Korean dramas are super popular and are the ‘it’ thing to watch at the moment. You might be wondering, what is it about Korean drama that sets it apart from others? Why does it deserve its actual own category?
Well, to be honest, there are actually a multitude of reasons why k-drama has appealed so much to the global audience!
It may be the well-told stories and impeccable acting across classic storylines such as rich boy meets poor girl and romance ensues, or modern high school girl gets whisked away to live in a palace with the prince.
It may be the compelling way that k-dramas tend to develop characters that are pure-hearted and pure-intentioned, who somehow always triumph over the bad and the evil in the end.
It may be the impressive style of cinematography that rivals Hollywood productions but has its distinct style of beautiful colouring and scenic landscapes.
Or, it may just be that the stars in k-drama are so beautiful that it’s impossible to look away!
Whatever it is, the formula of k-dramas has been intricately developed over the years and somehow it just works.
One word to describe k-drama is addictive. They’re easy to get into, hard to stop watching, and will leave you feeling empty and a little lost once you’ve finished.
If you’re looking for a great option to start on the k-drama wave, or just looking for some inspiration for a new one to watch, you’ve come to the right place.
From the old-school classics through to the breakthrough dramas from 2021, we’ve done the hard work and binged some of the best ones so you don’t have to.
1. Boys Over Flowers (2009)
We’re starting this list off with the most classic of the classics, Boys Over Flowers.
This drama stars the now famous Lee Min Ho, who is one of the biggest names in the South Korean entertainment industry. It was from his compelling performance as Gu Jun Pyo in this drama that launched him into the immense stardom that he is in now.
This drama centres around a poor but lively student named Geum Jan Di who transfers from a local high school to the prestigious Shinhwa High School. Shinhwa’s social scene is led by a powerful and arrogant group of boys called F4 whose leader is Gu Jun Pyo.
From their first accidental meeting, there is immediate dislike between Jun Pyo and Jan-Di. Jan Di is disgusted by everyone’s obsession over F4, and Jun Pyo initially annoyed but overtime intrigued by how Jan Di doesn’t seem enraptured by him like everyone else.
As time goes by, through love triangles, epic family showdowns, friendship feuds, and the usual high school drama, they start to break down each other’s walls.
Boys Over Drama, whilst definitely not the first drama of the Hallyu Wave, was a defining moment in k-drama history. Its huge success was followed by many adaptations from other countries due to its addictive storyline. It’s still got a cult following to this day.
If you haven’t seen this one yet, get on it, stat!
2. Korean Drama – Goong / Princess Hours (2006)
Goong is another classic to add to the list! This k-drama has one of the most unique storylines you will come across.
Goong is set in an alternate 21st century where South Korea is still ruled by a monarchy.
Chae-kyeong is your average student in high school. She is a bit clumsy and immature, but has an honest and pure outlook about life.
Unbeknownst to her, she has been betrothed to the Crown Prince Lee Shin since birth. He also attends her high school, but they’ve avoided each other thus far as she finds him supremely annoying and obnoxious.
One day, Shin’s father, the emperor, falls ill. There is a sudden rush to marry Shin off so that he can ascend to the throne if the situation ever requires it. Chae-kyeong, who has always grown up in a modest household, is whisked off to live in the palace to prepare for the upcoming marriage.
Enter the conniving jealous aunt (who was the original Crown Princess) and her handsome and kind-hearted son, and the beautiful and determined first love of the Prince, and you’ve got yourself an epic story.
3. Descendents of the Sun (2016)
Descendents of the Sun stars two of South Korea’s most loved celebrities, Song Joong-ki and Song Hye-Kyo. These two gorgeous beings actually had so much chemistry on this drama that they ended up marrying in real life! Unfortunately, they’ve parted ways since, but that’s just a testament to how powerful and emotional the scenes in this drama are.
This drama centres around four people: Si-Jin, who is the captain of a South Korean Special Forces unit, his friend Dae-Young, a Master Sergeant, Mo-Yeon, a doctor, and Myung-ju, an army surgeon.
Si-Jin and Mo-Yeon meet upon chance at a hospital when he brings in a thief who was hurt during a chase. They go on a few tentative dates, but eventually decide to break it off due to their vast differences in life, with him killing to protect lives and her saving lives.
Sometime later, they’re both fatefully end up being assigned to a station in Uruk, and there they gain key insights into each other’s lives and eventually understand that everything was not as black and white as they initially thought.
This is an epic drama at its best, but there are also great comedic moments played perfectly by the characters, elevated by their incredible chemistry with each other.
If you’re after a heart-wrenching drama with an addictive storyline from episode 1, Descendants of the Sun is your drama.
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4. K-Drama – Oh My Venus (2015)
Oh My Venus is one of the classic romantic comedies of all k-dramas. Featuring heavyweight names So Ji-Sub and Shin Min-a, Oh My Venus is about two vastly different people who have a chance meeting on an airplane, and the rest of history.
John Kim is a fitness freak. Due to an incident in his childhood that’s traumatised him, he now lives a full-on healthy lifestyle with clean food and regular exercise. Joo-eun is a lawyer who was an ulzzang (‘best looking face/body’) during her teens, but that was when she peaked. Now, she’s gained weight from an unhealthy lifestyle built from stress eating due to work and irregular exercise.
When Joo-eun passes out on an airplane, John Kim is the only medical personnel who can assist her. They meet up again in Korea, and through a series of incidents, she moves in with him and convinces him to help her lose weight.
This drama is full of laugh-until-your-belly-aches moments, but it also has its fair share of tear-jerking scenes as well. It’s one of the most perfectly balanced dramas in our eyes.
5. Goblin: The Lonely and Great God (2016)
How can a list of the best k-dramas not include Goblin?
This drama crashed onto our screens in 2016 and has left a big mark since. As of February 2020, it’s actually rated as the fifth-highest rated Korean drama in cable television history.
Before we get started, you need to know that a goblin in this instance is far from the western ideology of what a goblin is! In Korean folklore, a dokkaebi, or ‘Korean goblin’ is a natural deity who has extraordinary powers that they use to interact with humans. They can be both good or evil.
In this k-drama, Shin is an immortal goblin in modern time. Back in history many, many years ago, he was a military general who was framed as a traitor and killed. He was then cursed to live as an immortal goblin forever until he meets his Goblin Bride who will help him end his emotionally draining immortality.
Eun-Tak is a bright and bubbly student who leads a tragic life and yet still has a positive outlook in life. Somehow, her story entwines with the Goblin’s life, along with the Grim Reaper, the Goblin’s nephew, and a chicken story owner, Sunny. Through their regular encounters, sufferings, and pulling through the hardships together, their relationships grow deeper and stronger.
Goblin is one of the most dramatic k-dramas you will ever watch. Many scenes in this drama can only be described as ‘epic’. Buckle yourselves in for this one – it’s a big one.
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6. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo (2016)
After all this talk about serious k-dramas, you’re probably a bit overwhelmed. But don’t worry, this particular one is super sweet, super chill, super funny, but still super addictive.
Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo is a light-hearted coming-of-age drama about a female weightlifter, navigating through the trials and tribulations of college drama, first love heart aches, breaking the norms of society standards, chasing dreams and staying true to herself.
Lee Sung-Kyung, who plays the loveable Bok-Joo, absolutely kills this role. She plays perfectly into the nuances of a larger-than-life Korean college student who doesn’t particularly fit the standards of Korean beauty and yet doesn’t let that affect her personality or outlook in the slightest.
Her playful banter with Joon-Hyung (played by the talented Nam Joo-Hyuk), the little brother of her first love interest, is perfect in every scene. The romance and comedy in this k-drama will have you laughing in stitches, and the dramatic scenes, whilst not as dark and deep as many other dramas, are still relatable enough to make your heart tug.
Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo is a drama that you can watch over and over again and still be enjoying every scene as immensely as the first time.
7. Crash Landing On You (2019)
Crash Landing On You was introduced on Netflix at around the same time that people around the world began spending exponentially more time at home quarantining due to the pandemic.
Whether or not this contributed to the success of the drama, we will never know, but what we do know is: Crash Landing On You is one of the most memorable dramas you’ll ever watch.
Starring Son Ye-Jin and Hyun Bin, this drama is about a chaebol heiress named Se-Ri who one day accidentally flies into North Korea when a freak tornado takes her off her paragliding course.
There, she meets the initially cold and strict Captain Ri Jeong-hyeok. When he learns her story, he decides to help protect her and devises a plan in which to return her safely back to South Korea. There are many close encounters in which she is almost exposed and captured but somehow Jeong-hyeok always manages to save her, often in the last second.
Their story intertwines with Seo Dan, the daughter of a wealthy North Korean department store owner who is engaged to Jeong-hyeok, and Seung-jun, a criminal on the run from Se-Ri’s older brother from which he embezzled huge amounts of money from.
The first half of this series is focused on their mission to get back to South Korea to North Korea, and the second half of this series is focused on him protecting her from a corrupt North Korean government officer who is out to get her as revenge for being exposed for his corruption by Jeong-hyeok.
Crash Landing On You has all the elements of a successful k-drama: unique and surprisingly addictive storyline, two amazing and beautiful leads, and the perfect balance of drama, action, comedy, and romance.
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8. You’re Beautiful / He Is Beautiful (2009)
For many of those who hopped on the k-drama bandwagon in the late 2000s when the Hallyu wave really started to gain traction, You’re Beautiful is definitely one that holds a special place in your heart.
Starring a bunch of young actors who completely nailed their characters, this drama is about orphaned Mi-Nyeo who is training to become a nun and also the identical twin sister of Mi-Nam.
One day, Mi-Nam wins an epic audition to become part of popular music band A.N.Jell. However, after the news breaks, he finds out that his recent plastic surgery job is botched and he must quickly return to the US to rectify it.
Mi-Nam’s manager approaches Mi-Nyeo to pose as Mi-Nam for a month until he is able to recover and return. She is resistant at first, but love for her brother and this once in a lifetime opportunity he’s been presented with, plus the idea that they may be able to search for their birth mother with the fame that comes along with it, changes her mind.
Mi-Nyeo meets the three band mates that she must live with under the guise of Mi-Nam: Tae-Kyung, leader of the band and the most arrogant, Shin-Woo, another member who is kind and gentle, and Jeremy, the bubbly and bright one.
Her adventure in the band’s dorms is turbulent and exciting as she struggles to fit in with the group as well as hide her identity from the media whilst also trying to find out more about her birth mother.
This entire plotline is a wild ride from beginning to end, and you will develop some serious second male lead syndrome after watching this.
9. K Drama – True Beauty (2020)
True Beauty is an absolute gift from the gods, especially if you love light coming-of-age romantic comedies (similar to Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo).
True Beauty is based on the webtoon of the same name, which already had a massive and loyal following before the k-drama was released, so you can imagine the flurry of excitement and anticipation when two well-known actors such as Cha Eun-Woo and Moon Ga-Young were announced as the leads to the drama!
True Beauty is a story about the sad realities of the South Korean beauty standards. Ju-kyung was unfortunately not blessed with a generically beautiful or attractive face. In school, Ju-kyung is a bubbly and friendly student but is ostracised by her peers for being considered way below the beauty standards. She also grows up in a household where the family poked fun at that but in doing so, causes her to develop a deeply ingrained inferiority complex about her looks.
When she eventually starts learning how to apply make-up via YouTube channels and changing up her look, she begins to feel better about herself. One day, Ju-Kyung and her family re-locate and she changes high schools. By this time, she has mastered the art of make-up and upon entering the new school, is shot straight up to the popular group.
The storyline of True Beauty follows Ju-Kyung as she embraces her newfound fame whilst still staying grounded. There are love interests, jealous friends, overbearing parents, and even a side love story that will completely capture your heart.
Ju-Kyung is portrayed perfectly by Ga-Young, who plays the role of Ju-Kyung in a way that will endear her into her heart and have you rooting for her all the way through to the end.
Whilst there are some confronting moments of self-realisation and facing demons of the past, this drama is quite light-hearted and a great one to binge over an entire weekend.
10. K Drama – Kingdom (2019)
We’re inclined to say that this list has been written in no particular order, but in this case, we’ve definitely saved the best for last.
Kingdom is not your typical k-drama.
This is the first k-drama that we’ve introduced that’s been set in Korea’s Joseon Dynasty. It follows the story of Crown Prince Lee Chang (played by Ju Ji-hoon, who ironically also plays the Crown Prince Lee Shin in Goong), as he encounters a strange and frightening plague that’s spreading across the land. This sickness mysteriously resurrects the dead into flesh-eating monsters who run at super speed and are terrifying in appearance.
At the same, there is political corruption being played out in the royal court with conspiracies surrounding the current King of Joseon and his unclear death. Throughout the series, the main plot revolves around Lee Chang battling the mysterious disease that seems to be spreading like wildfire across the country and his many desperate but unsuccessful attempts to staunch the spread as it edges closer and closer to the mainland.
Add to this the mounting pressure for him to stand up for his people in the Royal Court amidst the tensions, with the odds even more stacked against him as he is the illegitimate son of a concubine, and you’ve in for a wild ride.
Whilst the Crown Prince is indeed the main character, all other characters play their roles superbly, with every side story completely captivating and adding to the overall premises of Kingdom.
One thing to note as well is that Kingdom is a cinematic masterpiece. The cinematography is absolutely top-notch, from the realistic depictions of the flesh-eating monsters to the eerily beautiful shots of the Korean landscapes and people, Kingdom will have you addicted from episode 1.
+1 Korean Drama – Vincenzo (2021)
Vincenzo is currently airing on Netflix right as we speak, with its final episodes still being filmed to be released in the next few weeks.
However, it deserves a spot on this list purely for its amazing storyline and acting.
Song Joong-ki, our amazing captain from the previously mentioned Descendants of the Sun, plays an Italian Mafia consigliere who travelled back to South Korea to deal with some issues.
Whilst there, he unexpectedly encounters a motley group of residents living in a building that he owns, a feisty lawyer and her equally strong-willed father, also a lawyer, who initially battle each other on opposite ends of the court, and a pure evil group of CEOs and their equally sadistic supporting staff.
The story is currently following his journey as the aloof building owner who just wants access to a certain part of the building where he has hidden some valuable items. His cold, Mafia heart slowly warms up to the people around him as he gets to know them and realises how helpless they are in the face of conglomerates, corrupt money and powerful government and industry leaders.
Song Joong-ki and his superb chemistry with co-star Jeon Yeo-Been make every scene with them electrifying, but the perfectly casted supporting actors really make the characters their own.
If you start Vincenzo now on Netflix, you’ll be ready by the time the last few episodes air!
We hope you enjoyed reading our list of 11 k-dramas to watch. Weaving the classics with the breakthrough dramas means that this assorted list is as diverse as they come.
We highly recommend you make your way through this entire list, as they’re all equally unique and addictive in their own right. Have fun bingeing!
And if you plan to travel to South Korea soon, make sure to read these articles: South Korea Travel Blog >>
You can also read these article ifs for more asian dramas recommendations: Chinese historical dramas and best Thai dramas.
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