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Photograph: Courtesy Netflix

10 hilarious Korean variety shows you should be watching

These will have you in fits of laughter even if you don't understand the language

Jenny Leung
Written by
Jenny Leung
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From K-pop to K-grub to K-beauty, there are tons of reasons why Korea is loved by many. If you don't feel like bumping shoulders with the crowd this weekend, consider turning to one of these Korean variety shows instead. They'll have you glued to the screen while trying to catch a breath from all the side-splitting action! Scroll down and start binging.

RECOMMENDED: In case you need more reasons to stay at home, check out this list of the best movies and shows available on Netflix Hong Kong right now!

Best Korean variety shows to watch

Running Man

Not to be confused with the cringey 80s dance move, this 90-minute game show involves all sorts of crazy missions for the MCs and guests. From daring challenges and nonsensical games to their iconic 'tag' game where players have to rip the name tags off each other's backs, this show will have you in fits of laughter even if you don't understand the language. The show has even welcomed some of the world's biggest stars including Ryan Reynolds, Stephen Curry, and even Tom Cruise.

New Journey to the West

Okay, where do I begin with this show? New Journey to the West is one of those shows that are just plain hilarious, no questions about it. Inspired by the famous Chinese novel Journey to the West, the show's premise revolve around the seven mystical Dragon Balls that have landed in different places on earth (the story of how it happened differs every season). The cast must travel around the world to retrieve them through a series of games and challenges that are sure to leave you crying with laughter because of how ruthlessly competitive the cast members are. And just to top it off, each season is divided into different themes where the cast has to dress up in ridiculous costumes that actually have nothing, or at least, very little to do with the show. Have you ever seen a panda, the Statue of Liberty, and Santa having dinner together? 

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Two Days and One Night

Since the show started in 2007, there has been scandal after scandal involving different members of the cast. The show eventually took a short nine-month break in 2019, and now, it's back with a whole new cast of MCs (with the exception of Kim Jong-min who is one of the OG members). Just like how it started, the show takes its members around the country for two days and one night to explore beautiful towns, villages, and sights under a different theme each week. But not without some cruel, but hilarious games, of course. Most famous for its 'lucky or unlucky' games that, should the members fail, would leave them unfed, jumping into frozen lakes, and sleeping in cardboard boxes in the middle of winter. If you love travelling, getting to know local culture and flavours and the great outdoors, this is the one for you.

Great Escape

Combining escape rooms and mind-boggling puzzles together with mysterious storylines, jumpscares, plot twists, six hilarious celebrities (who are all way too jumpy for their own good), and lots of zombies, Great Escape has the ultimate recipe for a successful variety show. Whether it's escaping the zombie apocalypse, killing demonic entities in a psych ward, or finding their way out of a haunted mansion in complete darkness, the show will keep you on your toes every episode.

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Hangout with Yoo / How Do You Play?

Starring South Korea's most beloved MC Yoo Jae-suk, Hangout with Yoo first started airing in 2019 with a camera relay segment, where celebrities had to record what they did during their days off, before passing it on to the next celebrity for them to do the same. The segment was not particularly well-received, so the show took a different direction by essentially turning Yoo Jae-suk into different 'avatars', to take on new identities where he had to become a drummer, a trot singer, a K-pop group member, run a ramen restaurant, and most recently, a talent scout and producer for WSG Wannabe – a female parody group of the famous Korean vocal trio SG Wannabe – that consists of singers, tv personalities, and actresses.

Overall, the show can be a bit of a hit and miss depending on what crazy project Jae-suk is taking on as it won't always appeal to the masses, but one thing's for sure, it's damn hilarious every time.

Knowing Bros

For those who love everything there is about K-pop and K-drama, you're going to love Knowing Bros. Set in a (fake) school classroom, different guests would appear each week as new transfer 'students', to which the MCs would welcome with quizzes and games. Apart the MCs' undeniable chemistry and savage wits, you'll get to see all your favourite K-stars singing, dancing, and just looking downright ridiculous. What's not to love?

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My Little Old Boy

My Little Old Boy documents the lives of celebrities who are still single and living alone, despite being well above the 'appropriate' age to marry. The show gives its audience comfort in knowing that even celebrities go through the same daily struggles that we do. Like trying to find a clean shirt underneath a mountain of clothes, finding mouldy food you've forgotten about in the back of your fridge, arguing with your siblings, or even just deciding what to watch on Netflix. And just to make it even more relatable, the celebrities' mums all sit and watch the clips together because, well, mum always knows best, right?

New World

A bizarrely delightful reality-scripted show by Netflix, New World features six celebrities who had all been invited to stay on a utopian island in their dream house. Over the course of six days, they must strategise their way to earning virtual dollars – which they can convert back to cash once they are off the island – by competing in a series of challenges that will put their friendships to the test.

Much like Netflix's other popular K-variety show, Busted!, New World is not for everyone as the scripted parts can sometimes feel disingenuous, which takes away the fun of seeing celebs being thrown into 'real' situations like most variety shows on this list. That being said, the whole concept of New World is rather refreshing and with variety show veterans like Lee Seung-gi, Eun Ji-won, Park Na-rae, and Kim Hee-chul holding down the fort, you're guaranteed a good laugh.

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Master in the House

What happens when four hilarious, adventurous, and highly competitive people meet with some of the most acclaimed stars and heroes in Korea? Well, you get a great show like this one. Each week, the MCs get to meet and spend time with people like firefighters, award-winning actors, Olympic champions, and even a Buddhist monk, to learn all there is to know about their 'masters'. Depending on the theme, there is sometimes a large showcase or challenge that the MCs will have to complete. Apart from the amusing fact that they are given less than 24 hours to learn a completely new skill, the show's insight into the country's different jobs and industries also make it pretty entertaining. 

Workman

Catered for those who can't sit still for lengthy shows, Workman is a 10 to 15-minute, one-man show that follows ex-newscaster Jang Sung-kyu as he takes on the roles of different ordinary jobs for the day. A construction worker, pastry chef, policeman, amusement park entertainer, and even a k-pop band manager – you know name it, he's done it. Jang's satirical humour, quick wit, and willingness to take on any challenge make the show impossible for you to press pause. Check it out YouTube, most of his videos have over a million views!

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