Top Google searches in Korea for 2019 plus my explanations

Google recently released their end-of-year search term highlights for South Korea for 2019. As usual, I've reprinted the list here, translated it into English, and added some background commentary to try to explain a little bit about the topics.

They included a main overall "top terms" list, plus broke them down into several sublists (newsmakers, society, etc) which I'll try to look at too. Remember that most of these things were popular enough to have plenty of English news articles written about them so search the English names for more details than I will provide. Alright here we go.

2019 국내 인기 검색어 종합 순위 TOP 10
Top 10 overall most popular Google search terms in Korea for 2019

Top Overall Google searches in Korea 2019. Image: Google

  1. 타노스

    I can't believe Avengers villain Thanos made #1 on the list. I feel like it says something about the particular demographic of Koreans who use Google over Naver. The fun little promo where clicking the "snap" makes half of the results fade away surely gave this term a boost.
  2. 정준영
    Jung Joon-young

    Singer who debuted in Superstar K season 4 but who is surely most famous now as one of the masterminds behind the "Burning Sun" nightclub scandal during which rampant prostitution, rape, and drug use were exposed among some of K-pop's shiniest stars. Plenty of articles out there about him and "Burning Sun-gate." This was one of the biggest stories early in the year and no doubt a big tinderbox of fuel to the #metoo movement.
  3. 설리

    Popular K-pop singer and model who tragically ended her own life this year after years of being in the spotlight and enduring netizens' hateful comments, mostly about her "attitude problems" and habit of going braless. Suffering from depression for a long time, her death was another big spotlight on problematic online comments, and really the catalyst that drove several major online portals to retool their comment policies.
  4. 스카이캐슬(SKY 캐슬)
    SKY Castle

    Popular K-drama about teenagers, tutoring, teachers, and families. Right alongside the film "Parasite," SKY Castle (SKY = Seoul Univ., Korea Univ., Yonsei Univ.) was a piercing look at income and class issues, especially around corruption scandals of the wealthy who will pay or do anything to ensure kids get into good colleges. Really set the stage for the public to be outraged against Cho Kuk and even the New York Times got in on the issue.
  5. 한글날
    Hangul Day

    Commemorative holiday for the introduction of a native Korean writing script by King Sejong in the 1400s, I'm guessing this particular occurrence was special for an interesting Google Doodle that included links to various historical content on Hangul on Google Arts and Culture. I included this in post at the time.
  6. 황하나
    Hwang Hana

    An LA-born Korean actress (well, "actress") who is probably better known for being the former fiancee of the "Oktapbang Prince" himself, actor Park Yoochun and member of K-pop group JYJ. It was a wild year for this couple, as following Park's [ahem] "scandal" involving room salon bathrooms and bargirls, he was busted for drug use and brought to court this year. Not just him, but she too was busted for drug use and he even claimed her obsession with him included getting him to take drugs with her. She also played a role in the Burning Sun scandal. As far as I know they are broken up now but she has been spending time trying to capitalize on this fame/infamy to jumpstart her own career, or trying to ride the scandal train and her connections to be somebody, depending on yoru personal outlook. Netizens are generally unfavorable to her but that's par for the course I guess.
  7. 고유정
    Koh Yu-jeong

    Woman who allegedly murdered her ex-husband (and potentially her stepson too) in a particularly gruesome way (chopped him up, boiled and ground his parts, bagged them individually, tossed the bags in the sea or buried them). Some suspect this was a bigger story than might have otherwise been due to the tensions around #metoo, feminism, etc., as she claimed it was self-defense during a rape attempt, and because she seemed to show no remorse. Netizens somehow still found time to comment on her appearance.
  8. 조국
    Cho Kuk

    Politician and now former justice minister under President Moon for a matter of days, Cho Kuk was a hugely divisive figure this year. Essentially a major part of Moon's plan to reform the judiciary, he nonetheless was all but forced to resign days after a protracted vetting process brought to light various examples of corruption, from shady financial dealings to "golden spoon" favoritism for his daughter. Plenty of English sources for all this but here's an overview.
  9. 호텔 델루나
    Hotel Del Luna

    A very popular K-drama staring K-pop beauty (in voice and appearnce) I.U., and praised for its unique stories and characters. I don't watch it but apparently the "guests" at this hotel are ghosts, most of whom reveal sad and interesting stories about their deaths.
  10. 원펀맨
    One Punch Man

    Quirky Japanese action manga about a man who can basically defeat anything with a single punch, and how boring that makes his challanges. Season 2 of this iconic series was released this year. Again I think this hints at the Korean demographic who uses Google over Naver.

Next was Google's sub-list for the top news-makers/influencers and penguins. Yes, penguins.

2019 인물 및 펭귄 분야 국내 TOP 10
Top 10 Korean domestic newsmakers and penguins for 2019

Top newsmaker Google searches in Korea 2019. Image: Google

Note: many of these are repeats from above

  1. 정준영
    Jung Joon-young - see above
  2. 설리Sulli - see above
  3. 황하나Hwang Hana - see above
  4. 고유정
    Koh Yu-jeong - see above
  5. 조국
    Cho Kuk - see above
  6. 있지

    Popular new K-pop group under the JYP label, who debuted early this year.
  7. 전미선
    Jeon Mi-seon

    Popular middle-age actress who had an impressive resume but was probably most well known for playing "mother of the main character" type roles. Known as an elegant actress, she sadly committed suicide this year after battling depression. In a terrible year where Korean entertaintment suicides was such a hot topic, I wonder if her death didn't get as much attention as it ought to have.
  8. 송가인
    Song Ga-in

    Singer who won the reality competition "Miss Trot" for, yup, singing trot music, on TV Chosun. Maybe people liked the novelty of seeing a hot young girl competing in a music style known for being blasted from small hand radios by the old men you pass on the hiking trails. The show was oddly popular as the producers themselves seem to have thought. In fact a performance by famous singer 장윤정 on the program somehow managed to become the #1 most popular non-K-pop video on YouTube this year.
  9. 송혜교
    Song Hye Kyo

    Half of the fairy-tale "Song-Song" couple, who sadly divorced this year. Their on-screen romance turned real-life romance proved true love is possible. This year's divorce and rumors (likely false) of cheating with another well-known actor suggest otherwise. Good primer here.
  10. 펭수

    It's a crime that Pengsoo only barely broke the Top 10. I've never seen otherwise normal adults go so crazy over a character. Pengsoo is hilarious because his appearance itself is adorably cute and comical, yet his actual voice and personality are shockingly blunt. Even BBC did a feature on him. Amazing that he apparently started out as a YouTube creation by a trainee at EBS. I guess when something just resonates with the zeitgeist, it just works. 

Next, the top domestic news and issues searches.

2019년 국내 뉴스/이슈 분야 국내 인기 검색어는
Top Domestic News and Hot Issue searches for Korea for 2019

Top news/issue Google searches in Korea 2019. Image: Google

Note: Most of these items have plenty of coverage in the news so I won't bother introducing them all. 

  1. 한글날
    Hangul Day
    - see above
  2. AFC 아시안컵
    Asian Cup
    (Soccer). Apparently the Korean national team rose to the top 16.
  3. 버닝썬
    Burning Sun

    See the entries above for Jung Joon-young and Hwana Hana for more on this nightclub drug/sex scandal issue.
  4. 설리 사망
    Sulli's suicide
    - see above
  5. 태풍 링링
    Typhoon Ling-Ling
  6. 송중기 송혜교
    Song Joong-ki and Song Hye-kyo

    The "Song Song" couple getting divorced. See above.
  7. 2019 FIFA 여자 월드컵
    2019 FIFA Women's World Cup
    Korea qualified for the 2019 FIFA women's world cup, but ultimately failed to advance in the tournament. There was also a big push in the middle of the year to potentially have a joint North Korea - South Korea host bid for the 2023 cup tourneyment (South Korea had reached the final stages in the bid to host the 2019 tourney but lost it to France) back when relations between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jeong-un were especially good but ultimately the idea fizzed out.
  8. 학교 폭력 실태 조사
    Special investigation into school violence
  9. 화성 연쇄 살인 사건
    Infamous and elusive serial killer "Hwaseong Killer" (named for the area he terrorized) may (or may not, as questions pile up) have been identified by new DNA evidence and confessed, solving one of Korea's longest and most extreme cases, memorialized in the great film Memories of Murder from Bong Joon-ho years before Parasite. We'll have to see next year if more investigation determines if Lee Choon-jae was really the man.
  10. 지소미아(GSOMIA)
    General Security of Military Information Agreement

    Intelligence sharing pact involving the US, Japan, and South Korea. Korea threatened to pull out of the program and essentially did for awhile, related to the ongoing Japan boycott, but for now it has been prolonged as far as I've seen.

Other lists

Google's roundup includes other sublists that I won't bother talking about. You can view them there. They include:

  • the top movie-related searches (hint: foreign film Joker and domestic film Extreme Job which was genuinely funny)
  • top TV program searches (hint: shows I've already mentioned here dominated spots 1 and 2)
  • top game searches. (I might list these in a separate post I'll do later about top apps).

By the way, if you want a masterclass in the pitfalls of translation, try to translate the title of the movie "내안의 그놈" without laughing. I'm a grown man and it still tickles me. Not in that way though.

That's it for 2019. If you enjoyed this, you can find my other lists for other portals from this year, and past years, here at this label:
 🔗 10원 Tips: Year in Review