Do you love a good throwback? In the world of K-dramas period pieces are some of the best and most common storylines used. If this is your niche, we narrowed down ten sageuks released in 2021. For history fiends and for those who just want a classical twist to their watching pleasure, here are 10 that were released in 2021.
River Where the Moon Rises
‘River Where the Moon Rises’ is one of 2021’s highly anticipated dramas with an engaging storyline paired with a stellar cast. It tells the story of Pyeonggang (Kim So Hyun) who takes advantage of OnDal’s feelings to become an empress. In a span of 20 episodes, feuds arise among different tribes in the ancient Korean Goguryeo kingdom, wars break out beyond the palace walls and amnesia among its main characters.
If you’ve missed catching this drama during its run, it’s a series that is worth checking out. It promises a lot of action, beautiful scenes, and a romantic plot that will surely hook you in. Even though the project encountered some setbacks, especially when they had to change their male lead, Ji Soo, when he got caught in a scandal. They had to reshoot scenes and Na In Woo stepped in to fill in the role, which he truly gave justice to.
The Red Sleeve
Set in the 18th century, ‘The Red Sleeve’ is a story between King Jeongjo and his royal concubine Sung Deok Im. It all started when Crown Prince Yi San (Lee Joon Ho) fell in love with Sung Deok Im who was a court lady. When he eventually became King Jeongjo, he wanted Deok Im to be his concubine, but she refuses. She wants to live her life freely, which would not be possible if she agrees with what the King desired. However, she did give in.
Women who are meant to serve the king are made to wear red-colored sleeves, which means that they belong exclusively to the palace. With that said, Deok Im’s loyalty must lie entirely with the king. The king, on the other hand, is a ruler first before he is a man. He is duty-bound to put the country and the people first regardless of his own emotions. This drama revealed Joon Ho and Lee Se Young’s gift of being able to connect with the audience. It’s for anybody who is intrigued by the ups and downs of forbidden love.
Bossam: Steal the Fate
This drama takes us back to the Joseon Dynasty under the rule of Gwanghaegun. It’s a story of how a man’s fate changes when he mistakenly kidnaps the widowed daughter of the King. It all started with Ba Woo (Jung Il Woo), a degenerate man who steals, fights, and gambles. He is willing to do bossam (a customary procedure where a widow is kidnapped) for money. But when he abducted Princess Soo Kyung (Kwon Yuri) he did so by mistake. She is the daughter of Prince Gwanghae who entered into marriage as part of a political agreement. However, on the day of her wedding, her husband died. In bossam, the “kidnappings” may be agreed upon in advance and others were by force. But for this story, it didn’t go as planned.
Jung Il Woo is no stranger to historical dramas, and this drama is another proof that he was again up to par. Adding to that, the subject of Bossam and the lives of widows in Joseon seems interesting.
The King’s Affection
‘The King’s Affection’ is another drama that is set in the Joseon dynasty and it’s one of the three sageuks produced by KBS in 2021. It tells the story of a secret court romance of a woman who was abandoned because she was born a girl. When her twin brother, who was the crown prince, died in an accident, she was asked to pretend to be him. Throughout the series, audiences are left wondering how long the king can keep the truth under wraps, especially when her heart starts to beat for someone.
This intriguing story is also another success for KBS with its popular cast headlined by Park Eun Bin and Ro Woon. Since it was first released the drama has always triggered intrigue among viewers that it deserves to have a place on every k-drama fan’s watchlist.
Secret Royal Inspector Joy
Apparently, the Joseon dynasty seems to be an era that is perfect for so many K-drama storylines, and ‘Secret Royal Inspector Joy’ is another addition. In this series, a secret royal inspector worked as an undercover officer who inspects corruption in the local provinces. It is an honorable position since it is directly appointed by the king. Ra Yi Eon (Ok Taecyeon) never imagined being placed in such a position as his passion lies in cooking. However, he passed the exam for the royal secretary of Hongmungwan where he became the youngest royal inspector. The job brought him to Chungcheong Province where he met Kim Jo Yi (Kim Hye Yoon), a young lady who divorced her husband who was addicted to gambling. The two came together to investigate the truth and uncover corruption in their province.
This series is a feel-good drama that displayed Taecyeon and Kim Hye Yoon’s talent for comedy. This is a nice sageuk that gives us glimpses of the era without it being hinged on true events.
‘Moonshine’ is a story of a young professional inspector named Nam Young (Yoo Sueng Ho), who left his hometown for his family’s honor. He actually controls illegal liquor manufacturers. Meanwhile, Ro Seo (Lee Hye Ri) is the daughter of a poor noble family who had to resort to making liquor illegally to pay off her family’s debt. These two young individuals from different backgrounds came together and lived under the same roof.
Brewing liquor was strongly prohibited in the Joseon period. But what happens when you fall through the cracks? This drama is a must-watch as it is a nice mix of action, drama, romance, and humor. Besides the main leads, supporting actors like Byeon Woo Seok and Kang Min Na makes this an entertaining series to watch.
Lovers of the Red Sky
This series is adapted from the novel of the same name, which tells the story of the only female painter in the fictional Dan dynasty. It’s a historical-fantasy romance that involves demons, ghosts, and gods. At the heart of this drama is the star-crossed romantic story between Ha Ram (Ahn Hyo Seop) and Cheon Gi (Kim Yoo Jung). The lovers were caught in the middle of a war between scheming royals and a battle between deities and a devil. As hard as the odds may be, their struggles and victories show how a person should face their fate and accept it with open arms.
SBS did a home run with this drama with its solid historical storyline penned by Jung Eun Kweol, who also wrote ‘Sungkyungkwan Scandal’ and ‘The Moon that Embraces the Sun.’ Amidst the political strife and otherworldy battles, this show is a breeze to watch.
Kingdom: Ashin of the North
Kingdom was one of the hugely successful historical-zombie dramas that left viewers clamoring for another season. Show-makers decided to give everyone a sidequel instead with ‘Ashin of the North.’ This series gives us a peek into the backstory of the mysterious character featured at the end of season two and the origins of those infected.
Headlined by no less than top Hallyu actress Jun Ji Hyun, the story is riddled with tragedy, betrayal, and a mysterious discovery that fuelled her vengeance for the loss of her tribe and family. It engages the emotional journey of revenge long before the zombies haunted the nation. It’s a breathtaking special episode that showcases the ferocity of this new character.
The King of Tears Lee Bang Won
This drama centers on the titular character who was responsible for establishing the Joseon empire during the end of the Goryeo dynasty. Lee Bang Won (Joo Sang Wook) is the fifth son of General Lee Seong Gye and he was a man with lofty ideals. His drive to establish a new order brought him to clash with his father.
This 32-episode drama is about one of the most exciting times in Korean history about one of the key leaders in the country’s famous period. If you prefer authentic historical dramas, this should be worth watching. It skips the tacky love stories and fusion plots. It shows how each character is flawed but they’re interesting and loveable nonetheless.
Youth of May
‘Youth of May’ is a fictional period drama that jumps several centuries into the future compared to the others on this list. The story is set in the 1980s during the Gwangju Uprising. In the middle of all that chaos is the love story of a medical student named Hwang He Tae (Lee Do Hyun) and nurse Kim Myung Hee (Go Min Si). Just like any other youth, these lovers chase their passions, love, and whatever makes their hearts beat faster.
With a bittersweet resolution, this drama concludes with a sad ending which allows the tragedy and horrors of the uprising to hang heavy over the storyline. It is a well-written story, and if you’re aware of the political and social backdrop, you would enjoy this series even more.