I suggest that they are not. First of all, the format is completely different. Instead of seasons with standard amounts of episodes of 20-60 minutes, a Korean Drama runs for approx. 60 minutes, for approx. 20 episodes. Soap operas and Dramas may have continuous story lines, but it seems that with a soap opera, there are more decisions (with regards to the cast, the plotline) that develop based on consumer reaction (i.e., ratings have a lot to do with what happens in the soap). Dramas seem to be pre-determined, as if a viewer is simply watching a 20-hour movie. I wonder if this comparison is just, given that they emerge from different cultures.
Another good point to bring up is that K-dramas are not produced in a similar fashion to North American ones. Episodes are often finished not long before (even the same day) they air. You are right that they are not the same, not even close. Popular drama in North America has started to veer in a different direction, darker is perhaps the word I'm looking for. The smash hit of series like "House of Cards", "Breaking Bad", and "Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire)" show this trend in North America. – Aridas6 years ago