22 K-Dramas You Need To Check Out If You’re New To Dramaland
We live in a wonderful era where we have so many K-dramas from so many different genres to fit all our spanning moods. In the mood to bawl your eyes out? Look for a melodrama. Eyes too puffy? Switch to something light and breezy. All the food in the drama making you way too hungry? Try something dark and grisly. With all the gems the K-dramaworld has blessed us with, you will always be able to find something to suit your taste.
So to make your lives easier, here’s a handy list of dramas from a bunch of different categories. These are all really good dramas, so chances are, you’ve watched a chunk of them. And if that’s so, you should use it to drag your friend into the quicksand that is K-dramas instead. What can I say, having someone to go crazy with makes everything more fun!
Also as a note, as K-dramas often have more than one genre to them, the categories (and their respective dramas) can be fluid. And the featured dramas are by no means the only defining ones of that category. Basically, we tried to shove as many great dramas here as possible. So get your Snuggies ready, and let’s jump in!
A man after my own heart!
These dramas were HUUGE during their run, both in Korea and internationally. Even casual fans will know of these dramas, and you should too!
“My Love From the Star” (2013)
Starring: Jun Ji Hyun, Kim Soo Hyun, Park Hae Jin, Yoo In Na, Shin Sung Rok, Ahn Jae Hyun
This is a huge, huge drama that spun parodies left and right, with the food and clothing items featured on it flying off the shelves. Even celebrities from other countries were following and tweeting about it right along with us plebians. And really, how could you not love such a plot-heavy but quirky drama? Jun Ji Hyun plays Cheon Song Yi, a top Hallyu actress who is overly self-assured, but not really put together in real life. Then there is Do Min Joon (Kim Soo Hyun), a very reserved, very stoic, gentlemanly alien, who finds himself more and more entangled in Song Yi’s life.
Catch the first episode of “My Love From the Star”:
“Descendants of the Sun” (2016)
Starring: Song Joong Ki, Song Hye Kyo, Jin Goo, Kim Ji Won
This drama is one of the more recent hits that started a trend of men wearing aviator sunglasses or trying to flip a cellphone out of a girl’s hand. Yoo Si Jin (Song Joong Ki), a captain in the Special Forces unit, meets Dr. Kang Mo Yeon (Song Hye Kyo) when he goes to the hospital, and is immediately smitten with her. While it is a drama that’s heavy on the romance, we are also treated to many exciting action scenes, as well as the beautiful bromance between Yoo Si Jin and Seo Dae Young (Jin Goo).
Catch the first episode of “Descendants of the Sun”:
Other gems: “Boys Over Flowers” (2009), “The Moon Embracing the Sun” (2012), “Goblin” (2016)
Ghosts, goblins, and gypsies – if you’re looking for something out of this world (often literally) with some romance, then this genre is for you! After all, who can deny the love of two beings that have crossed galaxies just to be with each other?
“Master’s Sun” (2012)
Starring: So Ji Sub, Gong Hyo Jin, Seo In Guk, Kim Yoo Ri
A drama by the Hong sisters can rarely go wrong, and this is the perfect example. They’ve managed to blend romance, comedy, and horror seamlessly into this gem of a drama, led by the talented So Ji Sub and Gong Hyo Jin. Tae Gong Shil (Gong Hyo Jin) is burdened by the fact that she can see ghosts, but finds reprieve in Joo Jong Won (So Ji Sub), a man who is mysteriously able to mute the unwanted ability. And because of this plot device, fans were shown a lot of adorable skinship moments between the chemistry-filled leads.
Catch the first episode of “Master’s Sun”:
Starring: Lee Jong Suk, Han Hyo Joo
This drama is noted for it’s very interesting premise – a woman named Oh Yeon Joo (Han Hyo Joo) is sucked into the world of the webtoon that her father is drawing. There, she saves the comic’s lead character, Kang Chul (Lee Jong Suk) from dying. From then on, she pops in and out of the webtoon world, and together with Kang Chul, they try to figure out what the heck is happening to them. Fresh, twisty, and with super cute chemistry – what more could we ask for?
Catch the first episode of “W”:
Other gems: “Secret Garden” (2010), “Oh My Ghostess” (2015), “The Legend of the Blue Sea” (2016), “Hwayugi” (2017)
Rom-coms (romantic comedies) are great because they can sweep you off your feet, give you the romantic tingles, all while keeping a smile on your face. They’re swoony, light, and can put a lil’ pep in your step!
“Marriage, Not Dating” (2014)
Starring: Yeon Woo Jin, Han Groo, Jeong Jinwoon, Han Sunhwa, Heo Jeong Min, Yoon So Hee
This drama is a prime example of rom-coms – it is sweet, funny, and a downright fun time! Han Groo and Yeon Woo Jin play their respective roles exceptionally, both giving them such a sense of vulnerability and relatability. Even when they are at their most frustrating, you can’t help but still root for them! And while we watch their romance slowly blossom, we are also treated to a heart-warming plot line involving family and mother-in-laws!
Catch the first episode of “Marriage, Not Dating”:
“Another Oh Hae Young” (2016)
Starring: Eric Mun, Seo Hyun Jin, Jeon Hye Bin
This well-loved drama tells the story of two women with the exact same name, Oh Hae Young, but with different statuses in life. The line that connects them is Park Do Kyung (Eric Mun), who inexplicably finds himself getting premonitions of one of the Hae Youngs. The characters in the drama are fleshed out and realistic, each with their own flaws and shortcomings, which makes watching their journey of self-discovery, growth, and love all the more satisfying.
Catch the first episode of “Another Oh Hae Young”:
Other gems: My Girl (2005), “Goong” (2006), “Coffee Prince” (2007), “You’re Beautiful” (2009)
The dramas in this genre are perfect for taking you down memory lane and reminiscing about your own school days. And while it’s highly unlikely we’ll find ourselves in similar situations as the leads in these dramas, we can still identify and relate with the feelings of needing acceptance and experiencing the sweetness of first loves.
“Dream High” (2011)
Starring: Bae Suzy, Kim Soo Hyun, 2PM’s Ok Taecyeon, Ham Eun Jung, 2PM’s Wooyoung, IU
“Dream High” follows six young, aspiring students as they enroll in an art high school, hoping to achieve their dreams of debuting in the K-pop scene. These six students, though all have very differing personalities and opinions on their craft, eventually realize they need to help and support each other in order to succeed. It is a drama with very positive messages, encouraging us to not give up on our dreams. It’s also unlikely we’ll ever get to see this cast in the same production again, so it’ll always hold a very special place in our hearts!
Catch the first episode of “Dream High”:
“School 2013” (2012)
Starring: Jang Nara, Choi Daniel, Lee Jong Suk, Kim Woo Bin, Park Se Young
While each entry in the “School” series has their own merit, I personally feel like “School 2013” has the most substance, and really digs deep into the pains of growing up. Two teachers (played by Jang Nara and Choi Daniel) aim to make a difference in the lives of students who are disinterested in their education and have generally lost their way. The relationships between the teachers and students, and even between the students themselves, are woven beautifully, giving us a sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes heart-warming look into their young lives.
Catch the first episode of “School 2013”:
Other gems: The “School” series, “Sassy Girl, Chun-hyang” (2005), “Reply 1997” (2012), “To the Beautiful You” (2012)
There’s something about doctors in K-dramas that continuously captivate us (it might be those white gowns!). Plus, the wave of medical dramas focused on mental illnesses is a definite welcome, helping to bring awareness and creating conversation among the larger public.
“Good Doctor” (2013)
Starring: Joo Won, Moon Chae Won, Joo Sang Wook, Kim Min Seo, Kim Young Kwang
Joo Won stars as the titular character, Park Shi On, an autistic doctor who is a genius when it comes to memory and spatial skills. But not everyone is willing to accept him as a doctor, and many fear he will do more harm than good. With each new case, Shi On proves his capability, winning over his colleagues one by one. The interesting premise is backed by the beautiful relationships between the medical staff and the solid acting all around. In fact, the “Good Doctor” is so good, that the U.S. is airing a remade version right now!
Catch the first episode of “Good Doctor”:
“Romantic Doctor Kim” (2016)
Starring: Han Suk Kyu, Yoo Yeon Seok, Seo Hyun Jin
Don’t let the cheesy title get to you, because this drama is so much more than just romance. Dr. Boo Yong Joo (Han Suk Kyu) is a triple-board certified surgeon and at the top of his field, when he experiences a traumatic event. He decides to change his name to Dr. Kim Sa Bu, and goes to work at a much smaller hospital. There, he takes the residents under his wing, and teaches them not only about the craft, but also about life. The cast is outstanding, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a weak link among them. Han Suk Kyu in particular delivers a beautifully nuanced performance.
Catch the first episode of “Romantic Doctor Kim”:
Other gems: “Obstetrics and Gynecology Doctors” (2010), “Emergency Couple” (2014), “It’s Okay, That’s Love” (2014), “Kill Me, Heal Me” (2015)
Are you a fan of beautiful costumes? Politics? Sweeping sceneries? A throne (that may or may not be made out of swords)? Then you must be a fan of historical dramas. While not all are based on actual history, they are all guaranteed to be filled with grandeur!
“Jewel in the Palace” (2003)
Starring: Ji Jin Hee, Lee Young Ae, Im Ho, Park Eun Hye, Hong Ri Na
This story follows Dae Jang Geum (Lee Young Ae) as she challenges the patriarchal system and her own poor upbringing to become the first female royal physician in the Joseon Dynasty. It is a true underdog tale that is partially based on actual history, depicting just how oppressive the regime can be towards women. And while it is a historical drama, the message of strong female empowerment is still an important message today!
Catch the first episode of “Jewel in the Palace”:
Starring: Song Il Gook, Han Hye Jin, Kim Seung Soo, Song Ji Hyo, Bae Soo Bin
We can’t talk about historical dramas without mentioning “Jumong,” as it is often considered one of the top historical dramas, as evidenced by its high ratings and recognition through many awards. The story details the rise of Jumong (Song Il Gook) as he unites the war-torn lands and eventually becomes the founder of Goguryeo. Though the drama is on the longer side (81 episodes), it is so epic and so well-produced that you won’t even notice the episodes flying by!
Catch the first episode of “Jumong”:
Other gems: “The Great Queen Seon Deok” (2009), “Dong Yi” (2010), “Empress Ki” (2013), “Six Flying Dragons” (2015)
Slice of life
This is another genre that is on the lighter side, focusing on the everyday life rather than big plot twists. These dramas find the beauty in the small moments, and celebrate even the smallest of successes. They’re relatable, heart-warming, and always hopeful!
“Incomplete Life” (2014)
Starring: Im Si Wan, Lee Sung Min, Kang Sora, Kang Ha Neul, Byun Yo Han
“Incomplete Life” (a.k.a “Misaeng”) is a drama that is based on a webtoon series. During its run, the incredible ensemble really brought the characters to life and the drama became a cultural phenomenon. The drama follows a young man named Jang Geu Rae (Im Si Wan) as he enters the work force, using the rules of baduk (a Korean board game) to help guide him. Many fans are able to resonate with this drama because of the realistic ways it depicts the highs and lows of work life, as well as the vast well-rounded characters who could very well be one of your colleagues.
Catch the first episode of “Incomplete Life”:
“Reply 1988” (2015)
Starring: Girl’s Day’s Hyeri, Park Bo Gum, Go Kyung Pyo, Ryu Jun Yeol, Lee Dong Hwi
As the third entry in the “Reply” series, this drama is also the most acclaimed. And what sets it apart from its predecessors is its focus mainly on the friendship and familial bonds of neighboring families rather than just the romance. The little stories of facing everyday challenges head-on, and the unwavering support that the five friends as well as their parents show each other, is enough to warm any cold heart.
Catch the first episode of “Reply 1988”:
Other gems: “Age of Youth” (2016), “Drinking Solo” (2016), “Fight My Way” (2017)
The action and suspense from these dramas will get your adrenaline pumping and have you on the edge of your seat! Whether our leads are running for their lives or trying to figure out “who dunnit?” our noggins are churning right along with them!
Starring: Ji Chang Wook, Park Min Young, Yoo Ji Tae
“Healer” is a drama that will most likely pop into your mind when talking about “action” (that, and cough “skinship” cough). Ji Chang Wook plays a very skilled mercenary who can scale walls, take down a dozen men, and jump from rooftops to rooftops, all the while looking extremely dashing. There’s so much to love about this drama – the tight writing, the exhilarating action scenes, the strong acting, and, who am I kidding, Ji Chang Wook of course!
Catch the first episode of “Healer”:
“Forest of Secrets” (2017)
Starring: Jo Seung Woo, Bae Doona, Yoo Jae Myung, Shin Hye Sun
This drama tells the very thrilling and compelling story about a prosecutor named Hwang Shi Mok (played by Jo Seung Woo), who is unable to express his emotions well, and a very passionate female detective named Han Yeo Jin (played by Bae Doona). They team up to solve a series of murders, while also fighting against corruption and injustice. The villainous character played by Yoo Jae Myung also deserves a special shout-out, because he is so complex and so well-written (and acted), that it wouldn’t be strange if you found yourself sympathizing with him.
Other gems: “IRIS” (2009), “Two Weeks” (2013), “Signal” (2016), “Mad Dog” (2017)
Long-lost siblings, amnesia-inducing accidents, and fatal illnesses are the cornerstones of melodramas. It’s unabashedly convoluted, and you might just find yourself screaming at your TV. But hey, there’s a reason these are usually high in ratings, and that’s because everyone just loves the drama!
“Autumn in My Heart” (2000)
Starring: Song Seung Heon, Song Hye Kyo, Won Bin
“Autumn in My Heart” not only kick-started the Hallyu wave, but it also was a pioneer in creating the melodramas we know today. Two teenage girls are discovered to have been switched at birth, and are forcefully put back into their birth families, turning their whole world upside down. Brothers are no longer brothers, strangers are suddenly parents, and the girl from the rich family is suddenly dirt poor. Throw in some blackmail, suicide attempts, and leukemia, and you have a recipe for one of the most popular Korean dramas. Fair warning: you’ll need tissues when watching (or re-watching) this. A lot of them.
“Baker King, Kim Tak Goo” (2010)
Starring: Yoon Shi Yoon, Eugene, Joo Won, Lee Young Ah
This drama drew in huge ratings during its run, and basically propelled lead actor Yoon Shi Yoon into a household name. Even now, thanks to this well-loved melodrama, the older folks in the outskirts recognize him when he travels for “2 Days & 1 Night.” The story follows Kim Tak Goo as he strives to become the best baker in South Korea. But it’s no easy journey, as he has to constantly deal with all kinds of family dramas, secrets, and even having supposedly dead people popping back into his life again!
Catch the first episode of “Baker King, Kim Tak Goo”:
Other gems: “I’m Sorry, I Love You” (2004), “Temptation of Wife” (2008), “The Innocent Man” (2012), “Secret Love” (2013)
Classics are classic for a reason. They have withstood the test of time, and remain beloved today. Even newcomers to K-dramas will eventually find them and befall to the wonders of these classics.
“All In” (2003)
Starring: Lee Byung Hun, Song Hye Kyo, Ji Sung, Park Sol Mi
Inspired by a real-life professional poker player, this drama is set in the flashy yet bleak world of casino gambling. “All In” was both a critical and ratings darling, garnering multiple awards and drawing consistently high viewership ratings throughout its run. Hardly surprising, as this drama has it all – action, suspense, romance; not to mention the strong and layered acting from all around. The beautiful on-location shots in both Jeju island and Las Vegas add to the drama’s character too!
“Lovers in Paris” (2004)
Starring: Kim Jung Eun, Park Shin Yang, Lee Dong Gun
This drama was yet another huge hit, and in fact remains one of the dramas on SBS with the highest viewership ratings. It has a Cinderella-esque story line, with sweeping romantic moments and a strong contender in Lee Dong Gun for Second Lead Syndrome. The ending was very divisive when it aired, and even now, it’s still got fans arguing for and against it. But we can’t deny that it is a creative ending (especially then), and if we’re still talking about it now, then that’s got to be considered a success in some way, right?
Other gems: “Winter Sonata” (2002), “Stairway to Heaven” (2003), “Full House” (2004), “My Name Is Kim Sam Soon” (2005)
If you enjoy watching your leads spar both on and off-court or cunningly try to outwit the other side, or if you’re just a fan of really long jargon (it’s a thing!), then these dramas are right in your court!
“I Hear Your Voice” (2013)
Starring: Lee Bo Young, Lee Jong Suk, Yoon Sang Hyun, Lee Da Hee, Jung Woong in
This drama is compelling with romance, intrigue, and a dash of the supernatural. The plot also puts a twist on the usual “meet-as-kids-meet-again-as-adults” trope, where Park Soo Ha (Lee Jong Suk) discovers that his childhood crush Jang Hye Sung (Lee Bo Young), now a jaded public defender, is no longer the person he dreams about. While the story line can get quite dark at times, the characters are always steadfast and brimming with sincerity, allowing us to also hold onto hope that everything will be okay.
Catch the first episode of “I Hear Your Voice”:
“Witch’s Court” (2017)
Starring: Jung Ryeo Won, Yoon Hyun Min, Kim Yeo Jin, Jun Kwang Ryul
“Witch’s Court” is a drama that bravely tackles many social issues such as sexual harassment and gender equality. While the cast is good in general, Jung Ryeo Won as prosecutor Mad Yi Deum is the MVP. She is no standard K-drama female, but instead, is charismatic, cunning, extremely good at her job, and if we’re honest, has somewhat of a bad temper. The character is crafted so well, that even will all her faults, she is total girl-crush material!
Catch the first episode of “Witch’s Court”:
Other gems: “Punch” (2014), “Pride and Prejudice” (2014), “The Good Wife” (2016), “While You Were Sleeping” (2017), “Suspicious Partner” (2017)
So there we have it, ladies and gentleman! A whole lot of genres, a whole lot of dramas, and never enough time!
Belinda_C had so much fun compiling this list, thinking about all the great dramas she’s watched over the years. It’s also a personal victory to be able to work both “Eric” and “Hye Sung” into a non-Shinhwa article.
All-time favorites: “Kill Me, Heal Me,” “Reply 1988,” “It’s Okay, That’s Love”
Currently (re-)watching: “Healer”
Looking forward to: “Suits”