From the extended 16+ episode-long stories to unforgettable characters, there really is nothing quite like a good Korean drama. There’s also nothing quite like the hollow feeling of loss you experience when your favorite show ends. Amidst the good, the bad, and the ugly are some Korean dramas that stand the test of time and can be regarded as some of the best ever created. Here, we’ll be showcasing our favorites over the years.
Of course, do feel free to comment below if we’ve missed any noteworthy entries and we’ll be sure to review it and see if it makes the list.
Stranger (Secret Forest)
tvN’s first Saturday/Sunday night drama is an absolute firecracker. Blending excellent characterization, lots of twists, and some believable detective work, Stranger is a must-watch Korean drama. A winner of 3 Baeksang Awards, Stranger earns those accolades with a story that keeps you guessing right to the very end.
What’s particularly impressive with this show though is just how much chemistry the lead duo have without a single ounce of romance. There’s no romantic sub-plot or the usual tropes you’d expect, save for some late-season drama that tackles political ideas we’ve seen many times before.
The catalyst for all of this drama is the death of Moo-Sung Park. Found dead in his apartment, prosecutor Si-Mok rushes to the scene and begins piecing together what really happened. With a TV repairman scrambling from the scene, Si-Mok joins police detective Yeo-Jin in the chase and brings the suspect to custody.
What seems like a simple crime soon reveals layers of shocking corruption at both the police station and the prosecution office. This leads all the way up the chain of command to various powerful players pulling the strings.
The term underrated is thrown around a lot but when it comes to this beautifully written Korean series, that title is well-earned.
Blending romance, comedy, and period drama together, Chicago Typewriter is a series that splits its time evenly between two time periods. The first takes place in the turbulent 1930s as a rebel group rises up and looks to usurp the current administration’s rule with an iron fist.
The second revolves around a prolific writer named Se-Ju in modern-day Seoul. Commonly referred to as the Korean Stephen King, Se-Ju turns his hand to writing a romantic novel for his next project.
What’s particularly impressive about this 2017 series though is just how quickly the tone can switch from comedy to drama, back to romance and period history. It’s really quite an astonishing feat and the cinematography is beautiful too.
Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo
A proper coming-of-age story, Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo sprinkles some serious fairy dust across this lovable Korean drama. With an uplifting narrative about a group of college athletes fighting for their dreams, the story starts slowly before evolving into a memorable feel-good story. There’s some great character work achieved here and across the season all the characters grow and evolve in a realistic way.
It helps too that the chemistry between the lead characters is excellent and backed up by an equally impressive supporting cast. It’s a great entry point for anyone looking to dive into Korean dramas and the effortless comedy emanating through the series is hard not to fall in love with.
Highly regarded as one of the best slice-of-life Korean dramas, Reply 1988 is a real trip down memory lane – and perfect to wash down the bitter trip that is Penthouse. Nestling itself in nicely alongside other dramas of its kind, Reply 1988 adopts a light, breezy tone but finds strength in its characters who are all well-written and have lots of dramatic moments.
There are some surreal and hilarious moments here too (“Aigoo Kim Sajang!”) mixed in with more heartfelt and touching segments across this expansive story.
Split across four different families and praised as one of the more accurate depictions of Korean life, this 20-episode series is split into feature-length episodes as we follow a dozen or so characters from 1988 up to 1994. There’s a blend of romance, comedy, and drama here too, meaning fans of Firefly Lane should love this one.
When it comes to Korean medical dramas, Doctor Stranger is a must-watch. The pace is perfectly poised through much of the run-time and it’s backed up by some suitably tense and unmissable surgery scenes. The overarching story tying everything together is interesting and there’s a light mystery that keeps you hooked until the end.
For those unaware, this drama revolves around a young doctor who flees from North Korea to start a new life south of the border. After being hired to work as a doctor, he realizes that the woman working alongside him looks exactly like the female he lost track of during his escape. Thus begins our character-driven drama.
Of course, things aren’t as simple as they seem and across the season things quickly escalate to become so much more. Suffice to say Doctor Stranger is well worth your time and definitely one of the stronger medical dramas out there.
Descendants of the Sun
With so many Korean dramas descending into the usual tropes (evil Chairman, love triangles, etc.), Descendants of the Sun is refreshingly unique. The story begins simply enough, with a soldier meeting and falling for a gifted surgeon at a hospital. Soon though, trouble brews in paradise and the two find themselves going their separate ways… until fate steps in.
I won’t spoil anything more here but suffice to say the series has some great themes and does well to step away from the usual tropes in Korean dramas.
It’s a show that doubles up on its romance to deliver one of the more memorable and emotionally engaging stories in K-drama land. Much like many others on this list, Descendants of the Sun is a show that knows how to write its characters and it does so with just the right amount of melodrama to make it a must-watch.
Flower Of Evil
Flower Of Evil is an incredibly well-written slow-burn thriller. It’s a show that not only subverts expectations, it does so by seamlessly hopping across various genres without ever losing sight of its main premise.
The story itself plays out as a combination of both a procedural crime drama and a cat-and-mouse thriller. Baek Hee-Sung is a man with a very dark past. Hee-Sung is seemingly happy in his marriage to police detective Ji-Won, with a loving daughter Eun-Ha offering up a semblance of normality.
Only, a string of unexplained murders points to Hee-Sung being the culprit behind this. The truth however, is far more shocking and emotionally stirring than one may expect.
There’s something endlessly fascinating about prison dramas. From Oz and Wentworth to Orange is the New Black, this genre certainly doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon. Never one to miss a trick, Prison Playbook is essentially the K-drama version of a conventional prison drama. Only, instead of leaning in on the melodrama and soapy elements, Playbook instead doubles down on the comedy to give it much more of a campy real-world version of an anime.
There are some really memorable characters introduced along the way and the script is chock full of memorable moments. Don’t be fooled by the comedy though, there’s some serious emotional hammer blows along the way too. Whether it be heartbreak, tension or dark comedy, Prison Playbook expertly moves between all three states across its 90+ minute-long episodes. This is certainly not one to miss.
Crash Landing On You
Who knew an innocent paragliding incident would cause such a stir in the world of K-Dramas? Crash Landing On You has been dubbed by many as 2020’s crowning jewels. It’s also arguably the gateway drama that attracted a whole new crowd of people to experience Korean dramas thanks to Netflix’s desire to showcase more of these wonderful shows. Crash Landing On You manages to effortlessly blend romance, action and comedy together into one heady cocktail of delight.
It’s a show that manages to constantly surprise with every episode, featuring twists and turns that leave you speechless, in tears, elated or even all three! While some may bemoan the ending and long for a second season, this K-Drama successfully crash lands onto our list for all the right reasons. It’s also one of the must-watch shows of 2020.
Strong Girl Bong-Soon
Part-fantasy, part comedic drama, Strong Girl Bong-Soon gives no illusions about its premise. It’s a drama about a strong woman called Bong-Soon who was born with superhuman strength. Putting her abilities to good use, she’s hired by the CEO of a gaming company to be his bodyguard. It’s a simple premise on paper but one that’s propped up by a thick layer of comedy and romance.
Yes, the series includes all the usual tropes like slow-mo kissing and some cheesy dialogue, but it’s easy to look past in the wake of such a fun and lovable storyline. Like many others on this list, the chemistry between the two lead characters is ultimately what helps this stand out and if you haven’t already, this is definitely worth checking out if you’re in the mood for a classic Korean drama treasure.
Beyond Evil is a great example of how to take a simple concept and absolutely run with it. Exemplary acting, tight writing, and numerous twists make this Korean drama one of the best shows this year. It’s hardly surprising then that it was nominated for 7 Baeksang Awards and took home 3 – including Best Drama.
At its core, Beyond Evil plays out as a simple murder mystery. Police detective Dong-Sik is haunted by the ghosts of his past, forced to deal with the death of his sister Yu-Yeon 20 years prior.
With the case still unresolved to this day, a string of new murders seems to be connected with Yu-Yeon’s death. It also coincides with the arrival of Joo-Won.
This junior detective is the son of the superintendent and has a serious chip on his shoulder. He suspects Dong-Sik is the one responsible for killing Yu-Yeon and sets to work piecing together evidence to incriminate him. Only, nothing is that simple.
Could the killer be hiding in plain sight? Are the officers covering up the truth? Or is all of this a red herring for something more sinister? This one’s a must-watch!
Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (Goblin)
Guardian: The Lonely & Great God is quite simply one of the best Korean dramas ever made. Armed with excellent cinematography, crackling chemistry between its main cast, and one of the best soundtracks in this medium, Guardian (often referred to as Goblin) is a wonderful journey from start to finish and a must-watch for fantasy fans.
At the heart of this one lies Dokkaebi (Kim Shin), a 939-year-old immortal who happens to be best friends with a Grim Reaper and a student called Eun-Tak with a tragic past. As fate would have it, Eun-Tak happens to be his bride who’s destined to break Shin’s immortal curse.
The story takes many twists and turns along the way but manages to nail every single part of its production. When it comes to gold-standard K-Dramas, this one sets a very high bar.
Based loosely on true events that took place in Korea, Signal is quite simply an incredible thrill ride. This police procedural blends a shocking string of crimes with a time-bending idea that sees a walkie-talkie able to communicate with the past. 1989 to be precise.
With both Hae-Young and Soo-Hyun working together, they team up with Jae-Han from the past and together set out to catch the killer. With the gift of hindsight and foresight at their disposal, they work to try and prevent these atrocious crimes from ever taking place.
While not an outright sci-fi proposition, the crime drama elements work really well with the timelines to make for a really engaging watch.
W: Two Worlds
Armed with a creative premise and leaning in hard on the sci-fi/fantasy vibes, W is a series whose strengths lie in its unpredictability. The “W” to which this drama pertains comes from the clash between two worlds, the real world and an alternate universe inside a webtoon. As the action turns toward the fantastical web-toon world, this Korean drama really starts to come into its own and deliver something wholly original.
As the rules of this world are explained, the characters grow with each passing episode and each chapter adds something new and interesting to the fold. It’s an unpredictable thrill ride from start to finish that will have you guessing right the way through to the end.
Although the final few episodes are a little rushed and wobbly, it’s easy to look past that in the wake of such great writing done prior to that. If you’re looking for one of the best sci-fi K-dramas out there, look no further.
Coffee Prince is the perfect little rom-com to watch with a steaming cup of coffee tucked up under the blankets. It’s an unashamedly simple series that leans in heavily on romance and comedy to deliver an equal amount of laughs and tears.
The story itself revolves around a bachelor who pretends to be a homosexual so he can avoid blind dates arranged by his grandma. Only, when he hires Eun-chan to fill that role, unbeknownst to him she’s actually a female. From here, the drama grows over time and perfectly captures that slice-of-life romance between the two leads.
This, coupled with a great soundtrack, make Coffee Prince an easy show to binge and one of the classic romantic Korean dramas out there.
My Love from the Star
If you’ve had enough of conventional romantic dramas for a lifetime, how about one involving an alien from another planet? My Love From The Star does exactly that, introducing us to a cynical alien named Do Min Joon. Having been stranded on Earth for the past 400 years, his cynical outlook is tested by a former actress who slowly starts to chip away his preconceptions about humanity.
My Love From The Star is a silly, funny, and surprisingly poignant drama, one that strips away the humor to lean in hard on the melodrama at just the right times. While the show is an outright romance first and foremost, it does have some great drama throughout too. That’s to say nothing of the dastardly villain either which helps add the proverbial cherry on top of a very alien but very deliciously filling Korean drama.
Another heavy hitting tvN drama, Mr Sunshine is an epic period piece that combines impressive visuals with a really well-written story. Exceptionally well written in fact. Coupled with some brilliant casting, this is one Korean drama not to be missed.
Set during the Joseon period in 1871, Mr. Sunshine begins with a brief glimpse of the past as a Korean boy boards an American warship and grows up in the US as an American. Only, when he returns to his hometown again, it’s as an American soldier causing plenty of inner turmoil and conflict. To spoil much more would be a disservice to this drama but suffice to say when it dropped back in 2018, it was easily one of the best shows of the year.
The story is brilliantly paced, even across the extended 24-episode run, and the show backs up its solid writing with some excellent production design and set pieces. Given this one is available to watch on Netflix, Mr. Sunshine is another must-watch.
Healer is the perfect example of why you can never trust network ratings to gauge the quality of a series. When you look at the week-on-week hits, Healer is pretty shocking, dropping outside the top 20 for many weeks at a time. However, Healer marched on undeterred.
The result is something that’s not only a solid watch, it’s also an intricately placed puzzle that manages to slot every single piece together perfectly by the end. The show mixes the right blend of action, romance, and thrills together to create something truly special.
The premise just does not do the drama justice but essentially revolves around a popular reporter called Moon-Ho haunted by the memories of a decades-old incident involving five friends. In trying to uncover the truth about what happened back in 1992, Moon-Ho finds himself aligned with an illegal “night courier” called Healer and a reporter called Young-Shin. Across the 20 episodes, they grow into real, honest reporters but certainly face quite a struggle along the way.
The story itself is fantastic and has just the right amount of humor and drama to make for an engaging watch. Each episode is paced nicely and it’s one of those rare instances where it doesn’t fall into the usual K-drama trap of dragging out the third act. Instead, Healer layers its story with a constantly evolving and consistently great story that’s well worth checking out.
Pinocchio is a wonderful romantic drama that manages to start strongly and only grow in confidence as the episodes tick by. At its core, the story revolves around a man whose life has been devastated by corrupt reporters. On the opposite side lies a girl suffering from Pinocchio Syndrome; a condition that results in her being unable to lie without hiccuping. The two go on a journey of self-discovery together that soon blossoms into something beautiful and incredibly well-written.
One of the more memorable and hilarious moments in the drama comes from a surreal kiss involving toast. I won’t spoil much more but it’s a hilarious segment and only typifies how funny and heartwarming this show actually is.
It also helps that this drama has a brilliant soundtrack, making it an easy pick for one of the best Korean dramas of all time.
What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim
Based on the webtoon remake of the novel “Kimbiseoga Wae Geureolgga”, on paper What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim has little in the way of redeeming or original features. It feels very much like a simple romantic comedy on paper, playing out in a formulaic fashion.
What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim is the perfect example of why you should never judge a book by its cover. Between the glimpses of our lead character’s dark past, the real kicker with Secretary Kim comes from the characters.
Sometimes a group of actors come together and just have that X-factor to produce something magical and this is one such example. The main characters are incredibly likable, there’s some wonderful humor and both leads have excellent chemistry that helps elevate this simple rom-com into something so much more profound and enjoyable than it otherwise would be.
Hotel Del Luna
Hotel Del Luna may not be the strongest drama on the list, nor does it do anything particularly outstanding with its story. However, it does pack one heck of an emotional punch and arguably trumps every other drama from 2018 for its soundtrack. It’s also another classic IU masterclass in acting.
In its simplest form, Hotel Del Luna refers to a gateway hotel between the real world and the afterlife. Following a bright opening act, a lot of the middle episodes fall into an episodic format until the third act starts to ramp up the drama, light horror elements, and emotion.
There are some truly emotional scenes peppered throughout and the finale is certainly one of the most gut-wrenching episodes. The supernatural elements and world-building are excellent throughout and the cinematography is really impressive too.
Secret Garden is your classic forbidden love story wrapped up with some great acting and a believable body swap angle. On paper, Secret Garden unashamedly takes two tried and tested narrative tropes and combines them together. The execution however is much, much better than one may expect.
On the one hand, you’ve got Kim Joo-Won who happens to be the arrogant CEO of a huge shopping district. Opposite him stands Ra Im who finds herself entangled in Joo-Won’s life almost by accident thanks to a case of mistaken identity. Of course, this all happens to be a clever bout of foreshadowing as the pair find themselves lost in a forest before finding a secluded restaurant known as “Secret Garden”.
This is inevitably where the magic starts and throughout the drama, there are some great moments of romance and drama that easily overshadow some of the minor plot issues that crop up. The believable portrayal of both lead characters regarding their body swap is partly the reason this works as well as it does. It’s also a really good drama and definitely worth a watch.
Boys Over Flowers
Boys Over Flowers is a pretty cliched K-drama but it follows up those cliches with a neat story about class and culture. Even the title of the drama, a play on the adage of valuing materialistic wealth over the beauty in life, feeds into the main premise of the story.
Regardless of its simplicity and tropes, there’s no denying the popularity and love many people have for this drama. Interestingly, this Korean remake of the Japanese series with the same name catapulted a lot of its stars into the limelight.
Over the years, Boys Over Flowers has definitely picked up steam internationally and despite releasing in 2009, remains one of those “classic” dramas to check out. The real talking point here though comes from the way this drama tackles bullying and manages to hone in on each of the different characters and flesh them out in the process.
This is easily the strongest part of the drama and it makes Boys Over Flowers a memorable enough Korean drama to land a spot on this list.
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay certainly doesn’t shy away from portraying important mental health issues and it does so in a very natural way. From emotional and physical abuse to learning difficulties, the drama tackles these perfectly with one message in mind. Just like the title itself, it is okay to not be okay and seek help, whether professionally or from the support of friends and family.
The story revolves around brothers Moon Kang-Tae and Moon Sang-Tae. They have lived alone since they were very young. After their mother passed away, Kang-Tae has been doing the best he can, protecting and looking after his older brother.
The series has an original and heartwarming premise with excellent character progression and interesting themes. It’s not easy to portray mental health issues but this drama does a great job depicting this in its rawest form, helped along by some impressive acting from the entire cast.
I’m Not A Robot
Much Like Secretary Kim, I’m Not A Robot is a drama that absolutely nails its casting. There are some heartwarming and hilarious scenes throughout and all of this back-dropped against the story that plays out its surrealist comedy angle right from the start.
For those unaware, I Am Not A Robot revolves around an android called Aji 3. When this robot breaks down, it’s up to the lead female Ji-A to pretend to be this android as a favor to her ex-boyfriend Baek-Gyun. While this sounds simple in theory, the story soon grows into something so much more.
There’s a great romance at the heart of this one and every single character really nails their role to perfection. The drama does well to add layers of intrigue too, boasting a vast array of jokes and some brilliant comedy to boot.
Sky Castle boasts one of the highest network ratings (reaching nearly 24.5% during its finale) and for good reason too. It’s a remarkable feat, especially when you look back and see the drama hit a measly 1% with its opening episode.
This satirical drama revolves around four housewives residing in an exclusive residential area, desperate to get their kids into university no matter the cost.
While simple in theory, Sky Castle’s examination of class and culture is partly why the show works as well as it does. Alongside this are numerous thought-provoking discussions around the parental pressure of excelling at school. All of this combines to make Sky Castle one of the best Korean dramas out there and a must-watch for any K-drama lover!
And there we have it, our list of best Korean dramas of all time! We’ll periodically update this page as we watch more Korean dramas and work through any requests you guys may have for us as well.
What do you think of our list? Have we included your favorites? Or have we missed any must-watch dramas? We love to hear from you so do feel free to let us know in the comments below.