The past couple of years have produced a lot of impeccable Korean dramas hailing from various broadcasting networks. During their respective runs, there are those that are obvious crowd-pleasers – and the numbers don’t lie in gauging their performances. By far, these are the top 20 dramas that created a strong impression in Korea and abroad.
The World of the Married (2020) – 28.37%
Nothing stirs up the pot of intrigue than clandestine and illicit affairs! Even though this drama is a Korean adaptation from the original English series, Dr Foster, it’s the Korean flair for storytelling and the dramatics that turned it into a huge success. The story follows the married life of esteemed physician Dr Ji Sun Woo (Kim Hee Ae) and Lee Tae Oh (Park Jae Joon), and how it all crumbled due to his infidelity. Yeo Da Kyung (Han So Hee) is the major blood-boiling factor that had many glued and curious if the third party will really get her way, or will she have karma running for her.
At present, The World of the Married tops the charts in South Korea with an average of 28.371% Nationwide and 31.669% in Seoul beating other Korean Dramas like Sky Castle and Itaewon Class.
Mr Sunshine (2018) – 13.06%
Mr Sunshine tells the story of Eugene Choi (Lee Byung Hun) who as a child was taken to the United States during the Shinmiyangyo incident in 1971 when a U.S. military expedition to Korea turned into armed conflict. He spent most of his life living in a foreign land before he comes back to his motherland several years later as an American soldier, who then meets an aristocrat’s daughter (Kim Tae Ri) who falls in love with him.
Mr Sunshine’s final episode raked in a nationwide audience share of 18.129% the series’ personal best in ratings. The drama’s overall average rating amounts to 13.059% which eventually unseated Goblin as tvN’s top performer with 12.924 percent.
Goblin (2016) – 12.9%
A romantic fantasy drama, the series follows the story of a 939-year-old Goblin (Gong Yoo), also known as the Protector of Souls, who seeks to end his cursed immortal life. He only needs a human bride to do so, but it’s not just any random girl. When he finally meets her several centuries later, he ends up falling for the girl (Kim Go Eun) destined to end his life. What makes this story more interesting is how the Goblin’s life becomes intertwined with a grim reaper (Lee Dong Wook) who can’t remember his past. It turns out, their paths are connected in ways they did not expect.
Goblin was certainly one of the most successful drama series in the history of Korean television, where ratings soared up to 22.1 percent during its run, breaking a drama viewership record. Overall, it earned 12.9% which was another victory for tvN.
Sky Castle (2018) – 12.5%
This satirical drama centers around four housewives who live in the exclusive residential area of Sky Castle. They are hell-bent to pitch their children’s future to the highest star, and they will stop at nothing to get them into Seoul National University. However, this hunger only left with serious consequences that would have them pay for it dearly.
The series got into a slow start with a viewership of only 1.7%, but this figure increased 14-fold to 23.8% during its finale. It gathered an overall 12.5% rating which places it among the top-performing Korean dramas.
Reply 1988 (2015) – 12.4%
This drama shows that everybody loves a good throwback, and this series shows us the struggles and innocence of life back then. It follows the life of Sung Duk Seon (Lee Hye Ri) and her group of friends, who also happened to be her neighbors, as they waded through their teenage life in the 1980s.
This is the third instalment of the popular Reply series, but it was also the most successful. It made headlines during its broadcast when it hit record viewership that set a new benchmark for cable drama ratings, having achieved a peak rating of 18.8%. Viewers reluctantly bid goodbye to the lovable characters as they closed the curtain with an overall 12.4% rating.
Crash Landing on You (2019) – 12.2%
The series portrays the secret and sweet romance between Yoon Se Ri (Son Ye Jin), an heiress to a conglomerate in South Korea and Ri Jung Hyeok (Hyun Bin), a high-ranking officer in North Korea. Their lives changed when Se Ri found her way into the other side of the demilitarized zone after a paragliding accident. Lucky for her, she literally crash-landed into the arms of no other than Captain Ri, who was the only one who was able and willing to protect her and bid her safe return home.
Crash Landing On You ended on a high note when it achieved a nationwide TV rating of 21.7%, becoming the second drama in Korean cable TV history to surpass the 20% mark, next to Sky Castle (this means highest single-episode ratings). This figure translates to an estimated 6.3 million viewers nationwide, according to Nielsen Korea. All the craze over the Ri-Ri couple earned this drama an overall 12.2 percent rating.
Itaewon Class (2020) – 11.8%
Ex-con Park Saeroyi (Park Seo Joon) and his small group of employees hustle to turn their modest bar into the number one pub in Itaewon. However, reaching their goal turns out to be an uphill battle as they face giants in the industry, like the ruthless CEO of Jangga Co. (Jang Dae Hee), who is also the man responsible for setting off a chain of events that landed Saeroyi in jail in the first place.
One of the major winning aspects of this drama is it’s story of perseverance and success, even against the worst detractors. Many roots for the underdog, but it’s also satisfying to see how tables turn, and yet he still chose to be the better man. Many seem to relate to that pain, and that could have contributed to the success of its 16-episode run which made an average rating of 11.8 percent.
Hospital Playlist (2020) – 9.9%
This drama was another hit from the creators of the Reply Series and Prison Playbook. It follows the lives of five doctors as they go about their work at the hospital and balancing their personal lives. Having been friends since medical school, it’s interesting to see the depth in their closeness and the inherent developments that are sometimes inevitable.
Follow Lee Ik Joon (Jo Jung Suk), Ahn Jung Won (Yoo Yeon Seok), Kim Joon Wan (Jung Kyung Ho), Yang Seok Hyung (Yang Dae Myung), and Jeon Mi Do (Chae Song Hwa), as they go move to the steady beat of the playlist of their lives and medical practice. On the whole, this popular medical drama also nabbed a spot among the highest-rated series with its 9.9 percent rating.
100 Days My Prince (2018) – 9.0%
Lee Yul (Do Kyung Soo), the crown prince has amnesia and ends up in the care of Yeon Hong Shim (Nam Ji Hyun), an intelligent but unmarried woman, and her father. Thinking that he was a commoner, he weds Hong Shim to save her from being punished by a law that he himself established as a prince.
The drama initially hadn’t been one that many had anticipated because the subject was new. It also helped that its male lead hailed from no less than one of the biggest K-pop bands around, EXO. It gained commercial success in Korea with an overall rating of 9 percent.
Hotel Del Luna (2019) – 8.9%
Located in the middle of Seoul, Hotel del Luna is the enchanted hotel that caters only to lost souls. It is managed by an ill-tempered CEO (IU) who is cursed to run the establishment for all of eternity as punishment for a grave sin she committed many centuries ago. She has long been desperate to finally crossover to the other side, but her soul is tied to the hotel. It took a fussy hotelier (Yeo Jin Goo) to make the necessary changes around the hotel, and surprisingly, in her life.
The story, cinematography, and the lineup of actors all factored into the creation of this amusing masterpiece. It also has the Hong Sister’s trademark humor which seamlessly combines horror, romance, and comedy. This recipe earned this must-watch series an overall rating of 8.9 percent.
Signal (2016) – 8.8%
Criminal profiler Park Hae-Yeong (Lee Je Hoon) gets hold of a special walkie talkie that can communicate with people from the past. He joins forces with Detective Lee Han (Cho Jin Woong) in 1989 to solve three decades of related murders. It’s a police procedural with a time travel element, but it’s also a story about corruption and what it takes to fight the system. Both men encounter resistance in their efforts to pin down the criminals who are too well connected.
Signal managed to achieve both critical praise and high ratings, not only in Korea but even in countries like China and Japan. It pulled in a 12.5 percent peak viewership rating and finished at an impressive 8.8 percent.
Encounter (2018) – 8.5%
Encounter brings together a hotel CEO Cha Soo Hyun (Song Hye Kyo) and the free-spirited young man, Kim Jin Hyuk (Park Bo Gum) who turns out to be her employee. Both are searching for a fresh start when their paths crossed during a trip to Cuba. Soo Hyun was mending her broken heart after going through a divorce when she found her way into the arms of Jin Hyuk. But in this noona romance, they let fate decide if they can truly be together.
This drama’s performance may have fluctuated during its run, but concluded with a well-earned happy ending with an overall 8.5 percent rating.
Memories of Alhambra (2018) – 8.43%
Yoo Jin Woo (Hyun Bin) is a brilliant game developer with a competitive streak. He travels to Granada, Spain after hearing about a groundbreaking AR game created by someone from the area. There he stays at a hostel and unwittingly entangles the owner, Jung Hee Joo (Park Shin Hye), into a series of strange events that blurred the borders between VR and the real world.
The cast, the creative plot, and excellent cinematography consistently made this drama a top performer in its timeslot. It did pretty well in its conclusion when it earned 8.43 percent rating. It’s an excellent drama for those who fancy sci-fi, drama, and adventure all rolled into one.
The Crowned Clown (2019) – 8.41%
During a state of social unrest, the Joseon empire found a unique way to protect their king. They called in Ha Seon (Yeo Jin Goo) to take this place. He is a clown by profession but he is slated to do a valuable role due to his uncanny resemblance to the king. He struggles with this new role, especially when he finds himself catching feelings for the beautiful Queen Yoo So Woon (Lee Se Young).
Jin Goo’s performance knocked it out of the ballpark as he plays two characters. But the Crowned Clown also gave us an impressive list of characters to hate and root for. This is just one of the reasons why it did consistently well with each episode. Having reached 8.41 percent in ratings, it gives viewers an immersive story that managed to stir curiosity regarding the story’s trajectory.
Strong Woman Do Bong Soon(2017) – 7.65%
When the CEO of a gaming company (Park Hyung Sik) finds a mysterious threat to his life, he hires Bong Soon (Park Bo Young), a petite woman born with supernatural strength, to be his bodyguard. He falls in love with her at first sight but faces competition for her affections when her childhood friend, working as a police officer (Ji Soo), grows feelings for her too.
The plot of this story is unique, but what truly brought it to the next level is its hilarious characters. Consistently doing well during its run, this drama bowed out with an impressive 7.65 viewership rating.
Prison Playbook (2017) – 7.6%
A star baseball player’s (Park Hae Soo) promising career hits a snag when he was sentenced to a year in prison after he defended his sister from sexual assault. In his new reality, he is forced to adapt to a life behind bars. In this journey, the story show depicts prison life as a small-scale version of Korean society with interesting characters through its inmates and corrections officers.
Helmed by the award-winning director of the acclaimed and hit Reply series, Prison Playbook takes the dark topic of prison and crime and infuses it with stories of warmth and hope. During its run, more viewers are tuning in every week, which ensured the success of this series. It’s warm and comedic tone drew positive reviews and attention from local fans, causing the series to rise to the top of the viewership and Content Power Index rankings. In its conclusion, it earned a 7.6 percent rating.
What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim (2018) – 7.45%
This series instantly became a part of most rated Korean dramas ever. Both Park Seo Joon and Park Min Young did pretty well at portraying their characters. Lee Young Joon was a narcissistic and ambitious company vice president, while Kim Mi So was his capable secretary. They find themselves getting into an awkward situation when she suddenly offers her resignation letter after working for him in the last nine years.
What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim is a perfect drama for those who are into light romance that is thoughtful and has a substance. During its run, this drama remained strong amidst the FIFA fever. In its conclusion, it raked in an overall viewership rating of 7.45 percent.
Reply 1994 (2013) – 7.4%
Alternating between 1994 and 2013, the series follows six university students who reside in one boarding house in Seoul. They experienced various cultural Korean milestones together, including the emergence of the K-Pop boy group Seo Taiji and Boys, and the Sampoong Department Store collapse. With all these poignant events unfolding around them, these seven strangers soon learn to treat each other like family.
Like the other two instalments, this second release also offered its own enjoyable magic on screen. The undeniable chemistry among cast members and its captivating plotline is what defined the success of Reply 1994. It reels you in by leaving a trail of clues that turn up the mystery of the age-old “who is the husband” question. This show finished with 7.4 percent overall viewership, which makes it the second Reply series that made it to the highest-rated Korean dramas.
Another Oh Hae Young (2016) – 6.9%
Also known as Another Miss Oh, this 16 episode fantasy rom-com involves a long game of mistaken identity. Park Do Kyung (Eric Mun) is a sound director who was going to marry the love of his life, Oh Hae Young ( Jeon Hye Bin). However, he got dumped on their wedding day. In a fit of vengeance, Do Kyung wanted to ruin Hae Young when he learned that she is marrying someone else. However, his plan for revenge hits a snag when he ruins a different Oh Hae Young (Seo Hyun Jin), one who also went to the same school as his first love who left him. Things become more complicated when the new Hae Young becomes a part of Do Kyung’s life.
It reached a 6.9 percent rating and it even held the record to have the highest audience rating for a tvN Monday-Tuesday show.
Familiar Wife (2018) – 6.8%
In this fantasy romance drama, it gives viewers a peek into the unhappy marriage between a couple who is struggling to keep balance their family and work, while trying to keep their finances afloat. Joo Hyuk (Ji Sung) is a regular bank employee who has handed two coins from a strange man in the subway, which helped him travel back in time where he wakes up married, but, to his first college love.
The story piques interest because it tackles the what-could-have-beens, and it lets the central character realize if this alternate reality is really what it’s cracked up to be. This drama earned critical success with a 6.8 percent overall viewership rating.