Since the turn of the 21st century, South Korea has emerged as a major exporter of popular culture and tourism, aspects which have become a significant part of its burgeoning economy. The growing popularity of Korean pop culture in many parts of the world has prompted the South Korean government to support its creative industries through subsidies and funding for start-ups, as a form of soft power and in its aim of becoming one of the world's leading exporters of culture along with Japanese and British culture, a niche that the United States has dominated for nearly a century. During this time, Korean society began to be recognized as developed on par with the Western world.
The success of the Korean Wave owes in part to the development of social networking services and online video sharing platforms, which have allowed the Korean entertainment industry to reach a sizeable overseas audience. Use of these media in facilitating promotion, distribution, and consumption of various forms of Korean entertainment (and K-pop in particular) has contributed to their surge in worldwide popularity since the mid-2000s.
The Korean term for the phenomenon of the Korean Wave is Hanryu (Hangul: 한류), more commonly romanized as Hallyu. The term is made of two root words; han (한/韓) meaning "Korean", and ryu (류/流) meaning "flow" or "wave", and referring to the diffusion of Korean culture.
This term is sometimes applied differently outside of Korea; for example, overseas, Hallyu drama is used to describe Korean drama in general, but in Korea, Hallyu drama and Korean drama are taken to mean slightly different things. According to researcher Jeongmee Kim, the term Hallyu is used to refer only to dramas that have gained success overseas, or feature actors that are internationally recognised.