Do you love sageuks? Korea has one of the most fascinating histories marked by captivating eras that serves as a dramatic backdrop for any epic tale. If this is your cup of tea, there is a long list of titles you can choose from whatever dynasty you wish to take a peek into.
But, we narrowed it down to 12 to make it much easier for your viewing pleasure. As you foray into any historical time period in these Korean dramas, these options are sure to get you hooked—even the long haul ones!
1. Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth (2016)
In this story, Jiso (Kim Ji Soo) has ruled the Kingdom of Silla as regent since King Beopheung died. She made an effort to keep her young son Sammaekjong (Park Hyung Sik) hidden outside of the capital Seorabeol, away from the power-hungry enemies and their assassins.
When Sammaekjong came of age, everyone has grown impatient on when Jiso would cede power—even Sammeakjong himself. Jiso is acutely aware that the powerful nobles of the court are ready to pounce at any chance to usurp the throne, and she fears the consequences if she steps down. So, she plans to break the power of the nobles, by creating a new elite, the Hwarang. They are a group of handsome, young men who will cut across the existing power factions, and will be bound to Sammaekjong and the throne.
But as this band of elite male youths trained and grew to be warriors they are unaware that among them is their future king, Sammaekjong, and Kim Sun-woo (Park Seo Joon), a commoner whose life is bound by a secret even he is not aware of.
2. Moon Embracing the Sun (2012)
The King has two sons. His eldest, Prince Yang Myung (Jung Il Woo), is brilliant, but is an outcast in his own family. His mother was the king’s concubine, so even if Yang Myung has the luxury of money and a royal title, he holds no power. He is free to roam the world like an unbridled stallion, but he can never become the King.
Meanwhile, Crown Prince Lee-Hwon (Yeon Jin Goo) has a big heart for his brother, but he is not allowed to spend much time with him. Politics dictate that Yang Myung must live outside of the palace compound, so as not to be a threat to Lee Hwon. However, at 15, the smart and stubborn Crown Prince misses his brother and desperately wants to attend his graduation. So, he sneaks out of the palace grounds and meets Heo Yeon Woo (Han Ga In), a studious and beautiful 13-year-old girl, whose brother is also graduating.
Lee Won and Yeon Woo fell in love, but before they could marry, the Dowager Queen secretly ordered her death so she could secure more power for herself. Yeon Woo becomes cursed and is stricken with an illness. All believe her to be dead, including the Crown Prince Lee Hwon. Heartbroken, he refuses to love another. Eight years later, the young king meets a shaman named Wol. He can’t help but find similarities between her and Yeon Woo and begins investigating Yeon Woo’s death.
3. Six Flying Dragons (2015)
To forge a great nation, many battles are fought by those who have clashing ideologies and political views. This 50-episode drama is set during the end of the Goryeo era and into the coming birth of the Joseon dynasty, an era that lasted five centuries.
It is said that during the establishment of the fledgling Joseon Dynasty, six dragons held vast powers and each fought for their political views. These six dragons — Prince Lee Bang Won (Yoo Ah In), Jeong Do Jeon (Kim Myung Min), Lee Seong Gye (Chun Ho Jin), Boon Yi (Shin Se Kyung), Ddang Sae (Byun Yo Han) and Moo Hyul (Yoon Kyun Sang). These characters fall on opposite sides of a power struggle between those who want a country ruled by ministers and those who want absolute power.
Do Jeon helps his father, Seong Gye, who becomes the first King Tae Jo, establish the Joseon Dynasty, but Bang Won, who later becomes King Tae Jong, will become his biggest enemy.
4. Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung (2019)
It’s the early 19th century, and Goo Hae Ryung (Shin Se Kyung) is an independent woman who can’t seem to find where she fits in the world. Her brother wants her to get married for protection, but she’s a free spirit who isn’t ready to settle down.
When the royal court, under political pressure, allowed women to apply to be historians, Hae Ryung took a shot at it and was accepted as an apprentice. Back in those days female historians were allowed to go to places in the palace that male historians would not, and thus they were able to record things that were previously kept private.
Meanwhile, Yi Rim or Prince Dowon (Cha Eun Woo) lived a sheltered life that always left him bored and lonely. He turns to writing romantic novels that turned out to be an unexpected sensation.
The first time they met, Hae Ryung was unaware that Rim was a prince. She tells him his book sucks and then scolds him for not speaking to her with the proper respect. Eventually, his annoyance turns to love and Ryung finds reciprocating these feelings herself. Together, they find love and also fight for what is right.
5. The Emperor: Owner of the Mask (2017)
Set in 18th century Joseon, this drama tells the fictional story of a prince who has no choice but to wear a mask to hide his face from the Pyunsoo Group—a secret society who uses their power to privatize Joseon’s water.
Since it’s forbidden for Prince Yi Sun (Yoo Seung Ho) to go far away from the palace, he was unaware of how life is outside the walls. However, he takes a risk, removes his mask, and manages to escape to the outside world. There he meets a woman whom he falls in love with, but under a disguise.
After some time, the Pyunsoo Group assassinates the King, but the prince manages to escape. They put a fake king on the throne, but they control him and the whole Imperial Court using a suspicious drug. Having witnessed how the people suffered under this rule, the crown prince decides to stand up to fight the Pyunsoo Group and reclaim the throne.
6. Mr Sunshine (2018)
Mr. Sunshine is set during the early 1900’s and follows the story of a man named Eugene Choi (Lee Byung Hun) who was a slave as a child but escaped aboard a U.S. ship and grew up in America. As an adult, he returned to Joseon as an American soldier during the final years of the Joseon era and the beginning of the Japanese occupation in 1910. In this return, he wants to fight off the resistance and exact his own brand of revenge against the Joseons, those who maltreated him, and murdered his family.
As fate would have it, he finds himself falling in love with an undercover freedom fighter, Go Ae Shin (Kim Tae Ri). Their paths crossed on the rooftops of Seoul on a dark night, while they are both out to assassinate the same man. She has been trained in the Righteous Army, which is a rebel group fighting for Korea’s independence. But by day, she is a beautiful, demure noblewoman, raised in luxury and privilege, everything Eugene despises.
Eugene also discovers a plot by foreign forces to colonize Korea, and finds himself embroiled in the fight for Joseon’s sovereignty.
7. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (2016)
In modern-day Korea, Go Ha Jin (Lee Ji Eun) drowns in a river during a lunar eclipse and time travels to the Goryeo era and into the body of a woman named Hae Soo, the cousin of the wife of 8th Prince Wang Wook (Kang Ha Neul). She shortly befriends and becomes close to the princes of the Wang Family, which was ruling Goryeo nation at that time. They all grew fond of her because she’s fun and lively compared to the women in those days who were mostly quiet and reserved.
Initially, She falls in love with the warm-hearted eighth Prince Wang Wook, who was her ill cousin’s husband. But later, she realized that she grew feelings for the fourth Prince Wang So (Lee Joon Gi), a Cold-hearted, fearsome, and dangerous man, who hides his face behind a mask due to a scar which was considered as inauspicious at the time.
In this new life, Hae Soo struggled after she grew close with the royal princes who were forced to kill each other for the sake of the throne.
8. Empress Ki (2013)
Ki Seung Nyang (Ha Ji Won) was born in Goryeo, grew up as an orphan after losing her mother at a young age at the hands of an Imperial Soldier. This personal tragedy made her swear that the one responsible would pay at all cost. To exact her revenge, she disguised herself as a boy and entered the royal army where she got to know the prince Wang Yoo (Joo Jin Mo), to whom she has gotten very close.
When Wang Yoo became king, Ki Seung Nyang also worked for him after having earned his trust and admiration for her archery skills. In her line of duty, she plays an important role in protecting Toghon Temur, the crown prince of the Mongol Empire who is sent to Goryeo in exile. Somewhere in between, her identity as a girl is revealed.
When the King of Goryeo is deported to Yuan, Ki Seung Nyang is taken as a concubine. With several turn of events she rises to the position of a palace servant, a court lady, King’s consort, and finally the empress. Along the way she gained many friends and enemies, losing many near and dear ones to power plays, while she also schemed her own revenge. Through it all she escaped death numerous times. During her reign, she influenced Goryeo and Yuan’s economy and polity in a major way.
9. Gu Family Book (2013)
The story begins not with Choi Kang Chi (Lee Seung Gi), but with his parents, Gu Wol Ryung (Choi Jin Hyuk), an eternal, mythical being who protects the forest and Yoon Seo Hwa (Yoon Se Ah), the human whom he falls in love with. Trouble starts when the evil, ambitious Jung Gwan Woong (Lee Sung Jae) wrongly accuses Seo Hwa’s father of being a traitor. With her life in disarray, Wol Ryung was sent to a gisaeng house while Wol Ryung bore witness to her misfortunes from afar. Despite being warned by a monk friend, So Jung (Kim Hee Won), he decides to act on her behalf. Ultimately, they fall in love and Wol Ryung wishes to seek the Gu Family Book in order to become human so that he may live and die with his beloved.
Unfortunately, Seo Hwa discovers his true nature before he transforms and betrays his love, causing his destruction. However, she discovers she is pregnant and after giving birth to his child, she entrusts him to the monk, So Jung. Seo Hwa met her end while seeking revenge against Gwan Woong.
The monk sets the infant afloat on a river where well known and well-respected nobleman, Park Mu Sol (Um Hyo Sup), saw it and took the infant in. He names him Choi Kang Chi, and raises him like a son. When Kang Chi became a young man, Jung Gwan Woong retired, but still devious and politically powerful. His ambition leads him to target the wealthy Park Mu Sol, who, like so many before him, is destroyed by wrongful accusations of being a traitor. Among those working to curb his power include Dam Pyeong Joon (Jo Sung Ha), a martial arts master and the father of Dam Yeo Wool (Bae Suzy). Kang-chi’s fateful meeting with Yeo Wool not only placed him at the center of a national political battle, but it also sparked a tragic destiny between two star-crossed lovers.
10. Chicago typewriter (2017)
Bestselling author, Han Se Joo (Yoo Ah In) fell into a slump and experienced writer’s block. This started when he encountered a traumatizing incident where a mysterious typewriter comes into his possession and it somehow has ties to his past life. During this stressful period, he happens to meet Jeon Seol (Im Soo Jung) a hardcore fan, and Yoo Jin Oh (Go Kyung Pyo), a mysterious ghostwriter who is incessant on helping him get through his writer’s block.
The fate of these three characters are intertwined far more than they can ever imagine, as their relationship spans back as far as the 1930s, during the Japanese occupation of Korea.
Their intricately woven story reveals strange mirroring connections between the time periods as well as possibilities for past lives to be redeemed or improved in the modern world.
11. Jewel in the Palace (2003) – Dae Jang Geum / Da Chang Jin
About 500 years ago during the Joseon Dynasty, Korea had in place a rigidly hierarchical and male dominated social structure. In this period rose a legendary woman named Jang Geum (Lee Young Ae), who became the first woman to be the supreme royal physician of her time.
Despite being way down the social ladder in a male-dominated society, Jang Geum overcame a series of social discrimination and landed herself a job as a royal cook, later becoming the royal physician, then ultimately the physician in charge of the king. With her excellent work, the king dubbed her, “The Great Jang-Geum”.
12. Bridal Mask (2012)
The story takes place in 1930, during the Japanese invasion where the Koreans are fighting for their freedom from their colonizers. Lee Kang To (Joo Won) was born a Korean, but he turns himself into Sato Hiroshi in order to serve the Japanese Imperial Police.
He was in charge of chasing an activist group who was planning a Revolution. But he will find out that the symbol of this Revolution, the Gaksital, was someone close to him.
This discovery will make him reevaluate where he stands, especially when he learned about the people who killed his entire family. Taking advantage of his position as Imperial Police Lieutenant, he wears the Bridal Mask in order to seek justice and as a symbol of freedom.