Not all of us were skipping our way to our first K-drama series. Some are either forced to do so or simply jumped into the bandwagon, while others came into it either out of sheer curiosity. But for those who take the extra step by doing their research, allow us to reward your effort by narrowing down 10 binge-worthy series.
1. Boys Over Flowers
Hailing from a successful Japanese shōjo manga series, this Korean adaptation also gathered a huge following. Although it’s quite dated, Boys Over Flowers still holds a charm that can easily reel in k-drama newbies.
The story is about a feisty young girl, Geum Jan Di (Ku Hye-sun) who comes from a poor family that ran a dry-cleaning shop. As she went on to make her deliveries one day, she found her way to Shinhwa, a prestigious High School for the wealthy. As fate would have it, she goes on to save a student who was pushed to the verge of suicide due to bullying by F4. Our little heroine is then awarded a scholarship to the school and it was here that she crossed paths with the famous quartet led by Gu Jun Pyo (Lee Min-ho).
This 25-episode rom-com series is fun-filled with a lot of interesting character development. It also touched on societal issues such as bullying, which also opened to an attention-grabbing twist of events. Any newbie just looking for lighthearted drama can sure find a winner in this iconic remake.
2. The Heirs (The Inheritors)
The title would clue you in on what this drama revolves on, and if you’re curious enough on how some of Korea’s one percent live, then this is the perfect guilty pleasure!
This 2013 drama is about chaebol heir Kim Tan (Lee Min-ho), who was exiled to the US by his older half brother as he tries to control the family business. While in the States, Kim meets Cha Eun-sang (Park Shin-hye), who was there on a search for her sister. Despite being engaged to an heiress (Kim Ji-Won) in Korea, he finds himself falling in love with Eun-sang. When they returned to Korea, Kim’s best-friend-turned-enemy Choi Young-do (Kim Woo-bin) picks on Eun-sang to get on Kim’s nerves. The story complicates when Young-do finds himself falling in love with Eun-sang too.
Besides this brewing love triangle Kim finds himself in, he is also forced to choose between his feelings for Eun-sang and his hold on the family business. This leaves the question, can a romance really successfully blossom between two individuals from polar ends of society? As cliche as the plot can be, The Heirs remains to be a crowd favorite in Korea and even overseas – and the secret to its success lies in the chemistry. Better take a peek to find out why this has been a sure winner for first-timers.
3. Descendants of the Sun
This series swept the nation and its international audience with an epic love story between Yoo Si-jin (Song Joong-ki), the captain of the South Korean Special Forces Unit, and Dr Kang Mo-yeon (Song Hye-kyo). The couple had a chance encounter where attraction started to blossom, only to be separated for 8 months. They meet again in a war-torn country called Uruk, where Si-jin is stationed and Mo Yeon heads a medical mission, although both are not certain if a relationship can work between them, the sparks are inevitable.
The story treats you to some ER drama, special ops action, natural disasters, bromance, and romantic storylines, enough to keep you hooked through each episode. An ensemble of Korea’s strongest actors of this generation is also an experience to behold. So grab some popcorn and binge on all the feels this drama has to offer.
4. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo
Coming-of-age struggles take centre stage in this romantic comedy, inspired by the life of Olympic gold medalist Jang Mi-ran. The story follows the struggles of the titular character, Kim Bok-joo (Lee Sung-kyung) who is a naturally-gifted weightlifter and her friends who are also college athletes.
The struggles of the main characters give us a heartwarming and enchanting story as they each try to take their place in the world, discover themselves, and learn through those around them. In its realness, the story makes us feel like we’re growing with the characters as they experience their firsts – first time in college, their first job, and first serious relationship.
The charm of the show lies in how ordinary the setting is, and that makes the characters and their struggle so relatable for viewers.
5. My Love From the Star
This K-drama also earned the seal of approval for a lot of newbies with its 21 episodes of fantasy-romance. The story was about an alien named Do Min-Joon (Kim Soo-hyun), who came to earth in 1609. Fast-forward 400 years, Do Min-Joon (who actually looks very human and handsome) hasn’t aged a day since. This led him to live an isolated life as a professor with only one friend who is also aware of his true identity.
Now, here comes Cheon Song-Yi (Jun Ji-hyun), a self-absorbed Hallyu actress who becomes Do Min-Joon’s next-door neighbor. With his heightened senses, he often ends up rescuing her from her mishaps and gets entangled in her complicated life which inevitably resulted in sparks flying between the two. With just a few months before his final departure from earth, Min-Joon was hesitant to entertain his feelings towards Song-Yi.
The sweet, funny, and emotional moments are all sprinkled into one unforgettable extraterrestrial romance. It offers a unique plot where elements are carefully unfolded as the story progresses. It’s a bewitching love story with just the right thrill to keep you curious until the end!
This 21-episode series was such a massive hit that it sparked remakes in countries like the Philippines and Thailand.
6. Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (Goblin)
This whimsical drama is hinged in folklores where it starts with a tale of how the goblin came about. It goes way back to the Goryeo period where a fearless warrior was turned immortal as a reward and punishment. His immortality can only end when his bride removes the sword buried in his chest.
Nine hundred years since he turned immortal we meet the goblin, Kim Shin (Gong Yoo) in the present day. He is lonely as he waits for his bride to appear and in doing so he continues to live a life condemned to remember the many deaths he has witnessed over the years. Life then takes a turn when Ji Eun Tak (Kim Go Eun) claims to be his bride.
However, the captivating story is not just about the goblin and Eun Tak, as it also very much about the second leads, the Grim Reaper (Lee Dong Wook) and Sunny (Yoo In Na). Their lives get intertwined, and it was revealed later on just how closely. As the immortal goblin who wants to die finds mortality to be within reach when he meets his bride, he is now conflicted over choosing life or death.
The reason why this story did really well is how the romance and story were structured. It’s not the typical rivalry set-ups or chaebol heir/heiress falling for someone from a different social background. Instead, we find two couples we can root and cry for because of their fate, difficult choices, and circumstance. As the drama is set against the background of fantasy, the conflicts are far more complicated.
For those who came into the K-drama world through this series, it’s a general consensus that it’s certainly something worth marathoning!
7. Strong Woman Do Bong Soon
Do Bong-Soon (Park Bo-young) was born with herculean strength, which was something passed on by the women in her family. However, she can only use her strength for good, and if she uses it for personal gain or to hurt others, she can lose it forever like her mother.
Her dream job is to develop a video game based on herself where she can beat up the bad guys freely, without having to worry about concealing her identity. What makes Bong-soon a likeable character is that she’s confident, sassy, but also soft-hearted. Like a walking contradiction, her small frame betrays first impressions which makes it so amusing when she fearlessly waltzes into dangerous situations.
It keeps your plate full between chasing thugs, kidnappers and assassins, tempered by our heroine’s love story and comedic interludes. There was a lot of silliness which makes for good fun, and it was so cleverly written that amidst the hysterics and playfulness, these details were still salient to the plot. The cartoonish humor, sound effects, and visuals add to the recipe for this series’ success. As our heroine goes on to fulfil her potential, you also get a strong message at its core!
Strong Woman Do Bong Soon’s success earned some attention overseas that it was supposed to have an American adaptation, with mixed martial artist, Ronda Rousey as the lead. Unfortunately, the script was not picked up to pilot. But no biggie, since the original version is worth a step into K-Drama-Land!
8. Hotel del Luna
Besides K-Pop superstar IU leading the cast, this series captures attention with its stunning cinematography.
Situated in the middle of Seoul, Hotel del Luna is disguised as an old, shabby building, but is actually a mystical hotel that caters only to ghosts who stuck around due to unfinished business. Goo Chan Seong (Yeo Jin-goo), an elite hotelier, was invited to manage the hotel and serve its ancient and moody owner, Jang Man Wol (IU).
Man Wol was condemned to manage the hotel for thousands of years as payment of the many lives she has taken. After succeeding the previous manager, Goo Chan Seong moved to be the only one who softened the heart of his ill-tempered boss. He delivers a customer-centric approach while helping Man Wol with her needless spending and extortionist tendencies to help keep Hotel del Luna afloat.
Each episode comes with subplots that support the overall storyline. It introduces interesting characters as hotel patrons who wish to iron out conflicts before they crossover to the afterlife – and Hotel del Luna is their fancy accommodation while they straighten out earthly concerns.
This fantasy drama treats you with good character development and the visuals to match. Although it takes a while for the characters to find their place, once they do, they will feel like family to you.
9. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
This 2016 period drama is again top-billed by IU in which she pl
ays Go Ha Jin, a 21st woman who grew dispassionate with life. In a twist of fate, she found herself transported to the year 941, during the Goryeo Dynasty where she wakes up in the body of Hae-Soo. It is here where she met the princes of the ruling Wang family and befriends them in an attempt to prevent the bloodshed she recalls from her history lessons.
Of course, what’s drama without a spellbinding love story, right? Initially, Hae Soo fell in love with the kind and gentle 8th prince, Wang Wook (Kang Ha-neul). But as she goes on to live in this new reality she eventually catches feelings for the mysterious and intimidating 4th prince, Wang So (Lee Joon-gi). This soon evolves into an epic love story woven into a tempestuous rivalry for the throne!
What’s interesting about this drama is that even though it raked in a lukewarm reaction in South Korea, it was very well-received abroad. It may have some historical inaccuracies here and there, but the international audience was more focused on the tension, the struggles, and the tragic love story which was enough to put the series on the map!
So, if you don’t mind sparing a few tears, this story has just the right chemistry and execution to give you the feels that should leave you desperately begging for season 2!
10. Crash Landing On You
This series definitely crash-landed into the hearts of millions around the world in 2020 which resulted in a lot of k-drama converts. It starts when South Korean heiress, Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin) got into a freak accident while paragliding which brought her across the north side of the Korean Demilitarized Zone and (literally) right into the arms of Captain Ri Jeon Hyeok (Hyun Bin).
It captivates viewers as the first episode leaves us amused at the possibility of this accident happening only to find the love of your life on the other side! Albeit a very dangerous situation, one can’t help but be spellbound by the beautifully cultivated romance between Se-ri and Captain Ri. It also takes us through the fish-out-of-water experience Se-ri had to go through in the North Korean countryside. And also be on edge while watching her futile attempts at going back home on the down-low with the help of Captain Ri. The story climaxes with a boatload of heart-tugging drama sprinkled with memorable comedic underscores here and there. It also highlights the fact that besides a famous lead cast, what defines the success of a series are the supporting actors behind it.
Since we are somehow drawn to love stories of star-crossed lovers, each episode should give you enough emotional rollercoaster that can leave you wanting more. It’s so good that it’s definitely worth losing some sleep!
Fun fact! The series was derived from the actual experience of South Korean actress, Ju Yang and three others when their leisure boat accidentally drifted across the maritime boundary into North Korea.
Anything in this list that suits your fancy? We understand your apprehension, but it wouldn’t hurt to check out the first episode! So, choose among these titles, grab your popcorn, and ENJOY!
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