Based on the 2017 namesake novel by Korean American author and journalist Min Jin Lee, ‘Pachinko’ is an epic drama series. It chronicles the struggle of a family across three countries and over seven decades, enduring racism, discrimination, wars, and poverty. Sunja (Yu-na Jeon as the child, Minha Kim as the teen, and Youn Yuh-jung as the adult), the protagonist, grows up in Busan during the Japanese occupation of Korea before immigrating to Osaka and building a family there.
‘Pachinko’ is about how Sunja and her family persevere and eventually thrive, despite the overwhelming odds. If you love ‘Pachinko,’ here is a list of recommendations. You can watch most of these shows similar to ‘Pachinko’ on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
7. Ramy (2019-)
‘Ramy’ is a dramedy series that revolves around a first-generation Egyptian immigrant struggling to find his spiritual identity. The show explores the complexity and diversity of the Muslim community against the backdrop of a divided neighborhood in New Jersey. Despite its comedy credentials, ‘Ramy’ deals with racism, discrimination, loss, and identity crisis like ‘Pachinko’ and heavily draws from real-life events such as the Arab Spring. It also doesn’t shy away from focusing on the internal issues of the community.
6. Little America (2020-)
‘Little America’ is an anthology series documenting the diversity of the immigrant experience in America and enunciating why the country is regarded as the melting pot of cultures. Each episode focuses on a different community and is helmed by different directors. The show is earnest and candid in its depiction of immigrant life and oozes an inherent optimism. Like ‘Pachinko,’ ‘Little America’ is grounded in reality. The hopes and dreams of its characters feel extremely real, as do their unique struggles and challenges.
5. One Day at a Time (2017–2020)
Based on the namesake 1975 CBS series, ‘One Day at a Time’ is a sitcom about three generations of Cuban Americans. Like Sunja, Lydia Margarita del Carmen Inclán Maribona Leyte-Vidal de Riera is the matriarch of her own family. She immigrated to the US after Fidel Castro became the leader of Cuba. Lydia has also faced her share of struggles after coming to a foreign land and has built a family.
Her daughter, Penelope, is the main protagonist of the series. She is a veteran of the United States Army Nurse Corps and has two children of her own. ‘One Day at a Time’ is an incredibly progressive show. Besides immigration and racism, it also addresses issues such as gender identity, sexual orientation, and misogyny.
4. Mr. Sunshine (2018)
‘Mr. Sunshine’ is a South Korean drama series that focuses on the years leading up to the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910. It depicts the activities of the historical Righteous Army as well as other participants in the struggle for Korean independence. The show predominantly revolves around Eugene Choi, who witnesses the murders of his parents by a wealthy landlord before fleeing to America. When he returns to his homeland as an officer in the US Marine Corps, he falls in love with Go Ae-shin, the daughter of a nobleman. Like ‘Pachinko,’ ‘Mr. Sunshine’ heavily draws from one of the most crucial eras of Korean history and attempts to tell a truly international story within the context of the Korean experience.
3. Bridal Mask (2012)
Like ‘Pachinko,’ ‘Bridal Mask’ is set during the Japanese occupation — in the 1930s. The show revolves around two Korean brothers. One becomes a pro-Japanese police officer in Korea, while the other turns into a revolutionary who uses a bridal mask to hide his identity as he fights for his country’s independence. While ‘Bridal Mask’ is much more action-based than the somber drama ‘Pachinko,’ it still shares certain themes with the latter, including racism, xenophobia, and a desire for liberty.
2. Kim’s Convenience (2016-2021)
‘Kim’s Convenience’ is a Canadian sitcom about a Korean immigrant family. Mr. Sang-il Kim or Appa and Mrs. Yong-mi Kim or Umma used to be teachers in Korea. But after they immigrated, they opened the eponymous convenience store in the Moss Park neighborhood of Toronto. The family also includes son Jung and daughter Janet. Although in terms of scope and tone, ‘Kim’s Convenience’ vastly differs from ‘Pachinko,’ they do share certain themes. Immigration is obviously a major theme in both shows, along with identity crisis and the desire for assimilation.
1. Hymn of Death (2018)
‘Hymn of Death’ or ‘The Hymn of Death’ is a tragic love story set against the backdrop of the Japanese occupation. Based on actual events, the series revolves around the doomed romance between playwright Kim Woo-jin and Korea’s first professional soprano Yun Sim-deok. The two main characters fall in love while they are in Japan. Like Sunja, Sim-deok discovers that her lover has a wife. Moreover, both ‘Pachinko’ and ‘Hymn of Death’ depict challenges that the Korean people faced under Japanese rule.
Read More: Where is Pachinko Filmed?