These days, the most common question I get is,
how are you “what K-drama can you recommend?”
Whenever I’m out of K-dramas to watch, I turn to Google. I search for the best Kdramas of 2020, the funniest Kdramas of all time, or best Kdrama rom-com, etc. What makes me sad is that very rarely do the lists that come up recommend Korean series that were so beautifully done but did not make it to the international Kdrama radar. Did they rate less? Did they lack in promotions? Or are they just not the flavor we are looking for?
Many amazing Korean dramas get lost in the sea without getting the attention they deserve. Thanks to Netflix, some of them we can now find by accident… But I don’t want to leave it to accident for you to find these 10. I swear you’re missing so much by not watching these! Oh I have a long list, but you can start with:
- Voice (2017)
- Welcome to Waikiki/Laughter in Waikiki (2018)
- Signal (2016)
- Age of Youth/Hello My Twenties (2016)
- Save Me (2017)
- When the Camellia Blooms (2019)
- Reply 1997 (2012)
- Sky Castle (2018)
- Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (2016)
- The Fiery Priest (2019)
Note: Some of them are already popular to veteran viewers, but have yet to be found by new K-drama fans. Some you’ve seen too many times on your feed but you didn’t think you want or need. But you do, chingu. You do.
You won’t get much sleep ’til it ends. If you still think K-dramas are nothing but “faux Cinderella stories,” wait ’til you watch Voice. My standard for action/crime drama is so high because of this show. No series of the same genre (Korean or from any other country) has ever come close. Voice has 4 seasons now, but I still think the first one is the best. So gripping, it will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish!
What it’s about: A detective in search of the serial killer who murdered his wife, and a voice profiler who can hear the most minute sounds and analyze what they mean. They form the perfect duo, but the serial killer they’re looking for is… Bad ass AF. Not to mention sobrang hot.
Starring: Jang Hyuk (best leading man ever), Lee Ha Na, Kim Jae Wook (Her Private Life), Yesung (Super Junior), Son Eun So
Welcome to Waikiki/Laughter in Waikiki (2018)
Laugh ’til you drop. Literally. Some nights I almost fell out of bed while laughing and rolling because of this gem. This was the first Korean slapstick comedy I’ve seen and it’s soooo good! Here’s a bunch of people who will stop at nothing to make you laugh. Welcome to Waikiki is the show we all need right now. And by the end, you’ll feel like you’re a part of their barkada too, clapping foolishly and shouting, “khazaaa!” Gods, I miss these boys!
It now has a sequel, which I have yet to see. Not sure how good it is, but part 1 definitely is a must-watch!
What it’s about: Three men running a guesthouse while trying to pursue their dreams. A series of unfortunate events, a single mother and her baby, a girl growing out a mustache, and an ex-girlfriend who’s so full of herself. It’s always a riot in the guesthouse, where nothing EVER goes right!
Starring: Kim Jung Hyun (Crash Landing on You), Lee Yi Kyung, Son Seung Won, Jung In Sun (Terius), Ko Won Hee, Lee Joo Woo
I’m just gonna go ahead and call it the mother of all time-traveling K-dramas. Maybe because it was the first I saw, but everything else seems to pale in comparison to Signal. There have been several more releases of the same genre since then, but not even my love for Choi Jin Hyuk of Tunnel and Jung Kyung Ho of Life on Mars can surpass the thrill I felt while watching Signal.
I think what made it special was how invested they were in solving this serial killing case. It wasn’t just revenge, but justice, and a strong need to protect the people.
What it’s about: An unusual team-up between a cold-case profiler from 2015 and a detective from 1989, who are able to communicate through a mysterious walkie-talkie.
Starring: Cho Jin Woong (The Handmaiden), Kim Hye Soo (Hyena), Lee Je Hoon (Where Stars Land)
Age of Youth/Hello My Twenties (2016)
Brace your heart. This is the drama that will melt it over and over and over. From the title itself, this is one series you’ll wish you saw in your early 20s. It could have taught you a lot, helped you understand situations better, and let you know that you are not alone. Age of Youth made me realize how connected we really are and how much we misunderstand other people because we are too focused on our own dreams and pains. Seriously, give it a chance. They had me – hook, line and sinker – with the 1st episode
This, too, already has a sequel. Also a good watch, especially because you’ll want to see the characters again. But as always, the first one is better!
What it’s about: Five girls living in a boarding house called “Belle Epoque,” a French term that means “beautiful time.” How fitting! They are all in their early 20s and there’s a lot going on – college, part-time job, love life, debt. So many emotions involved, and you will feel them all. Because you are them, at least at one point in your life. Already feel like sobbing just thinking about the series!
Starring: Park Hye Soo (Introverted Boss), Han Ye Ri (Nokdu Flower), Han Seung Yon (Kara), Ryu Hwa Young (T-ara), Park Eun Bin (Hot Stoveleague)
Save Me (2017)
Korea’s cult culture in the spotlight. Remember how the coronavirus spread throughout Korea because of a religious cult? The truth is there are a lot of them in this small country. Some are sketchier than others. This series gives a more intimate peek into their lifestyle… and into Taecyon’s muscles haha! But seriously, it’s a good watch. Dark, but you’ll be constantly waiting for the small patches of light that are their friendship and courage.
It’s an old series, way before Seo Ye Ji became the superstar of It’s Okay Not to Be Okay; and Taecyeon scared the hell out of me in Vincenzo. But they both still did a great job here!
What it’s about: Four teens who band together to save their former classmate from a religious cult that has brainwashed her family.
Starring: Woo Do Hwan (Tempted), Seo Ye Ji (It’s Okay Not to be Okay), Ok Taecyeon (Vincenzo)
When the Camellia Blooms (2019)
A heartwarming thriller. When the Camellia Blooms is a serial killer drama hiding behind a rom-com setting. I have never seen anything like it. It will set you on a Kang Haneul high then drag you to a murder mystery so scary you’ll be constantly on the lookout for who the killer picks next.
But oh my heart, I don’t think I’ve seen a better ensemble. Gong Hyo Jin leads this pack, but everyone else stands out on their own. Also, KANG PIL GU. Watch out for that kid. If you don’t fall in love with him, something’s wrong with you.
I personally think this drama is among the more popular ones. But interestingly, some people are apparently turned off because of Gong Hyo Jin? Because she’s not “conventionally” pretty? I’ve heard that comment at least twice, so I thought I needed to reiterate that When the Camellia Blooms is one of the best (if not the best) K-dramas in recent years. AND GONG HYO JIN IS ONE OF THE MOST PRECIOUS KOREAN ACTRESSES OF ALL TIME. PERIODT.
What it’s about: A single mother who moves to a small town and kills it with her kindness haha! This series will show you what happens when you pay it forward, and how beautiful love can find the toughest heart and melt it. Oh and don’t forget the serial killer! He’s somewhere there. You won’t notice him at first, and then he’ll be all you think about.
Starring: Gong Hyo Jin (It’s Okay, That’s Love), Kang Ha Neul (Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo), Son Dam Bi, Kim Ji Seok (Top Star U-Back), Kim Kang Hoon (the most adorable kid in the history of K-drama)
Reply 1997 (2012)
The other reply that is also so freakin’ good. Everyone’s talking about Reply 1988 and I’m so worried that you guys are so focused on it, you’ll miss out on another good one. If Reply 1988 is about family and neighborhood, Reply 1997 is about friendship, high school, and music. It brings us back to the most challenging part of our childhood – teenage life, where love and passion collide. We were always so burning, so in need of action. And always so problematic. But oh, there were a lot of good times, weren’t they?
Reply 1997 also gives an intimate look into Korea’s fangirl culture, which goes way back to 1st generation idols. In this case, H.O.T. What makes this interesting is that they have an actual 1st gen idol in the cast! That’s Eun Ji Won, who is a member of H.O.T.’s biggest rival, Sechs Kies. I didn’t know that when I watched it though!
What it’s about: A fangirl who is obsessed with a boy group. Also, her high school friends and their crazy dynamics while living in 1997 Busan. Side-by-side their current lives 15 years later, where the fangirl is getting married. But with whom?
Starring: Jung Eunji (A-pink), Seo In Guk (Doom at Your Service),
Sky Castle (2018)
Wut da fudge. I dare you not to curse while watching this drama. I dare you not to get mad or question every single values you’ve learned in your life. Sky Castle goes above and beyond the limits of what is morally acceptable to show what some people are willing to do to maintain their A-list status in society. It explores (maybe even exposes) the high level of competition in South Korea (in schools, the workplace, and in the community) and how (almost) nothing can stop those with money and power.
I almost didn’t want to watch this drama because of all the intrigue, and I honestly thought it was going to be too heavy. But I ended up loving it. It’s so enlightening that towards the end, you will understand what motivates each character. You will be able to relate to them, forgive them, and even believe in their chance to do better. Greed is a dangerous trait that comes even for the best of us, it’s just that some people are better at fighting it off than others.
What it’s about: Families living in an exclusive community called Sky Castle. They all have high schoolers preparing for college, and the parents will do whatever it takes for them to get into the prestigious Seoul National University.
Starring: Yum Jung Ah, Kim Seo Hyung, Yoon Se Ah, Oh Na Ra, Lee Tae Ran, Kim Hye Yoon (Extraordinary You), Kim Bo Ra (Her Private Life), Kim Dong Hee (Itaewon Class), Jo Byung Gyu (Hot Stoveleague)
Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (2016)
Ihanda ang tissue, or better yet, timba. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo is another pretentious drama. It all starts with feel-good kilig, most times funny and adorable interactions between the lead female (IU) and the kingdom’s 7 handsome (super hot) princes. But it only goes downhill from there. Scarlet Heart Ryeo will drag you into an emotional roller coaster until the last episode, when… I shouldn’t tell you that haha! It’s not all bad though.
This series taught me that love can survive the test of time, literally. But even the greatest loves can crumble in the face of power and responsibility. Those who’ve seen it are still waiting for a part 2. The last scene is the best cliffhanger I’ve seen so far. And I’m still rooting for them.
What it’s about: A total eclipse magically brings a skincare saleslady (IU) back in time to the Goryeo era. Here, she meets 7 princes, and falls in love with the fiercest of the lot. It’s a remake of a 2011 Chinese drama.
Starring: IU (Hotel del Luna), Lee Joon Gi (Lawless Lawyer), Kang Ha Neul, Nam Joo Hyuk (Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo), Baekhyun (EXO), Hong Jong Hyun (My Absolute Boyfriend), Ji Soo (Strong Woman Do Bong Soon), Yoon Sun Woo
The Fiery Priest (2019)
Too many surprises. The Fiery Priest is a whole new genre for me. It’s action-comedy, but with a priest as the main character. How is a priest an action star and a comedian at the same time?
There’s a beautiful prosecutor who acts like a gangster. A police detective who’s undecided which side he belongs. A mob boss who looks like a leading man. A Thai delivery man and a chubby part-timer duo. If you compare The Fiery Priest with food, it’s too flavorful yet every single ingredient stands out. It’s bibimbap. Haha! This series will make you laugh and love every character – good or bad.
What it’s about: An unconventional team-up between a priest, a detective, and a prosecutor to solve a murder case of a beloved Catholic priest.
Starring: Kim Nam Gil (Live Up to Your Name), Lee Ha Nui (Extreme Job), Go Joon (Oh My Baby), Kim Sung Kyun (Reply 1988), and a lot of characters that you’ll probably see or notice for the first time (watch out for Jang Ryong the gang leader and Ssongsak the Thai delivery man!)