IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Netflix's 'Squid Game' is a sensation. Here's why it's so popular.

The show is a hot topic on social media, where the hashtag "#SquidGame" on TikTok has been viewed more than 22.8 billion times.
Get more newsLiveon

"Squid Game" is more than just a runaway hit for Netflix — it's also the internet's favorite show.

Released Sept. 17, the nine-episode Korean thriller is poised to become Netflix's biggest "non-English-language show in the world," said Netflix's co-CEO Ted Sarandos.

"It's only been out for nine days, and it's a very good chance it's going to be our biggest show ever," Sarandos said last month.

IMAGE: A scene from Netflix's 'Squid Game'
A scene from Netflix's "Squid Game."Youngkyu Park / Netflix

Flix Patrol, a website that tracks streaming statistics for the top platforms in the world, reported that "Squid Game" is the No. 1 show in dozens of countries, including the U.S., the United Kingdom and South Korea.

Streaming numbers for Netflix aren't independently verified, making a show's popularity difficult to quantify. Netflix executives didn't respond to requests for comment.

Julia Alexander, a senior strategy analyst at Parrot Analytics, said it's clear that "Squid Game" has been a massive success, adding that she would use one word to describe how big a win it has been for Netflix.

"'Unprecedented,'" Alexander said. "I'm assuming that the executives knew because of the talent they used, because of the region they released it in, that this was going to be a hit in South Korea. I would put good money that the executives had no idea this was going to be a global hit."

The show follows Seong Gi-Hun, played by Lee Jung-jae, as he and hundreds of other desperate and deeply indebted contestants compete in a violent and often grotesque competition for about $38 million. Only one person can win the prize, and those who lose the series of children's games pay with their lives.

On social media, users can't stop talking about "Squid Game," especially some of its children's games, which have lent themselves to some unforgettable memes. On TikTok, "#SquidGame" has been viewed more than 22.8 billion times.

So why is the show so popular? We broke down some of the top reasons viewers can't get enough of it.

Warning: There are some mild spoilers ahead.

Word of mouth

"Squid Game" is a wholly unique property not based on any existing idea or concept, which could have hamstrung its popularity as both a new and a foreign property with no fan base. As Vulture notes, although the series was marketed in South Korea and other Asian countries, there was no serious push to advertise it in the U.S.

Instead, its unique concept electrified social media, where Twitter and TikTok users have voraciously posted about it.

"People hear about it, people talk about it, people love it, and there's a very social aspect to that, which does help grow the show outside of what we do," Netflix's global TV head, Bela Bajaria, told Vulture.

Another reason "Squid Game" has become such a worldwide phenomenon is its accessibility. The show is filmed in Korean, but Netflix offers subtitles in 37 languages and dubs in 34 languages, allowing those who would rather not read subtitles to enjoy it, too.

Even the way the show is subtitled and dubbed has opened conversations online, where some say the translations miss crucial context.

"Not to sound snobby but i'm fluent in korean and i watched squid game with english subtitles and if you don't understand korean you didn't really watch the same show. translation was so bad. the dialogue was written so well and zero of it was preserved," Twitter user Youngmi Mayer tweeted in a thread that has gone viral.

IMAGE: The robot doll in Netflix's 'Squid Game' plays a game of 'red light, green light' with 456 contestants.
The robot doll in Netflix's "Squid Game" plays a game of "red light, green light" with 456 contestants.Netflix

The viral nature of "Squid Game" has led the internet to do what it does with every social media trend: make memes out of it.

Meme fodder

As the show became the most talked-about piece of entertainment online, the memes quickly followed.

On Twitter and TikTok, the games the characters must play have been replicated dozens of times, particularly one challenge, in which the players must cut shapes — a circle, a triangle, a star or an umbrella — out of a "dalgona" candy, also known as honeycomb toffee. Contestants must cut their shapes from the candy, made from brown sugar, corn syrup and baking soda, without breaking it.

That has led hundreds of people on social media try their own honeycomb toffee challenges. TikTok has even made a honeycomb toffee filter so users can see whether they'd survive the "Squid Game" challenge.

Others have made a meme out of the giant robotic girl from an episode in which the contestants play a deadly game of "red light, green light."

Audio of the girl singing "mugunghwa kochi pieotsumnid," which roughly translates to "Red light, green light 1, 2, 3!" has been used for more than 420,000 videos on the platform, many showing how people would win or lose at the game.

Some videos have people dancing when they ought to be running. Others present real-life versions of the game, showing teens avoiding their mothers while they're on their phones when they're supposed to be asleep in bed.

Non-English-language shows are on the rise

Netflix had smash hit non-English-language shows before "Squid Game." Since 2019, streaming of non-English content by U.S. audiences is up by 71 percent, Bajaria said.

Shows like "Lupin," which was originally in French, and "Money Heist," which was originally in Spanish, have been top streamers for Netflix. Both offer English dubs.

And Netflix originals like "Bridgerton" and "The Witcher," which are English-language productions, got 65 million to 70 million household streams in their first 28 days, Alexander said. Netflix counts a stream as a household that viewed at least 2 minutes of a show, Alexander said.

But those shows pale in comparison to "Squid Game," which is on track to become Netflix's biggest show of all time, Alexander said, even though it is brutal, violent and dark.

"You've got young tweens and teens watching this in [the video games] Roblox and Minecraft, and you've got millennials who are watching it at home and Gen Xers who are hearing about it, and they want to watch it," Alexander said. "If they say [hypothetically] 80 million households watch it in the first 28 days, that's pretty accurate."

Because "Squid Game" was released less than 28 days ago, the company hasn't yet disclosed the streaming numbers.

A harbinger of future programming

Korean entertainment has been thriving in the U.S. and around the world for years.

K-pop, or Korean pop music, groups, such as BTS and Blackpink, have massive fan bases in the U.S., and their popularity continues to grow. Movies like the South Korean film "Parasite" have dominated Hollywood; it went on to win the Academy Award for best picture last year.

And now Korean television is having its moment.

IMAGE: Lee Jung-jae stars as Seong Gi-Hun in Netflix's "Squid Game"
Lee Jung-jae stars as Seong Gi-Hun in Netflix's "Squid Game."Youngkyu Park / Netflix

"Korean talent, whether it's K-pop, Korean actors, Korean filmmakers, Korean athletes — there's so much demand for this group of talent that every company in the United States is trying to figure out how to bring that talent over," Alexander said.

Not only is the demand for Korean talent high, but the cost is also often lower, meaning Netflix could soon begin to devote resources to creating more content like "Squid Game," he said.

"I would actually be surprised if we saw less K-drama and less Korean films coming out of Netflix, because they're going to realize what they have and say, 'Yes, we want to invest in this,'" Alexander said.