[Foreword] Fandom Culture and the Fanfic Generation

  • onMarch 13, 2020
  • byCha Mi-ryeong

New generations of Korean writers have long been associated with the cultures they consume or participate in. For instance, the generation of Korean writers who were initiated into democracy and liberty, that is, writers who made their debut after the late 1980s, came into the limelight along with the keywords “subculture” and “genre writing.” These include the poet Yoo Ha (Moorim Diary) and the novelists Kim Young-ha, Baek Minsuk, and Bae Suah. These writers and more drew upon the various subcultural influences that shaped them in their formative years, such as comic books, graphic novels, muhyeop (martial arts) sagas, computer games, romance novels, and various speculative fiction including horror novels. In doing so, these influences became the inspiration behind a new sub-genre, the so-called “new-generation Korean literature.”

Around the same time in the late 1980s, K-pop fandom also began to take shape in earnest. Thirty years later, K-pop has become a global phenomenon. Amidst these changes, it is no longer unusual to attempt a critique of fandom subculture or engage in an academic exercise regarding this topic. In fact, research suggests that fans of so-called “idol” performers are not necessarily passive consumers targeted by the entertainment industry but rather agents of cultural production in a newly emerged media. If this is the case, how should we define the works of authors whose first-ever writings were fan letters or fan fiction dedicated to their favorite pop stars?

For the 2020 KLN spring issue’s Special Section, our intent was to shed light on how Korean literature is portraying the lived experiences of K-pop fans. Literary critic In A Young provides this issue’s overview, and reminds us of the interesting fact that several young authors chose to set the context of their debut novels in a world steeped in K-pop. Pointing out how K-pop’s reaches “have sunk deep into Korean literature as well,” she references the novels of Lee Heejoo, Jo Woori, Kim Sehee, and as well as the short stories of Park Sang Young and Park Min-jung. She goes on to suggest that these works “drive at the heart of serious issues, such as existential questions on one’s identity or the gender politics sustained by women and the LGBTQ community, within the context of a subculture once considered shallow and meaningless.” We need not point out that currently the literary field is engaged in a widespread dismantlement of the dichotomy between what’s considered mainstream and what isn’t; the existing norms that determine what is more meaningful and therefore valuable are being systematically broken down. And it appears this phenomenon will continue for the time being.

For the spring issue’s Featured Writer section, we have invited Han Changhoon and Cho Hae-jin. Jason Woodruff and Ji-Eun Lee, who translated their I Like It Here and I Met Loh Kiwan respectively, provide an in-depth exploration of the two writers’ creative worldviews. When Han describes the “serene dignity” of labor, and when Cho remarks how “fiction involves telling about someone other than yourself,” readers can’t help but see these statements as nearly in-sync overlaps with the authors’ published works.

As you know, we have been featuring one full short story in our Bookmark section since last year’s autumn issue (Vol. 44). In this spring issue, we bring to you Jang Eunjin’s “A Remote Place,” which received the Lee Hyo-seok Literary Award in 2019.

My deepest gratitude goes to the many writers, translators, and contributors who have filled these pages with rich insight to create yet another memorable issue.


Cha Mi-Ryeong
Professor of Korean Literature
GIST (Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology)
Translated by Amber Hyun Jung Kim