Whether it’s old or new, a good TV series will always hit home. Here, our list of Korean dramas that will tug at your heartstrings and make your eyes glued to the screens.
If you like shows like Japanese science fiction suspense-thriller drama Alice in Borderland, then Squid Game will be right up your alley. While the two shows may be similar in their own aspects, the latter has recently been massively popular on social media for good reason. In fact, it could possibly be one of Netflix’s most popular Korean series ever.
The nine-episode survival series follows a group of 456 contestants who accept a mysterious invitation to participate in a survival game in which they are locked into a secret location and made to play a series of traditional children’s games where the stakes are life and death. These contestants have to literally fight for their spot to be the last man standing and walk home with the 45.6 billion won booty.
Not only is the show known for its shock value of gore and mayhem, but the show is also brought to life through spectacular sets and striking costumes that are simply amazing.
Based on a web comic named Living Together, the Korean rom-com tells the story of a gumiho (nine-tailed fox) Shin Woo-yeo (Jang Ki-yong) who has been living discreetly in the human world for centuries, waiting for the time when he can become a human permanently. However, his fox bead is accidentally swallowed by Lee Dam (Lee Hye-ri) and they are forced to live together while searching for a solution.
A new romance eventually blossoms between them, but the handsome and wealthy Gye Sun-woo (Bae In-hyuk) also has a crush on Lee Dam, leaving Woo-yeo feeling anxious for the first time in more than 900 years.
Park Jae-Eon (Song Kang) – a cheerful university student who isn’t the least interested in romance – unexpectedly meets a schoolmate Yoo Na-bi (Han So-hee) who begins to change his outlook on love. He thinks relationships are a bother but wants to flirt, while she doesn’t believe in love but still wants a relationship.
This drama series with its warm stories about everyday life centres around five doctors who have been friends since medical school and are now working at the same hospital.
While they all have their different specialities and personalities, they mesh perfectly as well-seasoned friends. There’s hepatologist Lee Ik-jun (Cho Jung-seok) who is goofy, caring, and absolutely adores his son. Paediatrician Ahn Jeong-won (Yoo Yeon-seok) is self-sacrificial and doesn’t care for materialistic things. Cardiothoracic surgeon Kim Jun-wan (Jung Kyung-ho) appears gruff but is soft on the inside with quite a sweet tooth.
Neurosurgeon Chae Song-hwa (Jeon Mi-do) is a huge fan of camping and excels at everything except for singing. Lastly, obstetrician-gynecologist Yang Seok-hyeong (Kim Dae-myeung) enjoys his alone time and dotes on his mother.
Crime and action meet comedy and romance with this series starring Song Joong-ki as Park Joo-Hyeong, who grew up in Italy after getting adopted at the age of eight. Going by the name of Vincenzo Casano, he works as a consigliere to an Italian mafia, but has to return to South Korea after a series of mafia wars.
Back in Korea, he meets Hong Cha-young (Jeon Yeo-bin), an attorney who will do anything to win a case, and falls in love. But he also encounters some odd neighbours and gets embroiled in a fight against a formidable opponent. The pair develop a romance while pursuing justice together.
Based on a popular 2017 web novel called Sunbae, Don’t Put On That Lipstick, the storyline of this office rom-com revolves around the marketing team of a cosmetics brand, and in particular, the relationship of Yoon Song-A (Won Jin-a) and her younger colleague, Chae Hyun-Seung (Ro Woon aka Kim Seok-woo). He’s drawn to her, but she rebuffs his advances as she’s not typically into younger men.
If you’re bored of the same ol’ romantic K-dramas, this series might just excite you if you’re a true thriller junkie. Unlike any zombie horror series out there, Sweet Home paints the kind of world where violence and gore echo the banality of survival. Here, you’ll witness that the scariest monsters are human beings themselves — where survival becomes the essence of existence.
The show starts off with Cha Hyun Soo, a loner, who moves to a new apartment following the death of his family. His life is soon disturbed by strange incidents that begin to occur in his building. The series follows Hyun Soo and other residents on their quest for survival while facing the trials and tribulations of their insatiable desires that cause them to transform into monsters.
Start Up tells the tale of the razor-thin margins between ultimate success and abject failure. Taking place in the fictional Sandbox Company, the story tells the journey of young entrepreneurs aspiring to launch their virtual dreams into reality.
One of the notable characters is Seo Dal Mi, played by Suzy Bae, who takes on the role of a part-time worker who is not society’s idea of a successful woman. She is also obsessed with finding her “pen pal” who helped her through a difficult time in her elementary school, not realising that her pen pal was made up by her grandmother who wanted her to have a friend to talk to.
The drama then reveals the success and love in the cutthroat world of Korea’s high-tech industry – of which anyone who’s going through a tough time might find solace and inspiration from.
Created by Kim Soon Ok, the screenwriter behind Temptation Of Wife, this just might be one of the most dramatic K-drama series of 2020.
Set in a luxury penthouse apartment with over 100 floors, the Hera Palace houses residents that are said to have dark secrets and hidden ambitions. Here, Shim Su-Ryeon is known as the queen of the Penthouse, while Seo Jin, is known as the famous and ruthless opera singer, and Oh Yoon-Hee is Seo Jin’s rival.
Basically, it’s a show that witnesses the battle for wealth, power, and prestige at Seoul’s most coveted penthouse that will make you want to fight for injustice.
You know you can’t go wrong with a Park Seo Joon drama. This highly-raved series was well-loved by many for good reason. Following the life of an ex-convict, whose father was killed in an accident, Park Sae-ro-yi tries to put his life back together by working hard to turn his bar into a franchise and overtake a food company, whose CEO is linked to his father’s death.
At its core, Itaewon Class is all about revenge, finding family amongst the people around you, and fighting against greed, power, discrimination, and inequality in social class. A truly inspiring show that will have you hooked in no time.
The initiation to motherhood can be pretty to daunting for some. Birthcare Center highlights the travails and triumphs of motherhood including conceiving a child, going through labour, and everything else that you can think of about a woman’s experience entering motherhood.
With a narrative that celebrates a woman’s efforts in caring for and rearing a child, the drama stars Uhm Ji Won, who plays Hyun Jin, as she adapts to life as a new mom. Despite her being the youngest executive at her company, she’s also the oldest mom at the postpartum centre where she is staying.
While staying there, her journey into motherhood unfolds as she meets other women, including Park Ha-sun who plays Jo Eun-Jung a mother of three who has everything, including beauty, childcare skills, and the love of her husband.
If there’s one thing we’re certain of, this series is a coming-of-age kind of drama, but more for people who are at the crossroads of their career. Even if you’re not, you’d probably start recalling the difficulties you went through early on in your career.
The drama starts off with Sa Hye Joon — a smart and handsome model who decides that he really wants to become an actor. Despite having auditioned for many roles, he hasn’t had much success and doesn’t have much presence as an actor. The show also features Ahn Jung Ha, a makeup artist who’s bright and cheery on the outside but lonely on the inside. She’s known to fan-girl over her idols as an outlet for her to vent out her frustrations.
Starring two fan favourite drama leads, this highly-anticipated series premiered on April 17, 2020 with high ratings.
The drama tells the tale of a Korean emperor ruling during the time of constitutional monarchy who meets a detective in modern-day Korea upon crossing into a parallel world. The emperor, played by Lee Min Ho, aims to close the door between the two worlds, while the detective, played by Kim Go Eun, tries to save lives.
The show was written by Kim Eun Sook, whose projects include hit series Secret Garden (2010), Descendants of the Sun (2016) and Mr Sunshine (2018).
If you love a good star-crossed romance story, this highly-rated romantic comedy drama is right up your alley. South Korean heiress Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin) accidentally lands in North Korean territory after a paragliding mishap, and falls straight into the arms of North Korean caption Ri Jeong-hyuk (Hyun Bin).
The much raved about drama features Sung Deok Mi, portrayed by Park Min Young (Kim Mi So in What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim), as an art gallery curator with a secret.
She is a dedicated fangirl of Shi An, an idol group member – an obsession that has impacted several of her past relationships.
Things take a more complex turn when Ryan Gold (Kim Jae Wook) becomes the new art director at the gallery, and rumours spread about Deok Mi and Shi An dating.
A competitive and workaholic bachelorette ponders her direction in life meets a gifted composer for video games at an arcade.
Characterised by successful women and the web portal business, this is an unconventional one that has surprised many with its inspirational qualities (on top of its romance).
A one-of-a-kind drama, When The Camellia Blooms combines the unlikely genres of thriller and rom-com. It follows Oh Dong Baek, a single mother in Ongsan, who runs a bar-restaurant.
Locals may gossip about Dong Baek, but a local policeman by the name of Hwang Yong Sik still falls in love with her, unreciprocated but also undeterred – all while a serial killer sets his sights Ongsan, and maybe even Dong Baek.
The familiar plot of My Absolute Boyfriend was originally from a Japanese manga series, but brought to life by Yeo Jin Goo and Girl’s Day’s Minah. Starting off from a break up between a special effects make-up artist Um Da Da, and a rising actor Ma Wang Joon, a perfectly programmed humanoid boyfriend robot Young Goo pushes the boundaries of love as an AI in a complicated love triangle.
A tragic accident leaves a talented ballerina blind and broken, until she is met with a trouble-maker angel on his last mission. If he finds true love for her, he regains entry to heaven – but in a divine twist of fate, he falls in love with her instead.
Loved Son Ye Jin in Crash Landing On You? Then you have to check out her previous series, Something In The Rain, where she plays a woman in her mid-30s who’s clueless at dating but begins developing feelings for her younger brother’s best friend. As the title suggests, expect lots of melodramatic, sweet scenes under pouring rain.
Known to be one of the most handsome men in Korea, So Ji-Sub really takes it to another level in My Secret, Terrius. Mix in non-stop action, plot twists like no other and tender moments between the main leads – what more could you want in a drama?
Kim Bon used to be a legendary NIS agent. But after a failed secret operation that led to his wife’s death, he lives a quiet life on his own. Everything changes when he helps his neighbour Go Ae-Rin uncover the truth about her the loss of her husband. Discovering that her husband was involved in a huge conspiracy, Kim Bon can no longer live the quiet life he’s become accustomed to.
Fluffy and light-hearted, this romantic comedy begins as Kim Mi So, a dependable secretary who decides to leave her job after working for Lee Young Joon, her self-proclaimed perfect boss of nine years. The drama balances between sweet and steamy scenes, coupled with flashbacks that will keep you invested.
Imagine having to transform into someone else every week, A-list actress Han Se-gye can. In the drama, she’s one of the biggest celebrities living the high life but she suffers from this unusual phenomenon.
Enter Seo Do-jae, an executive director of an airline company, perfect on all accounts. Except, he has prosopagnosia – a disorder that makes it hard for him to recognise faces (including his own).
Love knows no boundaries, and this drama just shows that the beauty inside is what matters most. Yes, even if you can’t remember faces or if you appear different on the outside.
If you can’t get enough of Park Seo-Joon after Itaewon Class, this show should be right at the top of your next must-watch list.
Everyone loves an underdog and it doesn’t get any better than this. Ko Dong-man, played by Park Seo-Joon, is a former taekwondo champ who missed his chance at fame. Choi Ae-ra, his childhood best friend dreams to be an announcer but settles for a job at a department store. These two are willing to do anything to get what they want and soon come to realise that everything they needed to be happy, may have been in each other all along.
Baek Seol-hee, the innocent and sweet one of the group of childhood friends is hopelessly in love with her boyfriend of six years, Kim Joo-man. The brain of the group, his love for Seol-hee is pit against his own ambitions and dreams.
This ragtag group of four have big dreams that seem impossible to achieve, especially with their predicaments. But you’ll get drawn into this K-drama that you’ll root for them as they navigate hardships and overcome hurdles to achieve their dreams.
Also known as Guardian: The Great And Lonely God, this fantasy-romantic-comedy was one of the most highest-rated drama series in TVN’s history until Crash Landing On You broke its record.
Starring a bevy of talented stars such as Train To Busan‘s Gong Yoo and Kim Go Eun, this fan favourite series sees modern-day goblin (Gong Yoo) seeking a human bride (Kim Go Eun) to end his cursed immortal life, has everything from comedy to melodrama and supernatural elements.
One thing we can say is, Koreans definitely know how to make goblins really attractive.
The drama that sparked off a real-life romance, Descendants of the Sun is a Korean military romance featuring Shi-Jin as the captain of the special forces. He was injured and meets Dr. Mo Yeon and the two fall desperately in love in spite of their difficult circumstances.
A former mercenary soldier, Kim Je-ha, is now a fugitive in South Korea after being framed for the murder of his fiance in Iraq. He plots for revenge against presidential candidate Park Kwan-soo, who ordered the vicious killing. By chance, he gets offered a job as a bodyguard for the wife of another candidate in the running, Jang Se-Joon.
In exchange for information, he accepts the job. Je-ha gets assigned to guard Go An-Na, the hidden daughter of Jang Se-Joon, whose life is constantly in danger. Nail-biting plot twists that’ll have you glued to the screen and the wrestle between political ambition and love create drama like no other.
The K2 will have you wondering just how far an individual will go to gain power and how someone like Kim Je-Ha (played by Ji Chang-Wook), with his sculpted features and piercing gaze, can exist in real life.
Think K-dramas never happen in real life? Well, She Was Pretty is based on a true story.
Kim Hye-Jin grew up as a beautiful child from a rich family. She wasn’t spoiled though, standing up for Ji Sung-Joon, a fellow classmate with low self-esteem. That’s how the two become childhood best friends and practically inseparable.
They lost contact a few years later when Hye-Jin’s family went bankrupt, although Sung-Joon never knew the reason why. The years brought about much change as the two went through a reversal of fortunes and looks.
Sung-Joon grew to become an accomplished and handsome (of course, he’s played by Park Seo-Joon) magazine editor. In true K-drama fashion, when Hye-Jin gets a job as an intern there, so does he as deputy editor. Embarrassed to face him with how she looks with frizzy hair and freckles, she gets her attractive best friend to pretend to be her.
An emotional drama about an autistic man with amazing capabilities, this drama is definitely a must watch if you’re into stories about overcoming the odds. You’ll definitely need to bring out the tissues for this one too!
Min Joon is an alien who landed on Earth 400 years ago during the Joseon Dynasty period. He possesses a near perfect appearance and enhanced physical abilities involving his vision, hearing and speed. But even if he’s nearly perfect, he can’t help falling in love to a clumsy actress, Cheon Song Yi.
A version of this article first appeared in Her World
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