There are so many—and some of them are so long—that knowing where to start can be daunting.
Korean culture fever has smacked the U.S. so hard that we’re getting gloriously deluged by its influence. K-pop is everywhere, Urban Outfitters and Sephora carry K-beauty products, and K-culture convention KCON is expanding to multiple cities.
Naturally, if you’ve gotten a whiff of any of these things and hungered for more, you’ve probably gotten curious about Korean drama, the region’s equivalent of soap operas, or K-drama. (Either that, or you paid for a DramaFever subscription months ago and spend your nights screaming in frustration at every cliffhanger.)
There are so many—and some of them are so long—that knowing where to start can be daunting. Which ones are actually worth your time? More importantly, how many tall, hot Korean men can you cram into a single story?
Whether you enjoy manga, Japanese drama, or Korean drama, Boys Over Flowers sits high on a throne within each genre. The charming story originated as a manga about a girl entering a snobby private school and meeting the F4 (Flower Four), an insufferable clique of ridiculously good-looking boys. The love triangles spawn quickly, but there’s nothing more delicious than watching our protagonist takes down the school’s worst snob.
The 2009 Korean adaption was a career-maker for several of its stars, such as Lee Min Ho, who has become enormously popular since playing the lead role. Perfectly capturing all the bittersweet moments of high school life and young love, it’s a truly enchanting story that never gets old. And if you feel you can’t get enough of it, check out Japan’s 2005 adaption “Hana Yori Dango,” which does a similarly spectacular job of telling the tale.
If you love ill-fated romances, My Love From Another Star is essential drama viewing. It often gets mixed reviews from international fans, even though its actors won several prestigious awards for their roles.
It tells the story of Hallyu star Cheon Song-yi (Jun Ji-hyun), just the kind of bitch you love to hate, and the man that finally knocks her off her self-created pedestal and just happens to be a 400-year-old alien from another planet. If Korean dramas are good for anything, its spinning the most ridiculous plot lines you’ve ever heard of. Even better, fans fall madly in love with them for that exact reason.
Not only did everyone and their mother love this drama, but actress Jun Ji-hyun also made the Korean beauty industry zillions of dollars by wearing a lip color that because hugely famous because of her role. Years after the drama, women are still wearing the color so they can look just like their beloved heroine.
By 2007, both Japanese and Korean drama were starting to stumble on a very popular formula that manga authors have known for a long time: There is something absolutely irresistible about watching a guy fall for a girl pretending to be a boy. And so The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince (Coffee Prince for short) was born.
Inspired by the Korean novel by Sunmi Lee, Coffee Prince tells the tale of Go Eun-chan, a girl who is often mistaken for a boy. When she crosses paths with the owner of an all-male coffee shop named Choi Han-kyul, she decides to pose as a boy to work there. The dynamic between these two is incredible to watch for several reasons, but Han-kyul’s conflict about believing he may be gay because of his feelings for Eun-chan is delicious (and makes some tongue-in-cheek commentary about the state of LGBT acceptance in Korea).
After winning a whopping 22 awards, it’s pretty clear that Secret Garden claimed not only the attention of drama fans but of critics as well. Taking on a modern Cinderella theme, its leads are Gil Ra-im, a poor stuntwoman, and Kim Joo-won, a high-end department store CEO. It also features of one Korea’s very favorites K-drama tropes: body swapping!
Secret Garden’s popularity was so massive after its 2010 release that K-pop band Big Bang filmed a parody of it, much to the delight of their fanbase. The drama addresses Korea’s class system and presents a fantasy for the viewer of being able to love someone regardless of class difference is—a very positive message to hear.
While the other dramas on this list have a beginning and an end, Running Man only has a beginning. It’s not exactly a drama by the standards of the others, but it is requisite viewing for anyone who finds themselves in love with Korean media and wanting more.
This popular variety show is run by seven rotating hosts and frequently features major actors and K-pop idols. Typically the stars are put through a variety of challenging situations, which is highly amusing for fans to see. It’s a great way to get a look at people you admire just being people: silly, goofy, and having fun.
Just a disclaimer to those of you who go gaga for anything involving Asian game shows: Running Man is coming up on its 300th episode, so if you have binging problems as is, this could very well ruin your entire life. Please don’t blame us. We’re just trying to help.
If there’s one thing that Korean media executes with effortless grace, it’s the period drama. Koreans love to explore their roots and frequently depict stories from past eras with vivid performances and stunning costumes.
Jumong, one of the best-known historical dramas, tells the story of boy prince Jumong and his journey to become a man under tumultuous circumstances. Based on real-life stories about the founding of Goguryeo, one of Korea’s ancient Three Kingdoms, Jumong will fascinate anyone who enjoys a deep dive into history. And there’s more good news: If you find you’re in love with Korean historical dramas after watching it, there are precisely a zillion more waiting for you to see.
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