Our favorite dramas from Korea have been inspired by true events, adapted from movies or international shows, created from great minds, and, of course, adapted from webtoons, Korean manhwa, and Japanese manga. The following are just a few of these series that we believe do justice to the original works and would be a great addition to your to watch list!

“The Man Living In Our House”

Based on the webtoon “A Stranger In My House” by Yoo Hyun Sook, “The Man Living in Our House” is a fun and flirty drama following Hong Na Ri (played by Soo Ae), a successful flight attendant who goes back to her family home after her boyfriend cheats on her with a coworker. She is surprised to find a handsome stranger living in her old house and running her mom’s dumpling shop and even more surprised when she learns he is her stepfather, previously married to her mom, who passed away a few years ago. There is a ton of tension between the two, especially as Na Ri struggles to respect a younger man who insists on taking on a fatherly role in her life, and, of course, the dynamic is a strange one.

Like the show, the webtoon is a lot of fun, and Soo Ae does a fantastic job of portraying Na Ri and making her relatable; she’s honest, upfront and outspoken, and a little erratic at times, but also very measured and mature. She handles the loss of her mother, the betrayal of her boyfriend and colleague, and the arrival of this new stranger with strength and shows herself to be a survivor instead of a victim.

The drama continues as Na Ri attempts to prove the stranger is a conman instead of a legitimate husband to her deceased mother, but his charm starts to win her over and soon a romance blossoms between them.

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“Cheese In The Trap”

This drama follows Hong Seol (played by Kim Go Eun), a struggling student who notices a darker side to the popular man on campus (played by Park Hae Jin). Seol tackles her anxieties towards him as he pursues her, seemingly intrigued by her ability to see underneath his performance.

“Cheese In The Trap” might be a controversial entry in this list, and understandably so. For many, the ending was a disappointment, and some plot lines, or should I say, the focus of some plot lines over others were changed from the original webtoon-turned-drama. It is important to note that at the time of the production, the webtoon was not completed, so the writers of the show planned to go in their own direction. However, the direction they chose made some fans angry and others confused. The ending of the drama was such a point of controversy that a feature length movie was produced to hopefully provide a more satisfying ending. While it may do so for some, the movie falls short of the drama and the webtoon in that its short runtime can only provide so much context and character background to keep viewers engaged and really caring about the story and its conclusion. The movie almost feels like an accompaniment to the drama as opposed to a standalone project.

Despite its pitfalls, the drama creates a visual aesthetic that perfectly matches the webtoon. The character design and wardrobe are also very well done, and the performances were gripping. Overall, the drama is very interesting in spite of its ending and is worth a watch.

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“Flower Boy Next Door”

Based on a webtoon of the same name created by Hyun Suk Yu, “Flower Boy Next Door” follows Ko Dok Mi (played by Park Shin Hye), an introvert who, after a bad experience in school, has hidden herself away from the outside world. Locked up in her small apartment, she entertains herself with books and peeps on the attractive male neighbor whose apartment she can see into through her window (with the help of some binoculars). She is satisfied with her small existence, but the arrival of Enrique (played by Yoon Shi Yoon), a charismatic game developer with a childlike approach to life, drags her out of her safe life and thrusts her into the social community of their apartment building. One of the two men living next door is in love with her, an old bully from her past life is hanging around, and the man she loves, if only from a distance, might be in love with someone else.

The drama did a great job of recreating Dok Mi’s apartment and portraying her disdain towards social interactions. The color palette used is also well matched, despite many of the characters looking completely different from their webtoon counterparts. Park Shin Hye is fantastic in the role, but she approaches the character with a more calm, solemn demeanor, rather than the erratic character of the webtoon. The drama itself is actually very relaxing and at times uplifting to watch, not to mention some hilarious minor characters.

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“Boys Over Flowers”

Based on a Japanese manga written and illustrated by Yoko Kamio, “Boys Over Flowers” is a classic that has been parodied and copied relentlessly across Korean entertainment, probably because it’s so incredibly camp and silly, but also a ton of fun. The story follows Jan Di (played by Ku Hye Sun) as she joins an elite school where only the most wealthy and intelligent students in Korea are admitted. Jan Di is neither incredibly intelligent nor wealthy; she’s actually attending the school on a scholarship earned by saving the life of a student from the school when he tried to kill himself. She’s not very keen to attend the school, but is tempted by their elite swim program and pressured by family.

It’s not long after arriving that she is introduced to the cause of the suicidal boy’s strife, the F4, a group of snobbish boys with silly hair and bad fashion (that at the time might have been considered good fashion). They’re elitist bullies, self-indulgent, self-obsessed, cruel to their peers, and not particularly interesting. But they’re handsome, and as this is a K-drama, of course Jan Di is going to discover their nice warm qualities midway through the plot, but not after showing some real gumption, refusing to back down and leave the school even after becoming the target of their ruthless bullying.

The drama literally starts with the attempted suicide of a young boy pushed to his limit by a small group of students who push the entire school to ostracize him… and then those students become the romantic leads, so you can make your own conclusions of whether this drama will stand the test of time or should be shown to impressionable youths. However, Ku Hye Sun is incredibly likable, relatable, and fun to watch. She’s a strong character, and thankfully the ending is a little ambiguous so we can imagine she grew up and married an actual human being (or a vampire).

The manga has inspired several adaptations across Asia in the form of dramas and animations and continues to be loved by fans the world over.

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“Full House”

Based on the Korean manhwa of the same name written and illustrated by Won Soo Yeon, “Full House” stars Song Hye Kyo and Rain in a romantic comedy that is still just as enjoyable now as it was in 2004. Step back to the days when such big names were fresh-faced and relatively new to the drama scene, but showed such great chemistry that it’s no wonder they’re as respected as they are today.

Song Hye Kyo plays Ji Eun Han, an aspiring novelist living in a large house her father built and left to her when he passed away, the “Full House” of the title. Viewers must suspend disbelief as her “friends,” a pregnant wife and unemployed husband, ship her off on a fake vacation and sell her house right out from under her. When she returns, they apologize feebly, but it seems it’s already too late, as the new owner arrives shortly after.

Coincidentally, she has already met Lee Young Jae, a successful actor who happened to be seated beside her on the flight to her fake vacation. After some not-so-friendly encounters overseas, Eun Han is not pleased to see that he will be living in her house and demands he give it back to her. Of course, there wouldn’t be much of a drama if he had. Instead, he allows her to work as his housekeeper in exchange for free boarding. Ji Eun accepts and vows to get her work published, make enough money, and buy the house back.

And so ensues a ton of mischief, misunderstanding, romance, and drama as the two even end up in a fake marriage contract to make the subject of Young Jae’s affection jealous in exchange for Eun Han finally getting her house back. It’s ridiculous but it’s great!

The manhwa is a little different to the drama, but still just as silly.

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“Goong”

Based on a manhwa of the same name written and illustrated by Park So Hee, “Goong” is a frolic of love/hate romance, Cinderella themes, and all the color and splendor of a traditional sageuk drama. Set in a fictional reality where the Korean royal family still reigns in modern society, Yoon Eun Hye plays Shin Chae Kyung, an ordinary girl from a modest household (Cinderella) whose hand in marriage is requested from the royal prince (played by Joo Ji Hoon)! He’s actually being forced into the proposal by his family, who made some deal way back when, but it leads to an arranged marriage trope filled with distasteful glares, tons of bickering, and, of course, the inevitable slow fall into love.

The show can at times be a little clunky with lots going on and many characters following a political agenda, but the fantastical world in which it’s set, the fun (if a little inexperienced) performances of the cast, and the adorable chemistry between the two leads is enough to drag in any lover of Korean dramas.

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“Liar Game”

Based on a Japanese manga series of the same name written and illustrated by Shinobu Kaitani, “Liar Game” is a tense and intriguing thriller with relentless side-by-side can’t-miss moments as the characters and viewers try to figure out the plot behind a series of games.

Nam Da Jung (played by Kim So Eun) is a naive college student struggling to pay back her father’s debt when she “wins” a chance to compete on a televised game show where the biggest liar will win a billion Korean won. The only problem is she’s probably the most honest person alive, so one of the loan sharks she’s indebted to introduces her to his friend Cha Woo Jin (played by Lee Sang Yoon), a con man just out of jail whose skills at deceiving people are next to none.

What follows are 12 hours of intense drama, tricks, and lies, with secondary characters that are just as interesting as the leads and performed with equal strength.

It’s really no wonder the original manga is so successful and has inspired many adaptations both in Japan and Korea.

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“Lucky Romance”

Based on the webtoon of the same name written and illustrated by Kim Dal Min, “Lucky Romance” looks like a comic strip. It’s beautiful, brightly colored, and full of out-of-this-world graphics.

It just doesn’t look like the comic strip it’s based on. Original fans of the webtoon that was published on Naver might have been surprised to see Sim Bo Nui (played by Hwang Jung Eum) with cropped brown hair or the color palette leaning more towards burnt oranges and bright golds and yellows as opposed to the muted lilacs and pinks of the original text. They won’t have been disappointed though, not with the excessive adorableness or romance of the drama adaptation nor the fun performances from the leads.

The story follows Bo Nui, an aspiring video game developer and extremely superstitious woman as she seeks out a man born in the year of the tiger. Her sister has been in a coma since a car accident, and Bo Nui believes the word of a psychic that told her she can bring her sister back to health by sleeping with a man born in the year of the tiger. It just so happens, a big video game developer (played by Ryu Jun Yeol) was born in 1986, which makes him a match. Unfortunately, the pair have had a few typical K-drama run-ins that have left him feeling less than warm to her persistent interest.

“Lucky Romance” is filled with enough love to warm anyone’s heart, and somehow the performances are still likable and believable, with incredible chemistry between the two leads. Hwang Jung Eum is clumsy and ridiculous in the way that only she can be while still being sweet and approachable, and Ryu Jun Yeol is one of very few actors who can pull off the moody rich guy with a heart of gold character. It’s totally in character and believable when he starts to warm to Bo Nui, and his tender side doesn’t just jump up out of nowhere, making this drama a very enjoyable watch.

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“Bride Of The Water God”

Based on a Korean manhwa of the same name written and illustrated by Yun Mi Kyung, “Bride of the Water God” does an expert job of making the lead characters look regal, tall, and elegant like the characters in the original text. The overall aesthetic is romantic and resembles what we have come to expect from a sunjung manhwa (Korean graphic novels aimed primarily at young girls).

The story follows Habaek (played by Nam Joo Hyuk), a water god who must go to the human world to retrieve magic stones in order to become king in his own world. Once there, he meets Yoon So A, a human woman (played by Shin Se Kyung) whose family has been tasked with serving the water god for generations and decides to force her to help him in his task. The two begin to develop feelings for each other, and this, alongside threats from other gods, creates the main tension of the show.

The show is not perfect and it gets a little convoluted at times, but the performances from the ensemble cast paired with beautiful imagery and an engaging plot make it definitely worth a watch.

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“Incomplete Life”

Based on a Korean manhwa of the same name written and illustrated by Yoon Tae Ho, “Incomplete Life” is a commentary on modern working life and the struggles, especially faced by young people, of getting by and feeling incomplete. The drama was a huge success, with many relating to the themes and scenarios shown across twenty episodes. Im Siwan plays Jang Geu Rae, an ex-baduk player entering the workforce for the first time surrounded by competitors, saboteurs, and future friends. Every character is shown in such depth that even the antagonists are understandable and everyone feels human and real.

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Did we leave any dramas out? Let us know in the comments below!

MizWest, an English Teacher working in South Korea, finally climbed a mountain! But still can’t use chopsticks… 

Currently watching: “Matrimonial Chaos” and “Lovely Horribly”
Looking forward to:  “Mama Fairy and the Woodcutter” and “The Beauty Inside”
All-time favorites: “Healer,” “Reply 1997,” and “Master’s Sun“