Depending on your unique life experience, the term “anime” likely evokes a strong emotional connotation at first impact. Since its advent in the second half of the 20th century, this far-reaching export of Japanese media has inspired all manner of cult followings, giving rise to an aesthetic that touches multiple subcultures. Fans love anime for its expressive characters, high energy storylines, and bombastic displays of emotion. Others find the genre lurid, nerdy and tasteless. Fortunately, new nations are gaining acclaim throughout the genre, lending a diversity in storytelling and style that can satisfy larger ranges of audiences. Korean anime hits it big with viewers who like a certain softness and nuance.
Thus, anime thrives on, despite the dwindling haters. Its impact can be found throughout music, fashion, film, and more. Today, with anime’s continued proliferation and development aided by technology and streaming services, fans can stream a vast array of offerings from numerous Asian nations, satisfying multitudinous moods and aesthetics. Korean anime is one of the fastest growing cultural subdivisions of this genre. With the great wave of Korean exports taking America by storm from skincare to K-pop and hit films like Parasite, we’ve rounded up the best Korean anime movies and series for you to start streaming. We know just the right place for a movie night. Join the bandwagon before it picks up too much speed!
What is Anime?
Anime is a Merriam-Webster sanctioned word, replete with its own definition: “a style of animation originating in Japan that is characterized by stark colorful graphics depicting vibrant characters in action-filled plots often with fantastic or futuristic themes.” While the term immediately calls to mind its iconic style of drawing, sleek and emotive at once, be careful not to confuse anime with its stationary comic book relative, manga. The term “anime” specifically refers to moving pictures, hence its etymology as listed again by Merriam-Webster: “Japanese, animation, short for animēshiyon, from English.”
The History of Korean Anime
There are a few places where Merriam-Webster’s neat little pocket of information about anime falls short. First, Merriam-Webster leaves out the prevalence of other Asian nations in anime’s development. Second, the entry lists that the first use of the term “anime” is recorded in 1985. If this information is true, it’s misleading. Japanese studios actually began producing anime in the 1960s, crafting animated shorts. By the 1990s, Japanese and eventually American studios were overwhelmed with the medium’s demand and success. Around that time, these foreign studios began exporting the grunt work aspects of producing anime to Japan’s neighbors. Korean animators have been behind the basic groundwork for shows like The Simpsons, Hey Arnold, Ben 10, and more all this time, and you may not have even known it.
The 1990s were a gigantic boom for animation studios throughout the South Korea nation. Their population had taken readily to the invention of computer games, so they possessed the muscle memory required for digital animation. By completing the grunt work which studios in richer countries handed down, Korean animators learned the tricks of the trade well enough to produce their own original content.
Global depression crippled the world during the 2000s, and Korean studios took the blow hard and to heart when foreign markets stopped outsourcing their animation work to help cut costs. Some sites posit that the experience of this difficulty led Korean studios to do some “soul-searching,” according to My Anime List, shifting from a profit model of ‘quantity over quality’ to the inverse. Like this, Korean animation studios began producing their own proprietary anime, a process which culminated in 2011. By 2016, Korean anime characters were well-loved around the world. Today, Korean anime has achieved prominence both domestically and abroad in foreign nations like Japan and the United States.
Unique Traits of Korean Anime
Where Japanese anime has caught audiences around the world by proving intoxicatingly emotive, sexual, and striking, with big bursts of emotion and countless fight scenes, every country’s approach to the genre carries aspects of its own individual psychology, personality, and taste. Oftentimes the differentiating factors between Japanese and Korean anime are a matter of opinion and perspective. However, one Korean travel website notes that where Japanese anime places a heavy emphasis on action and impact, Korean anime focuses more on human stories and softer interpersonal interactions. Korean anime is also a bit smoother around the edges from an aesthetic standpoint. Think of Korean anime as more of an indie film than an action flick—ripe with unconventional angles, spinning minutia into the universal.
Six Korean Animes to Start Streaming Today
My Beautiful Girl, Mari
One of the earliest South Korean films to make a major splash worldwide, My Beautiful Girl, Mari graced the public in 2002. This feature film tells the tale of Kim Nam-Woo as he navigates one of those painful life periods where his closest friends disappear one by one. His best friend is moving away to Seoul, his father has passed away, and his mother is utterly absorbed with her new partner. The protagonist retreats into his fantasies, where he meets Mari, a girl who blurs the line between fact and fiction. Since winning the Best Feature Film Award at the 26th edition of the prestigious Annency International Film Festival in France, My Beautiful Girl, Mari has entered historiy’s annals as an unforgettable classic.
Yobi, the Five Tailed Fox
You can stream famed full-length film Yobi, the Five Tailed Fox on YouTube. Released in 2007, this is another relatively early Korean anime that hit it big amongst fans worldwide. The premise pulls from a bit of lore—nine-tailed foxes abound throughout East Asian mythology. The Korean iteration is called a kumiho, a bloodthirsty, shape-shifting, human-fox hybrid. In this tail (that’s a pun) Yobi the Five Tailed Fox transforms into a human to protect an alien stranded on Earth when it’s rejected by its fellow aliens. Yobi assumes a human form and joins the school where the forlorn alien has found shelter amongst children, pledging to help the alien return home. Yobi makes friends at the school and falls in love with the human way of life. One big problem, though? She needs a human soul to remain in her form.
The God of High School
This Korean anime released its first and only season last year to great acclaim, based on a well-loved manhwa (the Korean counterpart to manga—illustrated comics.) “When an island half-disappears from the face of the earth, a mysterious organization sends out invitations for a tournament to every skilled fighter in the world,” the show’s description explains. Main character, high school student, and tae kwon do specialist Jin Mo-Ri throws his name in the ring, and uncovers all kinds of mysteries beneath the competition’s enigmatic surface. There’s only thirteen episodes of this addictive series with no plans for future seasons, so savor the story wisely!
Many fans turn to anime, particularly Korean anime, for the escapism offered by cuter aspects of its aesthetic and storytelling. If you’re looking for a little lighthearted relief to ease out of your stressful work week, then look no further than Flowering Heart, a feel-good Korean anime available to stream on Netflix. This binge-worthy bit of easy watching has been on the air since 2018. It follows several girls who utilize the magical powers they’ve recently received to assist with solving everyday problems around their school and community. Rendered in gorgeous, colorful animation with neat conflict resolutions to round out each of the 31 episodes, Flowering Heart is a portal to a place where life is a little prettier and a little neater, no matter what your reality might look like in the moment.
Tower of God
Tower of God is another series based on a Korean manhwa that debuted on HBO Max last year. The story centers around Twenty-Fifth Bam, a boy who’s lived in relative squalor and darkness and solitude. Suddenly, a girl name Rachel appears and changes his life. The two become close friends, until one day, a strange tower which summons chosen ones called ‘regulars’ to come seize their wildest dreams calls Rachel’s name. Desperate to hold onto his new friend, Twenty-Fifth Bam breaks protocol by breaching the tower for himself. Those who do this are called “irregulars,” and their existences are the stuff of legends. Right now this series only has one season out for enjoyment, but there’s rumors that 2021 might bring a second season. Best to catch up now so you’re ready in the event of a surprise drop!
Aachi & Ssipak
This 2006 full length film belongs to movie night with your grownup friends. Minimal cute stuff here, but still plenty to chew on. First of all, the hairstyles and clothing throughout Aachi & Ssipak harken back to a nostalgic era for most millennials. Furthermore, the story line is hilarious and thought-provoking, albeit a bit grotesque. This film takes place in the future, where society has depleted all fuel sources. Instead, the world runs on scat, and people receive payment for their excrement. The system offers incredibly addictive ‘Juicybars’ to participants in reward their services. Dynamic duo Aachi and Ssipak earn their keep selling illegal Juicybars on the black market. Their duo becomes a trio when they meet Beautiful, an adult actress with the most valuable excrement in the universe. This film elucidates the machinations of money through the laughable lens of what it really is: a whole bunch of shit.