The two countries may still technically be at war nearly seven decades after a truce was agreed, but South Koreans’ long-standing animosity towards people in the North appears to be changing. These days, popular TV talk shows feature North Korean escapees, and even the first North Korean defector was elected to South Korea’s National Assembly in April 2020. This only shows that people are warming up, and to some extent, intrigued at cross-border stories.
If you’re into this type of tension-filled plot, here are 8 dramas you might enjoy!
1. Iris (2009)
This drama follows two young men who trained in the South Korean army and were scouted to become part of the National Security Service (NSS)—a top-secret agency which serves as the South’s first line of defense against foreign threats.
Best friends, Kim Hyun Jun (Lee Byung Hun) and Jin Sa Woo (Jung Joon Ho) are torn apart by several unexpected truths about their recruitment. They learned that agent Choi Seung-hee (Kim Tae-hee), the woman they both fell for, was tasked to recruit them for a difficult mission.
The first order of business was to send the two friends to Hungary. However, in this arduous task, Sa Woon is ordered to kill Hyun Jun, who was set up as a traitor after failing to clear himself out of a secret mission.
In the meantime, they discover that the head of NSS is also an undercover agent of a cross-border secret organization called IRIS who work towards wreaking havoc to prevent diplomatic landmarks.
While in hiding, Hyun Jun tries to uncover who orchestrated the attack on him and who is hiding behind this top-secret organization.
This drama is based on a Korean box office hit Shiri, which was co-produced by electronics giant Samsung and attracted 6.5 million Koreans to the cinemas in 1999. The film also met great success in the rest of Asia, and in the Western world. It was no wonder why Iris was also a success in its run.
2. Athena: Goddess of war (2010)
This espionage drama is a spin-off from the widely successful Iris, and it follows the South Korean President’s interest in advancing a nuclear energy program to mark his homeland as the leading country in the global energy race. It was also meant to unify the Korean peninsula.
As a result, a new counter-terrorism agency known as the National Anti-Terror Service (NTS) was formed. Among the agents is Lee Jung Woo (Jung Woo Sung), who has grown restless from the mundane routine his work provides. However, his life turns into a wild adventure when he encounters Son Hyeok (Cha Seung Won), the cunning leader behind the terrorist group known as Athena.
Athena is not only a threat to South Korea but also other countries in the world. What makes them so dangerous and life-threatening is their ability to infiltrate their members into national and international secret services, like the NTS (National Anti-Terror Service).
Now, it is up to Jung Woo to foil their terrifying conspiracy. But when the daughter of South Korea’s president was kidnapped and hidden away in Italy, Jung Woo and his team were assigned to go on the rescue mission. There he met Yoon Hye In (Soo Ae), who helped them on this task, and later on joined the NTS. But little did they know that she was a black agent working for Son Hyeok by feeding him with classified information on NTS activities. With a mole in their midst, how dangerous can this leak be in the hands of a devious person like Son Hyeok?
It will be interesting to watch this series back to back with Iris as you will see some of the characters reprise their role.
3. Blow Breeze (2016)
A wealthy, elderly man born in North Korea amassed a $100 million fortune in South Korea. When he realizes that his days are numbered, he has no idea where to leave all his riches. Coincidentally, he learns that he had a son that he did not know of. So, the elderly man desperately tries to track him down but learns that he already passed away. However, the elderly man soon discovers that his son has a daughter who was also a defector from North Korea and is currently living in South Korea.
This girl’s name is Kim Mi Poong (Lim Ji Yeon). As a North Korean, she is among those who were able to study abroad, which she did in Macau. She is a bright and easygoing girl and it was no surprise that she made a lot of friends. It was also there where she met Lee Jang Go (Son Ho Jun), a South Korean boy with whom she developed a close friendship. Unfortunately, they had to part ways when she had to go back home. Some years later, Mi Poong defected to Seoul and met Jang Go again, who is now a South Korean lawyer.
Jang Go is a human rights lawyer and a legal counsel for the socially underprivileged. But his work expertise brought him right in the middle of the inheritance problem of Mi Poong’s dying chaebol grandpa. When long lost family members came to light, things only became more complicated.
In the midst of a cutthroat battle for inheritance, romantic feelings start to blossom between Mi Poong and Jang Go despite their differences.
4. Spy Myung Wol (2011)
This drama is about a North Korean spy who ends up entangled with a South Korean celebrity. With national politics, international intrigue, the paparazzi, and a host of fans thrown into the mix, you’re in for 18 episodes of lighthearted fun.
Elite North Korean Spy, Han Myung Wol (Han Ye Seul) who dreams of working for the special forces unit. Currently, she is a member of the Hallyu Crackdown Squad.
Myung Wol is close to realizing her dream, but has one final test. The leader of the special forces is Choi Ryu (Lee Jin Wook). At the time of Myung Wol’s father’s death, Choi Ryu promised him to protect Myung Wol. So, Myung Wol’s plan to join the special forces left him conflicted because he wants her to pursue her dream but he is also aware that she may be risking her life in the special forces. Luckily for Choi Ryu, Myung Wol fails her test, so she has to return to the anti-Hallyu division.
What is so interesting about Myung Wol’s division is that they aim to prevent South Korean Entertainment from reaching North Korea and tainting their people’s ideologies. Coincidentally, the daughter of Myung Wol’s boss is crazy over Hallyu superstar, Kang Woo (Eric Mun). Myung Wol is asked to go on a secret mission with Choi Ryu to escort the young girl to a Kang Woo concert. Meanwhile, Choi Ryu actually has a separate mission, one that Myung Wol is unaware of. He has to recover a sacred book from an auction which contains secrets about natural resources in North and South Korea and will make its owner extremely wealthy.
The book happened to be something that Kang Woo also holds a particular interest in. When Myung Wol had to get his autograph for their boss’s daughter, she found herself following him all the way to the auction where Choi Ryu was at. When Kang Woo bids and wins the book, Choi Ryu, who was in disguise, strikes in an attempt to take it. However, his plan was foiled when Myung Wol stepped in to save Kwang Woo, unaware that she was fighting her partner.
When Myung realised what she had done, she wanted to complete the mission to get another shot at the special forces. She takes matters into her own hands and returns to South Korea. But this time, she’s entrenched in an elaborate plan devised by Choi Ryu. Myung Wol had to kidnap or marry Kwang Woo and have him defect the south and use him as a leading man in North Korean entertainment.
Eventually, Myung Wol sees Choi Ryu with the pen she threw at him. Immediately, Myung Wol figures out that she ruined Choi Ryu’s mission. In an effort to complete the mission and get another shot at the special forces, Myung Wol takes matters into her own hands and returns to South Korea.
Myung Wol’s persistence to achieve her goal gets swayed when her emotions start to take over. While everything was only a mission for her at first, things started to get complicated when she developed real feelings for Kang Woo.
5. The King 2 Hearts (2012)
In this 20-episode drama, a South Korean crown prince falls in love with a North Korean special agent. It is set in an alternate reality where modern-day South Korea is governed by a constitutional monarchy that descended from the Joseon Dynasty.
Crown prince Lee Jae Ha (Lee Seung Gi), is a handsome but materialistic crown prince who has no regard for politics. He is also unhappy as the “royal spare”, being second in line to the throne. To help him get his act together, the current king Lee Jae Kang (Lee Sung Min), tricks him into joining a joint military collaboration, called the World Officers Competition (WOC) with North Korea.
This plan brought Jae Ha to meet Kim Hang Ah (Ha Ji Won), a North Korean Special Forces officer, who is also the daughter of a high-ranking military official. They come to know each other at a joint military training which was a crucial part in establishing friendly relations between the two separate countries. They started out on the wrong foot but eventually fell in love.
It was not long after that an arranged marriage was set up between the two. While they are still in that stage of nurturing a relationship, they were in for an unexpected blow when King Jae Kang and his wife were assassinated by the terrorist group, Club M, who was led by a mysterious magician named Kim Bong Gu (Yoon Je Moon). Jae Ha had to step in his brother’s shoes to protect the country before it falls into opportunistic schemers.
Meanwhile, the growing tension between the north and south could snowball into a problem that would hinder the two lovers in pursuing a future together.
6. Korean Peninsula (2012)
In this fantasy political thriller, the story centers around a fictional future where North and South Korea relations have blossomed. As a step towards reunification, the two nations came together to develop an alternative energy source using a methane hydrate station. At the helm of this project is the South Korean scientist, Seo Myung Joon (Hwang Jung Min), and he works alongside North Korean scientist, Lim Jin Jae (Kim Jung Eun).
At the development station, the technicians and scientists from both sides of the border try to work together peacefully, but the tension is still hard to brush off.
One day, Jin Jae receives an order to steal the core technology behind the operation. Min Dong Ki (Kwak Hee Sung) pushes her to carry it out, but Jin Jae refuses to do it.
Meanwhile, Jin Jae and Myung Joon actually know each other from ten years ago. They fell in love but they got separated but they are now reunited and rekindled feelings were inevitable. But, will this ever grow to something more especially with a brewing tension between their home countries?
7. Spy (2015)
This series is based on an Israeli drama called “The Gordin Cell” and modified to fit in the North/South Korea relations.
The fictional story begins after the execution of real-life North Korean general Jang Sung Taek. One day an order comes down from North Korea, reactivating former spy, Park Hye Rim (Bae Jong Ok), who has spent decades in South Korea as an ordinary housewife.
This order is Hwang Ki Chul’s (Yu Oh Seong) making. He is a North Korean agent who comes to reorganize the spies they have in South Korea. He cherry-picks the people who will become pawns in his chessboard. Unfortunately, Hye Rim and Sun Woo’s family was chosen to be the sacrificial lamb in this intelligent play.
Hye Rim is given the mission to turn and bring in her own son, Kim Sun Woo (Kim Jae Joong). Cool-headed and quick-witted, Sun Woo is an information analyst on North Korea working for the NIS (National Intelligence Service). However, his family was in the dark about the true nature of his job until he became the target of his mother’s past. While Hye Rim also tries to keep her identity hidden from her family, both their efforts only led the family on the edge of a disaster.
While Sun Woo tries to do what he can as a NIS agent, he soon realizes that his mother’s past may be too closely connected. Meanwhile, Hye Rim is also caught between a rock and a hard place when she had to choose between her country and her family.
8. Crash Landing on You (2020)
This drama centers around the love story between a South Korean heiress and a North Korean soldier. It started when Yoon Se Ri (Son Ye Jin) got into a paragliding accident that brought her into the North Korean side of the DMZ (demilitarized zone). She literally fell right into the arms of Captain Ri Jeong Hyuk (Hyun Bin) who was a military officer of the DPRK out on a routine check. Instead of turning her in, Jeong Hyuk makes the decision to help Se Ri and keep her safe while hatching a plan to get her back home—even if that meant jeopardizing his life.
This set into motion several heart-stopping and hilarious attempts to get Se Ri across the border. Her identity has to be kept a secret from the people in the North, but she also needs her family in the South to know that she is alive. As the situation grows tense with each day that she remained in the North, feelings start to grow between her and Jeong Hyuk.
To make matters more complicated, two people from their past got involved in the mess. First was Seo Dan (Seo Ji Hye), Jeong Hyeok’s fiancée from an arranged marriage who has returned after a long stint abroad. Meanwhile, Gu Seung Jun (Kim Jung Hyun), a fraud who is on the run after tricking businessmen into deals—including Se Ri’s brother—has sought refuge in North Korea and bumps into Se Ri by chance.
With people in high places involved and onto Jeong Hyuk’s tracks and the person he has been protecting, this seemingly innocent accident just might stir more tension between the two countries. Find out how they will overcome this struggle to bring Se Ri home in one piece, and how the two star-crossed lovers will deal with their feelings once they succeed in doing so.