The wave of Korean dramas has swept over the world, especially after becoming closely associated with streaming services like Netflix. The stories present fresh faces, different characters, a look into Korean culture and history and a form of storytelling that is not seen anywhere else in the world. These genre-bending shows have lovable characters at their heart and their refreshing take on the world makes them even more alluring. If you are a K-drama lover, you should heed this list of best Korean dramas of the 2010s:
18. The King’s Doctor (2012)
Lee Bying-hoon’s contribution to Korean dramas has been a spectacular won. He made the highly popular period pieces like ‘The Jewel in the Palace’, ‘Hur Jun’ and ‘Dong Yi’. In ‘The King’s Doctor’, he returned to the Joseon-era with the story of a veterinarian who rises in the ranks to ultimately become the royal physician. The series marks his journey from a doctor who tends to horses to developing a relationship with the king. The series received many award nominations and was also received well by the audience.
17. Bridal Mask (2012)
Set in 1930s Seoul, ‘Bridal Mask’ uses the premise of the Korean rebellion against the Japanese colonial forces. One of the most difficult times in Korean history, it was marked by the bloodshed that the Japanese regime indulged in to quell the rebellion. The story of the show focuses on Lee Kang-to, a Korean police officer who is hired by the Japanese to get things under control. Meanwhile, someone has taken over the Bridal Mask to spark the fire of freedom in the hearts of the Korean populace. The show also involves a Japanese teacher who is Kang-to’s best friend and Mok-dan, a patriot who is in love with the Bridal Mask.
16. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (2016)
Based on the Chinese novel, Startling by Each Step, by Tong Hua, ‘Moon Lovers’ is one of the most expensive K-dramas sold overseas. It follows the story of a young woman who is transported back in time during a total solar eclipse. When Go Ha-jin wakes up in the body of Hae-Soo, she realises that she has been transported almost a thousand years back in time. Soon, she meets two princes. One of them is Wang Wook, a gentle soul who is liked by everyone. The other is Wang So, a ferocious prince who is known for wearing a mask.
15. Healer (2014-2015)
One incident brings three people together and turns their life around after they become more and more indulged in the secrets of that incident and the revelations they must make. Seo Jung-hoo, better known as Healer, is a night courier. He is resourceful and has exceptional fighting skills. Chae Young-shin is an internet news reporter. Her work has never really been demanding, but she wants one chance to prove her worth in authentic journalism. The third spoke of this wheel is a famous reporter, Kim Moon-ho. He hires Healer to find out the whereabouts of a child who was supposed to be dead decades ago, but somehow survived the incident that led to the death of two people.
14. Reply 1988 (2015-2016)
The ‘Reply’ series has been tvN’s one of the most successful series. The anthology show has each season set in a different era, focusing on the lives of different bunch of people, moving back and forth in time to keep the suspense alive. ‘Reply 1988’ is its third instalment and also the most well-received one. Set in 1988, it follows the story of a group of teenagers, each going through a struggle of their own to keep their dream alive. One comes from a poor family, the other has become recently rich, the next is the perfect student, while the other does not have perfect grades. The last is a baduk player who wants to go professional.
13. Arthdal Chronicles (2019)
‘Arthdal Chronicles’ is a fantasy drama set in the mythical world of Arth. After a long and tiring war with the Neanthals, the people of Arth have finally settled down with peace. However, after some time, trouble begins to brew, especially in the house of the leader itself. Ta-gon, the son of the leader, proved to be a fierce presence in the war, but his ferocious ways started nagging at his father who decides to strip him of all power. This leads to a power struggle in the family; if Ta-gon is to win this, he has to first discover his own roots.
12. Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (2016-2017)
Another acclaimed series from tvN, ‘Guardian: The Lonely and Great God’ is a fantasy drama that keeps you engaged with a tightly woven plot. At the centre of the story is Kim Shin, a goblin who is tired of his immortal life. He wants to end it, but there is only one person who has to power to kill him. He is assisted by Wang Yeo, the Grim Reaper, whose job is to escort souls to afterlives. Shin meets a high school student, Ji Eun-tuk, who eventually falls in love with him, and has the power to see ghosts. However, she doesn’t know that becoming the goblin’s bride also gives her the power to kill him.
11. Mr Sunshine (2018)
‘Mr Sunshine’ stars Lee Byung-hun in the lead role. He is known for working in films like ‘The Good, the Bad, the Weird’, ‘I Saw the Devil’, ‘Inside Men’, ‘The Magnificent Seven’, ‘Terminator Genisys’, and a whole lot of other successful projects. ‘Mr Sunshine’ marked his return to Korean television, and the show became one of the highest-rated dramas of the year. It follows the story of a man who had escaped to the United States when he was a boy and now returns to Korea as a US Marine Corps officer. He struggles in belonging to his homeland but also has to jump into action because a dangerous scheme against the country is in the works.
10. Stranger (2017)
This crime drama follows the story of a man who had lost the ability to feel empathy when he was a child. Now, he works as a prosecutor and his lack of personal involvement with the case makes him a successful figure. A turn of events comes into his life with a compassionate police officer who is on the case of a brutal serial killer. He teams up with her to get to the bottom of the crime and figure out the identity of the perpetrator. But that is not the only thing that keeps them up at night. They also have to fight rampant corruption in the police department.
9. Children of Nobody (2019)
‘Children of Nobody’ is a mystery-drama that uses the emotions of its protagonists against them and reels them into a dark pool of crime and dark secrets. Before all the bad things started happening, Cha Woo-kyung’s life was perfect. She worked as a child psychologist, shared a loving relationship with her husband and was pregnant with their second child. But a sudden tragedy strikes and her life is convoluted in mysterious ways. A strange child is brought under her care and as she begins to unravel the state of mind of the child, she makes some startling revelations.
8. My Mister (2018)
‘My Mister’ tells the story of three brothers and one woman who changes their lives. The eldest is Park Sang-hoon, a middle-aged man who faced a streak of bad luck in various businesses. However, all these failures have not brought down his spirits. The second brother is Park Dong-hoon, the most successful of them and an engineer at an architectural firm. The youngest is Park Ki-hoon, who tasted success when he was twenty but has not been able to recreate it since then. Lee Ji-an enters the picture when her boss sends her to spy on Park Dong-hoon and figure out his vulnerabilities.
7. Good Doctor (2013)
This critically acclaimed series follows the story of an autistic savant who is thrown into the demanding medical world in order to prove that he is better than what others think of him. Park Si-on had displayed memory and spatial skills early in his childhood and he wants to become a paediatric surgeon. He is assigned as a resident in one of the best hospitals and has a particular time frame to meet his goals. He receives help and compassion from some of the colleagues, but there is a particular hot-headed surgeon who isn’t so impressed by his talent. Things take a more complicated turn when he falls in love with one of his fellow surgeons.
6. Misaeng: Incomplete Life (2014)
Based on the webtoon of the same name, ‘Misaeng: Incomplete Life’ is one of the most popular Korean dramas, bringing record-breaking ratings for its network at the time. It follows the story of a young man who is forced to enter the competitive world of corporate, but neither has experienced nor the academic credentials to survive in it. The protagonist, Jang Geu-rae, seeks comfort and guidance in the board game, baduk, which he is a master of and had wanted to pursue professionally. But that dream couldn’t come true, and now, with a recommendation from someone, he is stuck as an intern in a trading company.
5. Kingdom (2019)
Korean dramas have never been the ones to confine themselves to just one genre. There have been romance dramas with a mix of sci-fi or a historical drama that also serves as a thriller. ‘Kingdom’ is the show that blends period drama with horror. Based on the webcomic series, The Kingdom of the Gods, it is set in the Joseon era in the late 1590s. It begins with the crown prince, Yi Chang, who is made king after the sudden death of his father. Or at least, that’s what the kingdom is told. In truth, a mysterious illness has taken over the king and turned him into a zombie-like creature. The same illness has begun to take roots in various parts of the province and the prince needs to find out what is causing this and how to stop it before it engulfs the entire empire.
4. The Slave Hunters (2010)
Set in the Joseon Dynasty era, ‘The Slave Hunters’ follows a complicated mix of characters and emotions. Years ago, Lee Dae-gil had fallen in love with Un-nyun, who is the sister of Dae-gil’s family-owned slave, Keun-nom. An altercation between them leads Keun-nom to burn down the family house, injure Dae-gil and run away with Un-nyun. In the present day, Dae-gil has managed to survive his wounds and has turned into a slave hunter, while also looking for his lost love. Meanwhile, a military general, Song Tae-ha, embarks on a journey to locate the rightful heir to the throne. He crosses paths with Un-nyun and falls in love with her. Unbeknownst to him, Dae-gil has been hired to capture him.
3. Love Alarm (2019)
The Netflix K-drama that took the world by storm due to its unique story. The show revolves around three protagonists and an app called Love Alarm, which notifies its users when someone who is in love with them comes within the radius of 10 m to them. The show takes place over two timelines, the one during the school days, and the other four years later. As we go back and forth, we discover the changing dynamics of love and friendship, and what effects this new app has on society. In the course of eight episodes, the story develops from being a cute teen romance tale to the one that has several adults figuring out their lives while dealing with the pressure of the increasing popularity of the app.
Read More: Shows Like Love Alarm
2. Descendants of the Sun (2016)
‘Descendants of the Sun’ is one of the, if not the, shows that are responsible for the rising wave of Korean dramas in the international market. It received huge popularity in Korea, but it was after its release in Asia that it truly turned into a phenomenon. It won many awards and hearts, and its success has inspired adaptations in Vietnam, China and the Philippines. The story revolves around Yoo Si-jin, the captain of a Special Forces unit, and Dr Kang Mo-yeon. They meet each other for the first time in an emergency room and are instantly attracted to each other. However, the war threatens to tear them apart.
1. Mother (2018)
What would you do if you discovered that a child is being ill-treated at home? There are a number of things that come to mind, but as strangers, we don’t really have the context of the situation. In ‘Mother’, Lee Bo-young plays the role of Kang Su-jin, a teacher at an elementary school who comes to know about a difficult truth regarding one of her students. The kid is being abused at home and knowing the family, Su-jin knows that there isn’t much she can do about it. But she can’t just let it be, and hence, takes a drastic step that changes everything for her, as well as the child.
Read More: Best Korean Movies of 2010s