There are many ways to tell a story and from that are different K-drama genres coming out of the woodwork. Here’s a quick look at 12 classifications of your favorite series and see what other amazing stories you can find under them!
Sageuks (pronounced say-jukes) are literally historical or period dramas, which is a story set within a certain time period. It is categorised by the use of costumes or props from that era, and in K-dramas, that translates into traditional Korean clothing called hanboks.
Sageuks give us a sneak peek at what Korea was like in eras like the Joseon, Goryeo, or Silla. And in telling the stories of these characters comes many different types of historical K-dramas.
A Taeha Sageuk is a large-scale historical drama that is more focused on a specific period, but is not necessarily historically accurate. Shidae-geuk is a modern period drama that is set in a more recent past. Fusion sageuks is set in more than one time period and does not have to be historically accurate. They often contain time travel stories like Scarlet Heart Ryeo. Fusion sageuks are also written with two different genres like Kingdom, where it’s a zombie apocalypse set in the olden days.
Out of fusion sageuks come traditional sageuks which are based on fact, or are historically accurate. The main characters are often kings, queens, or emperors who existed in real life some time ago. In a way, the story is more of an exploration of who those characters were, than creating a new character entirely; but this doesn’t mean that these stories are boring! But if you are into more sensual storytelling, erotic sageuks are the kind that contain sexually explicit scenes.
If there is anything that K-dramas have nailed so well, that would be romance! In fact, most popular ones out there have romantic storylines that utilised the usual tropes so well. You get love triangles, a traumatic past, chaebol families, noona romances, or tragic setbacks that make up the complicated web of love. Examples of these include The Heirs, Boys Over Flowers, Love Rain, and Crash Landing on You.
Melodrama is a subgenre of drama told in an exaggerated or unrealistic manner. In Korean slang, these types of dramas are called makjangs. In these stories the characters are written with such sensationalism that it appeals to the viewers strong emotions. These include plotlines about adultery, amnesia, murder, incest, and even absurd birth secrets. Most of all, Korean melodramas are wildly entertaining and take you on a rollercoaster of emotions that would make you forget logic for the time being. The World of the Married, The Winter, the Wind Blows, and Penthouse are all good suggestions if you don’t mind these stretches of reality.
Korean dramas also produce the best comedy series. Comical plot lines, scores of hilarity, side-splitting humor, and funny characters are the hallmarks of these dramas. One of the many reasons why these comedic K-dramas work is that they have the right elements to keep audiences hooked for a 16 or 18-episode stretch! Usually, this genre is interwoven with other genres, adding another layer of entertainment. Some of the really good ones out there include, Strong Girl Do Bong-soon, My Roommate is a Gumiho, and What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim.
Mystery K-dramas are closely similar to crime, thriller, and police procedural series. What is so engaging about these types of dramas is that they are made with a fast-paced plot that comes with a lot of action, multidimensional characters, and some shocking twists and turns. Most of the time these are some dark dramas, but you can also find hints of mystery in comedies that include wacky hijinks on the road to solving a case. If you want a good mystery drama to binge on, some that are worth loosing sleep in are, Memories of Alhambra, Healer, Save Me, and Vagabond.
Just a stone’s throw away from the mystery genre is heart-pounding action dramas. Although K-dramas tend to be more conservative than their western counterparts, they also have their way of offering shock value that will keep you on the edge! K-dramas have a unique way of spinning plots in a different light and merging them with other genres to create a well-rounded watching experience that casts a net over a wider audience. You are sure to catch breathtaking action sequences in dramas like Save Me, City Hunter, Signal, and You’re All Surrounded.
Korean horror movies have gained notoriety for their spine-chilling stories like that in the 2003 psychological horror drama, The Tale of Two Sisters. K-dramas didn’t miss out on that wave because avid fans can find a lot of remarkable series that pushed the bar in terms of scare factor. Rather than just dark and intense plots, these stories sometimes come with a twist of comedy or romance, like the Master’s Sun (Also in Netflix). Dramas like Sweet Home, Kingdom, and Strangers from Hell can surely keep you up at night holding your breath at the sheer suspense of it all!
This genre has slowly climbed in popularity over recent years. The reason for this is that people are fascinated with the fast-paced and realistic depiction of medical emergencies and responses. There is also something alluring about unfamiliar conditions and medical frontliners rising to the occasion. With a growing interest in medical dramas, there have been several good releases over the years. Dr John, Doctor Prisoner, and Hospital Playlist are just some of the well-received dramas in this genre that are also worth binging.
From scrubs to suits, we move over to the cutthroat arena of legal dramas. These courtroom dramas are enjoyable to watch because deep inside we ultimately want to see how justice can be served, if it can be done at all! Courtrooms have always served as a perfect setting for great dramas. We have witnesses recount crimes under outh, lawyers displaying murder weapons, and judges deciding the fates of those involved. Countless dramas capitalise on the climactic moments and legal calisthenics of the justice system. If this is your cup of tea, you would enjoy series such as Hyena, Law School, Innocent Defendant, and Diary of a Prosecutor.
Coming-of-age dramas follow the psychological and moral growth of the main characters from the innocence of youth to adulthood. This genre becomes a representation of sorts, a touchstone that is deeply personal in its description and it has a universal appeal to anyone who has lived through it. Enjoyable K-dramas to watch from this genre include, Hello, My Twenties, The Reply Series, Cheese in the Trap, and Sassy Go Go.
It’s easy for audiences to get sucked into the world of fantasy because with reality brushed aside, anything can happen! This genre can give you interesting characters, from ghosts, aliens, nine-tailed foxes, and goblins. It has always been proven in several successful K-dramas that in the world of the supernatural, something that seemed quite odd can be turned into something that sells! Take the 2016 hit, “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God” for instance, they have goblin and the grim reaper working together and even end up being friends. In Hotel Del Luna, the premise that ghosts can check into a hotel where they can seek help with their unfinished business seems absurd, but the formula worked! It was even recognised as one of the most popular dramas of 2020. Fantasy may tread on far-fetched topics, but it’s also promised that they don’t fall short on entertainment value. My Roommate is a Gumiho, 18 Again, He is Psychometric, and My Love from the Star are all excellent examples and are worth binging if you are still not up to speed!
K-dramaland also has something to offer for sports fans. South Korean drama writers truly have a knack for making interesting storylines even out of the technical world of sports—even the ones that are not too mainstream! Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo is a classic example that broke a lot of stereotypical characters in Korean dramas, but is still loveable nonetheless! Some may shy away from this genre simply because they are not really fans of a certain sport, but if you give it a chance, you’d be surprised to see a lot of hidden gems that offer a valuable life-lessons and are truly entertaining.