K-Dramas: 11 Must-Watch Series


South Korean TV and films have attracted more and more attention internationally, and Korean television dramas offer a wide variety of entertainment for anyone looking for something worthy to binge-watch. The medium contains everything from fantastical dramas containing science fiction and fantasy elements to simple stories showing the unique struggles of everyday life. Regardless of the setting, usually a stirring romance is at the heart of any K-Drama.

K-Dramas are emotional rollercoasters with the ability to depict human nature at its worst and best in a short time frame. However, even if you are looking for something grittier, there is a K-Drama to suit your mood. Weather you are an advocate or a skeptic, here are our top 11 K-Dramas, ranked.

11 SKY Castle


The Main Characters in Sky Castle, a Korean Drama
JTBC / Netflix

This drama starts off a little slow, but quickly progresses to show the desperation and high-stakes tension among college applicants. Sky Castle follows the story of various families as their kids try to get into the country’s most prestigious schools (or SKYschools). Some may not relate to the cut-throat competitiveness of these college applications, but they will still enjoy watching the cunning and drama in this show.

Related: Best South Korean Movies of the 2010s, Ranked

10 Scarlet Heart Ryeo


Main Characters in Moon Lovers Scarlet Heart Ryeo
SBS

When a modern day woman accidentally travels back in time, she finds herself at the heart of political tension among the royal family. This K-Drama is one of the best to masterfully weave together a love triangle with political battles. The beautiful colors and costumes of the Joseon dynasty give Scarlet Heart Ryeo some of the most gorgeous and stunning visuals on TV. K-Pop fans will be excited to see IU (아이유) star in one of her first dramas as well.

9 While You Were Sleeping


A reporter and lawyer have an emotional conversation in While You Were Sleeping
SBS

While You Were Sleeping is a classic Christmas romantic comedy that many people recognize, but the K-Drama bearing the same title could not be more different. A girl has grown up with strange dreams that can predict the future when other people are in danger. When she meets a prosecutor and police officer with the same power, they work together to navigate many dangerous situations. The super-power element brings a fun and creative plot without distracting from a suspenseful legal drama. The kind heartedness of the main characters and on screen chemistry will warm the hearts of its viewers.


8 What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim


Secretary Kim and her boss in What's Wrong With Secretary Kim
tVn

This K-Drama highlights the important but usually underappreciated role of a secretary. Secretary Kim is relentlessly dedicated to her job. When she realizes that she has achieved successes at her job at the cost of her social life, she quits her profession. However, the man she works for has other intentions for her future. What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim is loved for its witty dialogue and hilarious situational comedy. Getting to see insights into the common but overlooked secretary character, especially in this cultural context, is rewarding as well.

7 Boys Over Flowers


Group of four women in tuxes stand around girl.

KBS

Back when Boys Over Flowers was made, it was still common to not pre-produce TV shows in Korea. Meaning, the show would start airing after only a couple episodes had been shot. This led to a lot of difficulties writing quickly, obtaining enough footage, and even editing it all together. There are even some stories about working on the episodes ending while the first half started to play live on air.

Related: Lee Min-ho’s 7 Best Performances, Ranked

Consequently, Boys Over Flowers can feel a little repetitive and slow in parts, but we still love it because of its heart-stirring romance and commentary on social classes. Geum Jan-di’s family is poor, but when her surprise act of heroism earns her a scholarship, she starts attending school with the richest people in Seoul. Jan-di encounters prejudice for her social status but also forms life-long friendships.

6 Crash Landing on You


The businesswoman and soldier in North Korea in Crash Landing On You
Studio Dragon / tvn / Netflix

Crash Landing On You is a rare series that gives viewers a peek inside North Korea, while most K-Dramas take place South Korea. A famous businesswoman’s paragliding trip takes a turn for the worse, and she lands in North Korea. A handsome captain agrees to help her hide until she can escape the country. We love Crash Landing on You for its star-crossed lovers romance and the insight it brings to Korean culture, North and South.


5 Descendants of the Sun


A captain and surgeon in Descendants of the Sun
KBS

This series became especially popular in Korea for its up-close look at the country’s military. Almost every young man must serve in South Korea’s military for a period of time, yet no TV show had captured what life was like for special forces. Descendants of the Sun follows a captain of special forces and a surgeon assigned to the same base. As they experience dangers and disasters in their new environment the two form a deep relationship unlike any other. Descendants of the Sun is loved because of the war-ridden backdrop and the great chemistry between the two main stars.

4 Pachinko


Girl in traditional Korean hanbok looks back.
Apple TV +

Based on a New York Times Bestselling novel, Pachinko tells the story about American Immigrants over four generations. The story focuses on ancestral ties and family history, with beautiful cinematography and moving performances. Pachinko is loved for its historical accuracy and palpable personal significance. The New York Times called this new drama “traditional, sentimental and inspirational” for the meaningful history and striking visuals.

Related: Pachinko Review: Revisiting Korean History and Diaspora

3 Squid Game


The contestants stand in a line in Squid Game
Netflix

Squid Game took the streaming world by storm last year because of its dark and suspenseful story. The show centers around a group of individuals competing in various challenges to win a large cash prize. This may sound familiar, but elimination from these challenges results not only in being out of the running for the prize, but also in death. The dark take on a competition shows just how far desperate people can go to achieve their goals. It leaves viewers questioning their own nature and character, and was frequently considered the best TV show of 2021.

2 Goblin: The Great and Lonely God


The Goblin, his bride, and the Grimm Reaper in Goblin The Great and Lonely God
tVn, Netflix

Goblin (also translated as “Guardian”) shows off the creativity that Korean TV has to offer. The story centers around a Goblin, which in Korean mythology watches over and protects humans using magical powers. The Goblin will essentially be immortal until he meets his human bride. After centuries of wandering the Earth, the Goblin is more than ready to die, but meeting the love of his life may change his mind.

At first, some viewers may struggle to buy into the complicated and foreign mythology that Goblin presents, but by the show’s end, the intricate plot and soul-searching characters will have everyone rooting for a happy ending. We love this show not only for its creativity, but also for detail-oriented dialogue and a suspenseful plot. The story is full of so many twists and turns, that hardly anyone will see the ending coming.

1 Mr. Sunshine


Go Ae-Shin practices shooting a gun in Mr.  Sunshine
Studio Dragon / tVn / Netflix

The production company spared no expense working on the lavish, spectacular Mr. Sunshine. Despite its cheerful title, Mr. Sunshine is a rollercoaster of emotions. The story, set in the early 1900s, focuses on the political battle for Korea’s independence. The series is complete with political intrigue, quick action sequences, love triangles, and beautiful production design. Some history references may be difficult for audiences in the west, but thankfully a quick Google search should catch everyone up to speed. The all around attention to detail in every aspect of this series represents some of the best that K-Dramas have to offer, although the serious look at Korea’s history is not a journey for the faint of heart.



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