The map: Give 'em enough soap

The world is obsessed with its TV soap operas. Harriet Green ransacks the planet for humanity's favourite shows. Illustration by Rose Epple

1 Colombia Colombia's soap wars are frothing up to the boil as two private TV channels battle it out for the nation's eyeballs. Drug barons, beauty queens and leftist guerrilla rebels feature prominently in a Oh! What a Sweet Thing, a new soap from the Caracol station about love, ambition and corruption on the country's Caribbean coast. RCN Television has retorted with Maria de los Guardias, set around an army at war. RCN achieved huge success in the mid-Nineties with Cafe, the story of a beautiful migrant worker and her affair with a handsome coffee heir. At the peak of its success, more than 70 per cent of Colombian viewers tuned in to watch.

2 US The Young and the Restless, which has just celebrated its 25th birthday, has enjoyed nearly a decade as the country's most popular daytime drama. Dominated by the Newman, Abbott and Winters families, it traces the rivalries, romances, hopes and fears of the residents of a fictional Midwest metropolis, Genoa City. One of the recent storylines centred around Olivia, who has admitted to Neil that she was deeply concerned when Malcolm came out of his coma and recognised Callie before her. Naturally, she thinks they are having an affair.

3 Canada From Montreal to Vancouver, Canadians share the fixation of their American neighbours with The Young and the Restless. So that's another 26 million people to bewilder themselves over the fate of Olivia, Neil, Malcolm and Callie.

4 Spain Luz Maria and El Super battle it out for top soap in Spain. Luz Maria takes place during the early part of this century and centres around Lucecita, the offspring of an adulterous relationship between a poor woman and a rich man. El Super is more humdrum, like Coronation Street only sunnier, and revolves around the people working at a restaurant. The protagonist is a provincial girl who arrives in Madrid, and slowly has to make her way against a background of occasional murders and kidnappings.

5 Hong Kong The entire Chinese-speaking world is dependent on Hong Kong television for its supply of soaps. The appetite is insatiable, with really popular series running every weekday. One of the longest-running soaps is Kindred Spirits, which focuses on the life of a large extended family. The star character is a middle-aged divorcee who always looks on the bright side and has an impressive ability to attract endless male admirers. She has become something of a Hong Kong institution and has appeared on adverts for all manner of goods. A series about firemen was so successful that firefighters have shown up in a recent survey as one of the most admired occupations. Untraceable Evidence is more racy, and centres around the life of a policewoman who usually gets both her man and her villain.

6 China Intrigues at the court of the 18th-century Qing dynasty are the setting for this year's blockbuster, The Reign of Yong Zheng. Yong Zheng's problems range from sacking one minister who quarrelled about how much bronze should be used to mint the coins, to the scandal of the mandarin civil service entrance examination paper being leaked and then put on sale in a Peking restaurant. Domestic soaps tend to focus on such historical settings, but imports offer more modern fare. In the Taiwanese series, Dreamed Love in Purdah, a female lead has learnt she has a tumour in her womb, but then found she was also pregnant. She is continuing with the pregnancy, but making videos of herself to leave to the child, in case the worst happens.

7 Brazil More than 80 million Brazilians tune in each day to glamorous "telenovellas", to escape the miseries of a country which has its fair share of crime and poverty. But sometimes the soaps overlap with real life. Actor Guillerme de Padua was convicted in 1996 of killing an actress after their on-screen relationship ended. The Globo TV network employs a "social consultant" to insert educational messages in its market-leading Suave Veneno ("Sweet Poison"), whose current storyline sees a father watching his family conspire to take control of the business empire he built himself.

8 France Des feux de l'amour ("The Fires of Love") runs every weekday lunchtime and deals in "love, betrayal, power, and the daily struggles" of a family cosmetics business. Recent episodes have seen Nina's marriage to Ryan, Nina's mother's illness, and the trial of April.

9 Turkey The most popular soap opera in Turkey is the American series, The Bold and the Beautiful. Dubbed into Turkish and shown five nights a week, it charts the love and business affairs of the wealthy Forrester family against the background of Hollywood's fashion industry. A typical domestically produced soap is Black Angel, which follows the traumas of a beautiful but malevolent young woman in Istanbul, who sponges off all her rich friends and delights in ruining lives.

10 Australia Home and Away is Australia's favourite, and doesn't do too badly over here. As millions of Brits know, the slushy seaside soap is set in the fictional community of Summer Bay, centering on the lives of multiple foster families. It runs on Network Seven at 7pm, every weekday evening. In a current storyline, single mother Chloe has discovered that her baby has a heart murmur.

11 Kazakhstan A soap opera called Crossroads (but not set in a motel) has become a huge hit, watched by more than a third of Kazakhstan's population. An amalgam of soaps like EastEnders, Coronation Street, The Archers and, well, Crossroads, it was originally funded by the British government to introduce the concept of free enterprise. The storylines? Have you learnt nothing? Single parenthood, family disputes and financial problems - of course.

Additional information courtesy of Steven Vines, Teresa Poole and Justin Huggler

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