7 KDrama and CDrama That Are Popular Overseas But Flopped Domestically

Chinese dramas and Korean drama

Most often than not, domestic fans view their dramas differently from international fans. There are series that became insanely popular overseas but failed to impress domestic viewers. It's because we have cultural differences, personal preferences, and the way we define a well-made drama.

Most international fans who are obsessed with drama stars from Korea and China seem to only care about CP chemistry and cute leads who can tickle their fantasies, swooning at the drama stars they idolized. 

Chinese drama flops
Biggest domestic flops: K-Drama's Moon Lovers Ryeo, The King: Eternal Monarch, and C-Drama's Falling Into Your Smile, and Fireworks of My Heart 

But domestic viewers care more about the total production quality and are critical on the acting delivery, and the way their local stars represent their culture on television (and films).

So here, we come up with a list of Chinese and Korean dramas that became popular overseas but bombed at home. 

A Female Student Arrives at Imperial College, Till The End of The Moon, and Legend of Anle enjoyed popularity overseas but failed to impress domestic fans 

Chinese drama. Most of these series were streamed online so we will be relying on their Douban score. Douban is China's most influential drama rating platform and where the real pulse of domestic drama viewers is reflected. 

For a C-drama to be considered well-received domestically, it should have a rating of 7.0 above in Douban. Below 6.9 is considered average and below 5.9 is considered poor.

1. Fireworks of My Heart - Douban rating: 2.8

There's no question that this modern romance drama starring Yang Yang and Wang Churan was a big hit overseas, but this was largely ridiculed at home. 

Fireworks of My Heart
Wang Churan and Yang Yang in Fireworks of My Heart

Domestic viewers heavily criticized the mediocre acting of Yang Yang and Wang Churan and the inaccurate portrayal of the firefighter profession and doctors.

Douban users were annoyed with Yang Yang's inability to interpret the character of a heroic firefighter and his bland facial expressions, and Wang Churan's lack of energy portraying the role. Her mannerism of rolling her eyes exasperated local fans. 

I've watched this series (although did not finish) and honestly, I find Yang Yang and Wang Churan's interaction sweet with firepower chemistry, the story is fine with me. 

But well, domestic viewers have their own judgment. Fireworks of My Heart is this year's lowest-rated drama in Douban overall, with a worst rating of 2.8.

2. Falling Into Your Smile - Douban rating: 3.2 

Main cast: Xu Kai and Cheng Xiao. The most heavily criticized drama in 2021 in mainland China and one of the lowest-rated series in Douban overall. The criticism ranged from plagiarism issues to disrespecting real eSports gamers in China.

According to comments in Douban, the team uniform of gamers in Falling into Your Smile was copied from WE, an eSport team in China.

Falling Into Your Smile
Xu Kai and Cheng Xiao in Falling Into Your Smile

Domestic fans also accused the writer of disrespecting two popular gamers in China because the love story of Lu Sicheng (played by Xu Kai) and Tong Yao (played by Cheng Xiao) was based on the real-life story of the two gamers of Team WE.

Another criticism was attributed to the low-quality acting of Xu Kai and Cheng Xiao, with the latter being accused of acting like a stone. 

But Falling Into Your Smile gained popularity overseas, which made Xu Kai and Cheng Xiao overnight celebrities in the international community.

3. A Female Student Arrives at Imperial College - Douban rating: 3.9

Main cast: Zhao Lusi and Xu Kaicheng. Like Xu Kai, Zhao Lusi is massively popular overseas but she often receives criticism at home with C-netizens constantly attacking her poor acting skills. Rumors that she has a bad attitude towards the local media and co-stars have persisted for years.

Zhao Lusi dramas

So most of her dramas are poorly received at home. Her only highest-rated drama in Douban is Love Like The Galaxy (rating: 7.7) but praise was not about her but about her co-star, Wu Lei.

A Female Student Arrives at Imperial College, which was released in 2022, was one of the lowest-rated dramas in Douban that year. This drama, however, was popular overseas.

Another drama of Zhao Lusi that didn't impress domestic viewers was Hidden Love although this drama became massively popular overseas. It has a Douban rating of just 6.7.

4. Please Feel at Ease Mr. Ling (2021) - Douban rating: 4.4

Main cast: Zhao Lusi and Liu Te. Most of the users in Douban commented that this drama is too cringe to watch as the plot is unbelievable with exaggerated story progress. Some of them called out Zhao Lusi to stop acting silly in the drama.

This drama was warmly received by international fans praising the cuteness of Zhao Lusi and her sweet chemistry with Liu Te but bombed domestically. 

5. Till The End of the Moon (2023) - Douban rating: 5.6

This drama was ultra popular overseas during its run, however, was a flopped domestically. Most Douban users gave the drama a worse rating of 1-star. 

Criticism attributed to an inconsistent script, careless directing, and incoherent plot and character development. 

Till the end of the Moon
Luo Yunxi and Bai Lu

 Other Douban users comments: "The narrative is fragmented and the characters have weird logic which makes the plot progress terribly painful to watch", and "The characters have no space to grow, and the story is just stuck up in the middle".

I also did not finish watching this drama, dropping it after 15 episodes because there was nothing there to look forward to. The plot just keeps tossing back and forth with no clear direction. And I cringed on Luo Yunxi's visuals and styling.

6. Legend of Anle (2023) - Douban rating: 5.8

One of the most hyped series since 2021. The never-ending postponement of the airing schedule made this drama even more highly anticipated. 

Dilraba and Gong Jun

But when it began airing in July this year, domestic viewers cringed in disbelief at how the script made Dilraba a bloody flirt with silly common sense.

The choreography of the fight scenes and the CGI were also heavily criticized. Douban users commented why Dilraba Dilmurat after nearly 10 years in the industry can't still properly deliver a remarkable performance. Gong Jun's mediocre acting was also criticized.

Local fans also criticized the production for altering the script from the original source, making Gong Jun's character appear incompetent and useless. 

Some of popular K-Drama overseas but flopped domestically: It's Okay Not to Be Okay and True Beauty 

Korean Drama. Korean dramas also have a history of shows that flopped locally although enjoyed popularity overseas. 

Like domestic viewers in China, drama fans in South Korea are also critical of the story development and how their culture is represented in the drama.

A flop show in South Korea means drama does not get enough viewership ratings. Since most Korean dramas are aired on television, we have a credible basis for how these series are received domestically through Nielsen Korea, a consumer marketing company that regularly releases TV viewership ratings.

Here are the Korean series which gained popularity overseas but failed to impress domestic viewers:

1. Extraordinary You (2019)

Main cast: Kim Hye-yoon, Rowoon, Lee Jae-wook, and Lee Na-eun. It follows the story of a rich high school girl who has a heart ailment. She thinks she cannot make it past her teenage years. She also began to discover that her life is actually just a supporting character in a comic series. Frustrated, Eun Dah-oh sets out to write her own story in the book as well as find true love. 

Extraordinary You Korean drama

Overseas fans loved the cute romance between the leads and the rivalry between Rowoon and Lee Jae-wook's characters, but viewers in Korea were less than impressed. Its viewership ratings stayed below 5% for the entire series run, which is considered below average.

2. It's Okay to Not Be Okay (2020)

Main cast: Kim Soo-hyun and Seo Yea-ji. This drama became popular globally when it was aired in 2020. The poignant, emotional, vulnerable, and unique storyline touched the hearts of many viewers in the international community. 

However, in South Korea, the series garnered low ratings all throughout the airing with episode 10 hitting a shocking 4.2 percent! The main complaint seemed to be Kim Soo-hyun's acting which domestic viewers considered forced and dull. 

3. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (2016)

Main cast: Lee Joon-gi, IU, and Kang Ha-neul. This drama was a Korean adaptation of the hit 2011 Chinese costume drama, Scarlet Heart starring Liu Shishi and Nicky Wu. 

Scarlet Heart was ultra popular in China during its broadcast which prompted the production to come up with a sequel in 2014. Adding to the sensation was the real-life love story of the main leads - Shishi and Nicky - who eventually got married in 2015.

Moon Lovers Korean drama

So when it was adopted in Korea in 2016, it created a buzz internationally especially since it was also a star-studded casting. It was immensely popular overseas (except in China) but did not impress domestic viewers.

With a rating of 5.1%, it became one of the lowest-rated dramas in South Korea. It was also ridiculed in China for its absurd plot and mediocre acting performances of IU and Kang Ha-neul. 

The only cast who earned praise was Lee Joon-ji who played the role of Wang So, the 4th Prince (played by Nicky Wu in the Chinese version).

Critics blamed the script development for turning it into Boys Over Flower's vibe instead of a palace drama. C-drama's Scarlet Heart has season 2 but due to the poor performance of Moon Lovers domestically, the production did not bother producing season 2. 

4. The King: Eternal Monarch (2020)

Main cast: Lee Min-ho and Kim Go-eun. Many international fans sensationalized this drama, well, due to Lee Min-ho. Overseas drama viewers have even concocted rumors until now that the two main leads are dating in real life.

Lee Min-ho and Kim Go-eun
Lee Min-ho and Kim Go-eun

Unfortunately, in South Korea, this drama was a flop. Well, it started out smoothly during its airing, praising Lee Min-ho and Kim Go-eun's sweet chemistry, but then the ratings started to drop.

Most complaints from domestic viewers were attributed to the complicated twist of the story, which according to them was too absurd. Some critics commented that this drama was “lost in a sea of cliches”.

The King: Eternal Monarch also faced a ban in South Korea due to the sensitive issue of colonial rule, accusing the drama of using Japanese elements. 

The controversy prompted the producer to issue a public apology. Nonetheless, it didn't save the drama from its poor viewership rating. 

Japan colonized Korea during the last period of the Joseon dynasty and Koreans experienced all forms of abuse during Japanese occupation. 

5. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo (2016)

Main cast: Nam Joo-hyuk and Lee Sung-kyung. This one had a cult following overseas during its broadcast. International fans warmly received this drama due to its unique and light-hearted story.

But well, failed to impress Koreans. Domestic drama viewers in South Korea found the plot too unrealistic. This drama only garnered a 4.9 percent viewership rating which is too low!

6. Hwarang (2016)

One of the most hyped Korean series due to its star-studded cast: Park Hyung-Sik, Park Seo-Joon, Go A-Ra, Shinee’s Minho, and BTS’ V. In Korean history, Hwarang means men who were trained to guard the emperor.

Hwarang Korean drama

This drama seemed to have a perfect load of cast members swooned over by international fans, but domestic viewers were unaffected by the presence of these hot guys.

Hwarang only garnered a viewership rating of 7.2%. Most of the complaints of local drama viewers were about the dull visuals of the cast which they considered unimpressive. 

7. True Beauty (2020) 

Who would not be impressed with this drama? It has a cute casting starring Mun Ka Young, Cha Eun-Woo, and Hwang In-Yeop

True Beauty Cha Eun-woo

It's a fun school-life drama and international fans were crazy over Cha Eun-woo, But domestic viewers were not entirely impressed. With just a 4% average viewership rating, True Beauty is one of the lowest-rated series in Korea as the plot was too predictable and lacked excitement.

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