[PICK] A Beginner’s Guide to Korean Dramas

Edited by Hong Hyun Jung
Translated by Kim Hoyeun

With its addictive stories, K-dramas are spreading not only in Asia, but also across the world. This year alone, dramas like The King: Eternal Monarch, Crash Landing on You, and It’s Okay to Not Be Okay became a global hit. If you are not familiar but are interested in the K-dramas, you can check out the list below. This article introduces K-dramas by using US TV series that share similar themes, genres, and atmosphere as a reference.


Strong Girl Bong-soon (2017)

Credit: JTBC

Strong Girl Bong-soon is like a cute version of the supernatural fantasy series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The drama began with the imagination of “What if a woman was stronger than a man?” and depicts the love triangle between Do Bong Soon, an honest and kind girl with Herculean strength who became a bodyguard, Ahn Min Hyuk, a childish CEO of a gaming company, and In Guk Doo, Do Bong Soon’s crush and a longtime friend.


The Greatest Love (2011)

Credit: MBC

If you are into the fairytale-like romance shown in Pushing Daisies, then The Greatest Love that presents a fateful love story is the one for you. Star writer team Hong sisters (Hong Jung Eun and Hong Mi Ran) wrote the script, and Cha Seung Won and Gong Hyo Jin played the leading roles. It portrays the romance between a female celebrity, one of the most “disliked” people on TV, and the most beloved movie star in the nation. The drama successfully revived MBC drama that had been in a slump for a while.


Vampire Prosecutor (2011~2012)

Credit: OCN

Dexter‘s bloody mystery and Grimm and iZombie‘s fantasy elements have met with the vampire. Vampire Prosecutor, broadcast over two seasons, tells the story of a righteous prosecutor who became a vampire by accident solving murder cases as he goes up against various plots and corruption.


The City Hall (2009)

Credit: SBS

The City Hall combined Ugly Betty‘s romance with Madam Secretary. It combined the romance between Shin Mi Rae, who went from being the lowest ranking public servant to the youngest mayor, and Jo Gook, who lives with the dream of becoming the president, with attractive political narration. For this project, producer Shin Whoo Chul and writer Kim Eun Sook, the hit-making duo who produced dramas like Lovers in Paris and On Air, joined hands once again.


SKY Castle (2018-2019)

Credit: JTBC

This drama, which deals with the desires of housewives living in a luxurious residential area called SKY Castle where only the top 0.1% live, seems to be a combination of Desperate Housewives and Succession. With a solid narrative that openly dissects the faces of the upper class and the “entrance-exam hell” created by the fanatic education culture, SKY Castle showed a chilling ending in every episode and became the second-highest-rated drama in Korean cable television history following The World of the Married.


Misaeng: Incomplete Life (2016)

Credit: tvN

Like Mad Men, The Office, and Parks and Recreation, Misaeng: Incomplete Life revolves around the office life. The drama calmly portrayed the joys and sorrows of Jang Geu Rae, who formerly aspired to be a professional Go player, after he joined a company as an intern. It became a cultural phenomenon by drawing keen sympathy from office workers. Unlike most K-drama, Misaeng: Incomplete Life mainly focuses on showing office workers’ joys and sorrows without romance.


Reply 1988 (2015)

Credit: tvN

This third season of the Reply series, following Reply 1997 and Reply 1994, revolves around five friends and their families living in the same neighborhood of Ssangmun-dong, Dobong District, Northern Seoul. “Finding the husband,” the signature theme of the series, reminds you of How I Met Your Mother, and the sentiment of warm and pleasant family stories will bring Everybody Hates Chris and Modern Family to mind.

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