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Watch these while you wait for your invitation to Season 2
Squid Game took the world by storm when it premiered in Sept. 2021, but that storm has since subsided as we've heard very little about the forthcoming Squid Game Season 2. The dystopian Netflix thriller combined interesting characters, high stakes, relevant themes of class conflict, and a distinctive visual style in a way that turned it into the biggest TV hit of 2021, connecting with millions of viewers all over the world. It gives hope to TV creators that original ideas can still be massive hits if they're executed right.
And part of the secret to Squid Game's success is that it's not actually that original. There are a lot of other shows and movies that will remind you in some way or another of creator Hwang Dong-hyuk's series about a game where debt-ridden people compete to the death for an enormous sum of money.
While you wait for Squid Game Season 2, check out these other shows and movies, many of which hail from Korea and other parts of Asia. They feature high-stakes games with major consequences, or are bleak tales of morality. Here are more shows and movies like Squid Game to watch next.
The reality competition series Physical: 100 is essentially a real-life Squid Game, minus the gory deaths and string-pulling behind the scenes. The gist is this: 100 contestants compete against each other in various challenges, with losers being eliminated and others moving on until only one person is left. The Korean series puts a premium on the perfect human body, enlisting bodybuilders, MMA fighters, military personnel, and more, creating of roster of intense, ripped Adonises whose muscles have muscles. The competition is fierce, and with the various disciplines on display — strongmen vs. gymnasts! — it's also reminiscent of the Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Bloodsport. Yes, there's an actual Squid Game reality show coming, but Physical: 100 got here first and there are no reports that people nearly died competing in it. -Tim Surette
This young adult series came out on Prime Video a few months before Squid Game. It was canceled after one season, but if you're fascinated by the premise of people willing to face death for the opportunity to earn a life-changing amount of money, it's worth checking out anyway. It's set in the small, dead-end town of Carp, Texas. Every summer, graduating high school seniors compete in a competition called "Panic," where they perform dangerous challenges to try to win $50,000, enough money to get the hell out of Carp. It's admittedly not as good as Squid Game, and it's designed for a more limited YA audience, but it shows that Squid Game's themes of economic desperation are just as relevant in America as they are in South Korea. -Liam Mathews
Some of South Korea's biggest global hits have been stories about the undead, and Netflix's All of Us Are Dead is one of the biggest of them all. It's Netflix's third-most-popular series not in English ever. The jolting thriller about a zombie virus outbreak at a high school follows students as they desperately fight against flesh-eating monsters — some of whom had been their human friends just minutes before. The series stars Yoon Chan-young, Park Ji-hu, Park Solomon, Cho Yi-hyun, and Lee Yoo-mi, who you may recognize from her role as Squid Game's best supporting character, the self-sacrificing Player 240. All of Us Are Dead, which is based on the webtoon Now at Our School, is a fresh take on the zombie genre with its centering of teen characters and its setting that transforms ordinary classrooms into vicious battlegrounds. As the virus spreads beyond the walls of the school, the show's exploration of Squid Game-esque themes including the corruption of authority and the abuse of power also becomes increasingly apparent. -Kat Moon
If Squid Game was your first Korean drama, then be sure to give the new Netflix thriller Hellbound a whirl to see what else Korean TV producers do best. The series, created and directed by Train to Busan director Yeon Sang-ho and based on his webtoon Hell, mixes horror with morality superbly, just as Squid Game mixes thrills with morality. When angels begin to descend upon Earth to let sinners know when they will die and that they're being taken to hell via a trio of smoking creatures who beat the victims to a bloody pulp before frying them, the rest of the world begins to take notice, especially a religious cult who see this as God's answer to our growing ambivalence of right and wrong. Like Squid Game, you'll go into it thinking it's one thing, but realize it's something much more complex.
For the next level of Korean dramas, be sure to check out Dr. Brain, a psychological sci-fi thriller that debuted on Apple TV+ in November 2021. The drama is about a brain scientist who devises a way to transfer memories from one person to the other, with his goal being to investigate a family tragedy. It is, like Squid Game, absolutely insane as it deals with tapping into the minds of the dead and living and visualizes what that might look like (answer: like a psychedelic nightmare), but it's also rooted in emotion that drives the story.
It's possible that the creators of Squid Game watched the anime Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor and decided to make a live-action series based on it, because the similarities are uncanny. Its lead is a man in debt who's offered the opportunity of a lifetime to compete in a series of games with others who are in the red to pay off what he owes. The games include Rock, Paper, Scissors and walking across a balance beam — that just so happens to be electrified — while others bet on which participants they think will win. Like Squid Game, it's brutal, with characters facing extreme risks, but there's even more trickery going on as competitors try to outdo each other to shave down their debts.
If you simplify Squid Game down to "you play and win a game OR YOU DIE!," then the Japanese Netflix series Alice in Borderland is the perfect follow-up. It follows a video game enthusiast and his two friends who mysteriously find themselves in a parallel Tokyo where they're forced to play various games to survive. Unlike Squid Game, the challenge is solving problems rather than competing against others, and once the games start, they keep coming. As does the grisly violence!
If you enjoyed the rare glimpses of humanity in Squid Game between Seong Gi-hun (no. 456) and Oh Il-nam (no. 001), you'll probably enjoy Netflix's #Alive, a Korean zombie thriller about a young man who locks himself in his apartment during a zombie apocalypse. Amidst the carnage and chaos, he discovers another survivor not too far away whom he bonds with. Sure, it has nothing to do with games or winning money, but it does share Squid Game's focus on survival and morality.
Need more of that dark, bonkers Korean drama energy that Squid Game has? Strap in and fire up Sweet Home, a fantasy horror series about a group of people locked inside an apartment complex while the world turns into monsters — monsters that reflect their inner demons — all around them. There are no shady corporations pulling strings on games, but like Squid Game, there's good interpersonal drama when there's not insane action. (Also, there are monster fights. Everyone loves monster fights.)
It's not the original "put a bunch of people together and have them kill each other to survive" movie, but it's one of the earliest to really define the genre's meaningless violence for today's audiences. Plus, it's the reason your nephew is addicted to Fortnite and other battle royale video games, and it's the reason Hunger Games even exists. The 2000 Japanese film is set in a time when a totalitarian government takes very extreme measures to curb juvenile delinquency: a high school class is taken to an island where they're told to kill each other until one person is left alive. It doesn't sound like that great of a plan, but it is that great of a movie.
There are no games of life and death to be played in USA Network's The Purge, but if they did happen, they wouldn't be illegal! The series, based on the movie franchise, posits what would happen if nothing was illegal for a night (or various other amounts of time, like FOREVER), and the answer is insanity. Admittedly, the series isn't America's crowning artistic achievement, but if the mayhem of Squid Game is what you're after, then The Purge will provide it. (Just don't look for much else.)
Adults shouldn't have all the fun in competing against each other for prosperity. The Brazilian young adult series 3% is set during the reign of a — say it with me — totalitarian government in which 20-year-olds have one chance to escape living in poverty and live among the rich and happy on an island paradise. But to do so, they have to be approved of while going through "the Process," a series of tests designed to evaluate the candidate's worth. The tests range from a simple interview to solving fake crime scenes to deciphering hallucinations caused by gas. But like Squid Game, the objective is to make it to the next round.