2021 is drawing to a close, and looking back at the year that was, we have been delightfully entertained by the number of K-drama releases every month. But of course, there are those that stood out from the bunch. Check and see if you’re all caught up with the top performing dramas of this year. Here are 15 of the best releases this year according to Ranker!
1 Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha
This feel-good rom-com has proven itself to be a crowd favorite for this year. Audiences were drawn to its slice-of-life story that also offers a lot of heartwarming stories outside of the central love story between a big-city dentist who opened a practice in a closed-knit seaside village and a charming jack-of-all-trades who is her polar opposite. This charmer stars the beautiful Shin Min-ah as Dr Yoo Hye-jin and Kim Seon-ho as Hong Du-sik.
Song Joong-ki starred as the title character in tvN’s dark-comedy. Besides being a local hit, it also earned a spot among the top 10 TV shows on Netflix. It even ranked number 4 on Forbe’s list of most-viewed Korean series on Netflix. It’s about Vincenzo, a mafia consigliere who returns to his home country of South Korea to tear down Geumga Plaza building and claim his hidden gold. It turns out that it was not as simple as he expected it to be.
3 Move to Heaven
After his father’s sudden passing, 20-year-old Han Geu-ru (Tan Joon-sang), who had asperger’s syndrome was brought to the care of his uncle, Cho Sang-gu (Lee Je-hoon) who was an ex-convict. They took over the trauma cleaning business Geu-ru’s father left behind. The story shows us how the pair imagine the lives of the deceased through the things they left behind. With its unique plotline, this drama earned the top 3 spot because it was interesting and had enough drama to tug at your heartstrings. It’s definitely well worth watching!
4 My Name
My name revolves around Yoo Ji-woo (Han So-hee), a young woman who is also the daughter of a mobster who embarks on a dark path of revenge which viewers found enthralling. It is a visceral tale that offered expertly crafted fight scenes and gore with a female antihero at the center. The series delivered on its hype with a first season that was akin to the Korean female version of John Wick. It’s highly watchable with a career-defining performance by So-hee.
5 Squid Game
It seems that this series needs no introduction as it earned worldwide attention with more than 130 million viewers so far. In fact, Netflix is expecting to rake in almost $900 million, which was an astounding success for a show that is relatively low-cost. The show revolved around people who are neck-deep in debt and are involved in a deadly contest for a cash prize. Squid game is actually a popular children’s game in South Korea which was given a deadly spin in this show as game-makers preyed on each players’ desperation.
6 Doom at Your Service
When a terminally ill woman named Tan Dok-kyung (Park Bo-young) finds herself at her breaking point, she wishes for the world to end. She got her answer when a mysterious man named Myul Mang (Seo In-guk), who acts as a messenger of doom between God and humans, came into her life. She strikes a peculiar deal with this man where they have to live together for 100 days. This drama kicked off with an interesting premise and fully blossomed into a happy ending while showing the complexity of human emotions. It sends a message about how love requires utmost bravery and faith. Bo-young and In-guk scored stellar portrayals and chemistry which was one of the main reasons viewers clung to the story.
7 Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver is a webtoon-based drama that’s about an illegal taxi company called Rainbow Deluxe Taxi. The story drifts into unconventional justice-serving stories as the company helps people get revenge by meting out punishments when the law failed to do so. This storyline appealed to viewers because it was based on realities in South Korea such as workplace violence, blackmailing, and other shocking incidents. It was well-contrived along with stellar portrayals of exaggerated bravado that somehow made sense. It resonates because it showed relatable situations concocted with a polished thrill and big moments that skips unnecessary fillers.
8 My Roommate is a Gumiho
After Lee Dam (Lee Hye-ri) accidentally swallowed the fox bead of a nine-tailed fox, the gumiho named Shin Woo-Yeo (Jang Ki-yong) is determined to become human. This is so he can guarantee the safety of the fox bead and Lee Dam’s life. The two then become unlikely roommates until they figure out a solution. This drama endeared itself to viewers with its awkward chemistry and palpable sexual tension. Beyond that, it’s also laugh-out-loud funny with creators inserting layers of cute and playful sound and visual effects.
9 Law School
This drama enjoyed high ratings during its run and even topped Netflix ranking lists worldwide. It’s about the unexpected murder of a professor which causes chaos in Hankuk University’s law school. The riveting plot is riddled with mysteries and it also gave us a deeper look at how law schools are like in South Korea. This drama also earned a lot of attention because it is top-billed by seasoned actors like Kim Bum, Rye Hye Young, Kim Myung Min, and Lee Jung Eun. Overall, the series is thrilling and enigmatic as it deals with individuals who act with hidden agendas.
10 The Devil Judge
This dystopian court drama is set in an alternate universe that shows Korea as a nation that participates in a trial through a live broadcast courtroom show. It stars Ji Sung as Kang Yo Han, a head judge with mysterious intentions. It’s a slick and angry vigilante story that shows a broken legal system populated by power-hungry bigwigs that are master manipulators. Its courtroom scenes are devilishly entertaining and cathartic.
Mouse is loosely based on a real 2017 Elementary School Murder Case, where perpetrators kidnapped and lured a young girl to the building she lived in where they murdered and dismembered her body. Showing no remorse at the court trial, it inspired the story that centers around the commonly debated question that alluded psychologists and society—whether or not a murderer is created by their environment, or are they born to kill. It also plays around the idea on what people would do if there’s a chance to identify psychopaths in advance through DNA testing. This drama starts Lee Seung-gi, Lee Hee-joon, Park Ju-hyun, and Kyung Soo-jin in pivotal roles.
12 Youth of May
This is a historical fiction drama that revolves around the lives of young South Koreans in the city of Gwangju in May of 1980. Just like other youth of their time, they chase after their passion, love, and whatever makes their heart beat faster! Everything was all rainbows and butterflies until the government announced martial law. Will they be able to chase their dreams or their heart’s desire? Amidst the more brutal stance, the government bears down against democratic protesters which resulted in the Gwangju uprising. In the midst of all the chaos of that time, romance blossoms between Hwang Hee-tae (Lee Do-hyun) and Kim Myung-hee (Go Min-si), but their love was challenged when a much larger threat shakes the future of Korea. It’s loosely based on the 2013 children’s book Running in May.
13 Beyond Evil
In this Netflix original, two detectives form an unlikely team to hunt down a serial killer who seems to have resumed a killing spree after being on the down-low for 20 years. Lee Dong-sik (Shin Ha-Kyun) and Han Joo-won (Yeo Jin-gu), become reluctant partners, who have their own reasons to be so involved with the case. This story entertains with deceptive twists and questionable character motivations, with the people involved having something to gain or lose with every move that is made. As the show progresses, it’s becoming more evident that there’s more to the story than just about a serial killer on the loose. The protagonists realize that there is more going on in the sleepy town of Manyang than what was initially known.
This Netflix drama has generated buzz for exposing the dark side of South Korea’s mandatory military service. Some have criticised the show for being grossly exaggerated, amid the impression that military life in South Korea has become much easier in the past decade. But the reality is that stories of hazing and military suicides have continued to blow up and make headlines. DP actually refers to “deserter pursuit”, the team tasked with tracking down and capturing military deserters. An Jun-ho (Jung Hae-in), enlisted in the South Korean army to comply with the mandatory military service., He realized that it’s actually survival of the fittest, with those presumed the “weakest” thrown to the bottom of the pile and served horrifying experiences at the hands of their superiors. The series is a political cry-out against bullying in military services.
15 Sell Your Haunted House
Hong Ji-ah (Jang Na-ra) is a real estate broker who inherited exorcism abilities from her mother. She also owns Daebak Realty, a company that specializes in selling haunted houses. Ji-ah looks perfect, but her temper often gets the better of her. One day, she met Oh In-bum (Jung Yong-hwa), a con-man who specializes in exorcism fraud. He wants to team up with Ji-ah so they can exclusively sell houses that are haunted by vengeful ghosts and other lingering spirits. But can the two get along? This drama entertains as the duo tackled compelling cases of restless spirits.