K-Drama Trend: Mental and Cognitive Disorders

Once upon a time (actually not too long ago), K-dramas were all about the supernatural stuff. There were aliens (“My Love from the  Stars“), time travel (“Dr. Jin,” “Rooftop Prince“), mermaids (“Surplus Princess“), body switching (“Secret Garden“), and other out-of-this-world plot themes. Recently, though, the trend has shifted to fit the following theme:

Real mental and cognitive disorders.

A little confused? These examples will clear up how this recent K-drama trend is everywhere and inescapable.

***Be warned there may be spoilers for “It’s Okay, That’s Love.”

Good Doctor”: Savant Syndrome


Savant syndrome describes someone who has mental or physical disabilities, but displays an incredible gift for one specific skill or field. In “Good Doctor,” Joo Won portrays a doctor who clearly has social disabilities, but is an absolutely brilliant doctor. His savant syndrome is the core of the plot – and Joo Won executes it brilliantly – but it’s an impairment that people deal with in real life.

For more on savant syndrome, click here.

[tv]Watch Joo Won portray a brilliant savant doctor on Good Doctor at SoompiTV![/tv]

“It’s Okay, That’s Love”

Befitting a story where the main female character is a psychiatrist, “It’s Okay, That’s Love” is filled with people suffering from mental disorders.



The list wouldn’t be complete without the psychiatrist herself with a broken past. Until Jo In Sung’s character came along, Gong Hyo Jin‘s character had been severely traumatized by her mother’s affair in the past and could not sleep with a man, no matter how convinced she was that she loved him. Genophobia, the irrational fear of sex, has many known causes, and childhood trauma is one of them. For more information, click here.

Tourette Syndrome


Lee Kwang Soo‘s character suffers from a cognitive disorder called Tourette syndrome. Tourette syndrome is characterized by the existence of motor or vocal tics, unwanted movements or noises that one does not have control over. In “It’s Okay, That’s Love,” Lee Kwang Soo’s character learns to stop hating himself for his disorder and grows to love himself with the help of the people around him. For more about Tourette syndrome, click here.



Jo In Sung brilliantly portrays a writer suffering from schizophrenia induced by childhood trauma. His symptoms include obsessions and compulsions, as well as full blown auditory and visual hallucinations – SPOILER ALERT – of Do Kyungsoo portraying his younger self. Schizophrenia comes with many symptoms and forms; for more information, click here.

[tv]Watch the healing drama It’s Okay, That’s Love on SoompiTV![/tv]

“Kill Me, Heal Me”: Dissociative Identity Disorder


Dissociative identity disorder (previously called multiple personality disorder) is an extremely rare but legitimately documented mental disorder. Many aspects of this disorder are still uncertain and mysterious, but the basics of the disorder are as the name describes. One person adapts more than one distinct personalities in his or her own body. The specifics of these symptoms vary incredibly, which makes it the perfect mental disorder for an exciting K-drama.

Ji Sung portrays the disorder – with a whole seven personalities, and splendidly too – in “Kill Me, Heal Me.” Ji Sung’s character is an instance of forming new personalities as a defense mechanism to a traumatic event, which is an existing and popular – although not backed by research – theory of the cause of dissociative identity disorder. For more, click here.

(And yes, Hyun Bin also portrays DID in “Jekyll Hyde, Me.”)

[tv]Watch Ji Sung’s brilliant portrayal of seven unique personalities in Kill Me, Heal Me on SoompiTV![/tv]

“The Girl Who Sees Smell”

Two cognitive disorders that are rare and extremely interesting – and fantastic for a K-drama plot – characterize the two main characters for “The Girl Who Sees Smell.”



Synesthesia is a rare cognitive disorder that essentially mixes the different senses together in some combination. The title of the drama directly describes one possible way synesthesia is displayed in people. Shin Se Kyung plays a girl who gains the ability to see smell because of a traumatic childhood experience. The eye color change is a dramatic twist, but there are people in real life who sees those colors and shapes from each specific smell. Learn more about this interesting disorder here.

Congenital Analgesia

congenital analgesia

The main male character, portrayed by Park Yoo Chun, also gains a rare disorder from the traumatic death of his younger sister. Congenital analgesia is the inability to feel physical pain. Park Yoo Chun’s character also seems to be dull to emotional pain – a direct result of the cause of his disorder. I have never heard of trauma causing congenital analgesia, but Park Yoo Chun does a great job selling it. For more… you know the drill. Here.

[tv]Watch this sensory couple grow together in The Girl Who Sees Smell on SoompiTV![/tv]

K-dramas have started to go from cancer and disabilities, to fantastical and mystical plots, to a new trend of rare but real mental and cognitive disorders. It allows for exciting plot lines, dramatic loves stories, and themes of healing and overcoming hardships. While the portrayal of these disorders is a whole separate discussion altogether (i.e., raising awareness of the disorder vs. false representation of the disorder), K-dramas are utilizing these rare yet real disorders for viewership and entertainment.

So, what do you think of this new trend in K-dramas? Let us know in the comments below!

See also: K-Drama Trend: Return of the Nice Guy

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