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16 K-Dramas That Are Absolute Perfection To Add To Your Watch List ASAP

Prepare for late nights (maybe even sleepless ones) to stay up watching these. They're that good.

Note: K-drama fans are already familiar with super popular K-dramas like Guardian: The Lonely and Great GodCrash Landing on You, Descendants of the Sun, and Strong Woman Do Bong-soon. For that reason (and because they are mentioned on nearly every K-drama recommendation list), while you will find big K-dramas here, super popular titles may not be mentioned (or this list would be like every other). They are still iconic though and should be watched! Now let's get going!

1. Hey Ghost, Let's Fight (also known as Bring it on Ghost!), 2016 β€” The first K-drama I ever watched, this one is the complete package: It has thrills, romance, campy comedy, a heartfelt story, and everybody's fave "brooding straight man vs. bubbly, energetic girl" trope. What's not to love? Starring Ok Taec-yeon of 2PM opposite Kim So-hyun of Love Alarm, these two have such cute chemistry that it's even more fun to watch them bicker all the time!

tvN

Genre: Supernatural mystery, romantic comedy

Episodes: 16

Plot: Adapted from the webtoon of the same name, it follows college student Park Bong-pal, who has grown up with the ability to see ghosts, and now uses it to work as a part-time exorcist. In this way, he meets wandering spirit and feisty high school student Kim Hyun-ji, who comes to believe that Bong-pal may be able to help her remember her life and death so that she can ascend. The two become ghost-fighting partners until Bong-pal realizes he might be falling in love with her β€” someone who is not alive. Yikes?

As it was my first, this drama will always have a special place in my heart. What I also love about it is that it has all the classic tropes like amnesia and loner guy, but they are justified and actually make sense within the story instead of just being there for convenience. For example, it makes sense that Bong-pal grew up with no friends β€” seeing ghosts everywhere as a child probably didn't help much with socializing. It makes sense that Hyun-ji doesn't remember her past life or how she died once you learn more about her.

Watch it on Netflix and Viki.

2. Save Me (2017) β€” Sinister and suspenseful with a level of intensity that'll steal your breath, this underrated drama, also starring Ok Taec-yeon opposite Seo Yea-ji of It's Okay to Not Be Okay, gives you one of the strongest female leads ever, amazing acting, and an intense, unsettling (and realistic) story to boot, making you realize that oftentimes, true horror is not monsters but people themselves.

OCN

Genre: Mystery thriller

Episodes: 16

Plot: Based on a popular web comic, this drama is about the horrors of religious cults (which, if you're not familiar, are alarmingly common in South Korea). After her brother killed himself, Sang-mi's family is brainwashed into a religious cult that disguises itself as a peaceful church while hiding torture and murder underneath. Unable to escape, Sang-mi is trapped until she encounters her classmate, Sang-hwan, and his friends, and whispers to them, "Save me." Though determined, the friends don’t realize that saving Sang-mi and exposing the cult will be far more dangerous than they think.

Watch it on Netflix and DramaCool.

3. My ID Is Gangnam Beauty (2018) β€” Starring Cha Eun-woo of True Beauty, this drama has universally relevant themes, dishing out social commentary on South Korea's impossible and superficial beauty standards, the pressure society places on people to reach them, and the discrimination people face based on physical appearance. I love that it promotes that you shouldn't change yourself to be loved by someone. We stan Kyung-seok. πŸ₯Ί

Art & Culture

Genre: Coming of age, romance

Episodes: 16

Plot: Based on the webtoon of the same name, we follow Mi-rae, who after enduring years of ruthless bullying for her looks, gets plastic surgery so that she can start college afresh as someone traditionally pretty. This plan backfires when she is instead ridiculed for her artificial look. When she meets her cold classmate Kyung-seok, she is surprised to learn that he shuns such beauty standards, and her blooming relationship with him slowly helps her realize that her way of thinking is wrong and your happiness and self-worth shouldn't be tied to how you look on the outside.

As plastic surgery is common in Korea, the title refers to the Korean word gangnammiin (Gangnam beauty), a derogatory term for people who look attractive but for whom it looks obvious that they went through plastic surgery to achieve their look.

Watch it on Viki and DramaCool.

4. It's Okay to Not Be Okay (2020) β€” Do you like your dramas a little fanciful? Drenched in an atmosphere of fairytale whimsy and darkness but with a whole lot of heart? Try IOTNBO, one of the most popular K-dramas of 2020 (and in general) with a romance that shows that love goes beyond the conventions of "normal," a couple nothing short of endearing, and a refreshing and genuine take on mental health.

tvN

Genre: Romantic drama

Episodes: 16

Plot: Gang-tae takes care of his autistic older brother Sang-tae, though the task can be exhausting as they frequently move from town to town because of their past. Gang-tae works as a caretaker in psychiatric hospitals in every town they move to. In this way, he meets Moon-young, a famous children's book writer with antisocial personality disorder. She becomes romantically obsessed with him, kicking off an emotional journey in which Gang-tae, Sang-tae, and Moon-young find comfort in each other, face their dark secrets and painful pasts, and heal each other, forming a sort of found family. Found families are always so πŸ₯Ί.

The New York Times named this drama in its article of "The Best International Shows of 2020," and it's among the highest-rated dramas in Korean cable TV history, no biggie! It also won two awards at Korea's most prestigious Baeksang Arts Awards. Audiences especially loved the drama's unique presentation of incorporating a fairytale in every episode that corresponded to the characters.

Watch it on Netflix and DramaCool.

5. I'm Not a Robot (2017) β€” Another underappreciated drama, INAR is a breath of fresh air, all quirky, creative, and lighthearted, with a unique premise that makes you go, "Well, what could go wrong?" and an engrossing story that keeps you tuning in to the next ep. The acting is wonderful, the characters' warmth and mischief are fun to watch, and their emotional growth will just make you melt. Above all, it shows you how important it is to connect with others and that life shouldn't be lived alone.

MBC

Genre: Romantic comedy, sci-fi

Episodes: 32

Plot: Min-kyu is wealthy, handsome, and successful β€” he has everything right? Not so: He has a severe allergy to humans, developing life-threatening rashes that require immediate medical attention if he even gets near them. This means he's had to live a lonely life in seclusion, away from the public. He invests in a humanoid robot built by genius scientist Baek-gyun, but when the robot short-circuits, Baek-gyun hurriedly enlists his ex-girlfriend Ji-ah, on whose likeness he modeled the robot, to take its place. Now, she has to go to Min-kyu's house and convince him that she's a super intelligent robot LOL. This sets off a string of comedic events and a cute love story β€” but what will happen once Min-kyu realizes everyone's deception?

Watch it on Viki and DramaCool.

6. Mother (2018) β€” Sinfully underrated and a hidden gem at the same time, this drama is powerful and chilling, with a touching look into motherhood at its heart and poignant truths about what it means to be human that just might bring you to tears (it sure brought me some). A remake of the award-winning 2010 Japanese drama of the same title, this Korean version won several awards of its own too!

tvN

Genre: Suspense, drama

Episodes: 16

Plot: An elementary school teacher, Soo-jin, learns that one of her students, little Hye-na, is being abused by her mother at home. When she finds the girl in a trash bag outside her house, Soo-jin, in an impulsive act to save her, kidnaps Hye-na and goes against the law to protect her. On their emotional journey, we encounter Soo-jin's adopted mother, who is dying, and her biological mother, who she never forgave for abandoning her. With these women and this little girl, Soo-jin discovers what it means to be a mother and Hye-na learns what it feels like to be loved by one.

Watch it on Viki and DramaCool.

7. Hell Is Other People (also known as Strangers from Hell), 2019 β€” This one's great for its eerie atmosphere and lonely aura of dread and despair, making it feel like you should watch it on a cold, rainy night with some tea and a blanket. The suspense will have you in for a ride.

OCN

Genre: Psychological thriller

Episodes: 10

Plot: Based on a webtoon of the same name, we follow a young man, Jong-woo, who moves into an ominously cheap Seoul apartment, being low on money and only working as an intern for now. He's not thrilled to have to share the kitchen and bathroom with the strange residents, but it turns out he has more to worry about when mysterious occurrences foster an environment of terror and Jong-woo begins fearing the residents. Soon, reality and insanity become entwined and you start to wonder what is real and what is in Jong-woo's head.

Watch it on Netflix and DramaCool.

8. Record of Youth (2020) β€” Engaging and relevant, ROY offers a contemporary look at the struggles of relationships, rejection, family expectations, and trying to establish your career in your 20s. The male lead, Hye-jun (Park Bo-gum), is relatable and feels like he could be your friend β€” you'll be endeared to him immediately. Life and love isn't always roses and rainbows like many K-dramas like to show, and this one tells you things don't always work out and you know what? Hye-jun teaches you that's okay and to carry on with dignity.

tvN

Genre: Youth, drama

Episodes: 16

Plot: Twenty-six-year-old Hye-jun is from a working-class family, and despite his background, he dreams of becoming a top actor. Struggling against his family's disapproval, lack of money, failed auditions, and even his age, the drama follows his trials, tribulations, and changing relationships, most notably with his best friend Hae-hyo, a rich and successful actor clearly above in status, and makeup artist Jeong-ha (played by Park So-dam of Parasite fame) with whom he falls in love.

If you're a K-pop fan, the show also depicts the inner workings and ruthlessness of celebrity life and being in the entertainment industry, especially the lack of freedom, exhaustion, and how even the smallest move can cause your career to sink. It helps you understand and sympathize. And if Bo-gum's crying scenes and puppy eyes don't melt your heart, you probably don't have one.

Watch it on Netflix and DramaCool.

9. Signal (2016) β€” Tense, compelling, and surprisingly emotional, this drama incorporates fantasy and real-life crimes and cases in Korea into its story, including the infamous Hwaseong serial murders, a premise interesting in itself! It earned widespread acclaim from audiences and critics for its impressive acting and plot. It is the 11th highest-rated drama in Korean cable history so in terms of quality, I'd say you're in good hands. πŸ˜‰

tvN

Genre: Fantasy, thriller, police procedural 

Episodes: 16

Plot: In 2015, criminal profiler Park Hae-young finds a mysterious walkie-talkie that allows him to communicate with a detective from the year 1989, Cha Soo-hyun. Thus, using both foresight and hindsight to their advantage, the two team up and solve cold cases that have been unsolved for decades, including cases from the past, and even prevent them from ever taking place. Unfortunately, as happens when you mess with the sequence of time, grave consequences follow.  

The series won several awards and was so successful it spawned a Japanese remake in 2018 and a 2021 Japanese movie, both for which popular K-pop group BTS sang the theme songs! Bet you didn't know that, did you? A Chinese remake also aired in 2019. 

Watch it on Netflix and Viki

10. More Than Friends (2020) β€” Starring Ong Seong-wu, former member of boy group Wanna One and now a soloist, this sweet and funny slow-burn drama will tug the hearts of anyone who has had an unrequited crush. No exaggerated gestures of love or amnesia or dramatic accidents β€” it's simple, warm, and gentle, like your fave comfort food.

JTBC

Genre: Romantic comedy, slow burn

Episodes: 16

Plot: The story follows two friends over a period of 10 years as bad timing and misunderstandings keep them from confessing their true feelings. After the emotionally-unavailable Lee Soo rejects Woo-yeon, the duo remains friends for the next decade, taking turns having crushes on each other. As they find their way back to each other as adults, their unresolved feelings finally come to a head. Will Lee Soo stop being dumb and be able to step up before before someone else takes Woo-yeon's heart?

Watch it on Viki and DramaCool.

11. The Light in Your Eyes (2019) β€” innovative yet relatable with a message to live happily because you only get one life, TLIYE was critically acclaimed for sensitively depicting the hardships everyday people face. It has a surprising twist at the end and explores our mortality and the way we should appreciate life because of how fleeting it really is β€” and it'll leave you with an awareness of wanting to do just that.

JTBC

Genre: Fantasy, family drama

Episodes: 12

Plot: Hye-ja gains the ability to manipulate time with a special watch and uses it to prevent her father from dying, but as with all such actions, discovers that there's a hefty price: she ages each time she turns time back, leading to her becoming an elderly woman in her 70s overnight when she attempts to save her family. Joon-ha, a young man who once shared a beautiful friendship with Hye-ja, works as a scammer at an elderly care center after giving up his dreams. Unaware that Hye-ja is now there as an old lady because of her time travel consequences, the two meet again.

This is also one of the highest-rated dramas in Korean cable TV history BTW!

Watch it on Hulu and Viki.

12. Flower of Evil (2020) β€” Riveting, dark, and fun with bite-your-nails suspense, FOE is totally worth the watch. It's fast-paced and intriguing from the get-go, sucking you in with a great balance of action, family love, and romance, strong characters, and twists and turns you won't see coming. After all, everything always looks perfect from the outside.

tvN

Genre: Crime thriller, romance

Episodes: 16

Plot: On the surface, Det. Cha Ji-won has the perfect family: a loving, handsome husband, Hee-sung, who's also a great father, and a cute daughter. Things take a dark turn after Ji-won begins investigating a string of grisly murders in town. The more she digs, the more she is confronted with the reality that her sweet husband is keeping more than a few secrets from her, including his cruel past and his true identity. And that can't be good for their picture-perfect life, can it?

Watch it on Viki and DramaCool.

13. The Reply series: Reply 1988, Reply 1994, and Reply 1997 β€” An anthology series spanning three standalone seasons, this drama is full of nostalgia for times long past, and full of heart too. 1988 is the fourth highest-rated drama in Korean cable TV history, and the series as a whole is acclaimed for being well-researched, from its incorporation of historic events to its soundtrack of remakes of popular Korean hits from the '90s.

tvN

Genre: Coming of age, comedy

Episodes: 3 seasons, spanning 57 episodes and 3 specials

Plot: The series follows a similar storyline in each iteration: It centers on a group of friends and moves back and forth in time, from their past selves as high school or college students in the eponymous year (1988, 1994 or 1997) to their present selves. In between, you get to see how the characters have grown, what being a teenager was like back then, and the significant cultural events that affected their lives, like the emergence of influential first generation K-pop groups H.O.T. and Seo Taiji and Boys, and the 1995 Sampoong Department Store collapse. We follow the friends through romance, heartbreak, friendship, and family until the characters themselves feel like home to you.

Watch it on Netflix and Viki.

14. Because This Is My First Life (2017) β€” This one explores different perspectives on love, marriage, and life through a cute and funny storyline that provides the perfect escape from your daily life. Not only does it show the difference between just dating and actual married life but also challenges traditions and unpacks what marriage between two people means. Audiences loved the life lessons sprinkled throughout!

tvN

Genre: Romantic comedy

Episodes: 16

Plot: Two people in their thirties who are not quite where they want to be yet team up to help each other reach their goals. Socially-awkward Se-hee rents out his extra room to pay off his mortgage; broke screenwriter Ji-ho takes the room, and the two decide to get married over a two-year contract to save money and share the flat while working toward their goals. And yes, that gets exactly as messy as it sounds when you throw in family and in-law interventions, social expectations, and their own growing feelings for each other into the mix. 

Watch it on Netflix and Viki.

15. My Country: The New Age (2019) β€” We had to have at least one historical drama here for the history buffs, right? MCTNA's selling point is its focus on the two lead characters' strong bromance and their journey and story of friendship, love, loyalty, and betrayal. It takes your emotions for quite a ride and will continue to surprise you right till the end. The cinematography is beautiful too!

JTBC

Genre: Historical drama

Episodes: 16

Plot: Set during the shift from the end of the Goryeo dynasty to the beginning of the Joseon period, we follow two best friends who both come from very different backgrounds in status. When each of them have their own views on how to lead the "new age" of their country, a misunderstanding causes the two to become enemies as they struggle to protect their nation and loved ones in different ways.

Watch it on Netflix and DramaCool.

16. Just Between Lovers (also known as Rain or Shine), 2017 β€” A gentle, lovely, and meaningful drama that's not too overbearing, this one's great when you're tired of flashy explosions and over-the-top displays of love. It explores shared grief, loss, hope, and finding the strength to move on despite painful pasts β€” with the help of love, of course. It celebrates the simple things in life, which is sometimes just what you need to do.

JTBC

Genre: Romance, drama

Episodes: 16

Plot: Kang-doo and Moon-soo are two people connected by a tragedy that took the lives of their loved ones. When one of the biggest buildings in the city collapses, Gang-doo loses his father in the accident as well as his dream of becoming a soccer player after the accident hurts his legs. Moon-soo loses her little sister in the same accident and suffers from survivor's guilt. Ten years after the disaster, the two meet during a construction project to rebuild the mall. Complete opposites and still haunted by the pain of the accident that changed their lives, the two find solace in each other and slowly fall in love.

Watch it on Hulu and Viki.

The discovery of these wonderful quality K-dramas is my gift to you and if that's not enough, have this from Lee Gon too.

Studio Dragon

Have you already seen some of these? If so, let me know what you think! If not, enjoy! And lmk what other K-dramas we need to stop sleeping on!