Long before “Parasite” hit the jackpot at the Academy Awards, South Korea has already made its mark in its delivery of crime dramas and mind-bending thrillers. They have taken in audiences with slick action sequences and tangled mysteries which only leaves you constantly intrigued for the next episode.
Venture into the world of lawlessness from a safe distance with these 10 stories that is definitely worth losing sleep!
1. I Can Hear Your Voice (2013)
This tells the story of a cynical lawyer, Jang Hye Sung (Lee Bo Young), and a young man named, Park Soo Ha (Lee Jong Suk), who has the ability to read other people’s thoughts. They were both part of the same tragic incident as children, where Soo Ha witnessed his father’s murder, which also triggered his mind-reading ability. The case was initially dismissed as a car accident until a young Hye Sung gave a decisive testimony in court despite the killer’s (Jung Woong In) threats.
Having parted ways, Soo Ha spends his life searching for Hye Sung, who is now a public defender. He has been nursing a crush on her and has this mental image of what she will be like when they meet again. When they finally did, he was dismayed that she is completely opposite of what he had imagined.
However, this reunion led them to crime-solving adventures where they used unconventional methods to solve cases. Unfortunately, it was also around this time that the incarcerated killer finally served his time and was free to walk out. However, he holds a vendetta against the girl who placed him behind bars. Having caught wind of the threats, Soo Has is ready to protect Hye Sung no matter the odds.
2. Bad Guys (2014)
Oh Gu Tak (Kim Sang Joong) is a detective who uses violence against criminals as a way of releasing his despair after his teenage daughter was murdered. This led him to be suspended due to excessive force. But after the police seemed to have hit a dead end in their investigation to catch a serial killer, the chief sought help from Gu Tak to solve it. He was specifically chosen for the job because he is aggressive to the point where it’s debatable whether or not he is a bad guy himself. This behaviour even earned him the moniker, “mad dog”.
To catch the killer, he calls in three deadly convicts from lock-up in exchange for a reduced sentence. He rounds out the team with a serial killer who doesn’t recall his killings, a deadly assassin who turned himself in under mysterious circumstances, and a widely-connected gangster. The team set out to uncover many different plots and schemes as they bring down other bad guys too. With that said, can a gangster, a contract killer, and a serial killer work together with cops to finally do something good for a change? That’s a story for you to binge on!
3. Signal (2016)
It is a story involving the past and present, connected by a handheld radio. Serial murders and other grisly crimes are solved, but the story goes much deeper than that. It starts when a young police profiler named Park Hae Young (Lee Je-hoon) accidentally found an old walkie-talkie which was working even without any battery! Even stranger is that it allowed him to communicate with Lee Jae Han (Cho Jin-woong), a well-known detective from the past. It turns out, the walkie talkie was his, and Hae Young in 2015 was actually making contact with the detective all the way from 1989. Although it took a while for Hae Young to grasp the situation and to trust the voice on the other end, they eventually came together to use their skills in the quest for truth and justice.
If you’re a hardcore fan of crime stories, you’d be interested to learn that the detective work in this drama are based on real crimes! One of which is the infamous Hwaseong serial murders, where ten women were raped and murdered between 1986 to 1991, which remained unsolved to this day. Another is the 1994 Seongsu Bridge collapse, which was also based on a real disaster. This drama made fictional elements feel logical and authentic which makes it even more thrilling to watch.
4. Suspicious Partner (2017)
Also translated as “Love in Trouble,” this drama blends romance and crime. It follows the story of prosecutor No Ji Wook (Ji Chang Wook) and prosecutor trainee, Eun Bong Hee (Nam Ji Hyun), as they solve different cases together. They also had to tackle the core central plot of proving Bong Hee’s innocence after having been falsely accused of murdering her ex-boyfriend (Chansung). Apparently, the real killer has amnesia and keeps coming after Bong Hee and Ji Wook.
Things get complicated as their careers and love lives get entangled, but one thing brings them together—catching the real culprit responsible for a series of murders before they run out of time and get themselves killed! With cute mildang (a Korean word for flirting or a “push and pull” game where the first one to confess his or her feelings is the loser) moments here and there, this drama offers lighthearted scenes, but also the right amount of intrigue to keep you on your toes.
5. Tunnel (2017)
In 1986, detective Park Kwang Ho (Choi Jin Hyuk) of the Serious Crime Unit of Hwayang Police station was probing into the series of killings that targeted women who were marked with strange dots on their ankles. The detective stumbles upon the culprit inside a tunnel where one of the victims was found. He lost consciousness when the killer smashed his head with a heavy rock. He wakes up and realizes he has time-traveled 30 years into the future to 2016. Disoriented with what happened, he assumes the identity of a police officer, who has the same name as him.
Kwang Ho attempts to go back in time on several occasions by running inside the mysterious tunnel, but to no avail. He decides to work with the present Hwayang Serious Crime Unit to search for his wife’s whereabouts. In his time there, he helps solve the serial killings that are actually linked to the cases he was investigating 30 years into the past, and this just might help him return there.
6. Stranger (2017)
This drama bravely tackles the world of corruption driven by politicians, law enforcers and business conglomerates behind the scenes.
The story revolves around an unbiased prosecutor named Hwang Si Mok (Cho Seung-woo), who doesn’t show emotions due to a childhood surgery. He was looking into a murder case where the victim used to bribe a lot of police officers and prosecutors. Desperate to turn over a new leaf by giving Shi Mok a list of names of the people he dealt with under wraps, this effort to make things right became his undoing. To crack the case, Shie Mok reluctantly teams up with police detective Han Yeo Jin (Bae Doo-na). To find the murderer means that they can prove who exactly was being bribed.
This drama has been praised for its surprisingly tight story, tension filled sequences, and its refreshingly realistic take. It is a story full of morally ambiguous and grey areas, which allowed the audience to see different layers in both the protagonists and villains. It’s such a gripping and fast-paced tale which even caught the attention of the New York times and included it in their “Best TV Shows of 2017”.
7. Catch the Ghost (2019)
Considered as one of the most underrated korean dramas, this series is quite delightful to watch, but it also offers some serious undertones. It follows the story of Yoo Ryung (Moon Geun Young) and other subway cops who are out to catch a serial killer. Yoo Ryung does impressive work with her overflowing sense of justice and exceptional spatial perception, which is a gift that also got her into trouble. She crossed paths with Wangsimni Station constabulary chief, a man who avoids cases as he prefers stability. However, he finds himself always cleaning up after the problems stirred by Yoo Ryung.
You’d find this drama even more enjoyable if you enjoy stories with strong female leads. It is also filled with unexpected humor in the form of visual gags and ironic dialogue in between plot twists and turns. It also gives us an interesting look into what goes behind the scenes of a subway station, which was uncharted territory but entertaining nonetheless.
8. Tell Me What You Saw (2020)
This is an investigative crime drama that is marked by a riveting police chase against a skilled and dauntless psychopath. The police force finds their strength in a genius but bad-tempered criminal profiler, Oh Hyun Jae (Jang Hyuk), and Cha Soo Young (Choi Soo Young), a detective with photographic memory. As they run after the elusive culprit, they also uncover the painful truth of how his meticulously orchestrated crimes contributed to their traumatic pasts.
The investigation process provides the creative charm to this drama. You will enjoy how detective Cha, scrutinizes the small details of the crime and elaborately explains them to Hyun Jae. Just like how Velma puts the pieces of the puzzle at the end of every Scooby Doo series, the two work together to reveal details that people who were on the scene missed, which gave viewers a more immersive experience. But not everything runs smooth and easy for the duo because the story also shows their weaknesses, which are just as deadly as their strengths.
9. Memorist (2020)
This webtoon-inspired drama offers a series of twisted crime cases that will shock you to the core. The story centers around Dong Baek (Yoo Seung Ho) who is not one to shy away from telling people that he has the ability to scan people’s memories through touch; a talent which eventually gave him celebrity status. Years later, he becomes a police officer where he uses his ability to solve criminal cases. However, trouble follows him thanks to his reckless actions which were always under public scrutiny. He meets Han Sun Mi (Lee Se young), a genius crime profiler who has gone up the ranks due to her excellent competency. A serial murder case brings Sun Mi and Dong Baek together, but as the they dig deeper into the mystery, they inevitably unravel hidden truths about their past.
While it might seem easy for a person who has supernatural powers to solve cases, this story realistically portrays one’s fallibility. In this drama, just because the main lead is able to scan people’s memories does not mean that he can overpower his opponents. Rather, his powers are his weaknesses that are often used against him.
10. Extracurricular (2020)
It tells the story of a model student named Kim Dong Hee (Oh Ji Soo) who commits a grave crime to make money. This act also caused his friends and the people around him to get unintentionally involved in the crime. He would have been a model high school student, but is driven to get his hands dirty so he can earn money for his university tuition.
It conveys the seedy emotional turmoil of growing up without normal parental support and love. This leads to teenagers masquerading as grown-up outlaws, saw-wielding gangsters and school bullies. It really drives home the sad truth of today’s modern parenting & middle-class school girls trying to buy luxury items. Witness how appalling parental mentality are the real culprits of the drama. It’s a realistic and gripping take on how extreme poverty and circumstances can send anyone, let alone a teenager, to adult education that only life from the dark side can offer. The story is fleshed out with villains and plotlines that can make your skin crawl!
Find something you like? You can’t go wrong with these stories because they all offer their own brand of mystery, scandal, and deceit for those who have time to spare racking their brains in all these crazy plot twists and turns!