What's The Difference Between K-Drama and C-Drama? Which One is Better? Here's our Assessment


South Korean series, known as K-drama, and Chinese web and television series, known as C-drama, are dominating the Asianovela market in the region.

Both are praised for having globally-competitive production, high-quality storylines, and excellent performances from casts. However, they differ in some aspects, including how they perform in different genres.

Let's assess them on the following categories: 

Duration 

Normally, K-drama has shorter episodes and shorter screening time. Usually, modern K-drama only has 16 to 20 episodes and runs for 35 minutes per episode. Shorter episodes in a modern drama offer relief to viewers who do not have the patience to watch longer series. With shorter episodes, viewers can easily get to the final of the storyline. 

Song Joong-ki and Song Hye-kyo in Descendants of the Sun

C-Drama, however, has longer episodes. Even in their modern genre. Usually, the minimum number of episodes is 25 and can reach up to 45 episodes. While some of its costume drama runs up to 60 episodes per season.

There are disadvantages and advantages, however.

One disadvantage of having longer episodes is the tendency for viewers to experience boredom, especially if the storyline is not interesting. But if the drama is pretty nice, longer episodes offer more advantages.

With longer episodes, the story can be elaborately expounded with vivid detail. And this is how a costume drama should be executed. It should have longer episodes to understand the concept better because usually, a costume drama runs through many story layers, subplots, and roots, which requires enough time to delve into the basic story, the layers, and twists and turns of the events.

Kim Ji-won and Park Seo-joon in Fight For My Way

K-drama, however, is not really known for costume series (historical and fantasy), it's the genre where C-drama truly excelled. But Korean television has its fair share of costume and period drama, however, it has shorter episodes, usually 20, which limits the opportunity to present a detailed storyline. 

Although K-drama produces good period drama at times, it's not really their strength, and when it comes to breathtaking cinematography, stunning visuals, and spectacular costumes, C-drama is much better in this genre.

Yang Mi and Mark Chao in Eternal Love

Production Quality

K-drama

There are some instances that K-drama is done in live production or pre-production, which means, it is already shown on television while the rest of the episodes are in current filming. The advantage of this style, is that the production can still revise the script should it suffers from poor viewers' rating during its run, and re-write certain scenes to fit with the viewers' demands.

The disadvantage of this type of production is when there's an unforeseen event or accident happened in the production team or cast. What if one of them will meet an accident, or worse, death? What will happen to the story? 

Son Ye-Jin and Hyu Bin in Crash Landing on You

Another disadvantage is the production team's effort to revise the script to suit viewers' demands which tends to screw up the story and allows loopholes to flow, which will eventually suffer the quality of the storyline and the production value.

However, other than the pre-production concern, K-drama always comes up with high-quality production in their output. K-drama's strengths remain in the modern genre - romance, family issues, social narratives - they always come up with a tight plot and realistic family or social situation scenes. 

What is also good about K-drama is that the script is written from scratch, meaning it's a fresh idea from script writers and directors, and not an adaptation from novels and books. 

The advantage of this style of conceptualizing a plot from scratch is its ability to surprise the audience, with its story quality because no one has yet an idea what it is all about and how the story flows,  unlike novel adaptations where viewers already know the story. 

But there are minus points too. If the script is written from scratch, it's more of an experimentation from the production how the concept and story will be received by the viewers. They have to work on creating public awareness during the promotion period.

C-drama

With the Chinese government's goal to push Chinese entertainment to be more globally competitive, in recent years, C-drama's popularity has grown rapidly and become well-known in the world entertainment scene.

But with the heavy censorship for its entertainment industry in mainland China, production and writers are always cautious and careful with the type of drama they are going to make. 

For instance, there are themes and concepts that the Chinese government is highly critical and mostly, these type of projects have to go through the needle of the censorship board. So, themes that are not in accordance with their culture and nationalism ideals, are surely not allowed. 

So while K-drama productions are free to explore different genres, concepts and themes, it is not the same story in C-drama. Themes and plots must be carefully selected according to their nationalistic pursuits.

Thus, series from mainland Chine are usually costume drama because it allows them to explore topics about patriotism, rich culture, history, and loyalty to the motherland.

Wu Lei and Dilraba Dilmurat in The Long Ballad

C-drama is not known for pre-production or live production trend. Their series need to wrap up filming first and pass through post-production before they can secure an airing schedule slot. 

Among the Asianovelas C-drama has a stricter censorship. All series needed to be reviewed by the censor board before they a time slot and schedule for airing can be granted. Thus, it takes months, or even years, before a finished C-drama can make its way to televisions and streaming platforms.

Most C-drama scripts are adapted from novels. And in recent years, all costume dramas from mainland China are adaptations, either from Chinese manhua, web, or books.

Adaptations offer some advantages. The story is already popular to the market, it has loyal followers and most likely, the story is all over the social media, so it's not difficult to create awareness.

Excitement from book or novel readers will help build anticipation. However, there are also disadvantages of script adaptation. 

The viewers have too much expectation from the casts and production, and this atmosphere of great anticipation often brings disappointment and heavy criticism if the book is not followed faithfully or if the casts never live up to their imagination of the characters from the book/manhua.

C-drama's main strengths remain to be in the costume genre (fantasy and historical). They often delivered the best in all aspects in the production: Breathtaking scenery, stunning cinematography, glamorous costumes, elaborate production designs, and jaw-dropping fight scenes.

They also have big-budgeted series, with producers spending as huge as $30 million in a single costume drama. So expect a high production value for these projects.

China also has big film studios like Hengdian World Studio, which is bigger than Hollywood, and Xiangshan film studio, both located in Zhejiang province, where most C-drama historical and fantasy series are filmed. 

These film studios depict the real atmosphere, architecture, and sceneries during different dynasties and era in Chinese history, so the drama always has realistic visuals and settings. 

Producers tend to choose a script that has cultural and patriotism impacts, so most of its drama centers on Chinese customs, beliefs, historic events, and ideologies. 

Most Chinese celebrities are also trained in martial arts which allow them to act in wuxia and xianxia projects without requiring doubles or stunts.

Wuxia is a genre in Chinese literature that narrates a story of the "Jiangsu" or martial arts world. It is usually a story of martial arts hero and their adventures to seek or establish justice in the kingdom or in the sect they belonged. Example of a good wuxia drama: Nirvana in Fire, Empresses in the Palace, Three Kingdoms.

Xianxia genre refers to fantasy series, with emphasis on Taoism beliefs, cultural legendary tales, and historical myths and adventures. Usually, it integrates magical elements, tradition-laden script, and elements of nature and powerful gods. Examples of xianxia drama: Eternal Love, Ashes of Love, The Untamed. 

Wuxia series and films have numerous fight scenes and war sequences that require actors to perform martial arts and kung fu. C-drama stars are mostly equipped with warfare skills, allowing them to portray realistic characters. 

Script

Most K-drama series are written from scratch, meaning their screenplay is original and not adapted. This original screenwriting style in K-drama offers excitement and great anticipation to the audience because we do not know how the story flows and how each character should be perceived.

C-drama is mostly based on novels, books, Chinese manhua, and web series. We rarely heard a C-drama story completely written from scratch, it is always adaptation.

While it brings excitement to the viewers who have already read the books and followed the web series, it also offers a lot of setbacks when the drama does not meet expectations. When the drama is an adaptation from books, expect readers to complain if the script is not followed page by page.

However, it has advantages in marketing and promotion if the books are popular and have a huge following because it has already a stable fanbase that can help spread public awareness about the drama.

Drama Soundtrack 

When it comes to OST (original soundtrack), C-drama so far has the best OST to offer. Just like their production, they spare no expense in producing high-quality musical scoring, opening and ending theme songs. C-drama also offers a specific opening theme song and ending theme song, unlike K-drama.

The following series have the best OST so far in the Asian region:
  • Scarlet Heart (C-drama), 2011
  • Nirvana in Fire (C-drama) 2015
  • The Flame's Daughter (C-drama) 2018
  • The Long Ballad (C-drama) 2021
  • Scarlet heart Ryeo (K-drama) 2016
  • Mars (Taiwanese drama) 2004
  • Meteor Garden I and II (Taiwanese drama) 2001, 2002
  • Boys Over Flower (K-drama) 2009
Drama performers

What's good about the Chinese entertainment industry is its motivation for its celebrities to earn an acting degree from top acting and film schools, to be more competitive. 

So most of the C-drama stars have Performing Arts and Film Studies degrees from Asia's most prestigious acting schools: Beijing Film Academy, Shanghai Theatre Academy, and Central Academy of Drama.

By the time they act in the drama, they are already well-trained, more aware of the job, and understand the expectations, what kind of performance to give, and the overall acting impact. They are also multi-talented, apart from acting, they can also sing and dance.

Where to watch

Netflix is banned in China but the country has three biggest streaming platforms with billions of subscribers. Youku, Tencent (mother company of We.TV), and iQiyi.

Usually, C-Drama series are simultaneously aired in television channels in the mainland China and in the streaming platforms, so it has a wide reach. 

And what's good about C-Drama is that most of its streaming platforms have official YouTube channels where international fans can watch the full episodes with English subtitles for free.

In K-Drama, although most of its series can be streamed in Netflix, Viki, and VIU, it has no dedicated channels in YouTube for non-Korean speakers to watch the series for free and in complete episodes. 

Overall Assessment

K-drama and C-drama are all good, they both have strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages, and they both offer a unique kind of entertainment experience to viewers. It just depends on the drama viewers and what type of genre they are looking.

K-drama is best in modern genres. They have produced heavy drama that tackles family and social issues. They tend to have more freedom to experiment and explore themes and concepts, and the ideas are limitless. So some Korean series are more liberal, daring, intense, fearless to voice out a particular opinion or advocacy, and free to inject western culture in the storyline. 

While Chinese series from the mainland are usually conservative, not experimental, more on traditional, and follows a nationalistic theme. They are always moderated by the censor board, so no producers or directors will ever attempt to experiment with an unconventional script that might put them in a hot water. 

K-drama and C-drama are equal in the idol drama genre. They both produced highly entertaining idol series in recent years. 

But costume drama (historical and fantasy) is always the strength of the C-drama. It is in this genre that the Chinese entertainment industry is best known. 

So if you are looking for a high-quality modern drama, you go for a K-drama, but if you are looking for a high-quality historical and fantasy series, you go for a C-drama. 

But even this assessment is not accurate, because there are instances where a historical K-drama is interesting and a modern C-drama is fascinating, and vice versa. So better check reviews and the quality of the storyline to pick a worthy drama to binge-watch.

10 Best series to ride the K-drama wave
  • Mr. Sunshine (2018)
  • Crash Landing on You (2019)
  • Sky Castle (2018)
  • Goblin: The Lonely and Great God (2016)
  • Flower of Evil (2020)
  • Descendants of the Sun (2016)
  • The King: Eternal Monarch (2020)
  • Squid Game (2021)
  • Our Blues (2022)
  • Fight For My Way (2017)
10 Best series to ride the C-drama wave
  • Nirvana in Fire (2015)
  • Empresses in the Palace (2011)
  • Three Kingdoms (2010)
  • Scarlet Heart (2011)
  • Eternal Love (2017)
  • The Untamed (2019)
  • The Long Ballad (2021)
  • Love Me if You Dare (2015)
  • The Story of Minglan (2018)
  • Ashes of Love (2018)
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