For K-drama fans, 2021 was such a treat because even as the pandemic wore on in its second year, we were still able to enjoy remarkable releases every month! With quite a number of amazing stories, we simply narrowed it down to 10 which we think are great throwbacks to remind us of what an amazing lineup there was in the year that passed.
Sell Your Haunted House
This supernatural rom-com deserved a spot among the best dramas that defined 2021 because of its clever premise. Treading on uncharted territory, the story is about real estate inequality but with a twist of fantasy. Jang Na-ra plays the goth-styled/real estate agent whose agency is also in the business of hunting ghosts who are making a property unsaleable. They conduct an exorcism and make the building sellable again with its proper market value. She teams up with a con artist, played by Jung Yong Hwa, who uses ghosts to earn money. Together, they try to solve Ji Ah’s problem on how she can send the vengeful ghost of her departed mother away as she was living in her house/office.
As usual, Na-ra remains on point with her character as her acting shines as the cool exorcist who’s a sucker for fried chicken. With each episode showing tragic backstories of the ghosts they encounter, the storyline is also reminiscent of Hotel Del Luna. It’s one of the best because of the unpredictable stories, brilliant performances, great directing, and visually appealing special effects.
Vincenzo marked the return of K-drama heartthrob, Song Joong-ki, to the small screen as he played the titular role. Vincenzo Cassano is a suave Italian-Korean lawyer who works for the mafia. He goes back to Korea to claim gold that is hidden underground. However, it’s now located underneath a building where a bunch of odd residents lives. They banded together along with a feisty lady lawyer to take on the dastardly Babel Group and their evil CEO played by Ok Taecyeon.
This dark comedy has drawn one of the highest viewership ratings in South Korea. It was also popular among international viewers through Netflix as it earned a spot among the top 10 TV shows on Netflix—and all for good reason. It entertains with a plot that can leave you whiplashed with its crazy twists. It also switches genres while paying homage to films like The Birds, The Godfather, Carrie, among other films. Overall it gives viewers fantastic characters, action scenes, a complex story, and humor.
The drama follows the lives of three women who are connected to the conglomerate Han family. Two of them are daughters-in-law and the other is a mysterious tutor. Kim Seo-hyung plays the level-headed first daughter-in-law Jung Seo-hyun, who is often the one to step in and fix family matters. Lee Bo-young plays second daughter-in-law Seo Hi-soo, who raises step son Ha-joon like her own. Ok Ja-yeon plays Ha-joon’s birth mother Kang Ja-kyung, who stirred up trouble when he came into the house one day disguised as his tutor, with the intent of reclaiming her son.
Taking elements from Sky Castle and Penthouse, Mine is an intriguing Korean drama that tackles lessons such as overcoming prejudice, bullying, and finding your true calling. The show was a hit in South Korea, reeling in about 1.8 million views per episode, with the finale breaking the show’s previous ratings. With big actresses headlining the show, its storyline also gave the hype justice!
Hometown Cha Cha Cha
Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha is another massive success as it gave a weekly dose of good vibes during its run. It’s actually a remake of the 2004 film Mr Handy, Mr Hong which follows the story of a dentist named Yoon Hye-jin (Shin Min-ah) who decided to open a clinic in the sleepy and idyllic coastal town of Gongjin. It was a far cry from her city life and easing into the small-town culture was no walk in the park. There she meets a man who will change her life, Hong Doo-shik (Kim Seon-ho)—a local resident who is technically unemployed but has so many odd jobs which endeared him to everyone in town.
This feel-good rom-com drama made to the Top 10 on Netflix in more than 20 countries including Australia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, the Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam. Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha was well-loved that viewers flocked to the seaside village of Pohang, the location for the fictional village of Gongjin, where the story is set.
This suspense crime thriller was ranked the 3rd hottest drama for the first half of 2021 based on Seezn (KT’s online video service) and 5ht in tvN’s all-time Wednesday and Thursday series. It stars top Hallyu star, Lee Seung-gi who plays a carefree rookie police officer named Jung Ba-reum. His idyllic life takes on a crazy twist when he finds himself in a string of gruesome serial murders across South Korea. As Ba-reum goes deeper into these cases, the show explores the idea of what it means to be a psychopath.
As one of the most-watched K-dramas of the year, it was given a three-part special and two spin-off episodes. It has drawn impressive viewership as it plays with the viewer’s emotion in a strategic manner. Some say that it draws similarities to the Hollywood film Se7en, but it will surprise you with something completely new and unexpected.
Hellbound is a Korean horror series that debuted at No. 1 and went on to top Netflix’s global (self-reported) charts. It’s based on the webtoon of the same title and directed by Train to Busan’s Yeon Sang-ho. Upon its release in Mid November of 2021, this drama shot right up to the top of the charts becoming the most-viewed TV show on the streaming platform. Korea JoongAngDaily, also revealed that Hellbound is the most-watched Netflix show in 24 regions including Korea, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Belgium while ranking third in the US.
It’s a six-episode series that is set in a fantasy world where supernatural creatures can drag humans to hell. A religious group led by Jung Jin Soo (Yoo Ah-in) tries to find out the reason for this phenomenon. As society falls into chaos, the group took advantage of the social turmoil to strengthen their influence. Fanaticists fostered more confusion, fear, and paranoia than the demonic attacks alone. Director Yeong Sang-ho wants audiences to ponder on topics like good and evil, crime and punishment, life and death, and justice. Executed so well on both sides of the camera, this drama also gained critical acclaim in screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival, and Busan International Film Festival.
Beyond Evil is a gripping tale that unfolded in the sleepy town of Manyang where evil shook everyone 20 years ago. Women started going missing with nothing found but their fingertips. When one of those who went missing was a popular and well-liked girl, his brother Lee Dong Sik (Shin Ha Kyun) was accused of killing her. It took two decades for Dong Sik to be acquitted of the murder, but even with his new taste of freedom people remained suspicious of him. But when Han Joo Won (Yeo Jin Goo), the son of the future Police Commissioner, who is also Dong Sik’s boss came into the picture they formed a reluctant partnership as disappearances started happening again.
This drama received 7 nominations at the 57th Baeksang Arts Awards and won 3 which includes Best Drama, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor for Shin Ha-kyun. Gritty themes plus commendable acting explained why the drama was one of the final candidates for the Baeksang Arts Award Grand Prize for television.
D.P. is a webtoon adaptation which stars Jung Hae-in plays Ahn Jun-ho, a young conscript who’s assigned to pursue deserters who abandoned post to avoid the incessant bullying within their ranks. This drama sheds light on the harsh obligatory military service in South Korea and toxic masculinity that prompts some men to flee. It showed the gruelling hazing practices that the military was known for.
The drama drew praise from Korea, especially among those who lived through the experience. It earned massive praise for its dark, disturbing yet realistic portrayal of what it means to fulfill South Korea’s mandatory enlistment. With an explosive ending, viewers were left wanting more and the studio obliged as it is set to have a second season!
My Name is a Netflix original gangland revenge drama that topped daily streaming charts on the day of its release. It follows a young woman named Yoon Ji-woo (Han So-hee), who is looking to avenge the murder of her father. On her path for revenge Ji-woo joins the infamous Dongcheon gang and puts her trust in its powerful crime boss, who asks her to go undercover in the police force under his direction.
During its run, the drama climbed up to the top 5 in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. It’s also among the Top 10 in countries like the US, Turkey and New Zealand. Furthermore, its success has also boosted the stocks of South Korean producers including Studio Santa Claus Entertainment Co., the production company behind My Name. Behind its commercial success is the fact that the series is one of the rare K-dramas where the female lead goes outside the mold as she takes on such dark and drastic measures in the name of retribution.
Squid Game emerged to be a roaring success in 2021. The Netflix original reached 142 million households in 94 countries in just a month, and historically it has been the streaming giant’s most successful launch. For those who haven’t caught up with the story yet, it’s about 456 poverty-stricken strangers mysteriously recruited to play a series of childhood games that came with a fatal twist. If they’re able to come out victorious they can go home with a whopping ₩45.6billion. We experienced the crazy journey the players endured through the eyes of Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae).
The drama was a huge success despite its dark and violent plot because it was a potent allegory of the evils of capitalism. Besides being a white knuckle watch, Squid game was insightful and the story is highly intentional. It gives a simple message delivered through brutal visuals aimed to tap our inner child which was its formula for success.