aigoo My head burst in selecting the best of the best from my memories. I stayed strict to my simple qualifications of breakthrough writing, brilliant directing and beautiful cast portrayal. This will be my first entry for this kdrama challenge and I’m excited to fill my list on my future posts.
Korean dramas have evolved to the most innovative themes in the past years. The competition is stiff and if the yearly trend is set, production companies will make their drama even more superb than the copied idea.
There are myriad of stories to choose from in kdramaland hence the growing popularity in the world. My last rule in this list stripped my being romantic self and reminded me to choose the most polished and creatively conceived story and not the main lead that made my heart fluttered. *chuckles
So here are my picks for the best 20 kdramas in the last 10 years.
Jumong: Prince of the Legend (2007)
GENRE: Period, Action, Romance, Drama, War
This loooong period drama is the proof of my unwavering commitment to South Korean dramas. *chuckles While journeying with Jumong to the endless political wars, rooting for his love fulfilment with Seo So No and his ascencion to the empire he built, I learned about korean history, war strategies, economic principles and winning over people’s greed. You know that Machiavelli book about politics and governance, skip that and watch Jumong for a more interactive education. I promise it is more enjoyable. Jumong managed to maintain the excitement even with its long run. It made use of detailed and thrilling storytelling that hooked me to connect with the main hero. True, there will be a lot going on in the story, so you might as well take notes and don’t fall asleep because when you wake up a lot already happened. *giggles
City Hall (2009)
Genre: Drama, Romance, Comedy
This politics based romance drama crawled in my heart without me realizing it. It beat the regular favorites Coffee Prince, Goong and even My Lovely Samsoon to get to the top of my list, because it’s not your conventional drama with cushioned and frosted romance. It is a love story where the prince did not rescue his damsel in distress, but pushed her to be brave and resolve things on her own. With an uncomplicated premise, the writing was exceptionally thought provoking for women experiencing challenges in finding their worth not in the standard of what the society dictates but on the dreams they have as a woman. A memorable performance for Kim Sun Ah and Cha Seung Won with a bonus heartfelt love story on the side.
Dong Yi (2010)
Genre: Historical, Romance, Drama
It was beautifully imagined and crafted. The conspiracies, surprise moves, evil ways, and fighting the evil ways are the reasons why I stayed afloat finishing this 60 episode period drama. Dong Yi displayed such appealing and stimulating TV drama while presenting the richness and intricacies of Korean culture. More than how they presented the elaborated palace life, power struggles, vibrancy of the culture, I love that the narration was so subtle in its approach and yet so daring on its conviction. The story was well developed and connected. I appreciate that they minimize the number of villains because I can only hold contempt of three to five people at the same time. The beginning was dishearteningly good, the ending will make you pull the strings for it to end out of weary, if not for the fact that you so wanted to know what will happen to the bad guys… Now the middle part…. that was the best part of the series.
Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010)
GENRE: Period (sageuk fusion), Romance, Comedy
I present you “Sungkyunkwan Scandal” – the drama that changed my belief that sageuk presentations are not fun. A bromance-filled tale incorporating a touch of traditional Korean history and way of living made the series so riveting, you will find yourself insatiable with the charm it has cast upon you.
Sungkyunkwan Scandal was a Hana Kimi-Boys-Over-Flower-fusion set in the Joseon era. This is where I suffered the most mind-boggling Second-Lead-Man syndrome, in the end the second-lead prevailed. *chuckles This is a kind of school life every girl wished for, having three gorgeous men as your friends and even two fighting for your heart. Considering the setting was in traditional times, they were able to execute love melting and love sighing scene while studying in the library, getting stranded inside a wooden elevator, and all the rest of those happy moments shared by the Sungkyunkwan Scholars. Despite the political strain conflict, what I loved most on Sungkyunkwan was that it was full of optimism and the bravery of the characters stood alone making each of their portrayals worth remembering. The drama gave epic romantic scenes, REALLY EPIC… the kind of sweet love scenes that when you tell your friends, you get transported back to the moment where you were actually watching it. *promise
Secret Garden (2010)
GENRE: Fantasy, Romance, Comedy
The sparkling tracksuit, the sweet sit-up kiss and coffee kiss, the hilarious body swap and Hyun Bin’s melting gaze were some of the things that I remember most about “Secret Garden”. It was a breather from prototype romcoms with its perfect blending of fantasy and romance and with its main love couple’s reversal of roles having a strong heroine and a weak-hearted but charming lead man.
“Secret Garden” is your drama to see when you want a kdrama marathon vacation. It played well in keeping its excitement stable and hit a love progression where the viewers were left all cheering for it to happen. The fantasy body-switching plot was a brilliant addition to keep the story bubbly but the strength of how the love couple communicated or should I say bicker along the way eventually realizing they were both rendered by the love bind they threw at each other unconsciously.
The Greatest Love (2011)
GENRE: Romance, Comedy
The love drama staged in the showbiz land exhibited a top actor in his prime and a struggling actress who used to be from a famous girl group but was condemned unfairly by the public’s judgment. In a series of forming-a-love-story event, their lives sort of crossing their paths every now and then and before he knew it, the cutely egoistic and blithely mischievous Dokko Jin’s protective instinct was awakened by the pure, sometimes vulnerable, but never failing to be optimistic and to trust in life character of Ae-jung.
This is my favorite battle-for-the-leading-lady’s-heart showcase, as the two lead men warmed my love veins with their creativity to let Ae Jung noticed how much they love her. The Greatest Love was like a heroin disarming me from earthly life making me thrive inside my protective romance bubble. It was done short and sweet with basket full of romance delivered personally by cupid to all of us.
City Hunter (2011)
GENRE: Action, Drama, Romance, Thriller
This action-filled series was definitely all business. The reckless City Hunter left me awe-struck and wanting to be kidnapped and wishing he would rescue me. Lee Min Ho playing devil-may-care-ass-kicking-casanova was enough not to scroll down the teaser and go straight on board the drama. I should know. I did.
With a pinch of romance, gorgeous fight scenes and definitive plot, City Hunter raised the bar to action drama set in modern times. The nifty plot left life lessons and each episode was done where the tussles did not exhaust the viewers but left them wanting for more.
Directing and editing wise, this is one of those dramas which knew how to pull cliff hangers even to the finale episode where the hate-you-love-you character of Jin-pyo showed a befitting redemption. I really thought his dark heart will not be swayed otherwise and that finale scene sent me moping reminiscing Vader saving Luke when the remaining inconspicuous goodness in his heart reminded him that he was his son regardless.
The main character ensembles were so buffed making the story ever moving and exciting. The show stopper “ajussi” and his online shopping addiction made me look like an occasional shopper. The other dark apprentice was also oozingly hot orchestrating ruckus for City Hunter. I liked that Kim Nana was also strong-willed and that he didn’t go to the usual sometimes mopey and always looking for a rescue lead woman. Overall, this is a drama that will satisfy your cravings and your mind maunderings. It was exceptionally done and a must see Kdrama delight.
GENRE: Drama, Cyber crime, Action
There were no guns triggered… no swords drawn… it was a battle between heroes and villains equipped with digital powers. It was an enthralling power game that involved, system hacking, all-knowing CCTV cameras, secret bugging, and heroes and villains almost equally genius to take one step ahead of each other.
Ghost/Phantom broke my love drama binge 360 degrees and I was left dumbstruck and on a cliff hanging state all throughout the series. I was like in a trampoline were I was bouncing up and down without the rush hitting the bottom level. Ghost/Phantom will hold your interest in a very gripping fashion. The cunning power plays and counter measures were ever present to the story as it progressed. The brilliantly done ending emancipated the withheld secrets that were carefully and niftily hidden to achieve a closure befitting of this cyber world investigating drama classic. Be prepared to be stimulated and trust me there will be no give-aways here… so you cannot defocus less you will be lost in the story.
The race on who gets to maneuver efficiently the power of the computers will earn the opposing team an instant digital karma so all the while, the villains and heroes have worked double time to raise the bar in outwitting one another. If you want a breather from rom-coms, this cyber-crime drama should be on your list. The dexterous cast and perceptive plot will take you all the way to an exciting oblivion where you will feel like you are also part of this amazing team of cyberspace police officers.
Queen In Hyun’s Man (2012)
GENRE: Romcom, Time traveling
It’s over and done but Queen In Hyun’s Man now Abby’s man has left me insatiable. The drive to bring the viewers to a spontaneous romance binge whilst holding the reign to an incessantly bewitching plot was quenchless and I thank kdramagod for that.
“Queen In Hyun’s Man” disarmed me each and every episode with the deviant drama pulls and how it went maverick to what I was predicting to happen. I had to grab my tarot card to check if my seer abilities need a refresher. It deviated from the typical KDrama conflict norms of unresolved unfinished love issues, family problems, useless vengeance driven characters, personal exhausting battles and all those other tiring fillings they would insert to make the spectators just go with the flow.
Given the time-voyaging premise of the story, I was amazed on how the production team worked on the smooth transitions. It was playing at past and present ends without losing the spontaneity and fluidity of the story. The writer whom I stalked from then on was a delightfully mischievous conceiver who got down to the nitty-gritty of the screenplay and pulling off the conflicts and its deliverance in a make-sense and you-got-me-there kind of vibe. It was a supernatural rom-com drama at its best, no questions asked, period.
The King 2 Hearts (2012)
GENRE: Drama, RomCom, Thriller
King 2 Hearts was staged in a quasi-utopian Korean world where the North and South Koreans are sort of in peaceful communicating terms.
King 2 Hearts has always been polished, calculated but never failing to entice and push me to my assumed outcomes. That being said, what I applaud about this drama is how it seems predictable but will prove the viewers otherwise. It met all the criteria for a superb kdrama and ended with conviction. It has one of the most memorable villain who graced the evil camp land and it broke the struggle on second-lead-syndrome by killing off the character. It was an honest story yet tender at the same time.
Gaksital/Bridal Mask (2012)
GENRE: Period, Action, War, Romance
Move over Ajussi, City Hunter, Masked Rider Black, Shaider, Spiderman, Superman, Batman… and all the rest of those superheroes who took the imaginary world by storm… Gaksital has only a flute and superb martial arts move, but for the first time in my life, I fell in love with a local hero. A bromance defying all bromance invented… *giggles Every episode, if not the same intensity as the last, always ended at a very strong note. I found myself immensely enjoying the gun shots, punch sounds, skin rips, sword slashes, blood spatters, and cat-and-mouse chase.
Gaksital went to this milieu… “I accidentally killed my brother because our mother was killed by my bestfriend’s brother. So I killed my bestfriend’s brother, but he caught me doing it and because of the circumstances and my family’s past which was just revealed to me when I have already denounced my patriotism to favor the Japanese empire, I’m not sorry I did it. A test of best-friends-forever pledge. Yes, that it was.” How’s that for a conflict? Not to add that they both love the same girl whom they met when they were young. Avenging the death of their family members, first love duel plus fighting the Japanese regime. If this looks crazy in writing, it was astonishingly gripping in action.
There are a lot of reasons why I would highly recommend this drama but I’ll start with its strength to depict a stimulating story brimming with facets of history and layered with conflicts and resolutions that disheartened and made me happy at the same time. It was as if my father’s World War stories came to life, and I can only imagine how life was hard back then. I’m enjoying period dramas lately, there’s just so much to learn that’s why maybe. It has so much depth and substance and youth of today will learn a lot from it. It was an epic tale that perfectly bloomed along with the characters and was so successful in sending out the Patriotic theme where love, loyalty, family and friendship where at stake.
Master’s Sun (2013)
GENRE: RomCom, Supernatural
Once in a while a surprisingly good love story would remind me why I became addicted to Korean Romantic Comedies. In the sea of dramas where stories are usually woven from the rich-boy-poor-girl love affair or the male-pretending-lead-girl, a you-and-me-against-the-ghosts love story hit all the romantic nerves in my body even with its comic spooky vibes.
“The Master’s Sun” has given me a lot of elating moments and back-to-when-I-had-my-first-love heart fluttering scenes. In a way the calculated but not false-hope promising story pace has made me join the lead love couple in discovering the reasons why they fell in love with each other alongside why they were in denial and scared to admit it.
When you have a stubborn romantic lead man who with-and-without amnesia know how to claim the heart of the woman he loves and a heroine who struggles in confusion to the path on how she is supposed to love her man, it will give you a love tale full of acceptance and understanding. It will inspire you to trust why your heart fell in love with the person and how your mind will be overpowered by reasons.
It was a nicely blended romance which showed a love pair growing together while understanding why they both need each other. It was a relationship where the couple did what they can do so that they won’t end up in the position where they will ask “what they could have done”. Being with someone is not half-loving yourself and half-loving him. It should be loving the person with all you can.
You Who Came From Another Star (2014)
GENRE: RomCom, Scifi, Supernatural
Rarely did a Korean romcom drama approach me and sweep me off of my feet every episode up to the finale, and to say that I was happy throughout my drama-stalking was an understatement, I was so elated with it. You see, love stories need not to be so big romantic kind of way, not that I didn’t like the “alien-who-loved-me” twist but “You From Another Star” drew a great following because of the vibrant characters who has really brought to life their fictional images to an unforgettable and you-can’t-help-but-relate-to kind of way. I think the lightness of the conflicts and not involving much negative emotion, but focusing on making the lead couple work their way to defy the cosmic problem inhibiting them from being together gave a gratifying closure for the story. You see once in a while jealousy, greed, family intervention, amnesia and annoying 3rd parties are not required to create a heartfelt love tale, you only need two hearts that love bravely and love back deeply.
Feisty and fun, it has surely and splendidly built up the conflict, the romance, and the conflicting romance, binding me in perplexing contemplation on how a drama with typical romcom premise surged a romantic bliss, never looking back and coming strongly and surely each chronicle episode and seemingly faultless in executing the how-to-make-a-perfect-romcom guidelines.
Fate, chance encounters and brave “i-love-you-right-now claims have never been so perfectly achieved until this love story graced kdrama screen and though there were minimal things that I wished was explained fully, I didn’t care less because the love progress moved to a pace where the character’s connection is sensitive to the story they are into, while the story glued out perfect pieces of events that maybe kdrama cliche, but were effectively used and concluded just the same.
Nine Times Travel (2014)
GENRE: Drama, Romance, Supernatural
Notching superbly those climactic cliff-hangers and seamlessly presented the consistent timeline transitions and convergence, this drama would have mocked all the time-traveling stories that graced dramaland. My Sherlock veins was immensely gratified that I paid less attention to the romantic side which in all fairness was also a satisfying bliss. It was a balanced fusion of a character and plot-driven tale where its incredulous premise was chronicled unembellished and not leaning to injecting inconceivable trajectories due to its supernatural setting.
It was the story of a man who obtained 9 incense sticks that functioned as a time-trekking machine which helped him leave clues to his past self in escaping his looming death in the future. His time warping brought him to events of 20 years ago and divulged pieces of information that his future self utilized to change the course of time in the past to protect the people he loved and his soon to be taken away life. The incomprehensible plot paraded a stunning picture closed to perfection where I was set into constant debate with my thoughts, but Nine Times Travel was always emerging victorious when I’m deconstructing the path and curves on where it was heading.
It was an exceptional labyrinth themed story where the enchanted incense sticks functioned like Ariadne showing proudly the coherent flow of events and the liaison of the past and present time.
With its smart characters, nifty writing and dexterous editing I fell in love with this drama big time.
GENRE: Drama, Action, Romance
Healer is one of the best korean dramas you should include in your list if you haven’t seen it yet. It has a brilliant premise about a one-of-a-kind hero who chose to disconnect from the society, but accidentally grew attachment to a woman who drew him out of his hibernation. The drama quaintly linked the furtive relationship of the characters while building up the plot’s climax and romance to perfection. It is so addictive, stimulating and amusing — and that one drama you can sit on with family, friends and even your lover. I’m almost two years late to review this drama but I hope you can find time to watch one of the best dramas on my list.
The story’s main conflict focused on peeling the truth behind the lead couple’s fathers’ death while journeying on their fated love. It aligned to Healer’s character strength to propel the excitement while he did his gripping missions… circled on Young Shin’s character as the focal tug-of-war battle between the Moon brothers’ villain and hero complicated relationship and surged high to the my-father-might-have-killed-your-father-but-i-promise-i-love-you-and-i-will-protect-you love plot of the main leads. Healer justified the superb writing with how the characters went passionately driven to bring out a scintillating storytelling. While a lot progressed in the story, it never missed it steps in binding the romance, the back story and the conflicts together.
The story got so intoxicating because it assimilated Healer’s Promethean skills and heartfelt media coverage to battle the conscience-less power players of the country. When your cast is smart and the writing is nifty, there’s no way the notes will not be hit.
GENRE: Melodrama, Drama
Without supernatural intervention or genius fusion ideas, I landed on a pensive mode while watching the reflective and heart wrenching workplace drama “Misaeng”. And it’s very rare for me to do so because my excessively diverted mind usually craves for something different and evolving but with Misaeng, I was sent back to ponder on my forgotten dreams, regrets and what-nows?
Misaeng provided an engaging experience for me because of its wonderful cast and their interaction. Though mostly shot in the office premise, the candid pantry small talks, the rooftop heartfelt confrontations, the cubicle power struggles were able to capture in detail and in pure emotions the many faces of employees struggling everyday to get their job done. It was like stepping to a company’s door, sitting silently in a corner while you watch all of the employees get to their job. For the jobless and people who wish for a different job it would be a great encouraging watch.
It is hard these days to find a human TV drama that follows the fundamentals of how and why storytelling emerged to inspire people. We frequently have to see stories to escape from the problems we are facing so sitting down upfront a courageous and flaw-filled human nature TV presentation chronicling what is true and happening, what we hide to people relying on us and what we don’t want to admit to ourselves because of too much pride has had me really feel high spirited to surmise that fulfilling personal goals need not be happening in an instant and all at the same time.
With its simplicity and amazing depiction of the daily life of the working class, Misaeng is no frills, never superficial and all heart and a must watch for all of us on board and soon to be boarding on the corporate world.
GENRE: Courtroom Drama
Awed and at the edge of my seat every episode’s finishing kick, I can’t help but wondered how brilliant the writer of this story by bringing out a drama where heroes and villains don’t waste time outmanipulating each other to secure the highest possible position befitting to their greed and wickedness. With a dying man as a lead hero in charge to intellectually brawl with his superiors in the Prosecutor’s office, the stake was always at the highest as the people involved raced to protect their families, reputations and personal ambitions.
Punch is a literal badass with its scintillating and intelligent writing. It was full of surprises that will make the viewers grab their hair out of frustration. I wondered how much hate the writer might have stored in himself to motivate him to write a chronicle that was able to maintain a level of grit all throughout his depiction of the corrupt Korean Prosecutors Office. It was a nerve wrecking display of shrewdness played equally well by all the characters who was in the running to claim the most cunning of ’em all crown.
Reply 1988 (2015)
GENRE: Drama, Period, Romance
They say that as you age along, you get more sentimental as you look back on what has happened in your life. Sitting on this neighborhood drama set between 1988 – 1995 made me reminisce the good old days of endearing family love and friendship full of memories and laughter. “Answer me 1988” pays homage to the irreplaceable bliss of being young – of our young dreams and our young love. It gives you a trip to memory lane when technology hasn’t taken over the world yet— when friends meet up at a house to watch movies, to eat and to chat and when romance comes true by heartfelt love declarations, stolen kisses and warm hugs.
Hands down to the extent of the research and the meticulously vibrant writing that were fused together to bring up a chronicle that warms the heart and lingers in one’s mind. The setting, side stories and the cast ensemble will make the viewers feel like stepping to a time-warping machine and bringing out the best memories we could ever have in our lives.
I only have the very best things to say for the neighborhood I grew fond watching, for the childhood buddies who defined lifetime friendship and for the sincere love that bloomed from the purest friendship and memories. Delving on nostalgic premise “Reply 1988” brilliantly use sweet melancholia by sending the viewers back to their very own youth, like it did to me. It made me want to pay a short visit to the street I grew up with and reminisce the times when I hang out with my childhood friends to play traditional local games. It made me glad that most of my precious memories were not digitally induced as is the case of the youth nowadays. And it reminded me to still go for the purest romance I can ever have that won’t make use much of the world- wide web and social media.
Reply 1988 is a strip of mementos any person with a euphoric youth can relate to. I strongly vouch for this drama if you have a weekend to spare.
Descendants of the Sun (2016)
GENRE: Romance, Action, Drama
Rarely do we get a story in dramaland that is so affecting when the narrative is relying on the love plot. Most of the time it maintains a decent showing but in the waning part of the series it will lose its magic. No romance kdrama has made it to my top favorites basing on the screenplay and the acting. What they all failed to achieve, DOTS casually slayed in a watch-us-this-is-how-it-should-be-done manner.
The raves it got can be attributed to how fit the actors to their characters were, the realistic-sometimes-cheesy-most-of-the-time-pure-love of the main characters, the snappy lines and giggle inducing captured frames and how the story depended on the fulfilment of the romance just as the romance bloomed because of the flowing story. The issues resolved in the story focused on braving the odds for love and the death defying conflict in the finishing kick of the series. The charm of Captain Yoo Si Jin would have not been possible if his lead girl was not as endearing as our clever surgeon Mo Yeon.
I gave a 10/10 score for Descendants of the Sun for its ingenuity in capturing the heartfelt romance even with violence and disaster plot. It left lessons on patriotism, life, career and friendship. There are stories that need not to be embellished because they can stand alone when you chronicle it without confusion and with a direction.
“Descendants of the Sun” defied all the resident kdrama cliches and presented a balanced character portrayals and heartfelt, unscripted romance. I have never seen a drama so beautiful in each chapters and even more stunning as it flows in the culminating closure.
Not only did the drama nail the romantic notes to an almost impossible perfection, but it created a story where every person who knows how to love can relate to. It left an inspiring message to become the best that we can ever be to the person we love, to the profession we have and to the life we live.
Descendants of the Sun (2016)
Theme: Hectic career schedule and crime defying love *wink
Arguably the best korean drama that aired for 2016, “Goblin” affirmed my kdrama fan girl spirit with its addictive pace, perceptive characters, detailed back story and the exciting race to its closure. I was at constant awe at how the yarning of the folklore and supernatural mise en scene fit so perfectly placed in the modern setting. The cast portraying a whole new chimeric world that I want to be a part of moved through the story seamlessly alternating a wistful and lively performance that burrowed straight to my kdrama-addict heart. *chuckles
The summary does not justify all that happened in the story as the cast were intricately connected through their past and present lives. What made Goblin such a novelty for a love story with transcendental element is how it neatly blended the mystical notes and sensible realities to propel the narrative without losing focus and as simply told as it can be. The drama made me yearn a romantic interlude with men like Goblin or Grim Reaper. I was on a long moony phase struck with the impact of the characters who fervidly brought life to their sketched personas. Goblin marked all the bullet points of a lingering story even though the metaphysical milieu was very tricky. Although set on a melancholic tone, the dynamics of the cast and the lively humor cushioned the viewers so well given its inevitable tragic scenario ending. At times there are moments when it was languid, but it was necessary for the built up of the character connections to make the climactic conflict confrontation solid and stunning.
Breathtaking – Goblin has always been beautifully done from its cinematography, storyline and character portrayals. The writer did a lot of impossible tweaks and conceived an intricate realm and made sure that she will succeed on the labyrinth she has set for her story. With actors embracing their roles so well, the exquisite tale of a man searching for the woman to end his immortality curse established a memory that kdramaland followers will still love in the future.
Goblin explored the boundless creativity of Korean culture through writer Kim Eun Sook’s sweet story manipulation. See for yourself why this drama raised a cult following.