If you have a warm spot for medical dramas, these titles should be on your watchlist! Korean TV series sure did not disappoint when it comes to this genre, and there have been a lot of noteworthy pieces over the years. However, here’s a shortlist if you want to start with the best out there.
1. Good Doctor (2013)
Park Si-On (Joo Won) is an autistic savant training to be a pediatric surgeon. Although mentally unstable and childlike, he proves his undeniable brilliance in amusing ways. The story not only follows Si-On’s journey towards his dream despite his developmental disabilities but also how he and the people around him learn and grow together as professionals and human beings. This 2013 medical drama inspired the American remake by the same name which debuted in September 2017.
2. Emergency Couple (2014)
Oh Chang Min and Oh Jin Hee met in their early twenties when they met and fell in love. He was in medical school, while she was a dietician. Coming from a wealthy family of successful doctors, Chang Min went against his family’s wishes by pursuing his relationship with Jin Hee even though they believe that she was not good enough for him.
His obstinance led his family to cut him off financially after he married her. To earn money, Chang Min gave up on his dreams to become a physician, instead, he became a pharmaceutical salesman. He is miserable with his job while Jin Hee’s inferiority complex deepens as her husband’s family continue to look down on her. This resulted in constant bickering between them which eventually led to divorce.
Several years later, Chang Min went back to medical school to pursue his dream, while Jin Hee also pulled herself through medical school. As fate would have it, their paths crossed again as emergency room interns at the same hospital for three months. Will the two rekindle their relationship and make it work the second time around?
3. Doctor Stranger (2014)
Dr Park Hoon (Lee Jong Sook) is a heart surgeon who flees North Korea for a life in the south. Along with him in this bold escape is his girlfriend, Song Jae-hee (Jin Se-yeon). However, things did not go according to plan leaving Hoon to cross alone. Years later, he is hired as a surgeon in a South Korean hospital where he meets an anesthesiologist who looks exactly like her long lost girlfriend. Aside from this story revolving around love, political corruption, revenge and secret assassinations, it also gives heart-pounding moments of medical espionage.
4. It’s Okay, That’s Love (2014)
This is a love story between a romantically scarred psychiatrist and a novelist with schizophrenia. Although the couple deals with the psychological aftermath of past issues, also affecting their relationship, they are also very much supportive of each other. It highlights the beautiful truth, that true love accepts and prevails.
With a good balance of drama and comedy, the unfolding of relationships and the underlying psychological struggle is engaging to watch, also leaving you with mind-boggling twists. Moreover, it gives a stark reminder of how having fears and flaws make us human.
5. Kill Me, Heal Me (2015)
This medical drama is about the son of a wealthy family struggling with multiple personality disorder. With seven distinct alter-egos which stemmed from a traumatic childhood, this third-generation chaebol is desperate to regain control of his life.
He then meets a first-year psychiatry resident who helps him on the down-low. They eventually catch feelings for each other only to realize that their lives are much more entangled than they thought. This psychological drama unexpectedly tells a heart-wrenching story that is weaved with comedy, sentimentality, and a dash of mystery.
6. Yong Pal (2015)
Operating under the alias Yong Pal, a skilled surgeon finds himself moonlighting as a secret personal doctor for the corrupt and criminal so he can afford his sister’s medical bills. Caught up in a dark conspiracy, he saves a sleeping beauty, who is an heiress placed in an induced coma by her scheming half-brother who wanted the company left to her by her father. Behind the medical aspect is a thrilling storyline, gripping action sequences, and romance.
7. The Doctors (2016)
This story is about a rebellious teenage girl, Yoo Hye Jung (Park Shin Hye), who is abandoned by her father. Angry at the world, she is always ready for a fight. But then, she meets a compassionate teacher, Hong Ji-hong (Kim Rae-won) who recognizes her intelligence behind her delinquency. He inspired her to turn her life around, which led her to become a compassionate neurosurgeon.
The two parted ways, only to meet again after more than a decade as co-workers in a hospital. The next part of the journey shows the medical challenges, personal relationships, and a budding romance between Hye Jung and her mentor.
8. Beautiful Mind (2016)
This medical mystery drama is loosely based on the novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley which explores the fine line between what makes someone human or a monster. Lee Young-Oh (Jang Hyuk) is a genius neurosurgeon who is unable to feel empathy towards other people.
Things get complicated when mysterious deaths occur in the country’s most advanced hospital, and things point to his involvement. He begins to investigate along with a rookie cop Gye Jin-sung (Park So-dam), whom he falls in love with, and in the process, regains his humanity.
9. Descendants of the Sun (2016)
This drama follows the story of a beautiful surgeon and an ardent soldier who found love but divided by their doubts, beliefs, and profession. Unfair hospital politics brought Doctor Kang Mo Yeon (Song Hye-Kyo) to the fictional war-torn country of Uruk to lead a medical team. It is here where she unexpectedly reconnects with Captain Yoo Shi Jin (Song Joong-Ki) of the fictional Elite Special Forces.
As the two try to figure out what to do with their feelings for each other – giving us one of Korean television’s iconic love stories – we also get to see elements of emergency medicine with scenes that are practical and realistic. It comes with dangerous situations that keep you on the edge as characters perform acts of heroic feat.
10. Dr Romantic Seasons 1 & 2 (2016/2020)
This well-received medical drama is a story about a famous surgeon who was even referred to as the “Hand of God” (Han Seok Kyu) as he was at the top of his game. However, a traumatic incident pushed him into seclusion, changed his name, and later resurfaced as “Teacher Kim” in a small hospital where he soon changed the lives and careers of young doctors.
The second season, which came in 4 years after, carries on with the titular character blending in with his new protégés while teaching them with tough love and wisdom. This series is both educational and entertaining as it gives you a sneak peek into how things are run in trauma centres.
11. Hospital Ship (2017)
This character-driven drama centres on the lives of a group of young doctors aboard a ship that sails through the little islands to provide medical care to locals in rural villages. The team comprises a mix of capable physicians with their own specialities and are on board for different reasons which are revealed as the story progresses.
All in their 30s, these doctors have earned the skills and experience to face challenges in practice despite the unconventional medical setting. There are also plenty of interesting supporting characters on the floating medical facility, from dentists, nurses, to ship workers, who add episodes of fun and quirkiness to the story.
As we sail through interesting story arcs, we see how each case the different cases helped the doctors also deal with their own personal issues.
12. Life (2018)
In this story, doctors and nurses are up against a corporate machine whose new president is only after enormous profits. However, characters are not painted out in black and white. There is no true distinction on whether one is plainly good or evil because as the story reveals the favourable and negative aspect of character making us understand their actions from based on their perspective. Although it exhibits the multiple forms of greed and corruption that exists, it also highlights the bravery, courage, integrity, and honour of those who fight back.
13. Cross (2018)
This medical thriller is about a gifted young man who got into medicine for his desire to avenge the brutal murder of his father more than a decade ago by a group of illegal organ traders. He volunteers at a prison’s medical office where the murderer is serving time. However, things change when the murderer escapes and is now after him. It may not be heavy on the medical aspect, but it’s a complete rollercoaster from the get-go.
Dr John narrates the stories of doctors who specialize in pain management. Patients are seen as victims and the doctors as detectives trying to hunt down the real reasons behind unsolved crimes. This medical drama also touches on issues in euthanasia, and the first Korean TV series to do so. It also brims with poignant scenes derived from patient’s stories and they explain each featured disease in layman’s terms.
Behind the veil of professionalism, we see stories of hate, forgiveness, and subtle romance. Moreover, it shows how every one of us experiences suffering, where the pain is not only physical but pierces through mental and emotional aspects as well.
15. Hospital Playlist (2020)
This is a story of five doctors who have been friends since they entered medical school in 1999, and are now working at the same hospital. Beyond the demands of the job, we get to see what these doctors are up to outside of their scrubs. Interesting enough, they form a band which also gives them meaningful time to spend with each other, where the tunes they create hit nostalgic notes.
The story also highlights how friendship is forged through time, most especially in difficult situations. If you’re into the Reply series, then Hospital Playlist should be right up your alley!
Here’s a list of k-medical dramas broken down by years should you want to binge watch them chronologically!
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