Korean Mythological Creatures

Instructor: Emily Teater

Emily currently is a substitute teacher, and has taught a variety of K-12 courses. She has a master's degree in Mythological Studies.

In this lesson, we will explore some of the more popular creatures found in Korean mythology, along with descriptions and origin stories associated with them.


There are quite a few creatures found in Korean mythology. Some are unique, with no equivalent found in Western culture. At the same time, a good number of these creatures have made their way into Korean and, in some rare cases, even American popular culture through films and video games. Understanding these creatures, their appearance, myths, and names will help us become more familiar with them.

The Korean Mythological Bestiary

The bulgasari is an unusual hybrid creature. It's also present in Chinese mythology, and the name for it literally means 'cannot be killed,' or sometimes translates to 'can only be killed by fire,' indicating that fire may be its only weakness. It has the body of a bear with needle-like fur, the nose of an elephant, the eyes of a rhino, the claws of a tiger, and the tail of a bull. There are a variety of myths explaining the origin of this creature, but most agree that it was created by a Buddhist monk, using leftover rice paste, as a reward to his brother-in-law, who killed his wife (the monk's sister). She had been planning on accusing the monk of rape. The creature proceeded to eat metal objects that transformed into a metal hide, until it became big and unkillable. Another part of this myth is that it destroyed nightmares and smallpox. A North Korean film, called Pulgasari, made reference to the creature, although it was depicted as lizard-like.

Dokkaebi are goblins, or sometimes even small, devil-like creatures known for causing mischief. Most carry a spiked club, used to punish wrong-doers or to summon items. In certain tales, they also have a hat, which grants invisibility to its wearer. There are several categories of dokkaebi depending on their appearance or interests. Some prefer to wrestle, for example. Typically, like the gwisin discussed below, they prefer to live in abandoned areas such as deep woods or graveyards. They were actually used as a mascot for many Korean sports teams.

These are actually yokai, the Japanese equivalent to the dokkaebi.
The Japanese Yokai is similar to the dokkaebi.

In Korean mythology, gwisin are generally considered to be ghosts. Typically, these ghosts are female, but there are some tales involving male gwisin. More often than not, gwisin are believed to inhabit abandoned villages and buildings. It is said that these spirits wander the earth because they have unfinished business. They are typically depicted with long, black hair hanging over their faces, wearing white funeral clothes. The gwisin share many common traits with their Japanese counterpart, the onryo. Both are typically female ghosts who seek vengeance for their sorrow which binds them to the earth as spirits. Such figures have made their way into Western culture through horror films, such as The Grudge or The Ring, and video games like 'F.E.A.R'. Typically, credit for the inspiration for these creatures goes to the onryo, but it is safe to say the gwisin reinforces this image of the ghost in Asian culture.

Imugi, sometimes spelled imoogi, is the Korean version of the dragon. More specifically, they are a lesser dragon. In some versions, they were evil dragons cursed to no longer be full-fledged dragons, and in others they are smaller dragons trying to become a full dragon. Either way, they are serpent-like creatures associated with good luck.

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