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How a South Korean dystopian drama became the most popular thing on Netflix

Everything you need to know about the Netflix show taking viewers by storm.

Netflix is the definition of “spoiled for choice.” With countless titles and more added all the time, it’s a challenge to stand out amidst the masses of movies and tv shows available.

So how did Squid Game, a Korean series about a deadly series of childhood games, go from relative obscurity two weeks ago to become Netflix’s most popular series ever? The answer is a lot more complicated than you may think, spanning years and multiple countries.

Squid Game: On the Shoulders of Netflix Giants

The players of the Squid Game before the first round.Netflix

Squid Game’s success is not just a breakthrough hit but the result of a slow-moving tide of international series capturing mainstream attention. Though Netflix Original programming started in 2013 with the release of House of Cards, it took the streaming service much longer to branch out into international series, like the Spanish teen murder mystery thriller Elite and German sci-fi series Dark.

After Netflix fully expanded to over 190 countries, the streamer began a conscious effort to increase global content, ranging from Japanese reality shows to Brazilian supernatural series. Squid Game is just the latest in a long line of Netflix Original South Korean dramas like Persona, Love Alarm, and Sweet Home. Netflix is betting big on these series in the hopes of a giant success like Squid Game.

What is Squid Game about on Netflix?

The faceless, armed staff of the Squid GameNetflix

Squid Game follows Seong Gi-hun, a father estranged from his daughter and buried by massive debts. To prove himself worthy of being with his daughter, he participates in a series of childhood games. If he wins, he’ll gain a huge fortune. If he loses... he’ll die.

It’s the definition of “high-risk, high-reward,” but as Gi-hun makes his way through the games, he realizes the reality behind it is far darker than the mass murder committed within the walls. It’s a tale of corruption, classism, income inequality, and, most of all, the desire to survive.

What Makes Squid Game Special?

Jung Ho-yeon as Kang Sae-byeok, a North Korean defector.

South Korean dramas, usually referred to as K-Dramas, approach storytelling in a unique way, whether it’s a melodramatic romance, heart-racing horror, or Squid Game’s unique blend of social commentary and deadly thrills. Netflix had global success earlier in the year with the multilingual Korean sci-fi film Space Sweepers, so there was a precedent for another breakout series.

But where Squid Game really sets itself apart is how it doesn’t focus on being a satire of capitalism or a Hunger Games-style dystopia. Instead, the show touches on universal themes that defy any language barrier. Themes like kindness, family, and sacrifice permeate every episode. It’s more than just a show that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It also makes you cry.

Add all that to a streaming service that emphasizes global accessibility with its copious dubbing, subtitle translations, and multi-national marketing campaigns, and you have a recipe for a global phenomenon.

Squid Game is now streaming on Netflix.