Romance Is a Bonus Book K-Drama
I recently came across a hidden gem on Netflix called Romance Is a Bonus Book. Back in April, while the COVID-19 pandemic was spiraling out of control (it still is), I was looking for a feel-good romantic-comedy to take my mind off things while the world sorted itself out.
Luckily, I found RIABB. It has quickly become one of my favorite rom-coms… ever. And let me tell you why. As an almost 35-year-old working mom, the themes and conflicts resonated with me during this season of life I find myself in. With having a child, working a full-time job, pursuing my dream of writing novels—my life isn’t quite how I ever expected it to turn out. RIABB vocalized my thoughts, feelings, and experiences beautifully.
What is Romance Is a Bonus Book?
I should mention that Romance Is a Bonus Book is a South Korean drama, or K-drama, starring Lee Jong-suk and Lee Na-young. I’ve only recently started watching this particular genre, but from now on, it will always have a place among my favorite things to watch.
It will make you laugh out loud, it will make you cry. It will make you reflect on your own life and your relationships, and it will make you consider the trials those around you must also be experiencing, hopefully making you a more empathetic person. And perhaps—best of all—it will inspire you.
This K-drama did all those things for me.
What’s so great about K-dramas?
For my US readers, or those not familiar with K-dramas, these television series typically only have one season with sixteen episodes. But rather than the shorter 40 to 50-minute episode lengths Americans are accustomed to, K-drama episodes run about 72 minutes long. They flow like a movie. The extra screen time helps the characters feel more believable because there’s more time for character development, backstory, causes, and effects. Nothing feels rushed. I actually enjoy the story more.
I should quickly call out that K-dramas tend to not have an english audio translation. You’ll have to read subtitles. Being an avid reader, I love subtitles and ALWAYS use them. You get so much more out of a movie or show by having them turned on. Even something like Game of Thrones—I watched it again with subtitles, and it was like a completely different show! But I digress.
Back to K-dramas
Another wonderful thing about K-dramas is the content matter. Compared to mainstream American or British rom-com-dramas, Korean dramas are sooooo refreshing in that they have this innocence to them. At least, in all the shows I’ve seen so far, there are zero sex scenes, little to no makeout scenes, and there’s just a higher sense of modesty. This is perfect if you’re the parent of a small child like I am. I don’t have to worry about my son seeing something inappropriate.
But perhaps my favorite thing about this genre is the overwhelming sense of passion in each episode. You might be wondering: But Sandra, if there are no sex scenes or sloppy makeout sessions, how can there be passion?
I suppose it’s a valid question for rom-coms or romantic dramas.
What I’m quickly learning about K-dramas is that more can be expressed in the eyes or a smile, or in subtle body language than just pushing two lovers into bed together. There’s a visible tension that always simmers below the surface.
And when you remove sex scenes from the equation, I feel the writers have to get more creative about the script and the storytelling. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy raunchier romances, too, but I have found the experience of watching K-dramas to be a breath of fresh air. In the Korean dramas I’ve watched so far, the writers pour their hearts into crafting poignant scenes and character scripts, and the material just feels deeper. As someone who loves the written word—poems, novels, quotables, you name it—much of RIABB came across as poetry or rich prose at times. The whole series was flawless.
Romance Is a Bonus Book summary
I’m going to give you this Romance Is a Bonus Book summary through the lens of being a working mother who has a ridiculously unhealthy obsession with books and writing. Spoilers to follow.
The main characters are Kang Dan-i and Cha Eun-ho. They met by chance when they were little. One day, Eun-ho had gone into the middle of the road to get his soccer ball, and Dan-i, seeing that he was about to get hit by a car, ran into the street to save him. She got hit instead. Her entire body was broken, requiring a great deal of time to heal. So Eun-ho looked after her every day in the hospital, bringing her books, and that’s how their friendship and mutual love for books began.
The series starts off with Cha Eun-ho (played by Lee Jong-suk) arriving at Dan-i’s wedding. She is perhaps 26 years old at this time and Eun-ho is 21. We get the sense that he doesn’t want her to get married, and we later find out that Dan-i is unsure about her own marriage, too. But she marries anyway.
The story then fast-forwards 11 years or so.
In present day, Eun-ho is a highly respected chief editor at a mid-sized publishing house. He is also a successful author. He lives alone in a nice house, driving a nice car, and he doesn’t have any serious relationships with women. In fact, women either cheat on him or he breaks things off with them, but he’s never heartbroken over any of it.
Meanwhile, life has been hard on Dan-i. She’s been divorced for a year (her shitty husband cheated on her), she’s homeless, and she’s having no luck finding a good job after staying home for so many years to be a wife and mom. Her daughter is actually studying abroad in the Philippines, so Dan-i is trying to financially support her.
Eun-ho isn’t aware of any of this.
The series takes off with Eun-ho finding out about Dan-i’s situation and deciding to let her live with him. We quickly find that he’s actually in love with her—has been in love with her for years—and the series continues with the two of them exploring their feelings toward each other.
Oh, and to complicate things, Dan-i gets a contract job working at Eun-ho’s company. Scenes get even more secretive and hilariously awkward.
There are a few serious subplots with side characters and Eun-ho’s personal connection to a renowned literary fiction writer, Kang Byeong-jun. I won’t spoil those for you because those scenes are incredibly emotional and heartfelt.
Review: Romance Is a Bonus Book
Romance Is a Bonus Book is packed with comedy and love triangles, and literally everything about this show is wonderful. One of the biggest factors that will keep me coming back to a particular story is how well-rounded the supporting characters are, and RIABB doesn’t disappoint in that regard.
The supporting characters all have depth. They have their own obstacles in their personal and professional lives that make them interesting and easy to relate to. From divorce and love to social pressures, to new romance, to job woes, to having the grit to overcome whatever life throws at you—the themes in this series shine a light on some of the most relevant issues a person can experience in adulthood.
You may all-out sob after watching several of the scenes, but there’s enough humor and hope to balance it out.
I gave Romance Is a Bonus Book 5/5 stars. If you enjoy shows with fun romances, wild friendships, and exciting office dynamics, give this one a chance.
I need someone to geek out about this stuff with me!