If you’re interested in stories that goes outside traditional gender roles, you’d be surprised to know that there are quite a number of gender-swapping K-dramas. While some of these storylines can raise some eyebrows, they can be undeniably entertaining if you’re just open enough to enjoy the progress of the story.
There are several Korean shows with this theme, but if you want to check out the ones that truly made a mark with audiences, here are the top 10 to get you started.
Even though it’s been more than a decade since it first aired, its fervent fanbase still recalls this compelling story. The historical drama stars Park Min-young in the leading role of Kim Yoo-hee. It is set in an era where women are forbidden to be employed or educated. But when Yoo-hee’s family is in dire need of money to make ends meet, she poses as her brother. While working odd jobs, she offered the job to earn more money as an illegal test taker. But she is caught by Lee Sun-joon (Park Yoo-chun). However, despite her crime, Sun-joon encouraged her to enroll in the university. Yoo-hee must now keep up her ruse, playing off as her brother while dealing with pesky roommates. To add more turmoil, she develops feelings for Sun-joon.
Princess Jung Myung (Lee Yun-hee) was the only direct descendant of King Seonjo who is still alive. Her birth was celebrated around the palace, and it was also a relief for Queen Inmok that she had a baby girl instead of a boy. Predictions told that her child would soon become the true ruler of the Joseon Dynasty. But, being born a princess did not suit the narrative. Upon the death of the King, Gwanghae (Cha Seung-won) ascended to the throne, and his first order of business was to banish Queen Inmok and eliminate Princess Jung Myung. The princess was forced into hiding to ensure her safety. She escaped an attempted assassination that led the young princess to Japan, where she was sold as a slave. To survive in this hostile environment, she posed as a boy to work in the sulfur mine. She lived a hard life but has always dreamt of going home to redeem her family. When the opportunity came, she set her plans for revenge as she hid under a new identity as a man.
Love in the Moonlight
This coming-of-age story was based on the novel, Moonlight Drawn by Clouds, which centers around Crown Prince Lee Yeong’s (Park Bo-gum) and Hong Ra-on/Hong Sam-nom (Kim Yoo-jung). Ra-on grew up on the streets raised as a boy by her mother. She earned her coin dressing as a man who offered relationship counseling and as a romance novelist. She somehow becomes Lee Yeong’s eunuch (a castrated man who serves royalty). This puts her real identity in jeopardy because along the way, she falls in love with the prince. Initially, this series received some backlash due to Kim Yoo-jung’s age. At that time, she was still a minor and fans protested a scene that showed her character bandaging her chest to pass as a male.
Coffee Prince premiered in 2007 and is one of the best examples of a gender-bender story set in modern times. Many would recognize that this drama treaded on homoerotic themes. It follows the story of Go Eun-chan (Yoon Eun-hye) who is a 24-year-old tomboy and the breadwinner of her family who gets mistaken as a boy by food empire mogul Choi Han-kyul (Gong Yoo). It all started when Han-kyul was forced by his grandmother to manage a coffee shop that was on the brink of going bankrupt. To revive the business, he thought of hiring attractive young males to attract a wide female market. Tight on cash, Eun-chan disguised as a man and gets the job. However, she found herself doing more than that. It turns out that Han-kyul’s grandmother has been pestering him to get married, and was setting him up on dates. Tired of all the fan-fare the young chaebol hired Eun-chan to stand as his gay lover. But as they spent more time together, Eun-chan and Han-kyul developed feelings for each other. Unaware that Eun-chan is a woman, Han-kyul questions his sexuality.
Empress Ki follows the story of Ki Seung-nyang (Ha Ji-won) from Goryeo (erstwhile Korea), who dresses like a boy to escape the concubine tribute to Yuan (erstwhile China). She was called ‘The Jackal’ for she is smart and clever beyond her years. Seung-nyang found herself working for King Wang Yoo (Joo Jin-mo) after impressing him with her strong archery skills. She plays a crucial role in protecting Toghon Temur (Ji Chang-wook), the crown prince of the Mongol Empire who was exiled to Goryeo. Somewhere in between, Seung-nyang’s true identity is revealed. So when the King of Goryeo is deported to Yuan, she is taken as a concubine. Several turns of events brought her to rise to the position of a palace servant, a court lady, King’s consort, and finally the empress. She gained many friends and enemies in the journey, losing many near and dear ones to power plays, scheming her own revenge, escaping death numerous times, and influencing Goryeo and Yuan’s economy and polity in a major way.
Goddess of Fire
A historical drama is set in the ‘Boon Won’ porcelain workshop in Joseon Dynasty. It was the golden age of porcelain-making evaluated to have the highest quality of the 16th century in Asia. The story follows the life of Yoo Jung (Moon Geun-young), the first female potter in the Joseon Dynasty, and regarded as the dojo of Shintaro porcelain. This character is based on the real historical figure ‘Baek Pa Sun’, the renowned porcelain-maker of her time. Yoo Jung is a girl who dreams to be the top porcelain artist of the Joseon Dynasty. But, despite her innate talent and skill in porcelain-making, she was forced to dress as a boy so she could pursue this passion. This drama focuses on Jung Yi’s early life in Joseon instead of Japan, where a shrine is dedicated to her. This drama also depicts the ill-fated romance between Jung Yi and Prince Gwanghae (Lee Sang-yoon).
The drama tells the story of Kim Joo-won (Hyun Bin), an arrogant and eccentric CEO who maintained this image of perfection, and Gil Ra-im (Ha Ji-won), a poor and humble stuntwoman whose beauty and body are the object of envy amongst top actresses. The two met by accident when Joo-won mistakes Ra Im for actress Park Chae Rin. This marked the beginning of a tense, bickering relationship, through which Joo Won tries to suppress a growing attraction towards Ra-im. These feelings both confuse and disturb him, and to complicate matters further, a strange sequence of events resulted in them swapping bodies!
Tale of Nokdu
This series is about Joen Nok-du (Jang Dong-yoon), a man who grew up on a secluded island with his family, but after an attack on their lives, he sets out to find out who is after him. When his attacker enters a village of widows, he disguises himself as a woman to live in the village and gather information. He falls for a hot-tempered Dong Dong-joo (Kim So Hyun) who is reluctantly training to be a gisaeng while seeking revenge on the king. They develop an interesting relationship when they end up sharing a room and growing closer. Little did they know that their lives were far more connected than they thought.
The Scholar Who Walks The Night
The Scholar Who Walks the Night is a historical, fantasy, and romantic drama. It takes place in the Joseon Era where a vampire secretly rules behind the royal family. The series follows a man named Kim Sung-yeol (Lee Joon-gi) who is tasked by his former prince to restore power in the kingdom to its rightful rulers. Along the way, Sung-yeol meets a young bookseller named Jo Yang Sun (Lee Yoo-bi), the daughter of an impoverished household who cross-dresses as a man in order to provide for her family. It turns out, Kim Sung-yeol would need Jo Yang-sun’s help but little does she know he is actually a vampire.
This drama is about a man named Jang Bong-hwan (Choi Jin-hyuk), a senior chef at the Blue Office, also known as South Korea’s presidential office. Due to some mysterious incident, he found himself trapped in the body of Queen Cheorin (Shin Hye-sun) in the mid-19th century of the Joseon Dynasty. As Bong-hwan struggles to escape from the body of a medieval-era queen, he finds himself gradually assimilating into his new role. She has to fulfill her duties alongside King Cheoljong (Kim Jung-hyun), the reigning monarch who is a gentle and easy-going person. However, he was considered a “puppet king.” It was the late King Sunjo’s wife, Queen Sunwon (Bae Jong-ok), who wielded true power and relegated Cheoljong to a figurehead. Queen Cheorin soon discovers that the King is not what he seems and that he has a dark and suspicious side to him.