The Korean wave or K wave , a neologism, literally meaning "wave/flow of Korea") is the increase in global popularity of South Korean culture since the 1990s. First driven by the spread of K-dramas and K-pop across East, Southeast and South Asia during its initial stages, the Korean Wave evolved from a regional development into a global phenomenon, carried by the Internet and social media and the proliferation of K-pop music videos on YouTube.
The Korean term for the phenomenon of the Korean Wave is Hanryu (Hangul: 한류), more commonly romanized as Hallyu. The term is made of two root words: han (한/韓) meaning "Korean", and ryu (류/流) meaning "flow" or "wave", and referring to the diffusion of Korean culture.
This term is sometimes applied differently outside of Korea; for example, overseas, Hallyu drama refers to Korean drama in general, but in Korea, Hallyu drama and Korean drama are taken to mean slightly different things. According to researcher Jeongmee Kim, the term Hallyu refers only to dramas that have gained success overseas, or feature actors that are internationally recognised.
Since the turn of the 21st century, South Korea has emerged as a major exporter of popular culture and tourism, aspects which have become a significant part of its burgeoning economy. The growing popularity of Korean pop culture in the world was at least partly driven by the South Korean government supporting its creative industries through subsidies and funding for start-ups, as a form of soft power with the goal of becoming a leading global exporter of culture in line with Japanese and British culture, a niche that the United States has dominated for nearly a century. In 2014, the South Korean government allocated 1% of its annual budget to cultural industries and raised a $1 billion fund to nurture popular culture.
As the popularity of K-pop songs and Korean dramas such as Gangnam Style, Moon Embracing the Sun, Squid Game and Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha accomplished international success, South Korea is now recognized as a hub of both economic and soft power akin to many Western countries with few parallels, especially for a non-Western nation. The South Korean mass media and entertainment industry has caught up with English speaking Western countries in terms of production value, technology and talent
The Korean wave encompasses the global awareness of different aspects of South Korean culture including film and television (particularly "K-dramas"), K-pop, manhwa, the Korean language, and Korean cuisine. American political scientist Joseph Nye defines the Korean wave as "the growing popularity of all things Korean, from fashion and film to music and cuisine."
With BTS breaking Guinness World records by hitting billions of views on YouTube and multiple record chart to Hybe Corporation, formerly known as Big Hit Entertainment acquiring Ithaca Holdings of Scooter Braun in 2021. Korean Wave is now turning itself as a power player in global entertainment industry and international soft power arena. It is one of the few successful phenomenon from Asia that is able to break into American mainstream entertainment that was till now mostly dominated by domestic, British and European brands. As per an Iranian-American expert on global geopolitical risk and geo-economics Afshin Molavi, the global pop culture once dominated by the West is now more globalized.
The soft power of Korean wave is able to break racial prejudice and fulfil the missing representation of Asians in western media. People from East and Southeast Asia are able to see the remarkable success achieved by K-pop idols as their own.
As per World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Innovation Index 2021, K-pop became one of the cornerstone of creativity in South Korea.