Romance is a Bonus Book has been one of the best finds of the last month for me. Written by Jung Hyun-jung, it’s a Korean drama that focuses on the romances and tribulations of people who work for a premiere publishing company in South Korea.
It’s charming, sweet, and doesn’t shy away from the sexism that exists in most industries when it comes to women in the workforce and the ways they often suffer the most when it comes to taking time off to raise children.
Kang Dan-i (Lee Na-Young) has divorced her husband, who left her for another woman. At the start of the series, her kid is in another country to attend school, her husband has run off with his mistress, and she’s living in her old house, which has been condemned and slated for demolition. She’s been on fifty interviews, and everyone says the same: she’s got too much of a gap in her resume to hire her or she’s too advanced for the more entry level jobs she’s applied for. Her life is on the rocks, and she’s coping as best she can. Coping means pretending to be her best friend’s housekeeper – eating his food, using his shower, and otherwise doing all the things she needs to do to keep being able to look for work and save what meager funds she has to take care of her daughter and herself.
Cha Eun-ho (Lee Jong-Suk) is a distant-seeming copy editor who can’t keep a relationship, but who gradually reveals that he cares deeply and nearly heroically for the people he values most. He’s constantly finding ways for his loved ones to be comfortable and happy, and his life revolves around love, to the point that he risks the company’s reputation at the request of someone he thinks of as a father. Dan-i, his best friend since they were kids, is another person he goes out of his way to accommodate once he realizes she’s in trouble, all while maintaining his calm, distant facade. He’s also madly in love with it, and every failed relationship he’s had has revolved around the simple truth that no one measures up to Dan-i
The balance between Dan-i’s cheerfulness, optimism, and eagerness and Eun-ho’s more reserved, measured sensibilities makes them a wonderfully chaotic and charming match. She balances out his grumpiness and he makes her realize that not everything is at it seems, to wait and understand that not everything works out exactly to plan, but it usually works out. The slowly shifting dynamic between them was they moved into a new way of being around each other was well done, realistic, and wonderfully romantic.
No less interesting were the cast of characters who surrounded them. They were all deeply weird and all wildly different, and it made getting to know them through the publishing company they all worked at fun. I wouldn’t have expected to like the people around Eun-ho and Dan-i as much as I liked them, but over the course of the series, I found ways to love all of them, to understand them, and appreciate that their love for each other was nearly as deep as their love of making good books for people to read.
Characters that I thought would delve into trite beats of the comical villain who hates the lead woman or a boss that refuses to see reason surprised me several times over in the best of ways. Everyone had depth, realism, pain, and triumphs through it all. Everyone was struggling in some way, but they all wanted better, wanted more, and following them on the path to get to a better place was as interesting as watching Dan-i and Eun-ho navigate their shifting dynamics.
The book industry was also a character that wove throughout all of the interconnected stories. The series felt like a love story to it, with the people who worked at the publishing house the partners to its purpose and power. Everyone wanted to make and release books that would move the public, would teach them, would help the authors find a career that was as satisfying as the beats and threads that wove around their work. Even in their darkest moments, making books was a balm, a place of ease, and the writing showcased what good people with the best of intentions could do for an industry that doesn’t always have the best of reputations.
Overall, the series had beautiful moments, emotions that felt true and real and rooted in pain, growth, and ultimately love, and it was the perfect weekend binge.
Be sure to check Romance is a Bonus Book out on Netflix, and if you have any other television recommendations, let me know in the comments below!