korean-variety-shows

12 Exciting Korean Variety Shows for Everyone to Enjoy

Korean variety shows are beloved for their zaniness, drama and twists and turns.

But besides their entertainment value, they can also offer language lessons and insights that you won’t get anywhere else.

In this post, let’s take a look at 12 awesome examples of shows that can be enjoyed by all!

Contents

1. “Knowing Bros”

korean-variety-shows

Where to watch: Netflix

What it’s about: Acting as high school students, celebrities play a series of games within a classroom setting.

Cast list: Kang Ho-dong, Seo Jang-hoon, revolving cast

In this show, a certain celebrity plays a transfer student and enters the lion’s den, uhm, I mean the classroom. Everything is fair game from that point on.

You might see interviews, debates, karaoke, random games, improv, etc. There are even eating contests, poetry slams and every once in a while, a wrestling match. The guests are usually from girl and boy groups who are put in uncomfortable situations to the delight of their fans.

Practice for Korean learners: Language learners will get stretches of rapid-fire banter and teasing between hosts and guests from this show. It’s perfect for intermediate students who want to up their Korean speaking and listening skills.

2. “Infinite Challenge”

korean-variety-shows

Where to watch: Viki

What it’s about: In this zany show, celebrities are forced to endure a relentless series of nigh-impossible challenges.

Cast list: Yang Se-hyung, Park Myung-soo, HaHa, Jung Jun-Ha, Yoo Jae-suk, Noh Hong-chul

What do you get from a show whose tagline is, “Dirty, Dangerous, Difficult?” Well, everything… and so much more. You get tugs-of-war with cows, black noodle soup while on a roller coaster ride, hidden camera pranks, satirical TV ads and fake news segments.

The challenges are so creative and sometimes so impossible that you just can’t help but stay glued to your seat. That’s what you get when you have a show anchored by cast members who are ready to do just about anything at the drop of a hat. This show has been so influential that it’s been reported the South Korean government wanted it to feature content based on its policies.

Practice for Korean learners: “Infinite Challenge” is full of Korean words and phrases that you can use in normal conversations. So for language learners who enjoy features like “Word of the Day” or “Phrase of the Day,” you can lift this stuff right from this show.

3. “Weekly Idol”

korean-variety-shows

Where to watch: Viki, YouTube

What it’s about: K-pop stars are asked to carry out different tasks and play different games, all for an awesome reward.

Cast list: Lee Sang-min, Yoo Se-yoon, Kim Shin-young, revolving cast of K-pop idols

Each week on this show, different K-pop stars and groups come in for a jolly good time to win an appealing prize (like their favorite grilled beef?). For example, they might be asked to dance to a specific song—then suddenly, some other song is switched in and they must go with the flow and adjust their dance moves.

If you want to see your idols both tense and relaxed, then watch this show. It’s all so zany and it gives you the chance to see your idols in a whole new light.

Practice for Korean learners: Just like on many Korean shows, they like repeating and emphasizing punchlines. For example, if someone says something funny, the editing team loops it four or five times, even writing out what was said in bold pulsating letters for emphasis.

4. “The Return of Superman”

korean-variety-shows

Where to watch: Viki, YouTube

What it’s about: Celebrity fathers are left alone with their kids, in their own homes, for 48 hours, while mom enjoys a well-deserved break. 

Cast list: Park Joo-ho, So Yoo-jin, Sayuri Fujita and more

If “The Bachelor” ended up marrying the girl, and they had kids, then it would be this show.

Celebrity fathers must undergo a mission to keep their kids happy (and alive!) for those 48 hours—without any help. From their kitchen foibles to their awful lullabies, This provides an intimate look into the lives of celebrities as regular and real-life fathers, doing everything from entertaining their kids to cleaning up after them.

Practice for Korean learners: Because they’re talking to little ones, the fathers often use words and phrases perfect for language beginners. The interaction is often simple and suited to learners who might consider themselves “babies” in the language.

5. “2 Days & 1 Night”

korean-variety-shows

Where to watch: Viki

What it’s about: Cast members visit little-known but interesting spots around South Korea, making merry and creating crazy.

Cast list: Kim Jun-ho, Jung Joon-young, Kim Jong-min, DinDin, Moon Se-yoon

This show is a dream for South Korea’s tourism office. But instead of targeting an international audience, it’s for South Koreans. You’ll watch a motley crew travel to some mountain town, seaside village or a nearby island where they spend two days and one night. They explore the place, meet with locals and have interesting conversations along the way.

They’re also given a variety of challenges, followed by a reward or punishment. A reward might allow them a taste of a local delicacy; a punishment might mean going for a dip in the town’s frigid waters.

Practice for Korean learners: Other than Korean, you can also learn about South Korea as a country, including its hidden gems that even South Koreans know very little about. Basically, you can discover the culture the same way a local would.

6. “We Got Married”

korean-variety-shows

Where to watch: Viki in select regions, YouTube

What it’s about: Two celebrities, who aren’t a couple, are asked to live the life of a married couple.

Cast list: Hong Kyung-min, Solbi, Kim So-eun, SG Wannabe members, 2AM members and more

Each week, a matched couple are given different tasks and missions, from getting groceries on a limited budget to spiffing up the house. The couples might be fake but the tasks and the interactions are real, and fans are on the edge of their seats wondering if the two people in the situation are really starting to fall for each other.

This premise caught on and resulted in a Chinese spin-off featuring celebrities from Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

Practice for Korean learners: The Korean used by the couple is very natural in tone and cadence. Sometimes one person talks over the other, and other times they use slang and idiomatic expressions. The fact that viewers only need to follow two people really helps with absorbing it all.

7. “I Live Alone” / “Home Alone”

korean variety shows

Where to watch: Viki

What it’s about: Follow the footsteps of a celebrity who lives the solo life.

Cast list: Lee Si-eon, Park Na-rae, Kian84, Sung Hoon and more

Its premise might sound quite mundane, but “I Live Alone” (also known as “Home Alone”) has become a hot favorite in and out of Korea. Roughly a third of Korean celebrities live alone for varying reasons: the lack of a romantic partner, business matters that often keep a couple apart or a simple personal preference to live independently.

While there are a few variety show elements like group panels and such, the show’s special sauce is its honest portrayal of these individuals as they go about their everyday life. The show is well-liked for its unscripted and genial nature, supported by the documentary-style footage that gives little peeks into the celebrity’s life.

Practice for Korean learners: Viewers can expect to hear more natural Korean, particularly the Korean used to describe daily or self activities. The relatable aspects of the show will also certainly help to keep viewers engaged with the content.

8. “Law of the Jungle”

korean-variety-shows

Where to watch: Viki

What it’s about: Celebrities, actors, K-pop stars, etc. are plopped into remote locations where they’ll have to fend for themselves.

Cast list: Kim Byung-man, Noh Woo-jin, Park Jung-chul, Kangnam and more

The show has been to places like the Cook Islands, Madagascar, the Amazon and Antarctica. The guest stars gather food and create shelter. They’ll have to survive extreme weather conditions and scarcity. But most of all, they’ll need to survive each other.

“Law of the Jungle” is hosted by Kim Byung-man, a comedian—because, you know, there’s nothing like humor to tide you over through a cold night in the middle of nowhere when your stomach is empty.

Practice for Korean learners: Language learners can take life lessons from these Korean stars. If people who are pampered by the adoring media at home can survive and flourish in extreme conditions, are you really going to let a minor setback in learning Korean stop you? 

9. “Crime Scene”

Where to watch: YouTube

Cast list: Park Ji-yoon, Jang Jin, Hong Jin-ho and more

What it’s about: A mock-up of a murder scene (inspired by actual real-life cases) is presented to the cast who must then use their personal detective skills, available resources and limited time to conduct thorough investigations.

With “Crime Scene,” Sherlock wannabes, crime-solving enthusiasts or general lovers of the game “Clue” can get their mystery fix. The end goal of this show’s cast is to figure out the criminal hiding among them. If the members can correctly deduct the true murderer, then the cash prize is given to them; however, if the heinous perpetrator runs scot-free, he or she alone takes the whole cake.

A lot of fun and intrigue can be found in the dramatized portrayal of the crime scene investigation process. Any fans of the “whodunnit” brand will surely appreciate the effort put forward by the crime recreation and role-playing elements from the cast. Indeed, several members express a fantastic degree of serious smarts (or deception) while tackling the case.

Practice for Korean learners: Avid learners can get some exposure to some specialized vocabulary, such as crime-related Korean terminology. During investigations, expect to hear phrases and questions of context-dependent deductive reasoning, as well as speech used during interrogations.

10. “Abnormal Summit”

korean variety shows

Where to watch: YouTube

What it’s about: A panel of individuals, which includes both native Koreans and those from different nations, discuss topics concerning Korean culture and society.

The show features discussions from individuals who are fluent in the language. But being foreigners, they’re able to bring their own unique perspectives to the table as they talk and debate on a variety of matters.

This is a great show to indulge in some fun and genuinely thoughtful conversations about current affairs. It had a large appeal to viewers to native Koreans and foreigners interested in Korea. The formatting of the show offered an open space to air opinions from various viewpoints, and it especially helped when the panel consisted of members from nations beyond Europe or America.

Practice for Korean learners: “Abnormal Summit” can be very helpful in providing cultural insight to learners who aren’t from Korea. It can also show you how to or express opinions about social and cultural issues, which is surely something of value for learners aspiring to live or do business in Korea.

11. “New Journey to the West”

korean variety shows

Where to watch: YouTube, Naver TV (only available in Korea)

What it’s about: Well-known Korean celebrities travel through different Asian hotspots while undergoing an assortment of challenges.

Cast list: Kang Ho-dong, Lee Seung-gi, Ahn Jae-hyun, Song Min-ho, Lee Soo-geun

The title of the series refers to the classic, 16th-century Chinese novel known as “Journey to the West.” The show’s very first season has the cast traversing through Xian, China role-playing as characters from the story. Later seasons have the troop venturing to places in Vietnam, Japan, Hong Kong and even their home country of South Korea.

The fun of the show revolves around the chemistry of the cast and the unexpected games and missions they must endure. If you know anything about Korean group games, it’s that they can be quite demanding, and there are a lot of hilarious moments as members struggle and stumble through them.

Practice for Korean learners: The cast members often repeat phrases, so active listeners can readily pick up tidbits of new material. During the wayside moments, there’s a lot of fun and casual banter tossed around that can boost a learner’s acquaintance with more informal, natural Korean.

12. “King of Mask Singer”

korean variety shows

Where to watch: Viki

What it’s about: Different contestants compete in a paired singing competition while wearing some fabulous masks to hide their identities.

Cast list: Kim Sung-joo, Shin Bong-sun, Kim Gu-ra and more

If you’re a fan of the American TV series “The Masked Singer” then “King of Mask Singer” will be right up your alley in both entertainment and learning value.

Since each contestant must hide their identity, the judging panel’s ratings aren’t biased toward their actual backgrounds. Besides belting out some favorite Korean tunes, the contestants are also open to panel interrogation and can showcase other neat tricks they can do, which can help the judges get an idea of who they really are. The losing contestant of each pair-off must unmask and reveal themselves, while the winner goes on to challenge the previous competition winner (known as the “King”) in hopes to steal the crown.

Practice for Korean learners: The show supplies Korean subtitles for the song lyrics, which you can certainly use to practice your Korean reading skills. Additionally, the often heartfelt and enthusiastic interviews for unmasked contestants can show you how to describe yourself and your aspirations.

Why Korean Variety Shows Work for Language Learning

“Variety show” is a catch-all term for entertainment acts that include song numbers, dance performances, interviews, comedy sketches, magic, ventriloquism and juggling. The key word here is “variety.”

Traditional variety shows feature a single platform or stage where different acts can be performed. Today’s variety shows have gone beyond the studio, where acts are recorded in front of an appreciative audience. The shows also now include elaborate sets, reality segments, celebrities doing games and challenges and more.

Korean variety shows, just like Korean dramas and movies, are their own unique brand of entertainment helping spread Korean language and culture around the world. These shows are a tour de force when it comes to language learning for a number of reasons.

Korean variety shows are authentic.

Today’s technology means that language learners don’t need to purchase a plane ticket just to get immersed in authentic Korean material. You can watch what Koreans watch and you don’t even have to change into a fresh pair of pajamas to do it.

“Authentic content” is very important to Korean language learners because it features the language as it’s used by native speakers. It’s language “in the wild,” as opposed to language in the laboratory.

A Korean instructional video, for example, will have hosts enunciating slowly, clearly and repetitively just so viewers can follow the lessons. Authentic content would assume that viewers know the language, therefore speak rapid-fire fast and use idiomatic expressions and slang.

It’s the reason why actual language learning programs would use authentic content as lesson material. Yes, it can be more difficult to follow the Korean used, but these resources can hone your ability to dissect and absorb all the valuable information that the content naturally possesses.

One example is FluentU, a website and app (iOS and Android) that takes clips like music videos, commercials and show snippets, and then combines them with study tools. These include interactive subtitles that provide instant word translations, as well as a video dictionary that shows how words are used in different clips. This way, you can efficiently learn realistic Korean in context, then review them with quizzes that also test your writing and pronunciation skills.

fluentu-korean-lesson

Native Korean media will ensure that you learn the Korean language as it’s actually used. And while fictional dramas, series and films are also generally considered to be authentic content, variety shows add a whole new level because the situations on-screen tend to be less scripted and the language more realistic. Korean variety shows illustrate what Koreans actually sound like when used by real native speakers.

Korean variety shows are fun.

When these shows were conceived by their producers, they had ratings in mind. And in order to win the ratings game, shows have to entertain. As a rule, these shows cannot be boring. Every minute should have something going on—something funny, interesting, intriguing, an unexpected twist or a dilemma.

These elements all work for the language learner, making the show and the language memorable. Learning the language becomes doubly easy when you’re having fun.

Korean variety shows are contextually and culturally insightful.

Korean variety shows provide a vivid context for the language being used. And often, this context is tied to culture. In the midst of fun and games, an observant language learner will, for example, see a demonstration of Korean honorifics in how a host greets his guests. This exchange could clue you into their sense of relationship hierarchy.

These shows give you a powerful visual of Korean culture. It can be gleaned from the objects and props on set, the places the shows go to, the different activities they engage in and the meaningful non-verbal cues that pop up on the screen.

With Korean language shows, you’re learning about language and culture at the same time. And maybe you’re even seeing your favorite Korean idol getting poked by a foam finger in the face, which of course easily makes your day.

 

Not only will you laugh and cry your heart out with these Korean variety shows, but you’ll also learn a language, parts of the culture and perhaps a thing or two about life. That’s hitting three birds with one stone, which is a pretty darn good use of your time.

So now, there’s only one thing left to do… press “Play.”

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