Last week, a small anime news outlet worked anime fans into a frenzy after it reported on a Disney content director’s bold claim that Korean streaming content “is superior to Japanese content in terms of expansion power” and that Korean content “is loved in multiple areas outside of one country and evokes empathy”. The comment was needlessly incendiary (given the historical animosity between the two countries, also not surprising). But it does raise an interesting question about how far and wide both the Korean and Japanese TV and film markets will grow over the next several years.
Korean and Japanese TV and film are streaming hot in international waters
Both Korean and Japanese media have had international fans for decades, although both have generally been limited to certain genres.
Japan’s anime domination is exploding
For Japan, anime has been a long-time international export, especially to the U.S. The U.S. anime market was worth nearly $2B in 2022, while the international market for anime is worth nearly $27B. The entire industry is expected to grow to $48 billion in value by 2030.
Merchandising and internet distribution (e.g., streaming via services like Funimation, Crunchyroll, Hulu, and HiDive) are a major part of that, easing the access and expanding the footprint into international fanbases and giving them something to appeal to their desire to physically own parts of their favorite anime.
Korean media breaks out of sappy dramas
For years, the interest in Korean film was primarily in Korean dramas, known more colloquially as Kdrama. Services like Kocawa have popped up to help serve international fans who want do dive deep into the Korean media industry’s biggest export. Pa
However, interest in Korean media is starting to expand beyond just the Kdrama genre. A few major hits in the past few years—like the critically-acclaimed movie Parasite, and the fan-favorite Netflix series Squid Game—have completely changed the game for the Korean media industry and its broader acceptance.
South Korea’s film industry has been notoriously stymied by its protectionist screen quotas that have limited both the growth and innovativeness of the industry. The fact that it’s coming into its own in recent years is evidence that filmmakers in the country are working their way out of that system and proving the value of taking chances on appealing to international tastes.
Is Korean content really more acceptable to international fans?
This brings us back to the original issue at hand. The full quoted claim made by Disney’s content director for its Asia-Pacific content was that “Korean material is superior to Japanese content in terms of expansion power, in which particular content is loved in multiple areas outside of one country and evokes empathy.”
Her comment suggests the opposite is true of Japanese content: that it lacks equivalent expansion power, is not as loved outside of its how country, and doesn’t evoke empathy. That’s a fairly loaded comment.
Subjectively, it shows a lack of understanding of Japanese media (and anime, in particular, which is incredibly dynamic and richly varied in themes, genres, and narrative development).
Objectively, however…there may be some truth to it when one considers the live-action content market. Japanese media may still be a bit pigeonholed within the anime genre. Few live-action Japanese TV shows or movies make waves in US or international markets, even on streaming services. And those that do are usually live-action variants of popular anime and manga.
Conversely, thanks to Parasite and Squid Game, most people can name at least one Korean TV show or film that they’ve now seen that isn’t a Kdrama. As for Japanese content, most people will claim to have either seen a mainstream anime like Naruto, or reach back further have to reach somewhat further back in time to peg a Japanese film they may have seen, such as Battle Royale or The Ring.
Does a comparison even really matter?
Here’s the more important question. Does it actually matter that Japan’s chief visual export is likely to continue being anime, while the Korean TV and film industry is taking hold in the live-action market?
No. Not at all.
For its part, Japanese anime is increasingly mainstream. As Hollywood Reported highlighted in a May 2022 article, Japanese anime is now one of the world’s most lucrative industries. That’s a testament to the fact that it’s become more widely accepted by viewers across all backgrounds, even many who even a decade ago would never have considered watching anime before.
Meanwhile, the Korean film industry’s wide international growth is thanks in no small part to international streaming services like Netflix. Producers in the industry have also been studying Hollywood intensely, matching styles and strategies. That method has allowed Korean film and TV production companies to create content that is familiar to international and U.S. audiences.
In light of this, the reality of the aforementioned statement is that it’s only a half-truth. The Korean media industry is starting to find wide appeal in live-action content. But that doesn’t deny the increasingly broad interest in Japanese anime among a large swath of the public. It’s less an issue of whether one appeals to international markets more and the fact that this town really is big enough for both of them.
Our takeaway: Market maturity builds international interest and empathy
In her attempt to appeal to Korean audiences and promote Disney, its regional content director may have been unnecessarily divisive with appeals to underlying ethnic tensions between Japan and Korea. That was undoubtedly wrong in form, but it was also wrong in its assessment of the market. The Japanese media industry is exceptionally mature. Even if its chief export right now is anime, anime as a genre is dizzyingly broad and increasingly mainstream.
Meanwhile, the Korean TV and film industry is growing at a nice pace, thanks to the help of international streaming services — the same services that are benefiting the Japanese media industry.
And since we know you’re wondering, here’s where to find Korean and Japanese content
We wouldn’t leave you without something actionable! Here’s our shortlist of services to watch both Korean and Japanese TV shows and movies.
- Netflix: Carries a large number of Korean films, Kdrama, Japanese anime, and live-action Japanese shows. Also, it’s the only place to watch Squid Game its upcoming second season.
- Hulu: Hulu has a wide selection of Japanese anime and a reasonable selection of Korean content. It’s also a great place to watch the hit Bong Joo-ho film, Parasite.
- Crunchyroll: For U.S. anime fans, this is the gold standard. And now that Funimation is owned by Crunchyroll with all Funimation content shifting there as well, it’s the best option on the market.
- Kocawa: Undoubtedly, the best option for fans of Korean content in the U.S. market right now.
Tech, video games, and a good book. I love all of them, and I'd write about all of them if I had the chance! I've been a teacher in the past, now a writer for tech-related news, guides, and information.