The ban on the import and distribution of Japanese media in South Korea has had a long history since the founding of South Korea itself.

Origins (1945-1998)

The origins of such censorship date back to the very first Independence Day of South Korea on August 15, 1945, when Koreans were freed from the Japanese. On that same day, the Law For Punishing Anti-National Deeds was enacted. Its intent was mainly targeted at Japanese media, resulting in Koreans having no legal access to any manga, anime, video games, music and movies from that country. The ban took effect throughout most of the last two decades of the 20th century.

During those two decades, video game consoles grew popularity in Japan and the Americas. Many Korean companies found ways around the ban, such as licensing American versions of Japanese consoles. For example, the Nintendo Entertainment System (not the Japanese Family Computer) was released as the Hyundai Comboy (현대 컴보이) by Hyundai Electronics. As for anime, only a few to some were released in South Korea, with all Japanese cultural references removed, like Japanese words originally on screen left blank. Episodes completely with overt references to Japan and Japanese culture were banned as well.

Revisions to the laws (1998-2003)

In October 1998, President Kim Dae-jung gradually lifted the ban on Japanese cultual products, claiming that "it will be a stimulus to society and will help to further develop South Korean culture". The revisions of the laws allowed manga and other Japanese publications, including the Pocket Monsters (Pokemon) anime, which premiered in July 1999. Only live action films classified as "All Ages" were allowed for screening at that time. The ban on animated films remained in effect until June 2000, when by then, films classified as "12+" and "15+" were also allowed.

Korean culture today (2004-Present)

As of January 1, 2004, all censorship has been lifted on Japanese media in South Korea. This included movies of any rating, music (except on terrestrial television), video games, and television programming. The laws also allowed the establishment of Nintendo of Korea in 2006. However, the Wii U, despite being released in 2012, was banned for an unknown reason.

List of (once) banned media

According to the Internet Movie Database, 38 titles are currently listed as once or still banned in South Korea. 35 of these 38 titles are explicitly designed for adults only. They are:

  • 25 motion pictures officially rated R or NC-17 by the MPAA, including an old animated film
  • 2 unrated foreign films respectively from France and Hong Kong
  • 2 animated cartoons
  • 3 South Korean films (all eventually lifted for an 18+ rating)
  • 3 video games, all rated M by the ESRB

The other three comprise of two T-rated video games depicting war in North Korea, and the last one is Hetalia: Axis Powers, which was banned due to the existance of the controversial character, "Korea", resulting the series to be deemed a "national crime", according to the South Korean government.

All Japanese media prior to 2004 was actually banned at once under one law, which is a possible reason why none of it is listed as banned in South Korea on IMDb.