Top Korean Dramas We Love Best

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For all the Korean drama discussion we’ve had going on lately, we figured it was about time to do a list of our favorites. We haven’t numbered them since there’s some overlap, but these are our individual (and in some cases, joint) lists in descending order.

Queen In Hyun’s Man

studying and nappingQueen In Hyun’s Man has just about anything anyone could want in a drama: seriously swoony cute romance, time travel, history, palace intrigue, fish out of water fun, fluff, a dynamic female lead, and a perfect respectful male lead. It subverts common kdrama tropes by having the second male lead display many of the behaviors of a typical primary lead, yet at every turn those are condemned for the assholery they are. Yoo Inna is perfect and incredible and will earn your loyalty forever, and her chemistry with Kim Hyun Woo is palpable and famous for their (sadly) brief real-life romance (army duty strikes again!). The stakes of the time travel are executed well to their logical conclusion. The ending wraps it all up in too neat a bow that might break that logic (and presage that worsening problem in the writer’s later W: Between Two Worlds), but as Choi Hee Jin and Kim Boong Do are one of those couples we need to see together like we need to breathe, it’s easy to forgive. I could spill words forevermore on how much I love this drama, but let’s just end by reiterating this has been my all-time top drama for years, and I don’t see it being dethroned anytime soon.

Angela

Jumping in on Angela’s turf because it, too, is my top drama. For all the reasons already outlined above, but also for Ga Deuk Hee’s hilarious performance as Hee Jin’s best friend and manager. While there are moments in which she makes things harder on our lovestruck leads, it’s always either an accident our out of love for her friend, with whom she shares some downright adorable scenes. And she’s far from alone in rounding out a supporting cast that feels rich and full of life despite not bringing any of their own side plots to the table. In fact, perhaps that’s why Queen In Hyun’s Man manages to be so coherent even when logical fallacies threaten to rip it apart. It’s because every piece on the board is there to further Hee Jin and Boong Do’s endgame, both separately and together, and no moves feel wasted.

Tatiana

Oh My Ghostess

When I first heard what this drama was about – a girl possessed by a ghost desperate to lose her virginity- I thought there was no way I would ever want to watch it (Angela’s note: ahaha I did such a bad job selling this drama). But after loving Park Bo Young in Strong Woman Do Bong Soon, I decided to give it a chance. And I couldn’t be more pleased that I did. Her performance as the timid and reclusive Bong Sun who finds confidence within herself thanks to sharing a body with the brash and bold Soon Ae was perfectly pitched – nuanced, hysterical, and heartbreaking all at once. And Kim Seul Gi as the ghost of Soon Ae herself was also a revelation, taking both her comedic and dramatic chops to new heights.

But the strength of Oh My Ghostess isn’t just in the performances, it’s in the well-plotted and compelling story that draws you into all three of the main character’s lives. The introduction of the murder mystery is especially poignant, because the stakes can’t get any higher than getting justice for yourself. Not to mention that it’s an excellent reversal from the original premise of a young woman holding a grudge because she never got to have sex with a man. That being said, Jo Jung Suk is dreamy as Chef Sung Woo, and the subtle shifts in his dynamic with (what he considers to be) both sides of Bong Sun keep the love triangle going while still crafting a satisfying love story for the girl who really has his heart.

I may have wanted more friendship between Bong Sun and Soon Ae, but the way Oh My Ghostess cleverly dealt with agency and ownership of one’s self, as well as forgiveness and healing, made up for it. And Bong Sun’s passion for cooking was explored so well throughout the story that I almost didn’t mind when they dropped that “study abroad” chestnut on me at the end there.

Tatiana

Coffee Prince

Push come to shove I would say that Coffee Prince is, overall, a better-crafted drama than Queen In Hyun’s Man, but honestly why do we have to compete when we can have it all? This is the drama of a thousand swoons, a thousand heartbreaks, a thousand squeals and squees, anytime Gong Yoo does that thing with his eyes and his face. Coffee Prince is artistic the way few other of the mid-00’s trendies are, bringing its summer setting to life and topping it off with a cool indie soundtrack.

We will all never stop wailing at this work of art.

But more importantly, let’s talk about the pining. Because the pining in this? Is just the best pining. It’s a true tragedy that Gong Yoo and Yoon Eun Hye especially haven’t had any decent dramas since then (and yes, I’m including Goblin in that). The drama starts off making you nervous it’s going to be homophobic, and while I wish we could actually explore the love story between two men or women in a mainstream kdrama for once, that’s a separate issue. It doesn’t diminish how Coffee Prince is one of the few genderswap kdramas that actually dips its toes in exploring gender roles and dynamics, rather than just employing the trope for shenanigans.

One final thing that makes it so great is that we get to see the contrast between a new couple and one weathering their first decade together. Plus, it’s always great to see (and hear) Lee Sun Gyun (aka The Voice) in the role that first made many of us fall for him. Coffee Prince celebrated its tenth birthday last year, and few dramas have come close to it in the intervening years.

Angela

Because This Is My First Life

Because This is My First Life gave me all the female friendships I was missing in Oh My Ghostess and more, but beyond that it spoke to me on a very personal level. I know I’m not alone feeling adrift in my twenties, especially when life seems to be in motion for everyone else, and this drama managed to make that feeling both incredibly specific and at the same time global. Ji Ho and Se Hee seem to have done everything right thus far to get their lives on track, but they still can’t seem to get it together. And of course, whatever they’re missing on a financial or emotional level, they wind up finding part of in each other. I say “part of” because the story wisely points out that one person can’t be everything to another, and there’s more to fulfillment than romance. That alone makes Because This is My First Life stand out.

The intense investment I had in Ji Ho’s best friends, Soo Ji and Ho Rang, equaled my interest in hers without overshadowing it. A rare balance to strike for any drama, but especially in one where the quality of the romantic stories varied wildly from one girl to the next. What kept them all going strong was the group scenes and complicated friendship between all three women, though. And the fact that every romance had a valuable lesson to teach about communication and teamwork, even if some men (named Won Seok) weren’t as worthy of their partners (named Ho Rang) as others.    

Finally, Because This is My First Life tackled a sexual harassment and assault story with much more nuance than I would have thought, not shying away from the bleak reality of society’s role to play but also not falling to hopelessness for the victim. I really respected the mature exploration of such a difficult topic, but it does make the casting of Lee Min Ki as Se Hee off-putting. Obviously, I don’t know the details of what went down in his case, but I hope starring in a drama that dealt with the matter appropriately opened his eyes at the very least.

Tatiana

Healer

Tatiana and I have already squee’d all over this drama, but here we both are to do it again. It deserves it. Healer is, out of all the entries on my list, the best gateway drama for those who aren’t primarily into romance. While I’d recommend Signal to someone who doesn’t want any romance, Healer is the best because it has it all. Quasi-vigilante justice, Superman-Clark Kent-Lois Lane dynamics, children solving the mysteries of their families’ past and picking up the cause their parents died for. It does all this, and also manages to have one of the fluffiest “they finally got together” scenes in all kdrama.

Healer also has one of the strongest ensemble casts I’ve ever seen. I’m just about as invested in the secondary characters as I am the mains. When Tatiana and I were writing our squee post, we didn’t have much to say about Yoo Ji Tae as Kim Moon Ho because most of what we had to say were tears. Hacker Ajumma will forever be our queen – and what a great twist, that the vigilante style hero isn’t the one in charge, but taking orders from a middle aged woman? All I can do, really, is squee about Healer, so head over here to see all our thoughts.

Angela

The one extra thing I will say about Healer is how skillfully it employs all the tropes Angela mentioned above. In any other drama, such a hodge-podge of kdrama, romance, and action cliches would come across as exactly that. But this story manages to make secret identities, sex scandals, and corrupt politicians feel like brand-new ideas invented just for this story and these characters. Not to mention how refreshing it is that Young Shin has her own goals and pursues them throughout the drama, instead of being swallowed up by the male lead’s story or sidelined in the final stretch so that his more important mystery can be solved. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been let down by other kdramas that fell prey to this issue, which is why Healer holds such a special place in my heart.

Tatiana

Age Of Youth

Another story that lives in the melodramatic and winsome age of, well, youth. Also known as Hello, My Twenties!, this was a touching tale of five young women who are thrown together through circumstance but who manage to form a (hopefully) lifelong bond. It’s a great reminder that everyone has struggles, no matter how simple or happy their lives seem on the outside, and that when we band together we can overcome those struggles more easily. All five girls are perfectly cast in their roles, but Park Hye Soo’s performance as Eun Jae is my particular favorite, just because she manages to take such an introverted character and still make her an open book to the audience.

The four or five parallel stories deal with many different aspects of young adult life, from the relatively common balance of work and school to the much more difficult topic of abusive relationships, and surprisingly there’s even sex work and potential murders thrown in. It takes a while for Age of Youth to find its tone, but it’s much smoother sailing once you take it for the slice of life – messy as it may be – that it is. Each character has a unique feature of her personality and story that will be sure to stay with you long after the drama ends.

Which, of course, is why I haven’t watched the second season yet. The ending felt like such a realistic stopping point, that I didn’t want continue and experience the recastings or departures that the second season brought. That and the the fact that Netflix apparently forgot to drop it for months. Whether you choose to persevere or not, the first season has everything you need for a fun binge-watch with friends or even a solo session of giggles and introspection.

Tatiana

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