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South Korea's 'Genre Literature'

Jumping Beyond Korea and into the World

 

2017.8.18

 

It is a pity but before the 1990s South Korea did not have the basis for 'genre literature.' It was, perhaps, due to the situation of the country where there was no room for people to laugh and cry over various works or at times, fall into imaginary worlds beyond their dreams. The biggest reason was due to the fact the country lacked pop culture that could be loved and adored by the public following the military rule of Japan and the Korean War.

 

 

The history of South Korea's 'genre literature'

 

'Genre literature' in South Korea has recently been readying its wings to fly after going through many ups and downs for years. The beginning of literary genres in South Korea can be traced back to the mid-to-late 1990s when the Internet took off in South Korea. The Internet provided a place where users could fully express themselves at a time when there were not many opportunities to do so.

Works representative of South Korea's fantasy genre like Yeong-do Lee's Dragon Raja and Min-hee Jeon's Children of the Rune were able to take flight thanks to the Internet. As works like these started gaining in popularity, many other aspiring writers rushed to the Internet and some of them became professional writers later.

The Internet services that were used then have been long replaced by others now, but the new Internet spaces that have emerged still remain places where those dreaming to be writers can express themselves. Eun-gwol Jung's The Days of Sungkyunkwan Scholars and Baekmyo's Cinderella and Her Four Knights that represent South Korea's romance novels are examples of works from the early 2000s when the first-generation Internet was being replaced by another.

 

 

The writers that lead Korea's 'genre literature'

 

After then, South Korea's 'genre literature' has been showing steady progress, even if it may be slower than the days of Dragon Raja. Readers have begun to take interest like genres like science fiction, horror and mysteries that were in the past, comparatively less popular compared to conventional literary genres like fantasy and romances. Writers in the past used to say South Korea has less than 1,000 science fiction readers, but currently, the genre has seen a number of new authors that enjoy widespread popularity as well as die-hard fans.

Authors like Myung-hoon Bae, known for his works like The Tower and other books of satire, and former newspaper journalist Kangmyoung Chang who writes for a number of mediums about different genres are two of these. Bo-young Kim is also another science fiction writer who is now gaining attention through phenomenal and dreamy science fiction novels. Kim also participated in writing up the first draft script of South Korean film director Joon-ho Bong's “Snowpiercer”.

Another author of interest is DJUNA, a mysterious author who debuted as a film critic in the late 1990s and has also been working as a science writer. Despite this author's lengthy work history, no one has any personal information about DJUNA, who has a strong fan base and influence on social media. DJUNA has published nine science fiction novels including The Bloody Battle on the Broccoli Plain and Not God Yet.

Horror is yet another genre in which some writers have gained fame, even more so compared to science fiction although the attention it receives is still far less compared to romance novels. Jong-ho Lee, who penned the original works for movies “Bunshinsaba” and “Muoi” is one of them. Jin-oh Shin, who authored the novel that became the movie “The Chosen: Forbidden Cave” also gained popularity by combining cultural fear elements from East Asia including Korea in his work. There are also writers like Jong-il Kim whose books grip readers with fear through thoroughly violent and palm-sweating narratives in books like The Body and Samakdo. South Korea's mystery genre has had few success stories after Sung-jong Kim's The Last Witness but Jin-ki Do is currently trying to change that with unique stories that were previously hard to see in South Korean novels, thanks to his background as a judge and lawyer.

 

 

Possibilities spied through the success of the magazine, Mysteria

 

A bimonthly magazine called Mysteria published by Elixir of publishing house Munhakdongne has shown 'genre literature' has the potential to grow in South Korea ever since it was made available in July 2015. The magazine marks over 10,000 copies in sales with every publication and it has dealt readers and publishers alike a fresh blow as many literary magazines before it had ceased to exist or were in the process of being discontinued due to South Korea being considered a 'barren land' for literary genres.

The success of Mysteria has blown all those doubts away and rather shown readers in South Korea are thirsty for more. The reason why sales of 'genre literature' had been soft in South Korea was the fact that there had been few books worth reading, rather than low demand in general. It showed readers were willing to open their wallets without hesitation and give their money to publishers once they had found something they wanted to read -- something that fulfilled their needs.

 

 

Beyond Korea and Into the World

 

While 'genre literature' is expanding its strength in South Korea's literary market, it is also gaining offshore attention, leaping beyond the borders of South Korea. The fantasy genre has been the most successful in doing so. Yeong-do Lee's Dragon Raja was first exported to Japan in 2005 and has sold over 400,000 copies, showing South Korean literature can do well out of the country. Children of the Rune by Min-hee Jeon was also called the most-sold novel in Japan in 2013 by the Korea cultural center in Tokyo, supporting the fact that the novels had more than enough to content readers outside the country.

South Korea's literary success has not stopped at fantasy. Guiyeoni's romance novels were exported more quickly to countries in Asia like China, Japan, Taiwan and Thailand ahead of Dragon Raja and saw some $30,000 in copyright profits. Jin-ki Do's mystery novels were also recently sold into China.

Those working in the science fiction genre have also been making efforts to take South Korean books out of the country. Thanks to the cooperation of public and private companies, a collective publication of science fiction works is slated to be published in the United States in 2018. It will combine works by professional science fiction writers as well as authors like Min-kyu Park and Yi-hyung Yoon who are traditionally writers of different genres. It will also include posthumous works by those like In-hoon Choi, known for Typhoon. The collection aims to secure the attention of readers in the United States, where science fiction originated. While South Korea is shifting from the barren land of 'genre literature' into a new settlement for fiction, efforts are also being made continuously to forge into new countries.

 

 


Written by Sang-min Sung (A culture commentator, columnist)

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Sang-min Sung (A culture commentator, columnist)

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