A thousand BTS fans queue in Seoul for a hug from Jin, who is back to his role as K-pop idol after 18 months of military service.

The three-hour marathon is his first public event since being discharged from the army on Wednesday. The 1,000 who were embraced were chosen in a raffle - although Jin said he had suggested hugging up to 3,000 fans.

"I’m so happy now that I met Jin," says Ms Park who learned last weekend that she had won a spot in the ‘hug-a-thon’.

"I didn’t expect to win,” says the 32-year-old who did not wish to reveal her first name. “I couldn’t believe it so all weekend I kept checking over and over again."

She said it started to "feel real" only when she started packing to travel to the capital. Jin, 31, who is the oldest member of the hit boy band, was drafted in December 2022.

He served as an assistant drill instructor at a training centre for the South Korean military, which requires all able-bodied men to serve. Jin is the first BTS member to be discharged from duty.

The other six - J-Hope, V, RM, Jimin, Jung Kook and Suga - are still serving and the band is expected to reunite only in June 2025. But the others took time off on Wednesday to celebrate Jin's return - fans were already agog over images of their brief reunion on Wednesday.

Jin kicked off his return to the music scene with a livestream where he spoke to fans: "Thank you for waiting for me, I love you.

“I will try to express my feelings tomorrow." Thursday's hugs were set to be followed by another event, with 3,000 others, where Jin performed songs on request and shared messages with fans.

Vanessa May Leuterio, 25, didn't get lucky in the raffle but she made it to the second round - and flew from the Philippines to attend.

"I cried when I learned the result since I prayed very hard for a winning slot," she said. "It was definitely hard to win since it was me versus thousands of ARMYs [BTS fan group] who wanted to join."

Ms Park, on the other hand, is both excited and worried. "Hugging a thousand people for three hours is difficult even if Jin became more fit in the military," she said.

She said many fans wanted HYBE, the band's manager which is also behind the event, to invite fewer fans for hugs. They also wanted them to vet the attendees.

"Someone could have approach him pretending to be a fan,” Ms Park says. “We fans are constantly worried for the artist’s health and safety,"

The event also drew backlash for its qualification rules, which required fans to join ARMY, which reportedly has more than 25 million members. They also had to buy BTS albums on a designated website to enter the raffle - the more albums they bought, the higher their chances of being hugged.

But this caused an uproar and HYBE was accused of using the event to sell unsold albums. The agency eventually apologised and loosened the criteria to allow anyone who had ever purchased certain BTS albums.

Jin addressed the controversy in his livestream on Wednesday: "This is something that the company and I prepared in good intention, so please understand."

To fans, Jin's return is also the beginning of BTS' return from a forced hiatus. But the question industry insiders are asking is whether the world's most famous boy band can be as successful after a pause?

"BTS will be perceived as older," says music critic Lim Hee-yun. But he doesn't think that will necessarily hurt the band's image.

"BTS has been active for more than a decade. They will not attract new, young fans who will find them fresh, but their existing fan base will go with them. They are growing old with the band."

Fans seem to agree. "I think that shouldn't be a problem between ARMYs and BTS," says 20-year-old Samantha, who did not win the chance to hug Jin but will attend the second part of Thursday's event.

She has been following the band since she was 10 and doesn't see that changing anytime soon: "I like their music, not their popularity."