Long before Parasite caused a worldwide sensation and scooped up almost every major film award, including the top prizes at the Oscars last year, Korean culture had been steadily gaining popularity around the world. With this Korean wave, also known as Hallyu, you may have heard of boy band BTS. Or maybe you’ve developed a taste for Korean haute cuisine thanks to Michelin-starred restaurants like Cote and Atomix. Or maybe you have a shelf full of Korean beauty products for your evening 10-step skincare routine. Korean TV dramas, even though they don’t have as much critical weight as the country’s film production, are an indispensable part of the cultural fabric – and many of the best are on Netflix. Below are the most entertaining Korean dramas to watch on the streaming service, whether it’s a charming romantic comedy, a slash-thriller or a stunning period piece.
The latest drama everyone keeps talking about has just finished its 16-episode run. In the vein of recent Korean series that offer a gripping portrait of the lives of the country’s stratospheric wealthy (see The Penthouse and Sky Castle, which unfortunately aren’t on Netflix yet), Mine centers on a powerful chaebol family, and more specifically about his two daughters-in-law trying to forge an identity – and reclaim what is theirs – in a patriarchal society. Halfway between Succession, Downton Abbey and Big Little Lies (a murder, revealed in the first episode, is at the origin of the narration), the series offers you a captivating and winding plot, as well as exceptional main actresses, Lee Bo-young and Kim Seo-hyung, who, with their impeccable style and presence,
Star actor Song Joong-ki plays the main character, Vincenzo, who was adopted by the head of an Italian criminal family when he was young and became a mafia counselor. Intestinal struggles and betrayals force Vincenzo to flee to Korea, where he finds a new enemy to defeat: a ruthless conglomerate.
THE UNCANNY COUNTER
In this paranormal blockbuster, a disabled teenager is recruited into a supernatural group known as the “Counters”, who hunt down evil spirits who have escaped from the afterlife to possess human hosts and corrupt them so that they commit terrible acts. As a member of this team of demon hunters (the facade of their secret business is a noodle shop), he develops superhuman and psychic abilities, and leads a double life: high school student by day, fighting evil by night.
Two seasons long (and fans are hoping for a third), this beloved thriller made The New York Times’ Best TV Shows of 2017 list. Louis Vuitton muse Bae Doona stars as a charming detective who teams up with an empathetic prosecutor (a childhood brain surgery gone wrong left her with very low EQ) to solve a murder. Along the way, they uncover much deeper and insidious forces at play, in the name of political conspiracies orchestrated by Korea’s favorite TV villain: those overly powerful, good-for-nothing conglomerates.
As its title suggests, Start-Up tells the story of a group of millennials working in Korea’s version of Silicon Valley. While their professional struggles may be reminiscent of HBO’s Silicon Valley, this is a Korean drama after all, and the series is more of a romantic comedy (expect the usual love triangles, dating, etc.
This historical drama is set in the late Joseon period, Korea’s last dynasty before the country’s annexation by Japan in the early 1900s. Lee Byung-hun stars as U.S. Marine Eugene Choi, who returns to his homeland and falls in love with Go Ae-shin (played by The Handmaiden actress, Kim Tae-ri), a noblewoman who secretly moonlights for the Righteous Army, a militia fighting for Korean independence. Mr. Sunshine has all the ingredients for a great Korean drama: love triangles, story and action. But above all, it is an ode to Korea, before it was changed forever, of great cinematic beauty.
IT’S OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY
Mental health – a generally very taboo subject in Korea – is the central theme of this series. A popular children’s book author (Seo Ye-ji) suffers from antisocial personality disorder; a psychiatric ward caregiver (Kim Soo-hyun), on the other hand, has high emotional intelligence and the added baggage of having to care for his autistic older brother. The girl meets the boy, and the healing begins.
In this Netflix original series (two seasons have already been released, a third is on the way) set in the Joseon period, the king is mysteriously stricken with a strange illness and is presumed dead. Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) tries to find out what’s going on with his father, but he’s locked outside the palace by his power-hungry stepmother and father, who conspire to keep the state of the secret king until they can secure their hold on the throne (by getting rid of Lee Chang, among others). It turns out the king didn’t die – he turned into a flesh-eating zombie. The plague begins to spread throughout the kingdom and it’s up to the crown prince to save his people – and expose the evil conspiracy behind his stepmother’s takeover. It’s like Game of Thrones plus The Walking Dead, but set in 17th century Korea. And just like those series, Kingdom asks the question: can people be more monstrous than the zombies that hunt them? Yes.
First, Park Sae-ro-yi (Park Seo-joon) gets fired for punching a school bully, who happens to be the son of the very powerful owner of the food conglomerate Jangga Group. Then he loses his father in a hit-and-run accident, in which the reckless driver is – who else? – that same rich brute. After nearly beating his father’s killer to death, Sae-ro-yi is sent to prison for three years. After his release, he vows to bring down the powerful food company that ruined his life by opening a bar in Seoul’s Itaewon district, with the goal of turning it into a franchise. This underdog story received high marks for the diversity of its characters – bar staff include a transgender woman, a Guinean-Korean,
WHEN THE CAMELLIA BLOOMS
A woman (Gong Hyo-jin) moves to a small town with her young son and opens a bar. She has to deal with constant teasing from the women of the village, first because she is a single mother (another taboo subject in Korea) and second because she earns her living by serving alcohol, mainly to men. His arrival does not displease everyone: a local policeman (Kang Ha-neul) is instantly seduced. Despite the series’ rom-com style, interspersed with particularly heartwarming descriptions of the relationship between the protagonist and her son, it’s also a thriller. There’s a serial killer on the loose and she’ll be his next victim, unless her admirer catches her first.
To those around him, senior high school student Oh Ji-soo (Kim Dong-hee) is just another prime example of a gifted and intelligent student, so bland, in fact, that even his guidance counselor suggests to him. to study less and to have a social life. Outside of school hours, he runs a security department for an illegal prostitution business (while keeping his identity a secret) in order to earn enough money for his future. When a classmate discovers his secret and wants to be part of the company, things get much more complicated and dangerous.
This series, which resembles Grey’s Anatomy, tells the story of five inseparable friends since medical school who are now doctors in the same hospital. The series depicts their complicated lives, both in and out of the operating room. And one of the ways they let off steam? By playing in a band once a week (hence the Playlist in the title of the series).
In this legal drama about two lawyers who make up the 1% of society, Yoon Jae-hee is a partner at a prestigious law firm with a stellar track record and a huge ego. Jung Geum-ja runs his own law firm. What the two men have in common is their excessive ambition, and they fight for the most high-profile and lucrative businesses, doing whatever it takes to get them. An excellent cast (Kingdom’s Ju Ji-hoon and star actress Kim Hye-soo) makes Hyena an entertaining movie.
After a plane carrying his young nephew crashes en route to Morocco, stuntman Cha Dal-gun (Lee Seung-gi) vows to find out what happened. With the help of National Intelligence Service agent Go Hae-ri (Bae Suzy), the two men begin to uncover a terrorist conspiracy that leads to the Blue House (aka the Presidency).
Think of this popular 2013 drama as a Korean version of The OC Cha Eun-sang (Park Shin-hye) takes part-time jobs to support herself and lives in the wealthy Kim family’s home, where her mother is. governess. A scholarship allows her to enroll in a high school attended by the children of the 1% of the Korean population, where she soon finds herself in the middle of a love triangle involving the scion of the Kim family, Kim Tan (Lee Min-ho ) and his nemesis, Choi Young-do (Kim Woo-bin).
CRASH LANDING ON YOU
A South Korean heiress (Son Ye-jin) goes paragliding and accidentally ends up on the wrong side of the DMZ (the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas). She is rescued by Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun-bin), a captain in the North Korean special police. Predictably, they fall in love, and he must keep his identity a secret and get her home before anyone finds out who she is. Crash Landing on You has enjoyed considerable ratings success (it’s currently the third most-watched show in Korean TV history) thanks to its high-profile stars, strong supporting cast, and portrayal. multidimensional aspect of life in North Korea.
ROMANCE IS A BONUS BOOK
Kang Dan-i (Lee Na-young), a former copywriter, is unemployed, divorced and a single mother. His best friend Cha Eun-ho (Lee Jong-suk) is an accomplished author and the editor of a publishing house. Eun-ho asks Dan-i to find her a housekeeper, but unbeknownst to her, she secretly starts cleaning her house. Eventually, she has to confess her homosexuality to Eun-ho and accepts a temporary job at her publishing house. The hardships and discrimination Dan-i faces when trying to re-enter the workforce after leaving to raise a child adds another layer to this charming romantic comedy.