Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few years, you probably know a little about the Hallyu wave, a.k.a. the spread of South Korean pop culture around the world. Whether it's a 12-step K-beauty routine or the catchy hook of a BTS song, you've probably come across some element of Korean pop culture in your daily life. One of the most popular and widespread aspects of the Hallyu wave? The Korean drama, or K-drama, craze.
Known for their interesting storylines and intense (but sometimes predictable) plot twists, K-dramas are popular across the globe. Korean dramas can go from super sappy to incredibly heartbreaking to "WTF, what was that?" in a heartbeat, and that variety is exactly what keeps viewers coming back for more.
2018 was a good year for K-dramas across genres (Familiar Wife! Mr. Sunshine! The Undateables!), but 2019 is already coming in pretty hot, and some of everyone's favorite actors are back on our screens and in our hearts. Without further ado, here are the best Korean dramas of the year thus far.
"ThAt CaME oUt LaSt yEAr." Okay, but it wrapped up in February, so it still makes the cut. I don't make the rules.
This series follows the journeys of four women and their families as they try to maintain the status quo among the upper crust of South Korean society. The drama revolves around one mother's obsession with getting her daughter into an elite university by any means necessary...sound familiar? This one is a nice mix of romance, soapy drama, and comedy, so if you enjoy human-interest stories, Sky Castle is definitely the K-drama for you.
The Last Empress
Do you enjoy stress? Have you ever found yourself shouting at your TV/computer screen at characters who can't hear you? Do you have a lot of free time on your hands, or time that you should spend being productive that you will instead devote to doing something else in the name of self-care?
If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, you need to watch The Last Empress right now. With 52 episodes, this drama is not for the weak of heart; people who prefer a neat plot should probably steer clear because the storyline is very...involved, to say the least.
In an alternate universe, South Korea is still under the rule of a constitutional monarchy, and the royal family has its fair share of dangerous secrets that could be exposed by its new empress, a bright musical theater actress with a one-sided crush on her husband. Throw in a bodyguard harboring a huge chip on his shoulder and a fake identity, and you've got yourself a really wild ride. 10/10 would recommend if you, like me, live for drama.
Romance is a Bonus Book
Girl needs job. Girl lies about her education and background to get a job. Girl meets handsome and super talented boy who also happens to be her boss. Girl and boy butt heads. Girl and boy fall in love. Chaos and cuteness ensue.
As someone who has dated a co-worker in the past, I can personally testify that office romances are typically a terrible, terrible idea; I once got into a heated screaming match with my ex on the second floor of the office's parking garage during our lunch break, and our boss just happened to be walking by. I repeat, terrible idea. However, Korean dramas make workplace dating seem fun and even plausible! Romance is a Bonus Book in particular is so good that it almost makes me reconsider my staunch stance against dating at work.
Touch Your Heart
I'm somewhat biased because I am an unabashed Lee Dong Wook stan, but Touch Your Heart is really, really fun to watch. Things take place in a high-powered law firm, where a washed-up actress works as a secretary for a cranky attorney. The two leads have great chemistry—they've played star-crossed lovers in another drama, Goblin—and they're both extremely good-looking. Plus, it's another workplace love story! Is the universe trying to send me a sign?
The Fiery Priest
What do you get when you put a wayward priest, a detective who should have lost his job awhile ago, and a sheisty prosecutor in one room? The Fiery Priest! This 40-episode drama is far from over, but the shenanigans that have unfolded so far have been nothing short of amazing. If you're into action-packed crime shows that are also really funny, this is right up your alley.
Nam Goong Min! Nam Goong Min! Nam Goong Min! Everyone's favorite weirdo actor is back on the K-drama scene following his last role in the cutesy romantic comedy The Undateables, but in Doctor Prisoner, he's more darksided than delightful. In this medical/crime drama, Nam Goong Min plays a disgraced doctor forced to take his talents in medicine to a local hospital after the revelation of medical malpractice ejects him from his cushy hospital position. Also starring Choi Won Young and Kim Byung Chul (both from the previously mentioned Sky Castle!), the cast of Doctor Prisoner no doubt has the range to amp up the drama and excitement.
My Absolute Boyfriend
I think we can all agree that dating can be a nightmare. But what if you could streamline the process by ordering the perfect boyfriend online and having all 6 foot 3 inches (*sigh*) of him appear at your front door via next day delivery? That's pretty much the case in My Absolute Boyfriend.
In this remake of the 2011 Japanese rom-com drama Zettai Kareshi (which was adapted from original manga Absolute Boyfriend), the humdrum life of a newly-single special effects artist gets turned upside down when a particularly good-looking robot shows up on her front step claiming to be her boyfriend. As if things aren't complicated enough, her ex-boyfriend just can't seem to get over her. Fans of the Japanese drama should definitely check this out.
Angel's Last Mission: Love
In this recently premiered KBS drama, a tough as nails former ballerina tries to regain her prima donna status with the help of her mischievous guardian angel. Blinded in a tragic accident, Lee Yeon Seo is desperate to get back to the stage, but the scheming and conniving of the people around her prevents her from making her return. Dan, a guardian angel just one mission away from completing his duties on earth, gets suckered into yet another assignment and falls in love on the job.
(True k-pop stans will immediately recognize the lead character in Angel's Last Mission: Love—it's L from the iconic group Infinite! Sadly, I don't think we'll be getting much singing in this drama...stream "The Chaser" on all platforms.)
My Fellow Citizens
K-pop fans who are also obsessed with k-dramas are eating good this year! In his second project since his 2017 discharge from a mandatory two year military service, Super Junior member Choi Si Won returns to the TV scene as a master grifter down on his luck when finds himself the victim of a major con. His character, nowhere near qualified to do much besides scamming, is suddenly strong-armed into running for a seat in the Korean National Assembly. On top of all that, he falls in love with a police officer known to go after criminals who specialize in fraud.
Even if you're not really into plots about politics, the opportunity to swoon over the beauty that Choi Si Won each episode is 100 percent worth your viewing. Put this on your list right now—thank me later.
Fans of Shin Sung Rok (The King's Face, The Last Empress), rejoice—your second lead syndrome is over! The actor finally snagged a leading role in the KBS romantic comedy Perfume as Seo Yi Do, an eccentric fashion designer plagued with endless phobias. He's known for often playing the villain (he's really good at being bad), but in this drama, you can actually root for him to get the girl!
The premise is simple, at least for a Korean drama: A depressed housewife on the brink of a breakdown receives a magic perfume that makes her into an entirely new person. With her new face and identity, she decides to pursue a modeling career, and ultimately clashes with the prickly self-proclaimed god of fashion.
While many of the most popular Korean dramas are romantic comedies, some of the best series within the K-drama universe often lean in a different direction. And Arthdal Chronicles, a Netflix epic about a mythical ancient land and the power struggles that happen within its borders, could very well fall in that category.
Story-wise, Arthdal Chronicles is somewhat different from what you're used to, but if you're a fan of fantasy worlds and magic à la Lord of the Rings or even Harry Potte, this is right up your alley. Plus, the drama is packed with star power, featuring Jang Dong Gun (who starred in the Korean remake of Suits!) Song Joong Ki (Descendants of the Sun), and Kim Ji Won (Heirs).
Chief of Staff
Remember House of Cards? The Netflix original series followed the complex and super sheisty lives of politicians and journalists in Washington, D.C. The show was nothing short of a hit, but it came to an unfortunate end once its star became embroiled in a very serious, very disturbing controversy.
Chief of Staff is a lot like House of Cards, but rest assured, the drama is maintained within the show. There's scheming, manipulation, illicit affairs, serious criminal activity, and a whole lot of lying to the general public by the voters by the very people they put in office—sounds appropriate for the day and age we're living in, no?
All is right in the world because everyone's fave Ji Sung is baaaaack! The Hallyu heartthrob returns to your TV and computer screens in the medical drama Doctor John as an anesthesiologist fresh out of the big house for illegally performing euthanasia on a patient. He falls in love with a resident at the new hospital (and their chemistry is AMAZING), but there's trouble in paradise for Dr. John; the prosecutor who put him in prison in the first place still has a pretty huge chip on his shoulder.
Hotel del Luna
The plot of Hotel del Luna is a little hard to explain, but all you really need to know is that the cast is excellent (IU and Yeo Jin Goo lead the pack), and it's about a ghost hotel! To be more specific, a hotel that's completely run by ghosts—who are stuck between life and the afterlife—that also only caters only to ghosts. Fans of all things spooky will love this one from finish to end.
Hell Is Other People
Speaking of spooky szn, Hell is Other People is seriously dark and kinda freaky, but in the best possible way. A broke young man is forced to move into a shoddy apartment building, and his fellow residents are utterly terrifying. If you thought your neighbors were bad, think again.
The Great Show
After a national politician goes from honorable to most hated overnight, he finds a way to makeover his shattered public image: adopting the teenage daughter he never knew existed as well as her three rowdy siblings. If you didn't have a major crush on Song Seung Heon before, you're definitely going to develop one now. We love a daddy!
It doesn't make my top five, but Haechi is super interesting. This drama tells the story of a prince trying to reclaim the throne during the Joseon Dynasty. Historical period dramas, called sageuks, tend to require a lot of focus because they're fictionalized historical accounts. If you're not paying attention, it's easy to get lost in the details. Save this one for a rainy day.
My First First Love
In the mood for a warm and light coming-of-age story about falling in love for the first time? Check out My First First Love, now streaming on Netflix! The ensemble drama follows the lives of five friends in their early twenties living under one roof, so you know it's about to be messy.
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