This year may be something else as we stay holed up inside our homes. But, it’s also a time when we are forced to find ways to entertain ourselves while we shelter in place. Fortunately, Kdramaland offers a treasure trove of binge-worthy series. And if you’re looking for good material fresh off the racks, here are 10 K-dramas that are sure to keep you addicted!
1. The World of the Married
This heavy drama was such a phenomenal success thanks to its scandalous storyline which left Korean and international fans hooked and triggered. Many could relate to how that jaw-dropping first episode could easily push any curious soul to commit to its 16-episode run.
This series is actually based on an English movie, Doctor Foster, which tackled failed relationships, infidelity, and betrayal—the controversial issues married couples strongly want to avoid.
In this series, we meet Ji Sun Woo (Kim Hee Ae) who seems to live a perfect life with a successful career as a doctor, a talented son, and a handsome husband who promised her that she is the only one he will ever love. But it seemed that she has been living it through rose-colored glasses because, in reality, what she held so dear was actually wrapped in lies and betrayal.
Sun Woo’s life spiralled out of control when she discovers that her husband, Lee Tae Oh (Park Hae Joon) has been cheating on her, right under her nose! For quite some time, he has been having an illicit affair with a much younger woman, Yeo Da Kyung (Han So Hee). To add insult to injury, her friends were in on it.
The story gives us a peek at the downfall of a family as a result of an extramarital affair. This storyline triggered curiosity for a lot of viewers because it tackled the major “what-if” when tables are turned on the other woman.
This drama captivated astounding viewership in its run that it was even dubbed as the highest-rated drama in Korean cable television history, overtaking SKY Castle.
2. Crash Landing on You
A major treat that greeted K-drama fans during the first quarter of this year was North/South Korean drama that centred around two seemingly star-crossed lovers. Besides major Hallyu stars at the helm, the story was also very well-written which explains why it amassed a huge following during and after its run.
The story is about a South Korean heiress and a North Korean military officer who fell in love in the most unlikely situation. It all started when a freak paragliding incident swept Yoon Se Ri (Son Ye Jin) to the northern side of the DMZ. Lucky for her, she fell right into the area manned by Captain Ri Jeong Hyeok (Hyun Bin) while he was doing routine checks. Instead of turning her in, he kept her safe and hatched a plan to bring her back home without causing any fuss. But little did they know that it would take more than one clandestine attempt.
Jeong Hyeok and his band of loyal soldiers would have to keep their guards up for much longer, especially when Se Ri sticks out like a sore thumb in the small village where they kept her safe. What makes things more complicated is the hovering presence of ruthless officer Cho Cheol Gang (Oh Man Seok), who has a bone to pick with Jeong Hyeok and is looking for the slightest opportunity to pin him down.
The story spans from the north to the southern part of the Korean peninsula, with scenes that will leave you laughing one minute and bawling the next. Besides the love story, what drew people in is the depiction of the internal affairs in one of the world’s most secretive countries. The supporting cast also did so well that even their storylines were just as entertaining!
If you are just starting out in the world of K-dramas this is definitely one worth binging on!
3. Hospital Playlist
Medical dramas have been a hit concept in South Korea, but Hospital Playlist shows a new direction to this genre. The storyline was well-received that it went straight to the ninth spot as the highest-rated Korean drama in cable television history.
Hospital Playlist tells the story of five, who are all in their 40’s. They have known each other since they entered medical school in 1999.
Kim Joon Wan (Jung Kyoung Ho) is a cardiothoracic surgeon, who has a warm spot for his patients and friends, but is quite insensitive to the residents. Chae Song Hwa (Jeon Mi Do) is a neurosurgeon, who is the most sensible out of the five. Ahn Jung Won (Yoo Yeon Suk) is a pediatrician who is genuinely fond of children, but he also desires to become a priest by attending a theology school in Italy. Yang Seok Hyung (Kim Dae Myung) is an OB-GYN who is also a mama’s boy, and lastly, Lee Ik Jun (Jo Jung-Seok) is a general surgeon, who stands as the comedic relief in this series.
However, beyond the scrubs, they also start to nurture a long-forgotten pastime. Apparently, the five of them had a band in med school, and every week, the friends meet up in a basement to practice as a band. With Ik Jun as the vocalist, others play their instruments to harmoniously perform South Korean 90s music. This evoked a sense of nostalgia among South Korean audiences, especially those in a similar age group as the main characters.
Unlike most dramas, Hospital Playlist doesn’t have an obvious conflict. There is no absolute villain, no exaggerated plot twists, and other tropes. Instead, it simply follows the conflicts of every character in it, reminiscent of the Reply series. It’s a continuous flow of story and problems, just like in real life—where it doesn’t seem to end. And yet, they tell it in a way, where even the mundane reels you in.
While everyone is holed up in the middle of lockdowns, Hospital Playlist is definitely one heartwarming escape that viewers can enjoy.
4. Itaewon Class
This off-beat drama also stood out among the rest of the releases this year because it stuns local and international audiences with a powerful message. It reeled in so much attention because it is a heart-clenching story full of passion and grit.
The series centers around Park Sae-Ro Yi (Park Seo Joon), a determined young man who refuses to take the easy way out of any situation if it compromises his values and beliefs. His headstrong personality subjects him to many ill circumstances and unjust treatment, eventually becoming a target of a powerful family who runs the most successful pub franchise in the country. Rising from his downfall, Sae-Ro Yi’s release from jail was also the beginning of his revenge-driven plan—that is to open up a pub in the vibrant city of Itaewon.
Even though he is forever tagged as an ‘ex-convict’ that didn’t stop him to build his life back up again. He goes on to bring together a loyal team of social misfits whom he connects with along the way, and together they strive to make the pub a reality and a success.
In this story we see obviously flawed characters with their own personal struggles, revealed through emotion-packed acting. At its core, it is a story about revenge, greed, discrimination, and about finding family amongst the people around you.
It’s an inspiring and engaging story that even draws in non-Kdrama fans. It’s an absolute must-watch for anyone.
5. It’s Okay Not To Be Okay
It’s curious why this drama earned some lukewarm response in its homeland when it’s climbing up the charts to be one of the hottest series internationally. It even sits among Netflix’s Top 10 in several countries.
In this 16-episode series, three damaged souls, marred by parental abuse and murder, try to put the past behind them. It follows a caregiver of a psychiatric ward named Moon Gang Tae (Kim Soo Hyun) who refuses to love because of the weight of the responsibility of looking after his autistic and traumatized older brother. He meets the popular children’s book author, Ko Moon Young (Seo Ye Ji), who doesn’t know about love because of her antisocial personality disorder.
Initially, Moon Young develops an obsession over Moon Gang Tae, where she would go to great lengths to catch his attention. While Gang Tae has his eye set on his role as a protector and provider for his brother, the persistent young woman’s advances are starting to grow on him. They soon find out that they need each other to heal the other’s wounds.
What is initially captivating about this series is the visual storytelling, then it ushers you into its unique premise delivered through impressive acting. It also tickles your curiosity with the sliver of mystery surrounding a murder from Moon Young’s past. But one notable aspect about the story is it gives importance to mental health. It gives viewers a reminder that, “it is okay, not to be okay.”
6. Hi, Bye Mama!
If you have your tissues ready, then jump right into Kdramas tearjerker of the year.
For true blue Kdrama fans, this is also a treat because this 16-episode series marks the return of one of the biggest Hallyu stars, Kim Tae Hee, to the small screen.
In this heart-wrenching drama, Cha Yu Ri (Kim Tae Hee) is a ghost who remained on earth for the past five years. An accident caused her death while she was in her last trimester of pregnancy. This left her husband, Cho Gang Hwa (Lee Kyu Hyung) heartbroken and her baby without a mom. This is the reason why she sticks around, unrelentlessly watching over her little girl (Seo Woo Jin).
One day, Yu Ri finds out that her daughter has the ability to see ghosts, which is actually her fault. But, in a fit of rage, she curses the deities only to receive a rather unusual punishment. She was granted her life back, but it comes with a catch. She’s only given 49 days, within which she must either take her place back as a wife and mother to her family, or she must pass on.
Yu Ri would have had this in the bag, if only her husband hadn’t remarried. Seo Woo also grew up believing that her stepmother, Oh Min Jong (Go Bo Gyeol), was her birth mother.
What makes this drama special and lovable is that there are no bad guys. It’s just an unfortunate story of people trapped in a difficult circumstance. Besides Yu Ri’s struggle, this drama also shows us the devastation that a death in the family can cause the other members. We can see this pain in Yu Ri’s own mom, her dad, sister, and friend. But one that should hit viewers the most is her husband’s heartbreak and trauma.
7. Dr Romantic 2
The interest in this series is hugely influenced by the fact that it is a sequel to the 2016-2017 medical drama Dr. Romantic (also known as Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim). It is also a strong contender as one of the most addictive dramas for this year mainly because it appeals solidly to its target audience.
The story takes off with Boo Young Joo (Han Suk Kyu) struggling to revive Doldam Hospital, which has been rocked with several difficulties after his colleagues – Kang Dong Joo, Yoon Seo Jung, and Do In Beom – left. Now short on staff, Young Bo goes to Geosan University Hospital to recruit a general surgeon.
Scouting for a new doctor led him to cross paths with Seo Woo Jin (Ahn Hyo Seop), a doctor with a troubled past and was ostracized by his colleagues, and offered him the job. Cha Eun-jae (Lee Sung-kyung), who is suspended after another blunder in the operation room, also signed up for Doldam Hospital. Besides the two doctors, there were also new staff members who joined the team. But will this be enough to help the hospital rise up from the rut?
If you have a penchant for medical melodramas, and you happen to enjoy the first season, this series is just as good as its predecessor with its realistic situations seamlessly woven into a plot that also provides comfort.
8. Mystic Pop-Up Bar
Mystic Pop-Up Bar revolves around fiery-tongued Weol Ju (Hwang Jung Eum), a woman who runs a pop-up bar known as pojangmacha, or an outdoor drinking establishment. But this isn’t just some old run-of-the-mill bar, and neither is the owner an ordinary woman.
Weol Ju has been sentenced to resolving the emotional troubles of 100,000 customers for the past 500 years by entering their dreams. The problem is that she hates humans. She’s also finding it increasingly tough to hit her target because the pojangmacha’s popularity has declined due to the rise of food deliveries. To make matters worse, the god of the Underworld has handed her a new tight deadline.
Along with her lone employee, Chief Gwi (Choi Won Young), they struggle not to take their frustrations out on a tight-lipped customer. But then they meet a boy whose touch triggers others into spilling their troubles.
If this plot sounds vaguely familiar, it’s reminiscent of 2019’s Hotel del Luna. Weol Ju and Man Wol (IU) seem to share several similarities, from their temper, their punishment which is to run an establishment, questionable management styles, deep-rooted grudges, and even their strikingly red lipsticks.
However, the more you immerse in the story, you will notice how their plot progression is completely different. While Hotel del Luna centered around Man Wol’s resistance to end all things, this drama is an urgent race towards the protagonist’s desire for a resolution.
The story is told with good pacing without having to rely on the usual love triangles and the usual K-drama tropes. Expect a rollercoaster of emotions as it touches on grievance, regrets, happiness, death, and celebrations, among others. Each episode features a different mission; each with its own lesson.
9. Hyena (2020)
Our favorite crown prince from “Kingdom”, Ju Ji Hoon, transforms into an elite lawyer named Jung Geum Ja from the Song & Kim Law Firm. Born and raised from a rich household, he has his hand inside the trove of national lawsuits from high-profile and wealthy clients. Meanwhile, Jung Geum Ja (Kim Hye Soo) is a feisty and mysterious character who is a lesser known litigator. Just like a hyena out for her prey, she is also hungry for her piece of the pie in rich clients to give her struggling law office a boost.
Both are fearless, cunning, and smart lawyers – the only difference is how they handle and defend their rich clienteles. The two get entangled in a love-hate relationship as they seek the truth, but discover love along the way.
The story starts out simple, but unravels with a lot of complexities. Though the series revolves around a major case, the show has a clever way of revealing each character’s personal motives. It has an intricately-written plot that sustains the intrigue with the right thrills and temperaments along the way.
The intense exchange in this courtroom drama is one to keep you hooked and entertained. It also helped that the series is visually beautiful for a TV series in terms of the art and photo direction. Overall, it’s a well-written series that delivers a thrilling, meaty, and provocative legal drama that could get you addicted.
In this teen crime thriller, the story trails the lives of four high school students who fall into a life of crime, to each get what they want.
Oh Ji Soo (Kim Dong Hee) is a quiet, straight-A student who runs a dubious side business. Without any parent to guide him along, he has no choice but devise ways to fend for himself. This led him to create an app for women where he can set up compensated dates—pretty much a sex-trafficking business.
Life seems to be going smoothly with Ji Soo earning thousands each month, which allowed him to slowly save up for his college tuition. While the means to achieve his dream was sketchy at best, he only did this to live a normal life. That meant finishing college, securing a job, getting married, and having children.
But took a difficult turn when his crush and classmate, Bae Gyuri (Park Ju Hyun), finds out about his illegal side business. Unfortunately, the trouble doesn’t stop there, when two of his friends get reeled into his dangerous world.
So is this drama worth the 10-episode binge?
Many are drawn to it because despite the story’s high levels of crime and violence, this drama almost comes off as relatable to students. It is true that college can be an unattainable dream due to life circumstances and limited finances, and the desperation for money that Ji Soo portrays is something that a lot can relate to.