Google has released their end-of-year top searches, including for Korea. I've taken the lists for Korea, converted them to English, and tried to say a few words about what each keyword means, and give some background or context to it. Hopefully it help you get a sense of what was popular or newsworthy among Koreans in 2016, and why.
The list was divided into the Top 10 keywords for each of these sections:
- 종합 - Overall Top Searches
- 국내뉴스/사회 - Domestic News / Society
- 만화/웹툰 - Comics/Webtoons
- 영화 - Movies
- 음악 - Music
- 인물 - Newsmakers
- TV 프로그램 - TV Programs
- 게임 – Games
Overall Top 10 Google searches in Korea 2016
"Agassi" aka The Handmaiden.
Sexy lesbian thriller film from director Park Chan-wook, and starring Kim Minhee, who in real life ran off with another prominent film director.
- 태양의 후예
Descendants of the Sun
TV drama with a modern wartime setting and love between a soldier and a doctor, and was extremely popular throughout Asia.
TV drama actor and all around heart-throb (you may know him from K-pop group JYJ and the show "Rooftop Prince"), but famous this year for allegedly raping up to 4 hookers in a "premium" entertainment bar bathroom and his own home's bathroom. Many netizens were nearly more interested in his apparent bathroom fetish than the sex itself. But the story had a happyish ending. It turns out it was just good old fashioned bathroom hooker sex; not rape.
- 응답하라 1988
Another installment of the beautifully nostalgic "Reply ___" drama series. Actress and K-pop singer Hyeri from Girls' Day starred. If you ask me, she suits acting even better than singing. You may also recognize her from the Korea Times' comments section.
Choi Soon-sil The woman who needs no introduction. President Park's uber-corrupt confidant who brought the floodgates down on South Korean politics this year. See Ask A Korean's brilliant series of articles on her.
- 내부자들 Inside Men
A movie about corruption at the highest levels. Very appropriate for this year. Released just before Choi Soon-sil-gate, but invigorated no doubt by it. Features the Terminator himself Lee Byung-hun with a very creepy fake hand. Highly praised, but I saw it and was not impressed at all. But if you like formulaic K-drama, you'll be right at home.
Wikipedia calls this drama "Guardian: The Lonely and Great God" but its real name seems to be Goblin. Featured the wildly handsome (I don't see it, but you can hear it in his voice) Gong Yoo from the classic drama "Coffee Prince" and was written by the same writer of "Descendants of the Sun" and "Secret Garden."
The top "Go" player who lost to Google's AI bot AlphaGo this year.
The 2016 Rio Olympics saw a great performance by Korea's archery team. It also led to one of my favorite Korea Times' headline puns of the year: Rio 2016: Boyfriend a tall order for 192cm South Korean volleyball star. That volleyball star, by the way, was hilariously caught on camera mouthing the Korean for "Ah, f*ck!" during gameplay.
Very popular team shooter computer game. South Korea beat Russia in the World Cup match this year.
Now for the category specific lists.
국내뉴스/사회 - Domestic News / Society
Korea suffered a massive 5.8 earthquake in the city of Gyeongju this year, Korea's strongest ever.
- 박근핵 닷컴
Park Geun Hack dot com
A wordplay term combining President Park Geun-hye and tanhack (탄핵) meaning "impeach". Through the website parkgeunhack.com, you can sign a petition voicing your support for her impeachment that is then sent to your local lawmaker.
Gangnam PatchCombination word for Gangnam and "Dispatch" (popular Korean tabloid). An Instagram account that defamed a variety of celebrities and quasi-celebrities, that morphed into multiple copycat accounts and hashtags. Because this is the internet, screenshots of many of their postings still exist.
Lawmakers (led by the Saenuri party) attempted to pass a sweeping anti-terrorism law (테러방지법). Minjoo party lawmakers attempted a filibuster to prevent its passing. It failed and the law was passed.
An online community for students and faculty of Seoul National University. Popular because a member released the personal details of lawmakers who were against the impeachment of President Park. SNULife also hosted a "masculinist" response to some boys caught doing "locker room talk" online.
Referring to the currently ongoing governmental hearings into Choi Soon-sil-gate.
Ultra-feminist online group, popular every year recently for getting up to a variety of shenanigans.
Hyundai Merchant MarineI'm assuming this was popular for its potential bid for the shipping terminal in Long Beach, California, one of the largest in the world, after former holder Hanjin Shipping lost out due to bankruptcy, an event that itself is potentially tied (see here, here) to Choi Soon-sil-gate.
Plus see this:
Big Layoffs in Shipbuilding, Shipping Deepen Economic Woes Massive layoffs in the shipbuilding and shipping industries caused unemployment to soar and more households to fall into debt. Hanjin Shipping, once Korea's No. 1 shipping company, went bankrupt while Hyundai Merchant Marine failed to join by the world's biggest container-shipping alliance 2M, dealing a further blow to the domestic industry. Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, which is in the process of laying off huge numbers of workers, is still confronted with mounting losses. [Chosun Ilbo]
Kim Young-ran Act.
A sweeping anti-corruption, anti-graft law. Passed last year, it went into effect this year, with some amazing convictions already.
만화/웹툰 - Comics/Webtoons
I don't read many webtoons, and many of these are Japanese which I know nothing about. I tried to include Wikipedia links where possible.
Basically Power Rangers but they are talking cars. If you've got a little Korean nephew or son or cousin, chances are he loves this show and has all its toys.
Vampire Island, aka Higanjima, some kind of creepy Japanese vampire manwa comic.
- 하이큐 3기
High Q? Hi Kyu?
Some kind of Japanese teen sports cartoon?
- 놓지마 정신줄
Don't Lose Your Mind
A Korean webtoon comic about the everyday crazy situations of life, by Shin Taehoon. I can't find an English version but there's a simple collection here.
Da Garn, aka The Brave Fighter of Legend Da-Garn
Ugh I hate this category. Another loud and rapid Japanese kids animation I guess. I'm too old for this.
Extremely famous and pretty long-running comic and cartoon series from Japan about some pirates or something. That's a terrible explanation but you can wiki it.
- 나의 히어로 아카데미아
My Hero Academia
More Japanese animation stuff
- Re: 제로부터 시작하는 이세계 생활
Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World-
OK they have got to be screwing with me with these titles here. Just click the links for Wikipedia sources. I don't know anything about this stuff.
- 신이 말하는대로
As The Gods WillJapanese weirdo sci-fi dystopia animation or something.
Korean webtoon by Taejoon Park. You can read it in Indonesian on Naver's excellent webtoons site, but I couldn't find an English version. Here's a description:
One night, he wakes up to discover that he is suddenly tall, fit, and incredibly handsome. He returns to the bedroom to find his other unattractive body sleeping. He now has one mind, and two bodies. Whenever one falls asleep, the other is awakened, and whenever one is woken up, the other falls asleep. Afraid to show up at school for fear of being bullied again, he decides to use his new body for school. But how will it go? Will he finally be accepted? [Lookism (Webcomic)]
영화 – Movies
The Handmaiden (already discussed)
Inside Men (already discussed)
Gokseong aka The Wailing
Weird shamanistic crime drama movie. After watching this I wanted those 2 hours of my life back. Pretty sure there were some major plot holes, or else it just left some major holes in my brain.
Yes, the cute Disney animation about animals getting along.
Train to Busan
Zombie thriller set on a train. I am annoyed with myself that I still haven't watched this. Also check out the prequel Seoul Station.
- 나의 소녀시대
My Young Girl Generation, aka My Youth, aka Our Times
Teens loved this romantic Taiwanese movie, and especially teen girls loved the actor Darren Wang.
A Violent Prosecutor
Legal intrigue and crime drama / gangster movie. Unfortunately I didn't see it.
You know the last three now on this list:
- 데드풀 Deadpool
- 수어사이드 스쿼드 Suicide Squad
- 파리에서의 마지막 탱고 Last Tango in Paris
음악 – Music
This is basically all K-pop. I don't know much about K-pop so I'll leave most commentary up to the other sites. I'll provide links where applicable and say what little I can.
- 백세 인생(이애란)
"A Centennial Life" by Lee Aeran
Pen Pineapple Apple Pen, yes that song that was the bane of any English teachers trying to teach the "I have a ___" phrase. Seems like every year there's one. Pretty sure last year's must have been "Mother, Father,... GENTLEMAN."
TT ("tee tee") by girl group Twice, which was claimed to be overly sexual, due to a dance that involved the girls doing the sad ㅜㅜ gesture but which may have been just an excuse for them to point at their breasts and sing "titties" over and over. See: Twice's 'TT' sparks dispute over sexual references - The Korea Herald. I’m not complaining.
Hayeoga is a Seo Taiji song, and was sung on the popular "Masked Singer" music competition program by singer Ha Hyun-woo, showcasing his wide vocal range.
- 시간을 달려서(여자친구)
Running Through Time, aka "Rough", by girl group Girlfriend
- 일상으로의 초대(음악대장)
"Invitation to Routine" by famous Korean singer Shin Hae-chul (신해철), as performed by our friend Ha Hyun-woo apparently, again on Masked Singer.
- 걱정말아요 그대(음악대장)
"Don't Worry" originally by Deulgukhwa but, you guessed it, performed by Ha Hyun-woo on Masked Singer. The song was also popular again recently for its prominent use in the popular drama Reply 1988.
- Lazenca, Save Us!(음악대장)
"Lazenca, Save Us!" is another Sin Hae-chul classic (with his group N.E.X.T.), and once again performed by Ha Hyun-woo on Masked Singer. Wasn’t this song in a cartoon?
- 내가 저지른 사랑(임창정)
"The Love I Committed" by singer Lim Chang-jung. Interesting title considering his much younger girlfriend. I don't know why exactly, but it's hard to see his face and not get a very weird feeling, something between wanting to giggle and being afraid he might kill you.
A song from BewhY from his performance on rap competition show "Show Me the Money".
인물 – Newsmakers
People who were hot issues themselves.
Park Yoochun (already discussed)
Choi Soon-sil (already discussed)
Lee Sedol (already discussed)
Chung Yoora, Choi Soon-sil's horse-ridding daughter, who basically used her mom's corrupt influence to get into prestigious Ewha Woman's University.
Song Joong-ki, the main actor in the popular TV drama "Descendants of the Sun"
Lee Gun-hee, Samsung's former head. He was caught on film by one of his prostitutes paying her and basically treating her in that creepy "rich old pervert" way. You can watch the video, which made it to Korea's Top 10 YouTube videos for 2016, here.
Kim Seong-Min, a famous Korean actor, served jail time a few years ago for drugs, but sadly committed suicide this year.
Lee El, the sexy actress from the movie "Inside Men" and the TV drama "Goblin."
Shin Ju Pyeong, the husband of Chung Yoora, and therefore the son-in-law of Choi Soon-sil. Choi never liked him, and now he's back in Korea "separated" from his wife and child who are still in Germany. As far as I can tell, he's a bit of a victim in all this. For example, there was a rumor about him ditching army service thanks to his Choi connection, but it was false.
- 쯔위 (트와이스)
Chou Tzu-Yu, a member of girl group "Twice," who started an international incident when she waved the Taiwanese flag on TV. Don't ask me how her name 쯔위 (Jeh-wee?) gets rendered in English as Tzuyu.
- 아이폰 7 - iPhone 7
- 갤럭시 노트 7 - Galaxy Note
- 넷플릭스 - Netflix, which began service in Korea this year
- 갤럭시 S7 - Galaxy S7
- 에버필터 - Everfilter, an app that makes your photos look like paintings
- 윈도우 10 - Windows 10
- V20 - LG V20
- LG G5
- 아이폰 SE - iPhone SE
TV 프로그램 – TV Shows
I'm not usually a drama fan, so I'm afraid I don't have much to say on these. Luckily most have extensive English summaries and commentary on other K-pop related sites.
- 태양의 후예
Descendants of the Sun
- 응답하라 1988
Goblin (already mentioned)
Cheese in the Trap
- 푸른 바다의 전설
Legend of the Blue Sea, a mermaid drama with the glorious Jun Jihyun and heartthrob Lee Minho. Jun Jihyun recently delivered a baby, and how she can still look so good in real life is more mysterious than the show's mermaid theme.
- 구르미 그린 달빛
Love in the Moonlight, a period drama with Park Bogum who hit it big as Taek in "Reply 1988." In this particular drama, he's adored by old ladies who want him as a son... or maybe more?
- 프로듀스 101
Produce 101. A K-pop girl group formation competition, which gave rise to the group I.O.I.
- 또 오해영
Another Oh Hae Young, a show with failed idol singer Seo Hyun-jin. Sorry, cheap jab. I've never seen it actually.
Doctors aka "Doctor Crush", with gorgeous actress Park Shin-Hye, who is also a Lotte model.
- 함부로 애틋하게
Uncontrollably Fond, with adorable Suzy who should stick to K-pop rather than acting.
게임 – Games
I'll just link you up to these games' trailers, since I don't play any of them myself.
- 오버워치 - Overwatch
- 포켓몬고 - Pokemon Go. Recall that it wasn't officially available in Korea but functioned in a few pockets, including Sokcho. Appropriate for a "pocket monster" game.
- 서든어택 2 - Sudden Attack, or as we called it in my day, "Counterstrike"
- 지렁이 키우기 게임 (slither.io)
- 데스티니 차일드 - Destiny Child
- 로스트 아크 - Lost Ark
- 언더테일 - Undertale
- 블레스 - Bless
- 하이퍼 유니버스 - Hyper Universe, a Nexon game
- 문명 6 - Civilization VI