Korean content has had a surge in popularity in the U.S. over recent years, from the zombie flick Train to Busan and Bong Joon-ho's Oscar-winning sati
Korean content has had a surge in popularity in the U.S. over recent years, from the zombie flick Train to Busan and Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning satire Parasite to the dystopian drama that took over the world last year, Squid Game. Luckily for anyone who saw Squid Game and wants to check out more Korean television dramas, a.k.a. K-dramas, Netflix has one of the largest libraries of the best Korean dramas and films in the U.S.
From action, to romance, to mystery, melodrama, and even more dystopia, there’s a K-drama out there for everyone’s TV taste. We can also expect several highly-anticipated new Korean dramas on Netflix in 2022(opens in new tab), but that doesn’t man you have to wait to dive into some beloved dramas. Here’s the best shows to check out immediately (prepare to get totally invested in a 16-episode season).
‘Crash Landing on You’
This beloved romance drama takes the “lovers from two different worlds” trope to a new level. South Korean heiress Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin) gets in a paragliding accident and lands in the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea. She’s rescued by Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun Bin), a North Korean Special Forces captain, who has to take her in and help her return home. In addition to the heartwrenching romance, the show also includes a multifaceted portrayal of life in North Korea, and a stellar supporting cast. Plus, the two A-list leads began dating IRL after filming the drama and just got married(!!!).
The best melodramas are both mesmerizing and enraging, while shining a light on an important social issue affecting the country. And by “the best melodrama,” I mean SKY Castle. This 2018 smash-hit (like second highest ratings in Korean cable network history smash-hit) follows a group of ultra-wealthy families obsessed with gaining admission to the most prestigious universities in South Korea for their high school-aged kids. With the uber-competitive environment leading to mental breakdowns, estrangement, and even death, this satire shines a light on whether that amount of parental pressure is beneficial at all for kids.
‘It’s Okay to Not Be Okay’
A warning, this drama is heavy—tackling mental health and trauma—but extremely worth the watch. A psychiatric ward caregiver Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun) who takes care of his autistic older brother Moon Sang-tae (Oh Jung-se) falls for children’s book author Ko Moon-young (Seo Ye-ji) who has an antisocial personality disorder. The overall vibe of the show is a dark fairy tale, like Moon-young’s books, and the starring trio give amazing performances.
The most-watched Netflix show of all time is a brutal, realistic thriller about the depths that everyday people can be pushed to when they’re truly desperate. A group of people, from a deadbeat dad threatened by loan sharks to a North Korean refugee seeking a better life for her little brother, are invited to play a series of popular children’s games, competing for billions of Korean won (millions in US dollars). The catch is, when they lose, they die.
‘Twenty Five, Twenty One’
This coming-of-age rom-com recently stole viewers’ hearts thanks to its determined characters, living through the IMF financial crisis. Na Hee-do (Kim Tae-ri) is a teenage fencer who refuses to give up after her team shuts down, instead transferring to the team of her idol-turned-rival, Go Yoo-rim (WJSN’s Bona). Baek Yi-jin (Nam Joo-hyuk) is the son of a former conglomerate family, now broke and struggling to find a job. The romance between Hee-do and Yi-jin plays out over their teenage years, and is both lovely and at times heartwrenching.
This lauded military drama takes place amid South Korea’s 18 month mandatory military service, and sheds light on cases of desertion stemming from hazing mistreatment by higher-ranking officials. New soldier Ahn Jun-ho (Jung Hae-in) joins the D.P. (Deserter Pursuit) team, returning to civilian life to bring back rogue soldiers, all the while understanding what drove the deserters to run. The harsh, realistic depictions of bullying are hard to watch, but it’s propelled by great acting performances.
Every popular rom-com trope comes up at least once in this fan-favorite drama, following two couples from meet-cute to another type of proposal. Food researcher Shin Ha-ri (I.O.I. and Gugudan’s Kim Se-jong) agrees to sabotage a blind date for her wealthy best friend Jin Young-seo (Seol In-ah). It turns out the date is with the president of her company, Kang Tae-moo (Ahn Hyo-seop), who has decided to marry the next woman he meets. Meanwhile, Young-seo falls for Tae-moo’s childhood friend and assistant, Cha Sung-Hoon (Kim Min-kyu), with the second-lead couple also having great chemistry.
This detective drama takes place across time, with a past-and-present team solving crimes based on well-known criminal cases in Korea. Criminal profiler Park Hae-Young (Lee Je-hoon), who lives in 2015, discovers a mysterious walkie-talkie that allows him to communicate with Lee Jae-han (Choi Jin-woong), a detective from 2000 who’s working to solve a cold case that affected Hae-young as a kid. The two cops, along with 2015 detective Cha Soo-hyn (Kim Hye-soo), work together to solve cold cases across time.
‘When the Camelia Blooms’
This show belongs to a genre-mixing category specific to k-dramas, where a heartwarming romance is interspersed with a thriller subplot. Single mother Dong-baek (Kong Hyo-jin) moves to the town of Ongsan with her baby boy to open up her own bar, The Camelia. Police officer Hwang Yong-sik (Kang Ha-neul) falls for her at first site and does whatever he can to win her love, while she’s distracted by her ex-boyfriend arriving in town. Meanwhile, a serial killer called The Joker starts killing members of the community.
This sweeping historical drama is set in the early 1900s, in the period between Korea (then Joseon’s) freedom from Chinese influence and the country’s annexation by Japan. Joseon-born U.S. Marine Eugene Choi (Squid Game’s Lee Byung-hun) returns to his home country after fleeing to escape slavery as a child. There he meets Ae-shin Go (Twenty Five, Twenty One‘s Kim Tae-ri), a noblewoman who is secretly part of a militia working against a plot to colonize the country. Eugene soon has to choose whether to keep his neutral position as an American diplomat or join the effort to secure the country’s independence.
Fans of hospital shows like Grey’s Anatomy and E.R. should try out this comforting multi-season drama, which focuses more on the relationships between hospital workers and the patients and families they help. At the center of the show is a group of five doctors who have been friends since med school and play in a band together in their spare time. As they deal with difficult work situations and romances, the group are always there to comfort each other.
‘All of Us Are Dead’
South Korea is known for its excellent zombie content (see the aforementioned Train to Busan). This drama sees the zombie drama take over a high school, when the school’s science teacher accidentally unleashes a virus that quickly takes over the school and town. A group of students, including friends Lee Cheong-San (Yoon Chan-young) and Nam On-Jo (Park Ji-hu), jock Lee Su-Hyeok (Lomon), and class president Choi Nam-ra (Cho Yi-hyun), band together to fight their way out, learning along the way that humans can be more monstrous than the actual monsters.
‘Move to Heaven’
This tearjerker will have you reaching for tissues from the first episode, but it’s also a moving story of life and death. Young Geu-Ru (Tang Joon-sang), who lives with Asperger syndrome, works for his father’s business, arranging the items left by the deceased. When his father dies in an accident, his ex-convict uncle Sang-Gu (Lee Je-Hoon) reappears and becomes his guardian, with the two men running the business, named Move to Heaven, together.
Over two decades ago, a serial killer rocked the Manyang village and changed the life of Lee Dong-sik (Shin Ha-kyun), who was falsely accused and still seeks vengeance for his sister, one of the killer’s victims. More women begin disappearing in the present, with the murders looking similar to the 20-year cold case. Now a detective, Dong-sik and his new partner Han Joo-won (Yeo Jin-goo) investigate the case and its several twist and turns, which will leave you on the edge of your seat for 15 episodes.
‘Our Beloved Summer’
When they were in high school slacker Choi Ung (Parasite‘s Choi Woo-shik) and overachiever Kook Yeon-su (Kim Da-mi) were subjects of a slice-of-life documentary that paired the two opposites together. They ended up falling into a high school romance. Now, years later, they re-connect as adults after parting ways on bad terms. Can they make amends, or maybe even fall in love again?
The lead of this action melodrama, Vincenzo Cassano (Song Joong-ki), was adopted to an Italian family as a child and grew up to be a lawyer working as a mafia consigliere. Fleeing from a mob war, he returns to South Korea to recover a secret treasure, ultimately getting involved with another lawyer, Hong Cha-young (Jeon Yeo-been), and the tenants of the rundown Geumga Plaza. While the supporting characters bring a comedic touch, the ultimate conflict between VIncenzo and the corrupt Babel Group CEO Jang Jun-Woo (Ok Taec-yeon) keeps tensions high.
This drama starring new MCU addition Park Seo-joon is a David and Goliath tale spanning decades. When Park Saeroyi (Park) was a teenager, his life fell into ruin after he stood up to wealthy father-son villains, food conglomerate CEO Jang Dae-hee (Yoo Jae-myung) and Jang Geun-won (Ahn Bo-hyun). Years later, he opens a bar with the goal to turn it into the largest food company in Korea, toppling his enemies in the process. To help, he hires a ragtag team including a friend he met in prison, a trans chef, a Black Korean searching for his father, and the determined-slightly sociopathic Cho Yi-seo (Kim Dami).
‘Hometown Cha Cha Cha’
This comforting romance takes place in the fictional seaside village of Gongjin. Dentist Yoon Hye-Jin (Shin Min-ah) is a city-dweller who’s unable to find work at another clinic after leaving her job. One day she travels to her hometown for her mother’s birthday and meets Hong Du-shik (Kim Seon-ho), who’s unemployed and spends his days doing odd jobs for the community. Hye-jin, discovering that the village is in need of a dentist, moves to Gongjin and slowly begins connecting more with Du-shik.
‘Hotel de Luna’
This supernatural drama is beloved for lead actress IU’s stunning costumes as much as the engrossing story. Jang Man-Wol (IU) is the CEO of the Hotel de Luna, a way-station for ghosts who have unfinished business on earth before heading to the afterlife. Man-wol, who is selfish and rageful, has been running the hotel for a thousand years, bound by a past resentment from betrayal. However, things change when a new human manager, Koo Chan-Sung (Yeo Jin-goo), arrives.
The first Netflix original k-drama to make a splash in the U.S., Kingdom takes the historical and zombie dramas, two of the most beloved among k-drama fans, and combines them in a suspenseful thriller. A mysterious virus quickly spreads through Joseon-era Korea, affecting everyone from everyday citizens to the king of Joseon himself. During the upheaval, the crown prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) teams up with a brilliant physician (played by Sense8‘s Bae Doona), a mysterious warrior, and his personal guard to fight the spread of the disease and also stop a coup seeking to overthrow his claim to the throne.
The nostalgic Reply anthology is beloved for its depictions of South Korean life during momentous years in Korean pop culture, with phenomenons like the first generation of idol groups and the Seoul Olympics serving as backdrops. Each series follows a community living during these times, with the day-to-day lives of teens, college students, and their parents taking center stage. As for which to start with, the last series released, Reply 1988, is the most celebrated of the trilogy and features great performances from stars like Park Bo-gum and Girl’s Day’s Hyeri.
‘Because This Is My First Life’
This drama is as much an ode to friendship as a rom-com, following three unmarried women dealing with society’s expectations as they head into their early ’30s. Yoon Ji-ho (Jung So-min) finds herself homeless due to financial and family problems. In search of housing, she enters a contract marriage with house-poor Nam Se-hee (Lee Min-ki), as both of them have no interest in romantic relationships. Meanwhile, Woo So-ji (Esom) deals with sexism at work and only engages in hook-ups, while Yang Ho-rang (Kim Ga-eun) has been dating her boyfriend for seven years and desperately wants to get married.
Fans of legal shows, this is your next must-watch. Law School follows both the professors and a group of first-year students at a prestigious law school rocked by a grim incident. When a colleague dies, no-nonsense criminal law professor Yang Jong Hoon (Kim Myung-min)—think the Annalise Keating of the show—is wrongfully accused. As the students assist in his trial defense while also trying their hardest to not fail, other subplots highlight their struggles, including one that shows the difficulty of seeking justice for dating abuse.
‘Her Private Life’
Though many K-pop idols have starred in hit dramas, this rom-com is the show to watch for fangirl representation. Sung Deok-Mi (played by rom-com queen Park Min-Young) is an art curator with a secret hobby running a fan site for her favorite idol group member, Shi-An (ONE). She hides her fangirl activities at work, but she gets a new boss with a connection to Shi-An—Ryan Gold (Kim Jae-wook)—it gets harder to balance her work life and her private life.
It’s a great time to check out this gory zombie drama, with a second season reportedly in the works! Loner Cha Hyun-soo (an unrecognizable Song Kang), who lost his family in a car crash, has just moved into the rundown Green Homes apartment complex when a virus quickly takes over the word, turning people into monsters. He joins the residents of Green Homes as they all try to survive and see both the best and worst of humanity.
‘The Uncanny Counter’
This supernatural action drama follows So Mun (Joe Byeong-gu), a student who lost his parents in a suspicious car accident as a child. He becomes a Counter, a human partnered with a good spirit, who hunts down evil spirits using their own special abilities, including superhuman strength and speed. His fellow Counters are the staff of a noodle restaurant: Ga Mo-Tak (Yu Jun-sang) who uses psychometry, Chu Mae-Ok (Yum Hye-ran) who is the mother figure with healing abilities, and Do Ha-Na (Business Proposal‘s Kim Se-jeong) who can sense evil spirits from miles away and read people’s memories through touch.
Han So-hee stars in this crime drama as Yoon Ji-Woo, whose father was murdered on her 17th birthday. Taken in by Dongcheon’s kingpin Choi Mu-jin (Park Hee-soon), Ji-woo trains to become the gangster’s mole in the police force. As she investigates her father’s murder, bent on revenge, she also finds herself caught between the law and the criminal underworld, not knowing which side was responsible for her dad’s death.
‘One Spring Night’
This realistic romance drama depicts the love story of Yu Ji-ho (Jung Hae-in), a single father who works as a pharmacist, and librarian Lee Jeong-in (Han Ji-min). The first interaction between the two is mundane—Jeong-in goes into Ji-ho’s work and realizes she forgot her wallet—and the woman already has a boyfriend of four years. Still, their chance meetings building into a deep attachment, with the pair falling in love despite everyone around them telling them not to.
Signal‘s Kim Hye-soo stars in this procedural drama as Shim Eun-seok, a judge who’s transferred to a juvenile criminal court, despite her openly detesting young offenders. She disagrees with the laws for offenders under the age of 13, who get a shorter sentence in juvenile detention instead of prison time, even in cases of murder. As she works in the court, she tries to balance those beliefs with her strong sense of justice, even going out of her way to investigate some cases and even coming up with her own punishments for guilty offenders.
‘Mystic Pop-up Bar’
Ssanggab Cart Bar is a food stall that only opens at night on the rooftop of a building, run by hot-tempered Wol-ju (Hwang Jung-eum). The customers include both the living and the dead, all of whom have grudges and internal wounds. Wol-ju can enter their dreams and help them heal, along with Manager Gui (Choi Won-young) and new part-timer Han Kang-bae (BTOB and Goblin‘s Yook Sung-jae).