Netflix’s Best Bingeworthy Korean Dramas

One hardly needs to explain why everyone may be looking for some shows to binge right now. I’m a veteran kdrama watcher of over 10 years, and these are my favorite kdramas currently on Netflix (not of all time. Those can be found here). I tend to drama binge for fluffy escapism, which is why notable dramas such as Kingdom and Misaeng although they’re also on Netflix, aren’t on the list. By all reports they’re incredible dramas, and if historical zombies with tight, engrossing plot or unflinching examinations of the humanity against the drudgery of office work sound like your thing, definitely go check those out. Without further ado, the list:

Crash Landing on You: This drama is such a sensation it hardly feels necessary to rec it, but if anyone out there doesn’t know about it yet, they should. Thanks to a freak hang gliding accident, a rich South Korean business woman ends up on the wrong side of the DMZ in North Korea. She meets a North Korean officer who helps her hide until she can escape. The inevitable happens between them, but less expected are the moving relationships she builds with the other members of the village where she’s stuck. Excellent performances from a wonderful ensemble cast, rich world building, and humor and heart are what make this drama really stand out.

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Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung: What we all need from the world right now are some reverse fairy tales where the women are the heroes and the dudes are the ones locked in towers. Rookie Historian delivers on that. Goo Hae Ryung is a woman in historical Korea who just wants to be allowed to live on her own and read books (we stan a relatable queen). She becomes one of the first women to work as a historian in the royal palace, where she meets the younger prince, who’s effectively imprisoned in his chambers and spends his time writing romance novels. Which he has to get reference for by plying his maids for gossip about affairs among the palace staff. Yes, it’s amazing as it sounds. Yes, you should go watch it now. 

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Live Up To Your Name: Romantic time travel that’s particularly notable because BOTH the characters get to travel in time, rather than some dreary time traveler’s wife nonsense where she sits around waiting for him. The two leads get to be real partners in both a professional and personal sense, and it’s so charming. This drama is very similar to my number one of all time Queen In Hyun’s Man, which is unfortunately not available anywhere at this moment. Kim Nam Gil makes this drama, and my only regret is that he hasn’t done more romcoms for me to binge.

Helpful fyi: The title Live Up to Your Name references the fact that the male lead is a real and significant figure in Korean history, so he can’t just entirely ditch his life in the past, because that would change history. 

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Reply 1997 and Reply 1988: I’ve already written up Reply 1997, and the short version is: totally awesome 90s nostalgia with a solid heart in the teen experience. Reply 1988 is more of the same, but with the 80s. 1988 has the edge in that it expanded its examination of relationships to include the way a local community develops into family – alley ahjummas for the win! Seriously though: both of these dramas will have you wishing that you lived with the characters in their respective neighborhoods, while also keeping you swooning with their sweet girl/boy next door romances. For the curious: We don’t talk about Reply 1994. Don’t bother. 

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Oh My Ghost: Another drama I’ve written up before, so I’ll also keep these remarks brief. 

It’s about a young woman who died but has no memory of how, and her attempts to move on range from hilarious to heartbreaking, especially when it comes to the friendship she develops with the shy young girl who can see ghosts. This drama will wreck you. I bawled a lot. The connections the main characters form between each other, the relationship between the ghost and her family she left behind, the way the team comes together to solve the mystery of her demise…..oh man, I cry.

Note: There’s a Thai remake of this drama by the same name also on Netflix. I’ve not watched it, thus I can only attest to the quality of the Korean version. 

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Signal: The one non-romance on this list, Signal is the best drama to start with if you’ve never seen kdramas, or to lure in others who aren’t interested or skeptical of the genre. It’s a suspense thriller about two officers investigating the decade-old disappearance of a detective on the trail of a serial killer, and the time-twisting mystery that overlaps the two cases. You’ll be on the edge of your seat and clicking “next,” breathless for each new episode.

Fun fact: the serial murders here are loosely inspired by a famous real life case from the 1980s that also inspired an early film from Bong Joon Ho).

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One Spring Night: Look, sometimes you’re at a point in your life when you really just want something soft, quiet, and sweet, with a gorgeous single father as the lead to sweeten it further. If that’s the case, look no farther than One Spring Night. If you’re at all familiar with Korean dramas, this one is refreshing because it’s a story about adults with adult romantic histories behaving like adults. It brings different issues and angst to the table than we typically get in kdramas, which are often about first love for one or both of the main characters. Also, if Jung Hae In’s character is any indication, we’re getting more and more soft male leads in dramas, and I am 10000% here for that.

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Tune in for Love: If One Spring Night whet your appetite for Jung Hae In, then congratulations! He’s in another sweet romcom currently on Netflix – a movie this time. It’s another understated story of two characters who keep finding each other over the years.

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Because This is My First Life: We’re getting into real romance-novel type tropes here, with a fake marriage contract drama, but wow it tropes so good! The two leads agree to marry for ridiculous romcom reasons, but they’re very dedicated to clear, open communication, and the drama is all about how different types of relationships can work between different kinds of people, and there’s no one “right” way or dynamic to go about a relationship. Jung So Min, the female lead, is the heart, soul, and mind of this drama, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Another Miss Oh: Oh Hae-Young has spent much of her life being compared to the other, more popular, prettier girl with the same name as her. Even though she’s an adult, it can still rub at her – which makes her sound a little petty or juvenile, and she is, at times. What’s fantastic about this show, however, is that Oh Hae Young is that and more: she’s one of the most layered, rounded, dynamic, real heroines in all kdrama. There’s a sizzling romance, sure, there’s even a minor supernatural element that frankly I forget about all the time, because it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that Hae Young is allowed to be vulnerable, to be silly, to be insecure, to be strong, to be professional, to be weird, to hurt and persevere: to be human. Oh Hae Young may chafe at being considered the lesser of her name, but as far as I’m concerned, we’re all a little Oh Hae Young.

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Hello My Twenties: College-era drama that’s the most focused on the friendship between a group of housemates that all go to the same university. This drama is very atmospheric, especially at first, and is more focused on their friendship and coming of age than it is on the romances (although it has a few of those too). It’s one of the best, but it’s also a rare two-season drama, and behind-the-scenes issues led to some of the weakest parts of season 2. Still, I can’t recommend the first season enough, and if you enjoy it, s2 is still worth the watch.

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Romance is a Bonus Book: This is a really simple, unassuming drama, but I liked it a lot. Recent dramas have begun balancing more societal issues with their fluff and I love it. The story’s about a recently divorced now-single mom who’s attempting to return to a vocation commensurate with her education and experience, and all the sexist BS she faces (including from other women – internalized misogyny is a hell of a drug!). Because the driving force of the plot is Dani reentering the workforce and proving she doesn’t deserve to be written off for taking a break to raise a child, the romance itself is gentle and sweet. The male lead is her younger BFF who spends most of the drama following her around with puppy eyes, of which I approve.

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And we have one last last recommendation from Tatiana:

Chicago Typewriter is great for fans of historical drama as well as ghost stories, because it’s a mix of both. And for once, it doesn’t deal with the Goryeo or Joseon periods of Korean history, but with the Japanese occupation of the country. Though the show’s flashbacks deal with a time of political strife, there is a lot of laughter and hijinx in the present-day storyline. With a literary mystery at its center, a friendship that lasts lifetimes as its heart, and a slow-burn romance as icing on the cake, this show has a little something for everyone. What is has most of, however, is the best Subway product placement around.

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And that’s all we have, folks! Let’s hope Netflix keeps adding more Korean dramas both new and old (and treating them well!). In the meantime, let us know what kdramas you’d recommend in the comments below.