists around the world.

5. The Power of Hallyu

Available on: YouTube

Year: 2021

K-pop, K-dramas, K-films, K-food, K-clothes. It’s all part of hallyu, the term used for the “Korean wave”—the global popularization and influence of South Korean culture.

Being Korean myself, I was always curious about what made my ethnic culture so appealing. We can all see just how beloved the country’s products have become worldwide, but what is the true power behind this trend?

Moreover, what’s the impact of learning the truth behind the less appealing facts of Korean industries?

6. Seoul Train

Available on: Vimeo

Year: 2004

Ever since a political and geographical division was set between North and South Korea in 1945, northern-region refugees would try to find their way out of their inhospitable environment.

I watched this brutally-honest documentary years ago in school, and I still remember the haunting scenes to this day. It follows several North Korean families as they attempt to escape out of their home country.

The concept of fleeing itself sounds overwhelming, but the actual danger and tragedy of the journey are far more grim.

7. My Love, Don’t Cross that River

Korean title: 님아, 그 강을 건너지 마오

Available on: YouTube, Amazon Prime Video

Year: 2013

How can two people stick together for so long without getting sick of each other?

It’s an age-old question, but perhaps some answers can be gleaned from elderly Korean couple Jo Byeong-man (98) and Kang Kye-yeol (89), who’ve been married for over 70 years.

In this endearing documentary that’s as sweet as it is sad, you can peek into the lives of an adorable pair who show the endurance and patience of love. I’m warning you now: get some tissues for the ensuing waterworks.

8. The Drop Box

Available on: Amazon Prime Video

Year: 2015

When he stumbled upon an abandoned baby in front of his church one winter day, pastor Lee Jong-rak discovered another calling besides his clerical duties.

He tends to what’s known as a baby box: a drop box that can safely house stranded infants, whom he can then rescue and care for.

He has done all of this for years, without expecting anything in return. In a modern society laced with strife and pressure, Lee Jong-rak’s selfless actions show that there’s always hope to be found, even within the smallest, most vulnerable life.

Again, I’m certain that this documentary will make you shed more than a few tears.

9. From Makeup to Military: The Changing Korean Male

Available on: YouTube

Year: 2022

The expectations and perceptions of the male figure in Korean culture has undergone a rollercoaster of changes in a startlingly short period of time.

Outside of the nation, those primarily influenced by Korean pop culture may have views of the ideal Korean male that run in contrast to what native Korean men (and women) actually deal with.

To balance between gentility and strength, boldness and accommodation, prettiness with handsomeness—there are plenty of questions and discussion required to discuss the topic of masculinity in a still relatively-conservative country.

10. A Nation of Kimchi

Available on: Netflix

Year: 2023

Kimchi: Korea’s most famous food item, boasting a rich traditional legacy that still somehow undergoes experimentation in modern times.

As it’s said by my family and all my Korean acquaintances, if there’s no kimchi on the table, then there is no Korean meal to be had. But there’s far more to kimchi than its nutritional benefits and spicy, savory taste.

In this documentary, you can explore what makes kimchi such a beloved and critical aspect of Korean cuisine and culture. For the best viewing experience, I recommend you get a jar of kimchi to nibble on while watching.

11. A Nation of Banchan

Available on: Netflix

Year: 2023

A traditional Korean meal consists of a bowl of rice and an array of small side-dishes (yes, mandatorily including kimchi) known as banchan.

It’s an ancient custom that to this day provides an explosion of tastes, colors and nutrition for all to enjoy. In this documentary, you can see what makes Korean cuisine and eating habits so unique and mouth-watering.

If you plan to watch A Nation of Kimchi and A Nation of Banchan back-to-back, then I heartily suggest you have a big meal ready to eat so that you don’t immediately get hungry.

12. The Plastic Surgery Capital of the World

Available on: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV

Year: 2018

South Korea is renowned (or perhaps, infamous) for its ridiculously high rates of plastic surgery. Citizens could still be in their early teenage years when they receive their first surgery, often as a cosmetic gift, not for actual medical need.

But besides the financial price-tag, what else is at stake when undergoing such a procedure?

Annie Price, who suffered severe burns as a child, keenly explores the cost of beauty in this documentary.

13. South Korea’s Untouchable Families (Open Secrets)

Available on: YouTube

Year: 2022

The existence of a “secret elite” in South Korea isn’t really a secret at all. Everyone knows that there are some named folks who possess a prestige and reputation that supposedly gives them permission to break from social expectations.

Sometimes, that permission can actually involve a literal “get out jail free” card. This documentary by VICE News explores the daunting level of influence that certain Korean families possess tightly in their grasp.

14. Hanbok, the Art of Line & Color 

Available on: YouTube

Year: 2016

The hanbok is the traditional clothing of Korea. Known for its vivid colors, beautiful fabric and unique gender-distinguishing silhouette, it’s still worn today by Korean natives for various occasions and ceremonies.

But the hanbok is more than just a pretty piece of clothing—its history and making is laced with as much substance and vibrance as the very threads it’s made of.

I used to despise wearing a hanbok when I was younger because of how cumbersome it felt, but after watching this documentary, I deeply regret not cherishing it more!

15. How Did the Joseon Dynasty Reign for 500 Years?

Available on: YouTube

Year: 2023

Within Korea’s long and hallowed history, the Joseon dynasty (from 1392-1910) is particularly renowned, studied and popularized in media.

Its many years consisted of hallmark achievements in the realms of science, medicine, technology and art, including the creation of the Hangul alphabet in 1443 by King Sejong.

In this documentary, you can take a good peek into what defined the glory and prestige of the last Korean dynasty.

16. In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal

Available on: Netflix

Year: 2023

Religion isn’t anything strange in South Korea, with Christianity being the dominant formal denomination amongst native believers. However, sinister players can easily manipulate faith into absolute obedience and unwavering trust.

This documentary studies the real-life ploys of four religious Korean leaders, claimed prophets, who used their influence to commit horrific acts.

Their tales are described in what was publicly observed, as well as what was personally experienced by their victims. As a warning, this documentary covers sensitive topics besides religion, including sexual assault and murder.

 

Through documentaries, you can get deep and honest perspectives about the nation of Korea that you won’t find in other resources.

I guarantee that anything in this list will build up your understanding, appreciation and respect for what makes Korea, Korea.

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