'The Masked Singer' and other shows you didn’t know were actually Korean

The Masked Singer Doughnuts costume
We're nuts for The Masked Singer – and we're not the only ones! (Image credit: ITV)

The sheer bonkersness of The Masked Singer has yet again caught us in its spell, bringing some much-needed fun and color into dark and cold winter weekend evenings.

But what many don’t know is that the crazy singing show actually originated in South Korea, premiering there five years ago, and has now been adapted in over 30 countries all over the world.

Add to that our obsessive binging of Squid Game last year, and it seems that Korean TV is hot at the moment.

In fact, more shows than you realize actually originated from the South Asian country…

'King of the Mask Singer'/'The Masked Singer'

TV tonight Panda sings again.

No one is a patch on Panda. (Image credit: ITV)

The concept is simple – famous singers or celebrities perform in a mask while a panel try and work out just who they are.

However, the Korean version is a little more complicated than the one here or in the US.

Known as King of the Masked Singer, the ‘King’ part comes from the fact that once a winner is crowned, they then fight the victor in each subsequent episode to hold on to their crown. The longest any ‘Mask King’ has reigned is for nine battles in 2016.

The show has screened nearly 250 episodes since it started in 2015, with literally hundreds of singers competing and over 50 Kings crowned.

With a new set of contestants unveiled each episode, the masks and costumes aren’t quite as over-the-top as the UK version. However, it as has brought out the big guns in the celebrity stakes.

As well as famous local K-Pop singers, Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds once competed. The huge reaction to his rendition of Tomorrow from Annie, all while dressed as a unicorn, is believed to be what prompted US TV bosses to commission their own version – which was when it was spotted by UK producers.

'I Can See Your Voice'

I Can See Your Voice UK series 2

Who'll hit the high notes – and who'll fall on their bum ones? (Image credit: BBC / Thames)

I Can See Your Voice, which hit UK screens last year, first began in 2015 in Korea.

Contestants try and work out which of a line-up of possible singers can actually sing and which are tone deaf – based on everything apart from hearing their pipes!

The contestants have a celebrity panel to help them out, and usually a guest singing artist as well.

The UK version pretty much follows the Korean format. The panel has to eliminate singers based on everything from looks alone, to a lip-synch round or a quick-fire interrogation where the singers answer questions about their career (or lie convincingly if they’re actually a windscreen fitter from Watford!).

The reveal on both versions is great fun. The star guest kicks off singing a hit song, before the singer joins in the duet – to cheers or jeers depending if they turn out to be a big talent or a little liar.

The Korean version is now on its ninth series and the BBC has commissioned a second series of the UK version – presented by Paddy McGuinness – to screen later this year.

'Good Doctor'/'The Good Doctor'

Freddie Highmore in The Good Doctor

He's a good Doc – even if some don't think so. (Image credit: Jeff Weddell/ABC/Sony Pictures Television)

Having now reached its fifth series, The Good Doctor has been a hit on ABC in the US. The medical drama originated, however, in Korea, as a single series airing in 2013.

The premise of both versions is the same – a doctor who is on the autism spectrum and has genius-level memory skills arrives takes a new job at a hospital. However, his unusual manner sees both patients and staff sceptical of his talents.

While Freddie Highmore takes the lead in the US version, Joo Won played the role in Korean version, winning several awards for his portrayal. The show itself gained several other accolades in its home country, along with high ratings, and ran for 20 episodes. It has also been remade in Japan and Turkey.

'Grandpas Over Flowers'/'Better Late Than Never'

The US version of this reality show followed veteran stars Henry Winkler of The Fonz fame, Star Trek’s William Shatner, American Football legend Terry Bradshaw, and George Foreman, champion boxer and famed electric grill maker, on a journey across the globe. They have no set plans, and their only assistance comes from younger comedian Jeff Dye – who sometimes leads the men deliberately into situations just to see how they cope.

The show began in Korea in 2013 as Grandpas Over Flowers, which took four Korean actors of a certain vintage and sent them on their travels. The show was a big hit – and not just with the older viewers, much to the delight of TV bosses. The younger demographic loved the show, and appearing on it rebooted the careers of the stars.

It was such a success, that the format was expanded to Sisters over Flowers, featuring four older actresses, and Youth Over Flowers, which is pretty self-explanatory!

While the US version only lasted two seasons from 2016, the show has also had remakes in China and The Netherlands.


'God’s Gift: 14 Days'/'Somewhere Between'

US time-travel thriller Somewhere Between – currently streaming on Netflix – sees Paula Patton as Laura, a successful TV journalist left distraught when her daughter is murdered by a serial killer. The twist comes when Laura then wakes up, and it’s three weeks before the murder, and she realizes she’s caught in a time loop. Soon, she is desperate to finds a way to prevent her daughter’s death.

The original Korean version back in 2014 was named God’s Gift: 14 Days, it followed the same pretense, although it ran to 16 episodes rather than the ten of the US version, and similarly only for one series.


Sean Bean in Snowpiercer

Brit actor Sean Bean comes along for the ride. (Image credit: David Bukach/TNT)

US series Snowpiercer stars Jennifer Connelly as the head of hospitality on board a perpetually moving train which circles the globe – the train being a way to stay alive in a future where the world has become a frozen wasteland. The series, which began in 2020, is now on its third season, with Brit actor Sean Bean joining the cast as the eccentric billionaire inventor of the train in the second.

However, the origins of the series are back in Korea, where a film version of the French graphic novel was made in 2013, directed by Bong Joon-ho – who would win an Oscar for Parasite in 2020 – it was his first English language film. Starring Hollywood stars Jamie Bell, Chris Evans and Tilda Swindon alongside the Korean cast, it was an unexpected hit in the US, and with a budget of $40 million, and remains one of the most expensive Korean productions ever.

Coming Soon!

Train to Busan Gong Yoo

Will passengers please mind the closing doors and rampaging zombies in the original Train To... film. (Image credit: Prime)

Following the success of Squid Game, it’s no surprise TV bosses are falling over themselves to adapt Korean shows...

'Time To Hunt'

The Korean version of this 2020 action drama is available on Netflix, but the channel has an English language remake in development. “It’s half heist, half chase movie, set in a near dystopia,” says director Adam Randall. The original sees a group of friends set off to pull off a robbery in a city of the future before being hunted down by an assassin for their crime.

'Last Train To New York'

This zombie drama is a remake of the 2016 horror movie Train to Busan. The original sees passengers trapped on a high-speed train heading to the city in South East of Korea. The remake will – as the title suggests – relocate the action to New York. It will debut in cinemas, but the original can be found on streaming services including Prime Video.

'The Club'

Based on South Korean drama The Trap, Don Lee, the star of Marvel’s The Eternals, will take the lead in this remake. He plays a veteran detective investigating a mysterious group who attacked a famous news host and his family on a camping trip.

'Crash Landing On You'

The original Korean version of this drama tells the love story that unfolds when a South Korean businesswoman finds herself trapped in hostile North Korea after accidentally paragliding into the country. She’s hidden by an army captain, and they slowly fall in love, despite the divide between their counties. There’s no word yet on where this Netflix remake will be set.

Steven Murphy

Steven is a writer, editor, and commentator with a passion for popular TV and soap operas. He spent 20 years as the editor of Inside Soap magazine, documenting every punch-up and pucker-up in the Street, the Square and the village. As a feature writer, he’s covered TV crime dramas, period dramas and even some real-life star dramas. He’s been seen as a talking head on more TV clip shows than he cares to remember, has a life-long passion for TV sci-fi – the older and creakier the better – and is a slight obsessive about any reality show featuring hotels.