Essential East Asia: Cultural Phenomena Making A Splash In The West

When it comes to media consumption, English-speaking Western countries in general and the USA in particular have generally been net exporters over the years. While you don’t have to look too far to find more diverse influences in the music and film industries, it’s generally more common to see US or British bands and stars on TV overseas than it is to see the reverse. But thanks in no small part to the internet, there is certainly a growing wave coming back towards our theaters and streaming services – and in particular, coming from East Asia.

If you’re looking to broaden your horizons, then, there are certainly a few options open to you on a range of cultural fronts. As countries like China, South Korea and Japan become more accessible to a Western audience, there are more than a few acts worth checking out, as we’ll go into now.

Music and dance

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past few years, the chances are you’ve come into contact with BTS. The Seoul-based K-pop sensation has been making an impact on the charts with a trio of English-language hits since 2020 – Dynamite, Permission to Dance and the Grammy-nominated Butter. A string of sold-out shows at LA’s SoFi Stadium solidified their place as the vanguard of a K-pop movement that also includes Blackpink, TxT and Seventeen, and more US shows lie ahead, this time in Las Vegas.

If you’re more into dance, then you might be more interested in taking in the multimedia performance of Shen Yun, a Chinese performing arts troupe that tours worldwide and has been receiving rave reviews. They have been compared favorably with Cirque du Soleil, and compliments don’t come much higher.


2019’s Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-ho, made headlines by becoming the first-ever non-English language movie to win the Best Picture Oscar. It was no “gesture” on the Academy’s part; the dark humor and twisted drama on show were Bong at his best, along with a string of note-perfect acting performances from an excellent cast. Anyone whole interest in East Asian cinema has been piqued could do a lot worse than check out Schemes in Antiques, a joint Chinese-Japanese action drama which grossed more than $50million worldwide.

Streaming shows

One of 2021’s most-streamed shows, Squid Game, is apparently on its way back for a second series, though many viewers felt that the tightly-plotted, atmospheric debut season left everything tied up. We’ll probably still tune in when the new season drops, but while we’re waiting, streaming services can offer plenty more: Korea’s Something in the Rain and Love Alarm are richly-written dramas that will appeal to fans of the aforementioned show, while Chinese efforts like Love 020 and The Untamed and J-drama Followers are also well worth a stream.

And while the big three nations dominate the streaming services, interested parties should check out Girl from Nowhere and Love Destiny, Thai shows that both push a lot of boundaries and are braver than a lot of Western shows dare to be.

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