Six Korean Variety Shows Filled with Laughter and Celebrities — The Kraze (2024)

Alongside K-Pop and Korean dramas, there’s another popular industry within Korea: Korean variety shows. Of course, like how many idols from K-Pop act in K-Dramas, the variety show industry is filled to the brim with those from both the K-Pop and K-Drama industries. Being a fan of an idol group or a certain actor and actress has led more people to watch Korean variety shows. But what are some of the most popular shows? And why are they so tied into the K-Pop and K-Drama industries?

Besides being its own booming industry, the Korean variety show business encompasses all that is the K-Pop and K-Drama industries. Why? And how exactly does it do this?

Well, that’s pretty simple to answer.

The K-Pop and K-Drama industries focus heavily on promotions—this includes promoting new music, new acts, new shows, etc. What better way to promote them than showing up on a variety show and doing who knows what? This usually means the actor and actress or idols end up doing any of the following: spinning in a circle and attempting to dance to someone’s song (sometimes at two times speed), trying their best to show off their secret talents (perhaps breaking a watermelon in half with their fists), or even getting left in a far off place with other celebrities just trying to survive. Of course, they could also be giving an interview, answering questions about their new show or music, or just showing their face as a guest.

There’s no telling what one will have to do when on a Korean variety show, but it’s usually a good time. One thing’s for sure, though, the variety show industry has weaseled its way to the top of the important “To Do” list for most celebrities within South Korea. And since most celebrities appear on these shows, fans from all over the world tune in to watch. It’s a win-win for the shows, who gain views, and for the celebrities, who get to promote their new things.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the more popular Korean variety shows and themes.

Among the more popular Korean variety shows, there’s a handful of them that are game-based, meaning that they operate on missions and tasks carried out by those on the show. This includes any kind of task one might come up with—including that spinning in a circle and dancing task from earlier.

Typically, these variety shows are the most chaotic and fun to watch. There’s always more laughter and chaos than actual missions being carried out, but that’s what makes them loveable.

A couple of the most popular variety shows in this category include Running Man and Knowing Bros (also known as Men on a Mission or Ask Us Anything). Both shows gained popularity because of the funny skits and guest stars—which are typically K-Pop idols with fans all around the world. Because of their idol guests and international fanbases, these are the go-to Korean variety shows for anyone first getting into them.

Running Man

With its first episode airing in July 2010, Running Man has been a show for over 11 years now. Besides the weekly guests, the show stars Yoo Jaeseok, Kim Jongkook, Haha, Jee Seokjin, Song Jihyo, Lee Kwangsoo, Jeon Somin, and Yang Sechan as the main MCs. There’s a total of 570 episodes as of September 12, 2021.

Among the 570 episodes, there’s been a ton of guests. This includes K-Pop groups and various actors and actresses. Some guests, though, have visited the show multiple times. Kang Hanna, a Korean actress, has been on the show over 20 times already, and trot singer Hong Jinyoung has been on the show for a total of 20 episodes. A few other repeat guests include Lee Sangyeob, Yoon Bomi, and Son Naeun. The guests typically change from week to week, even for the repeat ones, so the show is never too repetitious.

Running Man airs on Sunday nights at 4:50 pm KST. To watch with English subtitles, the show is available on Viki with a VikiPass Plus subscription. Subtitles do take a day or two to appear since it’s fans creating them, but it’s well worth the wait.

Knowing Bros (also known as Men on a Mission or Ask Us Anything)

Taking on a specific format, Knowing Bros is a variety talk show where the fixed cast—consisting of Kang Hodong, Lee Soogeun, Kim Youngchul, Seo Janghoon, Kim Heechul, Min Kyunghoon, and Lee Sangmin—sit in a classroom as “students.” Typically, guests will come as visiting students and are questioned by the cast. There’s also another part of the show where the guests partake in various activities—this includes miscellaneous games, a talent show, or even some improv of their favorite film scenes.

Like Running Man, Knowing Bros has guests ranging from K-Pop idols to actors and actresses, including BTS, ITZY, and SEVENTEEN, Oh Nara, Park Jinjoo, and more.

Knowing Bros first aired in December 2015 and has almost 300 episodes to date. The show currently airs on JTBC every Saturday. For international audiences, it’s available on Netflix, with a new episode dropping every week. Some episodes between episode 94 to episode 261 are also available on Viki for free to watch. Unfortunately, not all of them.

Focusing on slightly other themes, these Korean variety shows typically display what a celebrity’s day-to-day life is, give or take how day-to-day it actually is. This means that the show will mostly just follow a celebrity (usually more than one) around for whatever their day may involve. There’s truly a ton of shows like this, including How Do You Play?, where MC Yoo Jaeseok gives celebrities cameras to film their daily lives, and The Manager, where various managers of celebrities are interviewed and followed around during their job.

These shows are quite popular, especially among fans, because they show the behind-the-scenes, daily lives of celebrities. It can show anything from the celebrity in a pretty boring day where they’re cooped up in a studio or it can show the celebrity busily going from recording to recording. The point is, these shows are great for getting to know a celebrity on a more personal level compared to their appearances on talk shows or weekly music shows.

I Live Alone (Home Alone)

A pretty popular Korean reality TV show is I Live Alone (which is also known as Home Alone). This MBC production follows the daily lives of single Korean celebrities that, of course, live alone. It first aired in March 2013.

The current members on I Live Alone are Kian84, Park Narae, Henry Lau, Sung Hoon, Hwasa, Jun Hyunmoon, and Key. There are 412 episodes as of September 10, 2021. Most of the members have been there for well over 100 episodes, but Key is the newest member, having first appeared during episode 388. Jun Hyunmoon technically appeared later during episode 400, but he was first on the show from episode 26 to episode 285.

This show gained popularity because of the relatability of the single lifestyles and the documentary elements. Many viewers enjoy watching celebrities with a similar lifestyle as them.

I Live Alone airs every Friday at 11:00 pm KST and is available for international viewers on Viki with a VikiPass Plus subscription. Unfortunately, the first 211 episodes aren’t on Viki, but every episode after is.

The Return of Superman

Compared to I Live Alone, The Return of Superman takes on a more of the not-so-daily daily life of celebrities route. In other words, The Return of Superman does follow the daily life of celebrities, but more so the daily life that the show creates itself.

In this show, celebrity dads are left to care for their children by themselves for 48 hours. They get no help from anyone during this time, and their wives go on vacation. Within the 48 hours, the dads and children either try to complete tasks that the wives have left them to do or they’re exploring new activities to do together. The show is a lot more chaotic than it might seem, but it makes for a good time.

The Return of Superman first aired in September 2013, a few months after I Live Alone. It currently airs every Sunday on KBS2. Like the past few shows, this one is also available on Viki for international viewers with a VikiPass Plus subscription. As of September 12, 2021, there’s a total of 398 episodes.

Another popular genre within the Korean variety show industry involves travel. These shows typically have games or tasks like those from Running Man and Knowing Bros; however, they have the added travel to make things a bit more interesting.

These shows can involve traveling anywhere from far distances to closer, more local places. Some shows tailor to their guests, visiting the hometowns of their celebrity guests, and other shows drop their celebrity guests off in the middle of nowhere. Literally, the middle of nowhere. Amidst the most popular travel Korean variety shows, there’s 2 Days and 1 Night (also known as 1 Night 2 Days or 1N2D) and Law of the Jungle.

2 Days and 1 Night (1 Night 2 Days; 1N2D)

As the longest-running show on this list, 2 Days and 1 Night has made a name for itself in the Korean variety show industry. It’s full of chaos, funny moments, and even some learning points. It first aired in August 2007 and hasn’t stopped yet. It contains over 630 episodes.

The current cast members are Kim Jongmin, Yeon Junghoon, Moon Seyoon, Kim Seonho, DinDin, and Ravi. Depending on the concept of the episode, there can be various celebrity guests. Throughout the show, the cast members take different trips around South Korea, stopping to complete missions and earn rewards or avoid punishments. Because of its traveling nature, this show displays a lot about the Korean culture and educates viewers about the different aspects of each location. Of course, in a variety show kind of way.

It airs on KBS2 every Sunday night at 6:25 pm KST. Like the rest of the shows, it’s also available on Viki with a VikiPass Plus subscription. However, unlike the other shows, 2 Days and 1 Night is also available on YouTube to watch. After the show airs on TV, KBS World puts it on their YouTube with English subtitles for international viewers.

Law of the Jungle

The last show on this list is Law of the Jungle. First airing back in October 2011, this show is known as one of the most popular celebrity survival shows.

Every week, different K-Pop idols, actors and actresses, and various other celebrities join Kim Byungman in less inhabited areas of the world to try and survive. They’re tasked with hunting and preparing food, completing missions, and just simply surviving. Because the conditions can be less than ideal, celebrities are often in comedic situations and making questionable choices (oftentimes involving them screaming as they run from a strange bug or accidentally releasing their food).

Because of the travel aspect of this show, it was put on break during 2020 because of COVID-19 and travel restrictions. However, it did air throughout 2021, even though it’s currently on break again. There’s been over 450 episodes total for this show, and it airs on Friday nights on SBS. But, like the rest, it’s available for international viewers on Viki with a VikiPass Plus subscription.

Overall, if there’s one thing to learn about Korean variety shows, it’s that they’re oftentimes hilarious and usually putting celebrities in situations we don’t typically see them in, which is what makes them great. They’ve become the perfect place for celebrities to promote their new stuff and for fans to get to know them in different ways.

There’s a wide range of variety shows not even mentioned on this list, so keep an eye out for those and try not to laugh too hard at whatever precarious position a celebrity might land in.

Holley Ziemba is a dedicated writer who’s found a way to bring her love of writing and Korean culture together. As a recent graduate, she’s put her degree in Creative Writing to good use. She’s written and published plenty of articles and short fiction pieces across various websites. At the moment, she primarily writes for the Korean culture blog KWorld Now.

Six Korean Variety Shows Filled with Laughter and Celebrities — The Kraze (2024)


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