Korean historical dramas did incredibly well in the second half of this year. The King’s Affection gained global popularity on Netflix and The Red Sleeve is currently hitting its personal best in ratings, saving MBC’s reputation. Steamer original shows that are neck-and-neck with TV network shows are also generating huge buzz online. Aside from Netflix’s Squid Game, which sparked a global phenomenon, South Korean streamers like TVING and Wavve are getting attention for their high-quality dramas with fresh narratives. On the other hand, dramas that marked top stars’ returns have seen lower ratings than expected.
As we wrap up 2021, ZAPZEE’s writers have picked out a handful of the most captivating dramas that aired in the second half of the year.
Editor Seo Hae Lan: I fell in love with a couple of well-made romance dramas in the second half of the year. Although Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha follows the basic rules of a romantic comedy series, both the strong storyline and characters make it a compelling piece to watch. As the series progresses, viewers get to root for Hye Jin and Du Sik’s romantic relationship as they get closer to each other and bloom their romance. Not only did the main couple grab our attention with their sweet romance, but the Gongjin villagers also won our hearts with their warm and caring nature. I want to remember the beautiful village of Gongjin just like producer Ji Seong Hyun did. The Red Sleeve can be called the “peak” of the historical drama craze in 2021. It successfully reinvented historical drama cliches set in a royal palace and reinterpreted the main characters, giving the audience a fresh taste. The drama challenged our preconceptions by reinterpreting our idea of a “court lady” as an occupation while expressing the complex feelings of the woman who the king loves.
Political Fever & Hellbound
Editor Kim Won Hee: During the second half of the year, various OTT original dramas came to light. Wavve’s Political Fever is a political satire black comedy that delicately and humorously describes the reality we live in. The absurd situations the characters find themselves in as things go astray are hilarious, and Jung Eun’s ability to turn a crisis into an opportunity creates satisfying moments for the show. Netflix’s Hellbound satirizes our society in a dark and heavy manner. It tells an interesting story about a religious group that takes advantage of the strange phenomenon while others investigate the truth behind it. Although you can’t help but frown at some of its violent scenes, Hellbound left a deep impression on me because it effectively captured the emotions of people who chose to protect their loved ones knowing that they were bound for hell.
Hellbound & Happiness
Editor Hwang Hong Sun: I was drawn to the shows that made us reflect on our lives by suggesting an alternate reality of our own. Hellbound was terrifying and overwhelming, keeping me on the edge of my seat until the sixth episode. I initially thought it was an occult fantasy drama, but the more I watched, the more I started to see that the series was trying to expose the confusion in our society and the collapse of our current system. The demons from hell and the death sentence they deliver were unimportant all along. It effectively shows how blind faith can bring out the worst in human nature as much as disbelief can. Happiness is a meaningful piece because it is a drama series that indirectly talks about the pandemic situation we are in. The plot reflected the growing issues in our current society, such as wearing masks, going into self-quarantines, and doing social distancing wherever we go. All of these made the show very realistic and suggested that we should think about the current issues that we are having. The thrilling performance and the suspense that is found in zombie-themed works added to the excitement of the show.
Editor Yang Young Jun: There were many impressive dramas in the second half of the year. Among all the intriguing works, D.P. stands out the most because of the pleasure it provides and the bitterness it leaves behind. Although it is a drama about the military, it seems to have gained sympathy from everyone, including those who haven’t served in the army, as it portrayed “the absurdity within society” that anyone comes across in life. Overall, the wonderful chemistry between Jung Hae In and Koo Kyo Hwan gave a chance for the viewers to breathe in between the heavy plot of the drama. Although it may seem too early to select Our Beloved Summer as one of the best dramas in the second half of the year, I still want to include this work in my list because of its brilliant lead actress. The duo of Kim Da Mi and Choi Woo Shik, with the ‘youth filter’ added, is so fresh that you can’t help but smile, and the visual beauty and color that permeate the early summer ambiance are equally appealing.
Editor Hong Hyun Jung: Perhaps it’s because of the tricky situation where we are at now, I am lately more interested in shows that lighten up the mood rather than the shows that are too serious. I tend to appreciate the dramas that get away from the stereotyped characters and narratives. In this respect, Inspector Koo and One the Woman are two dramas that offer the freshest and the most exciting viewing experiences. First of all, Inspector Koo provides bizarre and unique fun throughout its run. The way the characters are assembled and how the narrative unfolds takes a fantastic approach to break away from stereotypes and finishes the stage of the story with new, experimental fun. One the Woman is a drama that brings the vicarious thrills with a refreshing narrative created by an attractive character. Although the story is carried out by the main and supporting actors, Lee Hanee’s comedic acting doubles the cool charm of Jo Yeon Joo and makes the show pretty impressive.
Translator Esther Lee: I’ll be providing you with up-to-date, reliable Korean entertainment news. Enjoy!