Top Google Searches for South Korea for 2020 with Commentary

It's that time of year, and Google have released their lists of the top most searched terms for South Korea for 2020. As is my annual tradition, I am reformatting the list in a more user-friendly readable way, translating the search terms to English, and offering my own brand of custom commentary on what they are and why they might  be on this list. 

So let's take a look at what Koreans were searching for on Google this year to get some insight into what was on Koreans' minds in 2020. Or at least the minds of Koreans who use Google instead of Naver, since as usual I'm not sure that this list fully represents the cultural zeitgeist of Koreans, just of those who search on Google. 

Also as usual, these lists represent terms that spiked in popularity during 2020. Absolute popularity search terms (like "weather" as the #1 search every single year) are omitted. 

On with the lists!

Top Google search terms in South Korea for 2020. Screenshot: Google

Overall Top 10 Google Searches in South Korea for 2020
2020년 국내 검색어 종합 순위는

  1. 코로나바이러스 감염증-19
    Coronavirus-19 infection

    No surprise here. Searches for COVID-19 info topped the list for 2020 as people searched for news, infection numbers, social distance levels, etc. In fact a video put out by the Korea Centers for Disease Control with infection prevention tips and info became the #1 most-watched YouTube video among Koreans for 2020 (among non-K-pop related videos). 
  2. 미국 대선
    US Presidential election

    Again, no surprises. Seems like the entire world was curious about the constant drama coming out of the US this year. 
  3. 테슬라 주가
    Tesla stock price

    Korean investors snatched up Tesla shares this year, both prior to and after the announcement that Tesla will use LG Chem for batteries. I feel like the appearance of this search term at #3 on the Google list gives an indication of the type of Koreans who use Google.  
  4. 이태원 클라쓰
    Itaewon Class

    One of the most popular K-drama's of the year, especially among younger audiences. Originally a webtoon, but remade into a TV drama by cable channel JTBC. 
  5. 박원순
    Park Won-soon

    Lawyer, activist, and long-serving mayor of Seoul who committed suicide this year after allegations of sexually harassing his secretary. Police apparently found no solid evidence which some are disputing.
  6. n번방

    The so called "N room" was a set of chatrooms run through the chatting app Telegram in which a core group of exploiters, headed by "God God" Cho Ju-bin, sold sexually explicit and prohibited content, including pornography featuring minors and coercion. The extent of the operation, and the number of buyers of the content, rocked Korea this year, including the seeming lenience of sentencing for several members. Cho, however, received a 40-year sentence for his part. What I found pretty shocking (in addition to all the rest of it) was the relative youth of those masterminding this operation. Some were still in high school and yet in their spare time blackmailing other students into creating sickening content with family members to distribute in the rooms. And here I thought I was bad for drinking 40s behind the gas station parking lot on Friday nights.  
  7. 21대 국회의원 선거
    21st General Election of Korea

    A big year for elections. This year the incumbent ruling party, headed by President Moon Jae-in, swept local elections leading to a clear majority in parliament, making them more or less unstoppable for now, despite some souring opinions over housing prices and claims of a "rigged election."
  8. 코로나19 예방
    COVID-19 prevention

    See #1
  9. 박지선
    Park Ji-sun 
    (Not to be confused with Park Ji-sung, the famous footballer)
    Popular and well-liked female comedian who tragically committed suicide alongside her mother this year. Park had long suffered from, to put it bluntly, ugliness, and the result of some skin surgeries in her youth left her physically oversensitive to bright lights, makeup, basically all the trapping of being a female entertainer, which obviously made both her life and career difficult. Unlike many of the "gag" type comedians, Park was relatively highly educated as a Korea University graduate and tended to a more creative/intelligent brand of humor. She was also popular on social media for her genuinely heartfelt and close relationship with her mother, making their choice to double suicide extra tragic. 
  10. 발로란트

    First-person shooter computer game, released this year. I feel like this too shows something about the type of Koreans who use Google. 

Now to a few category specific search term lists. 

Top News and Society searches in South Korea for 2020
2020년 뉴스 및 사회 분야 국내 검색어

Many of these are repeats of the items above so I've only commented on those that don't appear on the above list.
  1. 코로나바이러스감염증-19
    Coronavirus infections

    Repeated above.
  2. 미국 대선
    US Presidential election

    Repeated above.
  3. n번방

    Repeated above.
  4. 21대 국회의원 선거
    21st General Election of Korea

    Repeated above.
  5. 신천지
    Shincheonji Church

    The evangelical Christian group, some would say cult, at the center of the Daegu outbreak of coronavirus, one of the earliest mass infections to occur in South Korea and probably the real "kick start" of the pandemic locally.  
  6. 김정은 사망
    Death of Kim Jong-un

    Rumors of the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un captured the public imagination in the first half of 2020. Hard for me to imagine that this was this year. Feels like years of news events happened since then. 
  7. 학교 폭력 실태 조사
    School violence survey

    Conducted annually, the survey for 2020 was interesting in that it focused specifically on student athletes, given suicides and also a series of scandals in the Korean sports world, probably the most noteworthy of which this year were the allegations by the famous "Garlic Girls" curling team. 
  8. 박사방
    Doctor Room

    A subset of the "N-Room" chatroom scandal. The "Doctor" as he called himself, Kang Hoon, who served in a sense as Cho Jubin's (see above) #2 man, was eventually sentenced to a lengthy prison term
  9. 태풍 바비
    Typhoon Bavi

    Luckily the typhoon passed through Korea with minimal issues and no deaths
  10. 갑수목장
    Gapsu Ranch

    A popular YouTube channel (content deleted as of this posting) by veterinary student Park Gap-su, showing an altruistic nature towards animals, supposedly first towards cows (thus the "ranch") but later particularly for cats. Despite adopting and caring for many cats, and organizing various fund raising activities for animals, controversy broke out this year as abuse and mistreatment of the animals, and personal pocketing of donated funds, came to light.

Top Coronavirus-related search terms in South Korea for 2020
2020 올해의 코로나바이러스 검색어

These are pretty basic and self-explanatory so I'll just transalte the list.
  1. 코로나바이러스감염증-19
    Coronavirus infections 
  2. 코로나19 예방
    COVID-19 prevention
  3. 긴급 재난 지원금
    Emergency assistance funds (i.e. government stimulus money)
  4. 신천지
    Shincheonji church (see above)
  5. 마스크
  6. 코로나19 증상
    COVID-19 symptoms
  7. 개학연기
    School closures
  8. 자가 진단
  9. 질병 괸리 본부
    Center for Disease Control
  10. 2차 재난 지원금
    2nd Round of Emergency Assistant funding

Top Movie search terms in South Korea for 2020
2020 올해의 영화 검색어

For this list, I've just copied down the movie's English titles so you can easily search them on your own if you're unfamiliar. I only saw a few of these, but what the heck, I'll give my own personal reviews for those I saw.
  1. Parasite (기생충)
    Probably everybody is familiar with this one. It's interesting (and motivational) to me that it seems like despite all the government focus on thin and beautiful K-pop acts, it's fat guys (Psy and Bong Joon-ho) who have arguably made the biggest international splashes on behalf of K-Culture. Very enjoyable movie. I actually thought this was one of the sexiest performances of Cho Yeo-jeong, and that's saying something considering her other films. I wasn't a big fan of The Host or Okja or even Snowpiercer, but Bong really knocked it out of the park with Memories of Murder and Parasite. It's funny how normal it feels that people live in such extreme conditions of wealth or poverty, but seeing it on the big screen really made it come home. 
  2. Frozen 2
    Unfortunately I didn't catch this one. Seeing as I didn't here kids belting out any "Let It Go" type songs, I'm guessing it wasn't as big as the first one.
  3. Peninsula (반도)
    Alright, so it was no Train to Busan, but despite what a lot of people said, I actually enjoyed this one. There were definitely parts that left me thinking the movie needed to trim the fat (car chases, the detail of the UN soldier's name, the Mad Max men's commune) but overall I loved the premise. The scene at the Chinese pojangmacha early in the film I thought really hit hard. 
  4. Tenet 
    Haven't seen it yet. Boy this thing arrived in the wrong year. 
  5. The Man Standing Next (남산의 부장들)
    Featuring the handsome Terminator himself, Lee Byung‑hun, but I didn't see it. Dramatisized historical account of the assassination of President Park Chung-hee. Takes a rather left-leaning view of history, according to my coworker who saw it. 
  6. Start-Up (시동)
    Featuring 10원 Tip favorite, Ma Dong Seok, but I didn't see it, nor did my coworkers.
  7. #살아있다 (#Alive)
    Featuring starlet Park Shin‑hye. I'm a sucker for zombie movies. I felt like the movie had some good parts, but lacked in many ways. The premise of being stuck in your apartment, communicating with a survivor across the way, was great and reminded me of the survivors in the mall in Dawn of the Dead. But overall it lacked a feeling of urgency for me. Who plays Call of Duty on his PC during a zombie outbreak? How is internet, electricity, and water still functional? The scene where (spoilers) the water gave out felt the most frightening to me. Hard to buy into the idea that hashtagging yourself on Instagram is the promoted way of alerting authorities to come rescue you. 
  8. Ashfall (백두산)
    Didn't watch it, but holy moly, it features Suzy of K-pop fame, handsome Terminator Lee Byunghun, blog favorite Ma Dong Seok, and a host of other power actors. Maybe I should add it to my queue. 
  9. Honest Candidate (정직한 후보)
    Didn't watch it, and nobody I know did either.
  10. 1917
    Didn't watch it. 

The blog post at Google also includes 2 other category lists: Top Drama & Entertainment searches, and Top Game searches. But those areas are usually covered by the various K-pop and Gaming blogs out there, so I won't go over them here. 

The one interesting one to me was 부부의세계 (World of the Married), which is apparently a Koreanized adaptation of a popular British drama I've never heard of called Doctor Foster.

To see them and the Google team's commentary, see their post here:

And for more of my Year-In-Review posts, see here: